Rosenblatt On Football:

Aug. 25, 2001

AP Football Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - A good deal of thought and a good deal of research has goneinto the final answer to the question: 'Who will be the 2001 nationalchampion?'

It's the Oregon Ducks, of course.

As the season begins, Florida and Miami are the popular No. 1 picks in mostpreseason forecasts, with the Gators gaining the top spot in The AssociatedPress media poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll.

The Hurricanes garnered significant support, with Oregon State and Texasalso getting some recognition, but there is more method than madness in ourDuck delirium.

It surfaced in the weeks after last season, when so many schools were hiringnew coaches, and when so many coaches were trying to find quarterbacks toreplace their graduated stars.

Recent history says the odds are against teams with rookie coaches winningit all - only Michigan did it in 1948 under Bennie Oosterbaan. Teams withnew starting quarterbacks rarely win it all - Tennessee, with Tee Martin in'98, is the only team to do it since Miami, with Craig Erickson/GinoTorretta, in 1989.

That eliminates such powers as Miami, with new coach Larry Coker, andFlorida State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, all with new quarterbacks - ChrisRix for the Seminoles, Nate Hybl for the Sooners and Grant Noel for theHokies.

When the numbers are crunched, only a double handful of teams in the AP'sTop 25 possess the attributes necessary to win a national title Jan. 3 inthe Rose Bowl, the Bowl Championship Series' designated title game thisseason.

Herewith, the top 10 teams capable of becoming champions:

1. Oregon.

2. Texas.

3. Florida.

4. Georgia Tech.

5. Oregon State.

6. Nebraska.

7. Tennessee.

8. Clemson.

9. Northwestern.

10. Notre Dame.

Asked to list three reasons why his team can and can't win the title, coachMike Bellotti came up with only two for why his Ducks can't - new kickersand inexperience along the defensive line.

Three reasons Oregon can win? Quarterback Joey Harrington, an explosiveoffense and home games at Autzen Stadium.

A closer look at the Ducks:

The quarterback: Eight starters return to an offense featuring Harrington,whose likeness is plastered on a 10-story high billboard in Manhattan thanksto generous boosters promoting his Heisman campaign. He threw for 2,967yards and 22 TDs in '00 and is 14-2 as a starter.

'Joey's a winner,' Bellotti says. 'I think we have a very potent offense.All the elements are there.'

The defense: Just four starters are back, only one among the front seven,but cornerbacks Rashad Bauman and Steve Smith helped the Ducks limitopponents to 42.7 percent passing in '00 - the best mark in the nation.Plus, last year's squad had only three returning starters and they weresecond in the league in scoring defense (19.9 ppg).

'I'm anxious here,' Bellotti says. 'We lost eight starters last year, but Ihad a better sense of confidence in who was coming up. This year, we'll needsome true freshmen to step up along the line.'

Special teams: A new punter and a new kicker move in. Bellotti feelsstronger about the kickers, but still hasn't settled on a punter. 'We'relooking for consistency,' he said.

The coaches: Bellotti, wooed by Ohio State and USC in the offseason, losesthree assistants but neither coordinator. That's good. His Ducks have 49wins in six years, more than any other Pac-10 team. Also, Oregon is comingoff its first 10-win season after beating Texas in the Holiday Bowl.

The schedule: Oregon has a 20-game home winning streak at Autzen Stadium -the last loss there was in 1997. The Ducks play four of their five toughiesin front of the Autzen crazies - the opener against Wisconsin on Sept. 1,USC on Sept. 22, Arizona State on Nov. 3 and what could be the greatestCivil War game ever against Oregon State on Dec. 1. Three weeks earlier, onNov. 10, Oregon is at UCLA.

Plus, there's no Washington on the schedule for the first time since 1944,and Oregon gets its chance to avenge last year's losses - against theBadgers and Beavers - at home in Eugene.

'We lost our two on the road, we get them back here and that's better forus,' Bellotti says. 'But people say we have a great schedule. You can't pickthe tough games now. After two or three weeks, then we'll get a better ideaof who's better.'

Since the AP poll began in 1936, only one Pac-10 school has finished No. 1 -USC did it three times, in 1962, '67 and '72

Get ready to add the Ducks to the list.

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