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Ducks aren’t chicken about Sports Illustrated jinx

EUGENE — Incense. Ouija Board. A live chicken.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich quipped during his Tuesday press conference that he would use any means necessary to avoid the Sports Illustrated cover jinx this week.

“That’s probably not an appropriate joke this day and age,” Helfrich said of sacrificing live poultry. “Dead chicken. Organic chicken. Free range.”

Helfrich should be in a good mood since his quarterback is Marcus Mariota, this week’s Sports Illustrated cover boy. Writer Greg Bedard’s article, “Peaking Duck,” examines why the Ducks’ Heisman Trophy candidate might be worthy of the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

“How do we handle that? We make fun of Marcus. Any chance you can to poke fun of the perfect person, you have to take your shots,” Helfrich continued. “It’s very easy to make Marcus blush.”

Mariota, 20, is appearing on the Sports Illustrated cover for the third time. So far, only LeBron James has made more appearances (four) before the age of 21.

“It’s great for our fans, it’s great for our program, it’s an honor,” Helfrich said. “As a guy growing up in the Sports Illustrated (era) when that was kind of it, that’s a huge deal for him and a neat deal for our program.”

Entering Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at Washington State, Mariota has passed for 806 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions.

He has also rushed for 156 yards and three touchdowns, including the spectacular somersault touchdown against Wyoming.

Ducks face tough 2015

The Pac-12 released the conference’s 2015 football schedule on Tuesday night. Oregon’s slate is highlighted by the return trip to Michigan State (Sept. 20), road tests at Arizona State (Oct. 29) and Stanford (Nov. 14) and visits by California (Nov. 7), USC (Nov. 21) and Oregon State (Nov. 27) to Autzen Stadium.

The Ducks also host Eastern Washington (Sept. 5) and Georgia State (Sept. 19) in nonconference games before opening Pac-12 play at home against Utah on Sept. 26.

Oregon’s other conference road games are at Colorado (Oct. 3) and Washington (Oct. 17). The game at Sun Devil Stadium is on a Thursday and the Civil War is on a Friday.

The Ducks don’t play UCLA or Arizona during the regular season in 2015 or 2016.

Championship odds

After finishing nonconference play 3-0, Oregon’s odds of winning the College Football Playoff are down to 7-to-1, according to Bovada Las Vegas.

Defending national champion Florida State is currently a 5/1 favorite to repeat. Alabama (7/1) has the same odds as the Ducks, followed by Oklahoma (15/2), Auburn (9/1), Texas A&M (14/1) and UCLA (16/1).

Notable

Oregon’s game notes list either Jake Fisher or Matt Pierson as the starter at left tackle this week. Fisher sustained a leg injury early in the Wyoming game and was replaced by Pierson, a walk-on from Portland. … Troy Hill is listed as the starting cornerback after missing the Wyoming game with an injury. … The Ducks’ seven-game winning streak against Washington State is only its third-longest active streak against Pac-12 opponents behind Washington (10) and Arizona State (8).

Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich and the Ducks travel to Washington State on Saturday. AP PHOTO