Graziani played like "the guy" during Saturday's game at rainy Autzen Stadium, completing 15 of 24 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. It certainly helps that all of Oregon's wideouts—senior Cristin McLemore, junior Dameron Ricketts, sophomores Damon Griffin and Pat Johnson—are back. Also returning to the offense is senior tailback Ricky Whittle, who was All- Pac-10 and gained 1,031 all-purpose yards last year.
On the other side of the ball, the defense looks just as promising, despite losing safeties Chad Cota and Jeff Sherman and cornerback Herman O'Berry to graduation. Molden, an All-America candidate, and sophomore Kenny Wheaton, the other cornerback, should keep the defensive backfield solid. Just how good could Molden be? Says new defensive coordinator Charlie Waters, who saw a thing or two as a safety for the Dallas Cowboys from 1970 to '82 and as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos in '93 and '94, "Let me put it this way. I would have liked to have had him in the NFL last year, O.K.?"
One Duck weakness is likely to be a lack of depth. In Saturday's game the starters thrashed the backups 41-6, leaving the Oregon coaching staff wondering what would happen to the Ducks if they were hit by a rash of injuries. Depth, however, may not be such a problem in the future because Oregon's recruiting efforts have gotten a huge boost from the visibility that has come with the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl appearance.
"In the past, I had to really work at getting kids to visit," says assistant head coach Neal Zoumboukos, who has been at Oregon for 15 years, "but if we go to another New Year's Day bowl and finish in the top 15 once again, I think it could have kids saying, 'Gee, I want to go to Oregon.' "
Joe Schaffeld, who played on the Ducks' 1958 Rose Bowl team and who has been an assistant coach at Oregon for the last 21 years, says negative recruiting from rival coaches has hurt the Ducks in the past. "They'd tell the kids, ' Oregon? Who are they trying to kid? They're never going to a bowl.' Well, we don't have that problem now."
Says Bellotti, "We've been to four bowl games in six years, capped off by the Rose Bowl. I don't think winning is a part-time thing here anymore."
"It's gonna be really weird in that first conference game," adds Wilcox. "We play at UCLA. And they're not the defending Pac-10 champions, we are."