December 05, 2011
Based on his sophomore season at Oregon and the accompanying hype over the offseason, this should have been the week Cliff Harris basked in the adulation of All-America teams and whatever other awards were his for the taking. Instead, after a season on the bench and in the doghouse, it was the day he was booted from the team for good: Per a release from the university, Harris has been dismissed for — altogether now — an undisclosed violation of team rules, ending an enormously promising career on a whimper.
Whatever happened to be the final straw, we can be fairly certain that it was dumb. Harris' previous suspensions this season were the result of progressively dumb infractions, beginning with getting caught going more than 50 mph above the speed limit in June, subsequently revealing $8,500 in unpaid fines since 2008. He was suspended again in late October for driving on a suspended license and without insurance. He was not cited on the first stop for telling an officer that he and starting quarterback Darron Thomas did not have any marijuana in the car because "we smoked it all."
In a perfect world, Harris would have stayed on and turned in the kind of all-purpose season that just got LSU cornerback/punt returner/noted 420 aficionado Tyrann Mathieu invited to New York for a shot at the Heisman Trophy. Instead, he finishes the season with nine tackles and one interception in six games, none of them starts. He finishes his career with 61 tackles, eight interceptions and five touchdowns, four of them coming on punt returns. Presumably, he will now take his proverbial talents to the NFL draft, where there will still be interest as long as Harris can still lock s--- down.
Two of the six games Harris missed were the Ducks' losses at the hands of LSU in the season opener and USC in October, where Oregon was especially stung by special teams errors and lapses in coverage, respectively, that made a critical difference in both games. Enough difference to turn either one in the Ducks' favor? That's too much to put on any player. But however small the margin, their chances of landing in the BCS Championship Game are somewhat higher if Harris plays in those games.
As it stands, the Ducks had more than enough explosiveness to win the conference without him, and did, and will go on to the Rose Bowl without him. Harris may still be on his way to the next level, but between him and his now-former team, I don't think there's much doubt which side missed the other this season the most.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.