Among the lessons Tim Day learned last year was this: He's not a couch potato. "I had three weeks at home, watching all the bowl games,"...

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EUGENE, Ore. — Among the lessons Tim Day learned last year was this: He’s not a couch potato.

“I had three weeks at home, watching all the bowl games,” said Oregon’s standout tight end. “It was the most hurtful thing of my career.”

Hurt gave way to resolve, as Oregon endured its first losing season since 1993, and first without a bowl game since ’96. Some would say resolve has morphed into hubris; for a team that went 5-6 a year ago, the Ducks are unusually optimistic about 2005.

“We’ve got too much talent here not to do anything with it,” said Devan Long, a senior defensive end from Anacortes. “I couldn’t see us not doing really, really good. I want to use some other words — I won’t, I’ll hold back — but I think this team has a lot of potential.”

That’s not a stray observation.

“It’s an optimism that’s eternal at this point,” conceded Mike Bellotti, the dean of Pac-10 coaches in his 11th season. “But we feel really good about where we’re going to be.”

Since the golden afternoon in Tempe, Ariz., when Oregon upset Colorado in the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, the Ducks have backtracked to mediocrity, going 20-17 and 12-12 in Pac-10 games.

The effect of it shouldn’t be minimized: Bellotti, an offensive guru, has sent his offense to the scrap heap in favor of a new scheme operated by a fresh coordinator, fired Brigham Young head coach Gary Crowton.

It’s likely to resemble what Utah did a year ago under Urban Meyer, using multiple wide receivers, the quarterback frequently in the shotgun, incorporating option, Kellen Clemens’ running ability and quick decision-making designed to trim the number of sacks. Last year, the Ducks surrendered a league-most 41.

“It’s a melding of the Oregon offense, BYU, Texas Tech, Utah, Northwestern and Bowling Green,” Bellotti said. “I could go on and on. We borrowed elements from a lot of things.

Ducksat a glance

2004 season: 5-6 overall, 4-4 in Pac-10.

Coach: Mike Bellotti, 80-40, in his 11th season at Oregon.

Playmakers: QB Kellen Clemens, TB Terrence Whitehead, TE Tim Day, WR Demetrius Williams, DE Devan Long, DT Haloti Ngata.

Bud Withers

“It will become the Oregon offense very soon. We’ll put our brand on it.”

Clemens enters his senior season as one of the league’s few veteran quarterbacks, but a guy who hasn’t led his team to anything really notable, save for a memorable upset of Michigan two years ago.

“With this offense, untouched defensive ends are not going to be able to get there quick enough, because the ball’s going to be out so fast,” Clemens says. “We have to cut down on the sack total.”

The Ducks have as much skill as anybody in the league outside USC, in Clemens (42 career touchdowns, 20 interceptions), Day (eight touchdowns last year), tailback Terrence Whitehead (1,144 rushing yards in ’04, plus 44 catches) and receiver Demetrius Williams (103 career receptions).

There’s also freshman wunderkind back Jonathan Stewart of Lacey, and 6-foot-2 receiver James Finley, a JC product.

“He is a stud,” Clemens says of Finley. “The kid does not drop anything.”

The question mark is the offensive line, with four new starters. One of them, guard Shawn Flanagan, has been lost for the season after pectoral surgery.

“We’ll be as good as our offensive line allows us to be,” Bellotti says.

The defense will be led by a line that could be monstrous, if junior Haloti Ngata finally realizes his off-the-charts potential, curbed mostly by injury to date.

Healthy, he’s probably a first-round NFL pick, and Bellotti is already saying he figures Ngata is gone after this year.

“The athleticism, size (6-5, 338) and strength are an amazing package,” Bellotti says.

“What more is there?” Long asks. “In the weight room, nobody competes with Haloti.”

Long, free-spirited brother of Washington State’s 2002 Outland Trophy winner Rien Long, has a chance to be the school’s career sack leader. He is 9 ½ sacks behind linebacker Ernest Jones (1990-93), but says he’d take the mark in stride.

“But you know,” says Long, “it would be nice to look back when I’m like 65 and fat, telling my kid and my next-door neighbor how cool I was back in the day — washing my car with my letterman’s jacket on, saying, ‘Back in my day … ‘ “

The secondary, oft-strafed in recent seasons, is veteran. Meanwhile, it’s at linebacker where Oregon is most vulnerable; only Anthony Trucks returns with experience.

In September, the Ducks host Fresno State and USC on consecutive Saturdays. By then we’ll know whether Oregon is a legitimate Pac-10 contender, or more like the team that allowed 50 points to Oregon State in its last game.

“I think it was a wakeup call,” says Bellotti. “I’ve said for a couple of years, oftentimes I got the impression some kids that come here felt just by putting on the uniform we were going to win games.”

Those uniforms, of course, are distinctly different. That’s the kind of football team the Ducks aim to be in 2005.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

The schedule
Ducks have a pivotal three-game stretch, starting with USC at home Sept. 24, followed by trips to Stanford and Arizona State.
Date Opponent, time
Thurs. at Houston, 4 p.m.
Sept. 10 Montana, 12:30 p.m.
Sept. 17 Fresno State, 4 p.m.
Sept. 24 USC, 4 p.m.
Oct. 1 at Stanford, 2 p.m.
Oct. 8 at Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 Washington, 12:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 at Arizona, 4 p.m.
Nov. 5 California, 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 12 at WSU, 7:15 p.m.
Nov. 19 Oregon State, 3:45 p.m.