It was just two years ago that Oregon went 10-2 and was ranked in the top ten near the end of the season. But an utter collapse late last season has some people in Eugene grumbling about Mike Bellotti, who has navigated the Ducks through their finest 12-year run in school history.
Oregon was 7-2 after beating Washington on Nov. 4 last season and ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press top 25. But the Ducks proceeded to lose their final four games, by an average of 21 points, including a 38-8 setback to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Then, instead of staying in Eugene to work out with the team during the summer, starting quarterback Dennis Dixon elected to play minor league baseball for the Atlanta Braves.
Dixon is back as the Oregon opened fall camp earlier this week, and the Ducks seem eager to erase the memory of last season’s late-season failures.
“The team is hungry after going out like we did,” tailback Jonathan Stewart said. “We’re ready to get the bad taste out of our mouths. This year is about going out and being hungrier than the other team. I think that’s what was lacking last year.”
Oregon definitely has talent, led by Stewart, who is one of the top returning running backs in the conference and is a dynamic kick returner.
“We’re as excited about this season as we were disappointed by the end of last season,” Bellotti said. “We’re excited as we’ve ever been simply because when you don’t put your best foot forward, you’re really looking for that next chance to play football.”