EUGENE, Ore. — LaMichael James ran for 219 yards and three touchdowns and No. 8 Oregon beat UCLA 49-31 in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game Friday for the Ducks' third straight conference title and a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Rick Neuheisel tipped his hat to the UCLA fans in his last game as coach. The former Bruins quarterback was fired this week after four seasons with his alma mater.
Though the Bruins (6-7) played with passion for their outgoing coach and kept the game closer than many thought they would, it was not enough to overcome the Ducks (11-2), who head to a BCS bowl for the third straight season.
Darron Thomas threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns, becoming Oregon's career leader with 63 TD passes.
James became the first rusher in Pac-12 history with three straight 1,500-yard seasons. He moved into a tie with Southern Cal's LenDale White (2003-05) for second on the league's career rushing TD list with 52.
Oregon will play the winner of today's first Big 10 title game between No. 11 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.
The heavily favored Ducks scored on their first series when James ran 30 yards for a touchdown. James went into the game as the nation's top running back, with an average of 142.7 yards rushing per game.
UCLA tied it when linebacker Patrick Larimore ran back an interception 35 yards for a TD.
Thomas scored on a 10-yard keeper and then found true freshman tight end Colt Lyerla alone in the end zone with a 7-yard scoring pass to make it 21-7. UCLA narrowed it with Kevin Prince's flea-flicker to Nelson Rosario for a 37-yard TD.
Oregon was stung early in the game when dynamic true freshman De'Anthony Thomas fumbled after a hit by Tevin McDonald. Shaken up, the versatile back, this week named the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year on offense, did not return.
James added a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 28-14 before Darron Thomas connected with Daryle Hawkins for a 25-yard TD reception.
Prince scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter to pull UCLA closer, but James answered with a 5-yard TD run to make it 42-24.