Friday, December 13, 2002
Unknown wide-outs loom at Oregon
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online
PHOENIX -- Instead of Keenan Howry, Keenan Ivory Wayans could be catching balls from Joey Harrington and people still wouldn't know any of the receivers' names on the Oregon Ducks.
Same goes for Samie Parker, the fastest player in college football you've never heard of. How about "J-Will"? Nope, not the ridiculously talented conundrum who runs the point for the Grizzlies or the overly boisterous ex-Net who has the best setup MTV's Cribs has ever come across. Try Jason Willis, the fearless junior who does all the dirty work.
Justin Peelle, well, you may know him, as an All-Pac-10 performer. But he's a tight end, so he's not running nearly as many routes nearly or competing for a starting role. Nevertheless, Peelle believes the aforementioned names aren't given much ink because there is no go-to receiver of the bunch. Rather, they all have their own strengths and get equal chances to make grabs in Oregon's eclectic offense.
"We're all different," said Peelle. "Keenan will catch anything that's near him, but he's not as fast as Samie, who'll make the spectacular catch. Samie will catch a ball and make two or three people miss and he's gone. He's got a gear that none of us have.
"J-Will is a great possession receiver. He does his job, he blocks, he'll do whatever you ask him to do."
Howry led the team in most categories with 49 catches for 649 yards and eight touchdowns. Willis (37-386) and Parker (32-586) each started games alongside of him, with Parker being the burner (he runs the 40 in 4.36) on the outside to spread the defenses and Willis as the slot receiver who will out-jump most any defensive back in America with his 32 ½-inch vertical.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford and head coach Mike Bellotti assembled this group to give Harrington several choices for every situation.
"We knew going into the season that we'd be very good on offense and it wasn't just because of Joey Harrington," said Bellotti. "It was because of all the other pieces put around him. Having a variety of weapons to throw the ball to, to fill certain niches or slots for us, has been awesome. It's been a great accompaniment to Joey."
It has also allowed Tedford, who's leaving Eugene to take the reigns at Cal, to get creative and throw all kinds of trick plays into the playbook.
"We're not trying to fool people, we're just trying to utilize the talent we have," said Harrington, who threw to 10 different receivers for 2,414 yards this year. "We have talent at every position. That forces teams to be more conservative in their defensive schemes. They have to make sure all their bases are covered."
|Keenan Howry will catch anything that's near him ...|
"In doing so, Howry and Peele made the first-team all-conference squad in the Pac-10, yet the glare of the national spotlight started and ended on "Joey Heisman."
"You can't do anything about that," said Parker, who caught balls from Stanford's Chris Lewis and lined up opposite USC's Kareem Kelly in high school at powerful Long Beach Poly. "It's up to the media. We try to do our best to do what we can do and help the team win. If that's what it takes for us to win and Joey gets all the publicity, no problem."
It helps that Oregon passes the ball enough for everyone to contribute, like against Wisconsin when Harrington threw the pigskin 48 times.
"We all play together," said Peelle. "We have no egos and we don't get upset if we don't get the ball as long we're winning."
Going against a Colorado squad that has given up 100 points in its last three games and isn't known for its cornerback strength, Oregon will most likely have Howry, Willis, Parker and Peelle all in the lineup together several times throughout the game providing Harrington with a multitude of options to move the Ducks to 11-1.
If that doesn't happen on Tuesday, Oregon will be set up on the outside next year. With the exception of Peelle, everyone is coming back.
And will try to make a name for themselves.
Possible options for Sykes
|... while Samie Parker will run right past defenders.|
The entire look and feel of the Colorado defense would be different had ferocious middle linebacker Jashon Sykes not gone down with a herniated disc in his neck after leading the team in tackles through the first four games of the season. The Butkus and Lombardi Award candidate has had to act as somewhat of a coach to underclassmen Sean Tufts, Joey Johnson and Drew Wahlroos during CU's incredible run after losing to Texas in mid October.
Once a bona fide first-round prospect, teams may be a little wary on the four-year player due to his injury. Because that, Sykes is exploring his options as to whether he'll be granted an additional season at Colorado rather than jump to the NFL. Yet, at the same time, he's not going to come back just to help CU compete for a national championship again.
"You have to be kind of selfish in this situation," said the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder. "You've got to look at what's best for you, not for the team or the coaches.
Colorado officials say they don't know whether or not the NCAA will grant him an additional medical hardship year. If Sykes gets it, head coach Gary Barnett expects he'll have to miss a game since he played in four contests this fall, one more than the usual three a player is allowed to have another year of eligibility in such cases.
"No one has told me anything, but the compliance people said it could happen," said Barnett.
"Everyone's saying that (that he'll get his year), but until it's set in stone, I'll won't believe it," said Sykes. "Until it happens, I have to sit here and wait."
If Sykes does get the go ahead, he will have to prove to insurance agencies that his neck is fully healed to be eligible for the seven-figure type of policy that's available to top NFL prospects as he played under this season.
"They'll tell him how much he's qualified for, the NCAA will, based on his draftability," said Barnett.
Sykes will then decide what to do, not being held by the NCAA or the NFL to declare for the draft or make any statement until the issue is fully decided.
"When my options come, I'll weigh them out and do what's best for Jashon," he said.
|Jashon Sykes could be a man without a team come April.|
"I'm most proud of the way our team came back," said the Pac-10 Player of the Year. "The setback we had against Stanford -- we could have packed it up and gone home with our tail between our legs. But we knew that we still had a chance to save our season and end up in the position we wanted to be in at the end of the season.
"Granted, we're not in the Rose Bowl. We had a shot, but we're still in the hunt for the national championship."
Harrington said when he looks back on his storybook senior season, he won't remember the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony or all his accolades along the way as much as he will the last three games of the season when the Ducks got themselves into the Fiesta Bowl.
At Monday morning's press conference at the Airport Marriott, Gary Barnett said this about all the press opportunities, photo-ops and gatherings with both teams:
"I've actually seen more of Mike Bellotti in the past week than I've seen of my wife."
Little guys versus the big guys
Colorado's size has been mentioned all week, as opposed to Oregon's athleticism and quickness. That hasn't bothered Bellotti at all, though, since his Ducks beat a very large Texas team in last year's Holiday Bowl.
"They're not as big as Texas," he said. "Texas may be the biggest team we ever saw. When we walked onto the field with them, the field tilted their way."
Funny, because 20 minutes later, Barnett compared the Ducks to Mack Brown's squad.
"I would compare Oregon to Texas," he said, "although I think Oregon is more balanced on offense with their two 1,000-yard runners and the passing and leadership of Joey Harrington."
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.