For those of you keeping track this summer — and there were a lot of you — Oregon cornerback/return man Cliff Harris‘ driving record produced even more eye-popping stats behind the wheel than last year’s All-America campaign on the field: 118 mph on a suspended license, $8,500 in fines for at least 11 outstanding citations, a one-game suspension for arguably the biggest game of the year and finally six more games in depth chart limbo, where he’s remained since being pulled over back in June.
As of Monday, “limbo” would be a step up: Harris added three more lines to the box score in the form of fresh citations for driving with a suspended license, driving while uninsured and failure to wear a seatbelt. To his discipline record, coach Chip Kelly has added “a complete prohibition from all football activities until the matter is resolved.” His odds of seeing the field again this year from the furthest reaches of Kelly’s doghouse: Well, better than his odds of fulfilling projections as a first-round draft pick, at least.
Kelly has earned a reputation for a killer poker face when it comes to extended discipline: Before he relegated the most dangerous defender in the Pac-12 to second string, he also upheld season-long bans against two other former Duck stars, running back LeGarrette Blount and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, for exploding into a post-game rampage and allegedly robbing a frat house, respectively. (Blount was granted a pardon near the end of the 2009 season, ultimately sitting out ten full games; Masoli made the decision a little easier by getting arrested again.) With Kelly, the suspension is just phase one, from which players seem to start over from square one.
That’s a luxury you have when you’re able to consistently plug new players into one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. In Harris’ case, he also has the luxury of a two-week buffer in which “tough love” is unlikely to have any impact whatsoever on the results against Washington State (against whom Oregon opened Monday as a 36½-point favorite) and Washington. After that, the Ducks’ season will be made or broken in back-to-back dates with Stanford and USC, and their NFL-bound quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley, at whose expense Harris collected three of his Pac-10-best six interceptions last year in Oregon’s biggest wins en route to the BCS Championship Game. With a perfect finish and a little help, a return trip to the title game may still be on the table. Whether that remains true with one of the most dynamic players in the country watching from the sideline — and whether Kelly will stick by his guns if it looks like it doesn’t — we may be about to find out.