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Ducks aim to unwrap victory

QBs are key as UO, Colorado tangle in Aloha

HONOLULU -- Two former baseball players who gave up their careers for college football will be quarterbacking their teams Christmas Day when No. 21 Oregon plays Colorado in the Aloha Bowl.

The Ducks (8-3) are led by Akili Smith, the Pac-10 co-offensive player of the year.

Smith passed for 3,307 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, completing 59 percent of his passes and finishing second in the nation in passing efficiency. It was the best single-season performance by a quarterback in Oregon's 104-year football history.

Mike Moschetti directs the offense for the Buffaloes (7-4) of the Big 12 Conference, taking over after joining the team in spring practice. Moschetti battled through ankle, shoulder and rib injuries to throw for 2,104 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Both Smith and Moschetti were drafted in 1993 -- Smith by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the seventh round and Moschetti in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

The game will feature teams with similar defensive philosophies.

It's a lot like playing ourselves, Oregon defensive coordinator Bob Foster said. Colorado does a lot of the same things we do. They play a wide open kind of football, and like to mix it up.

Colorado's defense ranks 13th nationally, allowing 296 yards and 19 points per game. It will be tested since Oregon ranks 10th in the nation in total offense at 478 yards per game and seventh in scoring at 39.1 points.

Defensively, both teams have good speed, and both use lots of blitzing and man-to-man coverage. That leaves many opportunities for Smith and Moschetti to hook up with their receivers.

Our cover guys, Ben Kelly and Damon Wheeler, and our safeties will have to do a great job of making plays on the ball, Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel said. When you're playing with your back to the quarterback, which is often the case in man-to-man coverage, you've got to have great instincts as to when the ball's arriving. That will be a key.

Smith's favorite targets were Tony Hartley, who had 48 catches and 20 touchdowns, and Damon Griffin, who had 50 receptions and scored seven times. Hartley is suspended and won't play.

Even without Hartley, Smith is confident.

If I get time, I can pick these guys apart, he said. But when you got eight, nine men in the box, they're going to be getting after you.

Kelly, a first team All-Big 12 selection at cornerback and punt returner, loves the challenge.

That's what (defensive backs) like to do -- to have glory, or not have glory, covering a deep ball, Kelly said. Just one-on-one.

Oregon will be without its top running back, Reuben Droughns, who was injured in the sixth game of the season. He finished with 824 yards, fourth best in the Pac-10.

Colorado running back Marlon Barnes missed five games with foot and knee injuries, but still led the team with 572 yards. Moschetti's top receiver is Darrin Chiaverini, who had 52 receptions and five touchdowns and was the team's most valuable player.

The Buffaloes will face an Oregon defense that improved to 54th nationally after ranking 102nd in 1997. The Ducks allowed 390 yards and 25.2 points per game.

They will try to stop a Colorado offense that been inconsistent, but very effective at times.

What we want to do that we have been unable to do consistently throughout the season is come up with some big plays, Neuheisel said.

Oregon is seeking to avenge a 38-6 loss to Colorado in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, a game in which the Buffaloes used a fake punt with a 32-6 lead on a drive that led to their last score.

We didn't intend to show anyone up, Neuheisel said. This is a new year, a new team.

Oregon beat Air Force 43-13 last season in the Las Vegas Bowl; Colorado did not go to a bowl.