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Neuheisel Hopes To Get Off And Running In Pac-10 Race
Release: 10/01/1999
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Oct. 1, 1999

SEATTLE - Rick Neuheisel has been filled in on the Oregon-Washington rivalry.

"After having gone around the state tour in the months of May and June, it became very apparent to me that this is a passionate game," the Huskies new coach said.

Washington (1-2) meets No. 25 Oregon (3-1) in its Pac-10 opener on Saturday night at Husky Stadium.

The Ducks started off conference play with a triple-overtime thriller over USC in Eugene last weekend. They've won four of five against Washington, including the last two in Seattle.

Under Mike Bellotti, they've become a major thorn in the sides of the Huskies. They've recruited athletes from the state of Washington that the Huskies normally would attract.

Bellotti will start five players from the state of Washington, including leading tackler Peter Sirmon.

The Ducks aren't scared of the Huskies anymore. In the topsy turvy Pac-10 race, where preseason favorite Arizona has been a major flop, Oregon thinks it has a chance of returning to the Rose Bowl, where it went under Rich Brooks in 1995.

"Certainly, we have a healthy respect for Oregon given the state of events the last five years," Neuheisel said. "It doesn't take a lot of fire and brimstone anecdotes or anything like that."

Akili Smith passed for 442 yards and three touchdowns in Oregon's 27-22 victory last year. Smith is with the Cincinnati Bengals and has been replaced by A.J. Feeley, a 6-foot-4 junior.

According to Neuheisel, Feeley looks as good as Smith on videotape.

"Oregon has done a great job of knowing who they are," Neuheisel said. "If we put up his (Feeley's) numbers and all of a sudden everybody didn't tell you that Akili Smith was gone, no one would be saying, 'What's wrong with Akili?"'

Neuheisel is new to Washington, but he's got a lot of knowledge about the Ducks. At Colorado, he beat Bellotti's Oregon teams in the 1996 Cotton Bowl and the 1998 Aloha Bowl.

Bellotti took exception to reports that there were bad feelings between himself and Neuheisel.

In the 1996 Cotton Bowl, Neuheisel ran a fake punt with 1:11 left and Colorado comfortably in front. Bellotti was upset when Washington, under Neuheisel, violated the NCAA-mandated quiet period of recruiting in January.

"Rick and I get along fine," Bellotti said. "My only beef is that he's beaten us twice in bowl games and I'd like to try to even that score."

Oregon will be playing without kicker Nathan Villegas, who sustained a freak injury in the USC game.

Villegas partially tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee when holder Joey Harrington jumped on his back celebrating the field goal that sent the game into overtime. He will be out 2-4 weeks.

In addition, Oregon's leading rusher, Reuben Droughns, is questionable with a separated rib and torn cartilage on his left side. And backup Herman Ho-Ching is ailing with a sprained right foot.

Droughns rushed for 300 yards and four touchdowns in Oregon's first four games.

Josh Frankel kicked the winning field goal that beat the Trojans in the third overtime. It's been hard for him to concentrate on the Huskies this week.

"Right now, I'm still in a dream world," he said. "It's been wild, and I honestly still haven't figured out what's going on."

AP Sports Writer

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