Around Eugene these days University of Oregon fans are being advised that love of their Ducks is best evidenced by outbreaks of Quack Attacks. An incredibly wonderful and wacky TV and radio promotion campaign that's aimed at increasing ticket sales—tickets, naturally, can be put "on your bill"—says that Quack Attacks constitute a "strange new mallardy." And the cause of this sudden epidemic of interest in Oregon football is indeed linked to a weird malady: The vaunted Pac-10 has fallen on such ill times that a few weeks back the Ducks were at the top of the conference standings. Oregon's lofty station inspired visions of spending New Year's in Pasadena for the first time in 26 years. Duck fever has proved so virulent that at each of the Ducks' two most recent home games 10,000 quackers (cost: 15¢ each) were given out to Duck fans to blow. As a result, a disconcertingly joyous, quacking din has been heard from Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoons.
Of course it's silly, and of course it's fun for the Ducks, who have had precious little to quack about in recent years. But, above all, something as dizzy as this promotion is perfect for the Pac-10, which has gone absolutely qwazy this year. In 1982, the league had an out-of-conference record of 26-10-1 (.716); three of its teams were among the top seven in the final wire-service polls, with UCLA fifth, Arizona State sixth and Washington seventh; each of those won its bowl game: Rose, Fiesta and Aloha, respectively; and an extraordinary 55 of the conference's players were drafted by the NFL. All of which made the Pac-10—no argument—the best major conference in the land. This year, it is—no argument, please—the worst.
The Pac-10's record against non-conference opponents stands at a modest 14-18-1 (.439). On the other hand, the non-conference mark of the Southeastern Conference is 30-13-3 (.685), the Big Eight 20-12-1 (.621), the Big Ten 12-8 (.600) and the Southwest 14-12-1 (.537). Washington (No. 19) is the sole Pac-10 representative in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Top 20. USC Assistant Coach Foster Andersen says of the league, "In truth, we're not what we have been in total quality. You watch the pro draft this year. There won't be a whole lot of players from the West Coast taken."
However, UCLA Coach Terry Donahue disputes the contention that the league has quacked up. "Last year our success was almost ridiculous," he says. "But you can line up five teams in this conference that are real good and they can play with any five teams from any conference."
Sure you can, and the Pac-10 will lose four of them, maybe all five. Consider that the triumvirate that is the traditional heart and soul of the league—USC, UCLA and Stanford—has amassed a record against non-conference opponents of 0-9-1. Southern Cal has fallen on such hard times that it's widely rumored that the Trojans have dropped football but haven't told anybody. On Saturday USC's record fell to 4-5-1 after it lost to Washington, 24-0, the first time the Trojans have been shut out in 187 games. Says USC's first-year head coach, Ted Tollner, "We have some outstanding products at USC, but they're all in the National Football League." And John El way-less Stanford is 1-9, but that mark is misleading; the Cardinal isn't that good. After Stanford lost on Oct. 9 to Oregon State, which hadn't won a conference game since 1979, someone asked beleaguered Cardinal Coach Paul Wiggin what he had learned from the films. Growled Wiggin, "We burned them." Last week, Stanford burned Wiggin, by firing him, effective at the end of the season. UCLA, with a record of 5-4-1, beat Washington, which probably has the best team in the Pac-10, but the Bruins did nothing more than throw mild scares into Nebraska and Georgia earlier this year.
Conference Commissioner Tom Hansen says, "We haven't been embarrassed." That would seem to indicate a tolerance for embarrassment on about the Rodney Dangerfield level. To wit:
Was it not embarrassing when Washington—seemingly the one bastion of ability and stability in the league after a sturdy win over then No. 1 ranked Michigan—rolled into Baton Rouge and was demolished 40-14 by an LSU team that has yet to win its first SEC game?
Was it not embarrassing when Southern Cal went to Columbia, S.C. for a little hit-and-giggle contest with the unremarkable South Carolina Gamecocks, and got blitzed 38-14?
Was it not embarrassing when Oregon lost its opener to Pacific, a hell of an ocean but an unknown football team, 21-15?
And within the conference, was it not embarrassing when Oregon State's defense ended up with too many men on the field—to be exact, 15 in all—and Arizona's Tom Tunnicliffe still completed an 11-yard pass?