Schu Strings: Middle of the Road

With one game in the books in the already much-ballyhooed Mike Stoops era, words of description aren't exactly electrifying. After the 21-3 victory over NAU, solid and uncertain pretty much sum it up. But then again, you might be able to say the same about most of the Pac-10.

Season openers are tough. First off, they're critical given the limited number of games on the schedule, but if a team beats an inferior opponent, as Arizona did over the weekend, it doesn't do a whole lot to answer the questions.

So is Arizona any better? Impossible to say. On a positive note, it limited mistakes. The UA won the turnover battle, it committed a small number of penalties, and it held NAU to 60 yards of total offense in the first half.

But after an impressive 16-play, nine-minute drive to start the game, it couldn't move the football, and played the state's only Division I-AA team to a near draw through three and a half quarters.

But the verdict is out for much of the Pac-10. Arizona State routed UTEP, but the UA did the same thing to kick off the 2003 season, and we know what happened after that.

Oregon State got a lot of attention for its shoulda-won performance at LSU, but senior quarterback Derek Anderson still appears mistake-prone, and any kicker who fails to convert three extra points is going to have psychological issues throughout the remainder of the campaign. It's been suggested to me that Oregon State is a gimme-bet this weekend at Boise State. Must be the reason I don't bet, because I think Boise wins by three touchdowns. OSU's defense appears as though it could be as good as advertised, but there are certainly problem areas on offense and special teams.

USC wasn't exactly the juggernaut everyone anticipated. Virginia Tech did a stellar job through most of the first half, but Troy's patience paid dividends in the end. Still, without Mike Williams, the passing game appears to be a trouble spot. Inexperienced receivers will have to make quick strides if USC hopes to run the table.

To me, Cal was the most impressive team of the opening week. It benefited from a terrible call in the end zone, but then turned on the steam and rolled a solid Air Force team. Along with Oregon State, the Cal is the only longtime league member not to have made a Rose Bowl appearance since the Pac expanded to 10 teams.

Stanford made an early bid for most improved team. It pounded pesky San Jose State in impressive fashion, but as was the case with Arizona and ASU, much better competition looms.

It appears Washington State will finally return to earth. Wazzu struggled, and probably should have lost, at New Mexico. The only team in Pac-10 history to record three straight 10-win seasons will probably have a hard time extending that streak.

Washington was less than impressive in its loss to Fresno State. Big turnovers were the difference. Looks like a long campaign is ahead for Keith Gilbertson and crew in Seattle.

UCLA yielded well over 400 rushing yards at home to Oklahoma State. The Bruins obviously have talent, and that could keep them in a number of games in this wide-open conference, but they appear to be generally ill-prepared to make the strides necessary to win on a consistent basis.

Oregon opens play this week.

Certainly, some shifting and separation will occur, but outside of USC and Cal, and perhaps OSU by virtue of its defense, the Pac-10 looks like a league in which an uncertain Arizona has a chance to compete.

In the onset of the Stoops reign, that's about all one can ask.


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