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November 15, 2010

Oregon now is West's trendy program

MORE: Top 10 small-but-mighty prospects

Oregon's offense is captivating. It's fast. Thrilling to watch. Now coach Chip Kelly is spreading what the Ducks offer talented players - fun - across the country with a special focus on talent-rich California.

And recruits are listening.

Oregon is two more wins from playing in the BCS title game. This could just be the start. All signs indicate the Ducks are becoming the program in the West, especially with USC fighting through NCAA probation.

But this current Oregon attraction for recruits goes beyond its No. 1 ranking (although that certainly helps).

It is as much about that insanely entertaining offense that averages a nation-high 50.4 points per game - and a fast, physical defense - with an emphasis on one thing: speed. It's about that style of play, about Autzen Stadium's ear-piercing noise and terrific support, luxurious facilities that rival the nation's best and even those crazy uniform combinations (thanks, Nike) that the Ducks unveil each week.

The timing - with West Coast king USC facing a loss of scholarships and bowl ban - could not be better for Kelly to begin dominating recruiting wars in his region.

"Sixty percent of our team comes from California and a predominant amount of those guys come from Southern California," Kelly said prior his team blasting UCLA 60-13 last month. "It's really going to the big metropolitan areas in this country and trying to mine that talent.

"California high school football is outstanding and we're in battles all the time down there. We may not get them. There are probably 20 players on (UCLA's team) that we offered scholarships to. California is huge for us and it always will be."

Despite the aberration of Saturday's 15-13 win at Cal, the Ducks have put up insane numbers this season - 72 points in the season opener against New Mexico, 52 in a come-from-behind win versus Stanford, 53 at USC - at USC.

A look at the numbers is striking: The Ducks are outscoring their opponents 50-17 through 10 games; they have almost 100 more first downs than their opponents, they have nearly 2,300 more total yards so far.

"The offense is electrifying," said Gardena (Calif.) Serra's George Farmer, the nation's top-rated wide receiver, who has Oregon on his short list, along with USC.

"They get the ball to their receivers in open space. It's a great offense. They know what to do, where to throw the ball, where to put the ball at certain times and they play hard, fast and nasty football."

Said Serra teammate Marqise Lee, who visited Oregon with Farmer: "Their offense is great. They don't huddle so they get defenses tired and everything. If I decide to go there I'd be happy to play in it. It was defense at first but now they changed it to athlete. I'll get to decide where I want to play."

The Serra duo visited Florida last weekend, and the Gators' anemic offense scored only once, had 226 total yards and lost to South Carolina, 36-14. Quite a contrast from the trip to Eugene.

Still, Oregon might not win out for Farmer and Lee - or many other recruits that USC has targeted. Although the Trojans have been slugged by the NCAA, they still pull most Southern California prospect they want. But without question the Ducks are making necessary in-roads to being more competitive with the Trojans on the West recruiting trail.

Two quarterbacks - four-star Jerrard Randall of Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade Madonna and three-star Marcus Mariota from Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis - have committed. along with Miami (Fla.) Columbus' Tacoi Sumler, a 5-foot-8, 151-pound receiver.

But the Ducks haven't focused on skill players as much this recruiting cycle.

Instead, Oregon has loaded up with four linebackers (three of them from California) and four offensive linemen, one from California and two from Arizona, including four-star Tyler Johnstone, a 6-foot-6, 260-pounder out of Chandler Hamilton.

In Oregon's offense, linemen such as Johnstone, who are slightly undersized, aren't at a disadvantage because of the way the Ducks operate. Again, the emphasis in Eugene is on speed and quickness, not necessarily size. For Johnstone and others, it was a perfect fit.

"I can't wait," Johnstone said. "That's the kind of player I am. I love getting on the ball and getting after it. That way the defense is always on the run.

"I'm the kind of kid where I want to chase them down and I want to make the block downfield. That's how Oregon plays, just really quick football. It's pretty cool to be going to college where quickness is one of my strong points and that's the type of offense they run. It's going to be a lot of fun."



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