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Oregon opens Chip Kelly era against Boise State

EUGENE — Chip Kelly has really already made the dramatic changes when it comes to the Oregon Ducks.

He brought in the team's distinctive spread-option offense a couple of seasons ago when he arrived as offensive coordinator.

Now as head coach, he says he's going with the flow.

"I'm very, very aware this program was tremendously successful before I got here. So if I think people think I'm going to drastically change from that game plan, I'd be crazy," he said.

Kelly's debut as Oregon's head coach comes this Thursday when the No. 16 Ducks visit No. 14 Boise State.

Kelly takes over from Mike Bellotti, known as the dean of the Pac-10's head coaches after 14 years on the job in Eugene. Bellotti took over as Oregon's athletic director this summer.

The decision to hand the reins over to Kelly came last December, before the Ducks defeated Oklahoma State 42-31 in the Holiday Bowl — and before Bellotti ultimately decided it would be his last season.

Kelly's stint as a coach-in-waiting was a short one, and in March it was formally announced that he would take over this season.

Kelly came to the Ducks in 2007 from New Hampshire, and his impact on the team was immediate. With versatile quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back Jonathan Stewart, the Ducks presented a formidable ground attack. Oregon appeared on its way to a shot at the national title until Dixon was injured late in the season.

Then last year the Ducks were beset with trouble at quarterback. Projected starter Nate Costa was hurt about a week before the season started, and additional injures forced the Ducks to shuffle players through the position, including true freshmen Darron Thomas and Chris Harper.

Junior college transfer Jeremiah Masoli emerged about halfway through the season, although he was booed at times by fans frustrated when he chose to run the ball rather than throw it.

But in the end, Masoli threw for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns, while running for 718 yards and 10 scores. The Ducks had the second-ranked rushing offense in the country behind Navy. They were ranked seventh in total offense and seventh in scoring offense.

The Ducks finished 10-3 and were ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll.

So while Kelly wisely wants to keep the Ducks on that pace, there have been some subtle changes. Practice is more regimented, with drills scheduled to the minute.

"Our practices are real fast and we practice real hard. He's just a real hard-nosed guy when it comes to practice and it's time to work. No question about that. The hard hats are on, so to speak," Thurmond said.

Under Bellotti, Oregon became a national presence, establishing itself back in the days of Joey Harrington. Kelly's goal is to maintain that stature.

"I've always felt, and I felt from afar before I got here, that Oregon was one of the elite football programs in the country. And how hard it is, and how difficult it is to sustain that, is kind of the challenge that we have," he said.

The challenge starts Thursday on national television in Boise. Kelly reiterated this week that he's not nervous.

In fact, about the only person who looks like they might have trouble with Kelly taking over is Bellotti, who is unsure how he'll react when he's not pacing the sidelines.

"I talked with Tom Osborne at Nebraska, who was a former coach and is now the AD. He said it was tough early but it got better each year. And he now goes down and gets his fix by going down to the weight room, interfacing with the athletes, talking to them, goes by study hall once awhile, he feels involved to the degree he needs to be," Bellotti said this summer. "I think it'll be much the same for me."