Oregon Coach Rich Brooks must feel that he’s on a treadmill, what with four consecutive football seasons in the .500 range--6-5, 5-6, 5-6 and 6-5.
Just when he is seemingly ready to get off and attain higher goals, he is thrown back on it, with the upper echelon of the Pacific 10 Conference just out of his reach.
Now Brooks has another team that is ready to challenge the powers that be, USC and UCLA. Oregon and USC have identical records--4-0 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10--and the winner of today’s 1:30 p.m. game at the Coliseum will be the conference leader.
Brooks, in his 12th season at Oregon, is one of the most respected coaches in the conference. His peers say that he gets the most out of his players.
Now he is trying to break into the power structure of the league with what he earlier said is the best team he has ever had.
That evaluation, however, was based on the presumed availability of star quarterback Bill Musgrave, who has an injured right ankle and isn’t expected to play today.
Even so, Brooks says he has better players than he had last year, when Oregon upset Washington and USC in successive weeks, then faltered, losing four in a row.
That has been a pattern for the Ducks in their good years; they are unable to sustain a winning streak because of injuries, lack of depth or the formidable opposition in the league.
Oregon hasn’t been able to win more than six games in a season during Brooks’ tenure and hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1963.
But Brooks isn’t poor-mouthing his team now, even though Musgrave, the trigger man of the 34-27 upset of USC in 1987, is likely to be unavailable.
“We have more experience at the skill positions this year and we have better players, although we haven’t played a schedule as tough as USC’s,” Brooks said. “Maybe that’s the answer to our quick start.”
Oregon has beaten Cal State Long Beach, Washington State, Stanford and San Diego State.
The victories over Long Beach and San Diego State are nothing special, but Stanford came close to upsetting USC before losing, 24-20, and Washington State has been a non-conference terror, having routed Illinois, Minnesota and Tennessee.
The entire Pac-10, in fact, has been impressive in non-conference games, with its 24-4 record easily the best in the country.
“This league is as strong as it has been from top to bottom,” Brooks said. “Certainly we’re strong at the top, with UCLA and USC ranked second and third in the nation. A team (Washington State) picked near the bottom of the league has gone on the road and demolished some pretty good teams. This is just a nightmare of a league.”
If Musgrave can’t play, he will be replaced by Pete Nelson, a junior who has started only twice in his career. Filling in for Musgrave last Saturday night in a 34-13 win over San Diego State, he completed only 5 of 18 passes, but his first completion went to junior flanker Terry Obee for a 66-yard scoring play.
Oregon has a proven tailback in Derek Loville, who is averaging 127.5 yards a game and ranks eighth nationally. He teams with fullback Latin Berry, who averages 5.2 yards per carry.
“One of our goals was to have a more consistent running game,” Brooks said. “We have a better offensive line than we did last year. I think both Loville and Berry have good speed and can catch the ball.”
As for Oregon’s defense, Brooks said it “has done a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage of the teams we’ve played. However, we haven’t faced a team the caliber of USC in any phase, certainly the running phase, so we’ll be tested severely.”
End Matt Brock, linebacker Scott Kozak, cornerback Brett Young and safety Thom Kaumeyer are regarded as the standout players in a mainly veteran defensive unit. However, the football career of linebacker Mike Blakey has ended with a head injury.
As for the challenge of playing the Trojans, who will be trying to avenge last year’s loss in Eugene, Brooks said:
“Defensively, they’re much more disciplined than when we played them last year. It’s like night and day. Any team that can line up against Oklahoma and dominate them like they did is a tremendous defensive football team.
“Offensively, they have a very balanced attack. You can’t just line up and figure to stop the old USC student body left and right. They’ve added some option to their attack which gives them diversification. Also, I think their fullback play has been outstanding.
“Then, you get to (quarterback) Rodney Peete. He can hurt you running, he can hurt you throwing and he can hurt you by improvising. There’s also (split end) Erik Affholter. We couldn’t contain him last year. Perhaps we woke up the Trojans last year. They haven’t lost a conference game since.”
USC Coach Larry Smith, who has a 4-3 career record against Oregon, is aware of what Brooks-coached teams can accomplish.
“Rich gets the maximum out of every situation,” Smith said. “Regardless of being even, underdog or favorite, it will always be a game with Oregon. I think he’s one of the finest coaches in the country.”
It’s USC’s homecoming game, and a crowd of 60,000 is forecast. The Trojans are favored by 15 points. . . . Coach Larry Smith on USC’s loss to Oregon last year: “They out-coached, out-played and out-hustled us. We played hard, but they just kicked our butts.” . . . USC hasn’t lost to Oregon at the Coliseum since 1971. . . . The Ducks are ranked 18th. . . . USC kicker Quin Rodriguez, who hurt his hip while warming up against Arizona last Saturday night, is listed as probable. If he can’t play, split end Erik Affholter will kick field goals, and freshman Ron Dale will kick off. . . . Sophomore Ricky Ervins will be the starting tailback again. Smith said Ervins broke 12-14 tackles in the Arizona game. “The first guy doesn’t always bring him down. He lowers his shoulder and has a hit-and-spin style,” Smith said. . . . USC quarterback Rodney Peete has completed 61.9% of his passes for 875 yards and 5 touchdowns and has thrown 5 interceptions. He completed his last 9 passes against Arizona and 11 of 13 in the second half. . . . In a halftime ceremony, members of USC’s eight national championship football teams will be honored, as will former coach John McKay, who was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.