Thurmond, Ducks eyeing Boise State before Pac-10 slate

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Walter Thurmond III wants to prove he's the Pac-10's best cornerback and he wants his Oregon Ducks to unseat USC atop the conference, but first-things-first.

He wants Boise State.

He'll get 'em. The Ducks, ranked 11th in Mark Schlabach's pre-season Top 25 rankings, visit the 14th-ranked Broncos on Sept. 3, a Thursday night game that should be a frenzy on the blue turf.

And that's not just because Boise State upset the then-17th-ranked Ducks 37-32 inside a stunned Autzen Stadium a year ago, the Broncos recording their first victory on the road over a BCS-conference team.

Nor is it just because redshirt freshman quarterback Kellen Moore scorched a Ducks secondary that was supposed to be among the nation's best for 386 yards passing and three touchdowns.

While Thurmond skillfully changes the subject -- "We've just got to be focused" -- more than a few Ducks have grumbled about the handful of cheap shots delivered by Boise State in the game, most particularly Ellis Powers' late, helmet-to-helmet blast that knocked quarterback Jeremiah Masoli out of the game in the first quarter.

At the time, Masoli was the Ducks No. 3 quarterback, forced into service because of injuries to Nos. 1 (Nate Costa) and 2 (Justin Roper). That left Oregon trying to mount a comeback with a pair of true freshmen, Chris Harper and Darron Thomas.

Less often noted: Thurmond missed the game with a pelvis injury, which might at least partially explain why the Ducks secondary looked like it had never seen a play-action pass before.

Thurmond has another theory.

"Standing on the sidelines looking out, I could tell that some of the players took it as a nonchalant game because they were part of the WAC," Thurmond said. "I think this year there's going to be more intensity out there. We're not going to treat it as just another game. We're going up there for a purpose."

That purpose is the Ducks' belief this can be a special season, which can't even get started without a win at Boise.

"I think we can win Pac-10 this year," Thurmond said.

Thurmond also has a lot at stake. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior is hailed by coach Chip Kelly as the Ducks best football player, but many folks think of California's Syd'Quan Thompson or UCLA's Alterraun Verner or Arizona's Devin Ross -- all seniors -- before Thurmond when talking about the conference's best cornerback.

Heck, those three all earned All-Pac-10 honors in 2008. Thurmond didn't even get honorable mention.

That seems nuts, considering Thurmond, who will become a four-year starter in 2009, tied for the conference lead with five interceptions -- one returned for a touchdown -- which gave him 10 picks over the past two seasons. He also ranked third in the Pac-10 in kick returns, his best effort being a 91-yard dash to open the second half of the Holiday Bowl against Oklahoma State.

Moreover, Thurmond started 12 of 13 games last year despite pelvis and groin injuries that nagged him all season.

"I think it hurt me a lot but I tried to push through it the best that I could and not show any weakness," he said.

The best revenge for a healthy Thurmond might be getting picked first among the Pac-10 corners in the 2010 NFL draft. His combination of size, speed and production makes him an almost-certain first-day selection.

"I think I stand with all those guys," he said. "I feel competitive with those guys. I feel I'm one of the best out there. But I'm going to play my game and not worry about the other guys because they are not me."

And first things first: A showdown on the Smurf Turf.