Oregon had spent a total of five weeks in the AP top 10 from the poll’s inception in 1936 through the 1999 season.
Mike Bellotti, Oregon’s coach from 1995 to 2008, decided to clear-cut the landscape. The Ducks set out to become the nouveau riche in college football.
More than a decade later, Oregon sits above those with greater pedigree, ranked second, right behind old-money Alabama.
UCLA players, coaches and fans can look across the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday and see that promised land.
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The Ducks play fast. They climbed fast.
Oregon has finished in the top 10 four times in the past five seasons and came oh-so-close to the national title in 2010. The Ducks lost to Auburn 22-19 in the championship game.
It’s the type of national prominence the Bruins seek.
“They are a good team,” UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt said. “UCLA needs to be on its own level. Shoot, we need to be on a level above Oregon.”
Is there one? Alabama, maybe. No one else looks down on the Ducks, who are 7-0, 4-0 in Pac-12 play.
The 12th-ranked Bruins (5-1, 2-1) are trying to work their way up the ladder. Oregon opened as a 17½-point favorite over a young UCLA team that is beat up. The line has moved to 23½.
The Bruins are without three starters on offense, two on the line. They will start at least six freshmen, possibly as many as eight.
Oregon has already shown the quality of its depth. The Ducks lost star running back De’Anthony Thomas to an ankle injury and Byron Marshall stepped in and had four consecutive 100-yard games. Thomas is expected to play against UCLA.
“Oregon has been able to recruit the type of athlete they think fits their system for a number of years,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora, the former Seahawks coach. “There are quality starters and there is quality depth. Certainly, we want to be a national player every year. It’s a process. We’re a year and a half into that process.”
The Oregon State Beavers have a history of pulling off unlikely upsets at home in the past decade.
They beat No. 3 USC in 2006 and the top-ranked Trojans in 2008. Even last season, they downed No. 13 Wisconsin at Reser Stadium.
The Beavers are hoping for some of that Reser mojo on Saturday night when they host No. 8 Stanford.
If any team is poised for an upset, it’s Oregon State (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12). The team has rebounded from what could have been a season-busting loss in the opener to Eastern Washington.
“We learned a really important lesson early to just stay in the moment and stay in the games because if all of the sudden you don’t play well, you lose. I think these kids like to play, they like to prepare, and they know you have to play one game at a time,” coach Mike Riley said. “We’re excited about the next step to see what we can do.”
Stanford (6-1, 4-1) has done its own rebounding, coming back from a 27-21 upset loss at Utah to a 24-10 victory at home over then-No. 9 UCLA. The victory popped the Cardinal back in the top 10, and put them at No. 6 in the BCS rankings.
Stanford prides itself on good old smash-mouth football and a physical offensive line, while OSU quarterback Sean Mannion is a prototypical drop-back passer.