EUGENE, Ore. – Oregon is ready for the real season to start.
With three decisive wins and few challenges in nonconference play, the Ducks hit the road to face Arizona State in their Pac-10 opener Saturday.
Fifth-ranked Oregon opened at home with a 72-0 victory over New Mexico, then beat Tennessee 49-13 before returning to Autzen Stadium to beat Portland State 69-0 this past Saturday.
The Ducks broke in new starting quarterback Darron Thomas but have not really shown what they are capable of in their first three games. They used reserves for at least a half against both the Lobos and Vikings.
"Every day is a chance to get better as a football team. Build upon what we have," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "There is never a situation where we say, 'We arrived.'"
It appears that Kelly is keeping his Ducks on the same steady course he did last season, when they fell in the season opener to Boise State and had to weather the circus that surrounded LeGarrette Blount's infamous punch.
Oregon went on finish 10-3, win the Pac-10 title and appear in the Rose Bowl for the first time since New Year's Day in 1995, buying into Kelly's "Win The Day" motto.
This season the Ducks put aside offseason turmoil, including the dismissal of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and went about dispatching their non-conference opponents.
"We are confident but we're confident in how we practice," said running back Andres Reed, who then reconsidered his choice of words: "I don't want to say confidence, I'd say prepared."
In the final tune-up against Portland State, sophomore LaMichael James ran for a career-best 227 yards and two touchdowns. Oregon amassed a school-record 528 yards on the ground.
Thomas, also a sophomore, completed 9 of 18 passes for 140 yards and a career-high four scores.
"He did another nice job," Kelly said. "He was forced to run a couple times and showed speed. For three games in, I'm really happy where Darron's at. He's young, he's a sophomore, and he'll keep getting better."
Masoli, who is at Mississippi now, pleaded guilty to a burglary charge stemming form the theft at a fraternity house in January and was ultimately dismissed form the team when he was stopped for a traffic violation and marijuana was found in the car.
Thomas competed for the job in fall camp and just edged fifth-year senior Nate Costa for the job in the team's final scrimmage.
Against the Vikings, Thomas was hampered a bit by the wet conditions and Oregon did not get to work on all the things they wanted to before the Arizona State.
"We've got stuff to clean up," Thomas said. "We'll go out next week and have a better week."
James called his performance the worst of his career, and his coaches didn't necessarily disagree with him. While James put up big yards, Kelly said he "danced" too much.
"We have to be perfect," James said. "Today we got away with a few gimmicks. Next week playing ASU we won't be able to get away with that."
Arizona State lost 20-19 at No. 11 Wisconsin on Saturday after the Badgers' Jay Valai surged to swat the Sun Devils' attempt a tying extra point.
Arizona State (2-1) kept Wisconsin's defense off balance for much of the day with their up-tempo spread offense, but couldn't turn drives into points.
"I told them we blew a lot of opportunities offensively to score touchdowns and score points," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "That is why we lost. I also told them defensively, on third down, we needed to get out of drives and get the ball back to the offense."
The Badgers were Arizona State's first real challenge of the season after nonconference games against Portland State and Northern Arizona, both of the FCS Big Sky Conference.