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Friday, January 4, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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College Football

What if? Oregon will always wonder

The Associated Press

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EUGENE, Ore. — No one will ever know if Oregon would have fared any better against Miami than Nebraska did in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks just wish they had a chance.

"The only thing I'd be disappointed in is that we didn't get a shot," Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington said by phone last night after watching Miami's 37-14 victory with friends in Phoenix. "You can speculate all you want, but I know we have a very good football team. I just would have liked to have a shot."

Following No. 2 Oregon's 38-16 rout of No. 3 Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on Tuesday, the Ducks became Nebraska's biggest fans. A victory by the Cornhuskers probably would have made Oregon the champion of The Associated Press poll.

As it stands, Oregon will stay second in both the coaches' and media polls, which is the highest ranking in the program's history. And that's something Oregon can be proud of.

"We proved how good of a team we were on Tuesday, in the other half of the national championship," Harrington said.

Before the bowls, Oregon Coach Mike Bellotti called the Bowl Championship Series system a "cancer" for leaving the Ducks out of the title game despite being ranked second in both polls.

"I have said my point about the BCS," Bellotti said from the Rose Bowl. "It would have been nice for Oregon to get a chance to be here. The polls had us there, but the computers did not."

At Rennie's, a popular bar near the Oregon campus, the crowd was in a rowdy mood before the Rose Bowl, cheering for the Huskers to win and give Oregon a national title to go with the school's 1939 men's basketball crown.

The noise dropped to a low hum during Miami's 27-point second quarter, however, and patrons went back to their beverages and burgers.

While no one said out loud that Oregon could have slowed down the Hurricanes, they would have liked a chance to prove it.

"We need a playoff system, because there's going to be debate for years unless we get rid of the system we have now," said John McGlamery of Eugene. "But Oregon was put into a system, and they knew what they were getting into."

Oregon could have ended the debate by finishing 11-0, but the Ducks blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead at home to Stanford on Oct. 20, losing 49-42.

Oregon's remarkable season was enough to make a fan at Rennie's start a one-man chant: "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!"

Second-best might have to do.

"It's so cool to be where we are now," said Steve Bryan of Eugene. "Miami, they're used to this stuff. Eugene, we're not used to this. If it never happens again, it's OK."

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