UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — With his starting quarterback and running back gone, Chip Kelly declared his young team ready to try to repeat as conference champions today.
The Oregon Ducks, last year’s Rose Bowl winners, will play this season without stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas. Each went pro during the offseason, though Thomas hasn’t stuck with an NFL team.
The coach said he plans on using running backs De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner — who also starred last year — to help take James’ carries. Kelly said “we don’t want anybody” carrying the ball 30 times a game.
“We really had three guys that I think could play for almost anybody in the country,” Kelly said. “The cupboard is certainly not bare there.”
Barner, a senior, didn’t seem nervous. The Ducks have 65 freshmen and sophomores on their roster.
“Pressure’s what you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing,” Kenjon Barner said. “I’ve been in this position before.”
Mike Leach introduced himself to the Pac-12 in classic fashion, talking about everything from bear hunting to Civil War generals to graduation rates.
Asked tongue-in-cheek which Pac-12 coaching contemporary would make the best hunting partner — Leach hunted bears two weeks ago — the Washington State coach spent more than a minute weighing the question.
Eventually, he decided on Utah’s Kyle Whittingham over Rich Rodriguez, despite giving credit to the UA coach for being raised in West Virginia.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford lauded his team’s return to Memorial Stadium after a season-long construction project, while Washington’s Steve Sarkisian spoke of playing in the Seattle Seahawks’ stadium this upcoming year while Husky Stadium is under renovation.