The chant was familiar, piercing through the air as soon as LaMichael James was named the Pac-12 Championship’s most valuable player.
“One more year! One more year!”
Whether James will grant that request, of course, remains to be seen. What can’t be denied, after another blistering 200-yard-plus performance, is that just about every Pac-12 record is in sight should James indeed return for one final season. With his 25 carries for 219 yards and three more touchdowns in a 49-31 victory over UCLA, James moved ahead of standouts Marcus Allen and LenDale White in the Pac-12 record books.
If it was indeed his last night at Autzen Stadium, James couldn’t have left with much better of a memory. But he wasn’t quite ready to provide a response to the post-game chants.
“The most important thing to me is my teammates, those guys are always supporting me,” James said. “That’s the only thing I think about, just being with those guys. I don’t think about one more year, I just think about the next day.”
By the time the final whistle blew on Saturday night, and Oregon began to celebrate its third-straight Pac-12 championship, James had moved past Allen to third in Pac-12 history in career total rushing yards (4,812) while also tying with White for second in rushing touchdowns (52) and becoming the first Pac-12 player to ever rush for 1,500 yards in three seasons.
That’s all well and good in head coach Chip Kelly’s eyes, but what has impressed him more than the shattering of records over the past three years has been James’ leadership off the field.
“He’s special,” Kelly said. “You watch what he does in the classroom, you watch what he does in the community, it’s not just a football thing for him. It’s the way he lives his life. It’s what I want our football team to be like, and I think he epitomizes that.”
Sitting to James’ right during the post-game press conference was quarterback Darron Thomas, who also found himself in record territory on Friday. Thomas threw for 219 yards and three scores against the Bruins to pass Danny O’Neil for the most passing touchdowns in Oregon history (63). He also became the first Oregon player to amass 30 touchdowns in two different seasons, but like James, he deflected praise to his teammates.
“It’s my teammates,” Thomas said. “My offensive line blocking for me each game, the receivers catching the ball, the running backs picking up protection, blocking — it’s all on the team.”
Smelling roses once again
With Oregon headed to its second Rose Bowl in three years and third-straight BCS bowl game, the pressure will mount by the day. As successful as the program has been of late, the Ducks still have yet to come away with a victory in a BCS bowl game. Wisconsin will have a month to prepare for Oregon’s high-octane offense, and the common theory is that teams with extra practice time are better equipped to stop the Ducks.
Kelly isn’t buying it.
“I disagree with that,” Kelly said. “I think we’ve played really good teams. I think when you get into three-straight BCS teams, you’re not going to get the opportunity to just line up against some team you can roll 50 on.
“If we struggled in the opening game of this year, last time I checked, LSU, that team is not too shabby.”
As Kelly often says, the Ducks can only worry about what they can control. The Rose Bowl will take place on Jan. 2, whether they like it or not. The key will be to stay focused in practice.
“We got a long time to that game,” James said. “And we gotta start in practice. That’s where it begins.”