Between starring at quarterback and studying for a business degree, Kellen Clemens drives around the Eugene campus in a white 1997 Ford F-150 pickup. Pictures of his parents and four sisters adorn the visors, and bales of hay and four horseshoes are in the bed. The truck, in all its modesty, is a keepsake from home. ?It?s got some character to it,? he says. ?I keep the hay and horseshoes in there as constant reminders of who I am and where I?m from.?
Clemens was raised in Burns (pop. 2,900), a speck in the high desert of eastern Oregon, but he could easily hail from the pages of a Larry McMurtry novel. He grew up on the family?s 120-acre ranch, which has 170 head of cattle but no TV. The sixth generation in his family to work the land, Clemens and his sisters each spring would help their parents brand the cattle and then drive the herd 15 miles to a field for feeding. Six months later they?d make the return trip. ?I?m a country kid through and through,? he says.
Take the kid out of the country, and the 6'2", 215-pound junior looms as one of college football?s breakout players this fall. Last year Clemens started all 13 games but was platooned with Jason Fife until the Nov. 8 test against Cal. After Clemens directed the Ducks to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 21?17 comeback win, he became the full-time quarterback. Over Oregon?s last four games Clemens completed 64.6% of his passes for 788 yards and nine touchdowns as the Ducks went 3?1. A career-best performance in a 31?30 Sun Bowl loss to Minnesota--he was 32 of 42 for 363 yards and three touchdowns--capped the season.
If an inexperienced receiving corps proves capable, Clemens could emerge on the national scene much like former Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington did in 2000. ?Kellen?s best games are ahead of him,? Oregon coach Mike Bellotti says. ?He got better over the course of last season, and I expect great progress this season.?
He?s looking for his program to make a similar advance. Since winning the Fiesta Bowl and finishing ?01 as the nation?s No. 2 team, Oregon has gone 15?11 and allowed USC to overtake it as the Pac-10?s top program. ?The last two years have been disappointing for us,? Bellotti says, ?but I believe we?re going in a positive direction.? --G.M.