Status of Thomas, James still uncertain

EUGENE — The guessing game surrounding Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James continues against Washington State.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly won't make it official, so it's left to the Cougars and the fans to speculate whether both stars for the No. 7 Ducks will play today at Autzen Stadium.

It appears as though Thomas will return. He said earlier this week he's at 100 percent and he presumes he'll start, wearing a knee brace. He's listed atop the two-deep.

Of course, last week he also said he expected to play but he was held out of Oregon's 45-2 victory over Colorado. Instead, backup Bryan Bennett started and completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12).

Thomas was hurt the week before when a defender fell on him early in the second half of Oregon's 41-27 victory over Arizona State.

James is much more questionable. He told a Portland radio show this week that his chances of playing against the Cougars (3-4, 1-3) are at about 60-40. Because the Ducks close their practices, it was impossible to tell if James was consistently practicing with the team.

James is wearing a brace on his right elbow, which he dislocated in Oregon's win over California on Oct. 6.

If James doesn't play against the Cougars — and many onlookers argue it's best to hold him out until next week when the Ducks visit Washington — he has a proficient replacement in Kenjon Barner.

Barner, who is certainly talented enough to be a starter, ran for 171 yards against the Sun Devils and 115 against the Buffaloes.

For Washington State, Jeff Tuel is definitely out against the Ducks.

Tuel aggravated a clavicle injury that had given him trouble at the start of the year in Washington State's 44-21 loss to Oregon State last weekend at Qwest Field in Seattle. But the real problem this week turned out to be a bruised right calf.

Tuel went to the hospital because of the injury, which was diagnosed as acute compartment syndrome. It is not known how long it might keep him out.

The Cougars also have a capable backup, in this case Marshall Lobbestael, who will make his seventh start this season. The fifth-year senior has thrown for 15 touchdowns with five interceptions this season, and is averaging 248.4 yards passing a game.

Another issue facing the Cougars is a three-game losing streak, which has renewed criticism of coach Paul Wulff and his staff.

Wulff said the sniping was actually a good thing, because it showed that expectations for Washington State were raised after a 3-1 start to the season.

"People expect us to win," he said. "That's been a long time coming."

Oregon was facing controversy this week after All-American cornerback/kick returner Cliff Harris was cited for driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance and failing to wear a seatbelt.

While Harris' father later told The Register-Guard newspaper that he had paperwork he believed showed his son's license was valid, as well as proof the car was insured, the DMV clarified that, indeed, Harris' license was still suspended at the time and he needed to apply to have it reinstated.

Kelly suspended Harris just hours after the traffic stop and is looking into the matter. In the meantime, Harris cannot participate in any football-related activities. It was a second strike for Harris, who was suspended to start the season after he was cited for driving 118 mph on Interstate 5 this June.

"We're four-deep at corner and Cliff hasn't played a whole heck of a lot anyways," Kelly said this week.

All of which leaves only the game to be played today. Heavily favored Oregon has won 20 straight games at Autzen. The Ducks have also won 16 straight conference games.

After landing in the BCS championship game last season with their prolific spread offense, the Ducks are averaging 537.3 yards of offense per game, sixth in the nation. They average 48.14 points per game.

Washington State, looking to become bowl eligible this season, is averaging 433.6 yards in total offense, a big improvement after averaging 269.3 last season.

Last year, the Ducks defeated the Cougars 43-23 in Pullman. The game was memorable because Barner was taken from the field by ambulance after a scary collision. He missed two games because of a concussion.

Oregon is well aware of the improvement Washington State continues to make — and wary that an upset of the Ducks would solidify that progress.

"I think they've improved since Paul's gotten there. He's done a nice job rebuilding that program," Kelly said. "They play with a toughness, they play with a physicality on the defensive side of the ball. I've seen a marked improvement in the three years Paul's been there."

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