It seems hard to believe, but running back LaMichael James says he didn't come back for his junior season to rewrite the record book, etch his name on the Heisman Trophy or seek redemption after the Ducks lost last season's national championship game to Auburn by a field goal. His main reason for staying in Eugene? "I love my teammates," James says. "I love everything about being here with them."
Especially the pranks. James may have led the nation in rushing with 1,731 yards in 2010 and finished third in the Heisman voting, but he's equally proud to say he's dumped bags of flour on teammates while they slept and wrapped others with duct tape before dropping them inside rolling laundry bins. And despite his potential to become a first-round draft choice, the undersized James (5'9", 185 pounds) didn't even consider taking out an insurance policy to cover him were he to suffer a career-ending injury. "It's never been about the money," he says. "I can have a successful career getting a job somewhere. If [the NFL] isn't meant to be, then it's not meant to be."
It won't be all fun and games for James this season, though. He is caught up in an NCAA investigation regarding a $25,000 payment made by Oregon to Will Lyles, a Texas-based scouting service director who has ties to James and redshirt freshman tailback Lache Seastrunk. The school maintains the payments were for legitimate recruiting video services and instructed James not to talk about his ties to Lyles.
James might have difficulty on the field as well, running behind a line that must replace three starters. But junior quarterback Darron Thomas has blossomed into a playmaker, and junior running back Kenjon Barner will get more touches, which will help James remain fresh. "We don't run a gimmick deal," says coach Chip Kelly. "We run the ball. We throw the ball. We're very balanced."
The defense will start the season without Cliff Harris, who has been suspended indefinitely for driving 118 mph with a suspended license. But with James back and up to his old tricks, there's a chance yet that the season could unfold more like a comedy than a drama.
3 vs. LSU (in Arlington, Texas)
17 Missouri State
24 at Arizona
15 Arizona State
22 at Colorado
29 Washington State
5 at Washington
12 at Stanford
26 Oregon State
Had only 418 yards in 2010 but could become a main target with the exit of last season's top two receivers.
Averaged more yards per carry (6.1) than James (5.9) in '10; ran for 551 yards and six TDs on just 91 carries.
Led the nation with 23 passes defended and 17 breakups; returned four punts for TDs.
Coach Chip Kelly (3rd year)
2010 Record 12--1 (9--0 in Pac-10)
Final AP Rank 3
Returning Starters 9
Offense 5, Defense 4
RICHARD MACKSON (JAMES)
James returns in top form for his senior year, but to win a second straight rushing title, he'll need to overcome an inexperienced O-line and an off-field controversy.
PETER READ MILLER (HARRIS)