Grading the Pac-10

Now that the Pac-10 season is well underway, it's a good time to eye the surprises and disappointments in conference action while listing team efforts by order of on-field performance to date.

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There are some monumental games on the slate, most notably USC and California this weekend. Given the performance of the conference so far, if USC can win that matchup, it could be in good shape since it's already survived a scare from the league's biggest surprise.

Ranking the Pac-10:

1. California: The Golden Bears have looked impressive against so-so competition. Offensively, Cal is clicking with one of the nation's more balanced attacks. This is a tough team to stop. The defense hasn't really been tested yet, but that will change this weekend.

2. USC: While still ranked No. 1, Southern Cal hasn't exactly looked dominant all the time. But looks can be deceiving. It took BYU's best shot in a game that appeared competitive on the field, and won by 32 points. It wore down Stanford in the second half, and fought off Virginia Tech in the season opener. USC makes it look too easy, and that's part of the problem in getting a real feel for how good this team really is. But if it tops Cal, only ASU remains among the upper echelon of the conference while the other teams still get shots at one another.

3. Stanford: Unquestionably the biggest surprise in the Pac-10. Stanford is no fluke, and it even played well the week following its heartbreaking setback against USC. The Cardinal has been impressive on both sides of the ball. That Bay Area showdown to close out the regular season could have as much importance than any Stanford-Cal matchup in recent memory.

4. ASU: Quarterback Andrew Walter has been solid, if not spectacular, but while his overall completion numbers aren't impressive, he has a knack once again for making big plays. However, the story for Arizona State is on the defensive side of the ball, where it sports one of the fastest units in the conference. As a result, ASU is good enough to be a serious factor in every game it plays. It gets a bye week before clashing with USC, but then must square off with Cal before the month ends. By October we'll have a good idea where Dirk Koetter's crew stands.

5. UCLA: The Bruins were abused on the ground in the opener against Oklahoma State and appeared flat-out unprepared, but by the second half of that clash and since, things have gotten better. This is a team that still has problems defensively, but plenty of talent to offset those issues offensively. Maurice Drew is a bear at tailback, and Drew Olson brings a solid presence to the quarterback position. Still, UCLA has to show it can limit mistakes. If that happens, it can be a factor.

6. Washington State: The quintessential team that's a year away. WSU has obvious talent and a horde of athleticism, but inexperience has plagued it despite a 3-1 record so far. Josh Swogger looks like he could be a very talented quarterback once he gets seasoning, but he needs receivers who can hold onto the ball. Mentally, Wazzu has had some troubling foibles. It did everything within its power to give away the Arizona game, and still managed to win. That type of good fortune will not be in the cards if errors like that continue.

7. Oregon: One of the league's real disappointments, Oregon should be better than it is. There's plenty of talent on offense, including experience at quarterback, but it has yet to really jell. The defense has played solid, but not well enough to change the nature of the game.

8. Arizona: The UA is within an eyelash of standing 3-1, but despite playing hard it has seemingly invented new and imaginative ways to lose. Defensively, Arizona is playing spirited football, although it faces a real test this weekend in LA. Offensively, it hasn't been able to show any real consistency. Still, it's a step in the right direction. Arizona is competitive this season. Now it just has to learn how to win.

9. Oregon State: Another snakebit Pac-10 team, the Beavers have been close, but haven't been able to close the deal. The LSU extra point debacle will stand as the biggest game giveaway of the season, but in the ASU encounter, a tight end was stripped of the ball at the half-yard line. Had OSU scored on that play, it could have changed the complexion of the game. Quarterback Derek Anderson puts up great numbers, and he's been victimized by some receiver drops, but he has never done what's necessary to give Oregon State the kind of offensive leadership it needs on that side of the ball.

10. Washington: Who could have imagined that Washington would ever rank as the worst team in the Pac-10? Its defense is dismal, its offense doesn't have the firepower to compensate, and the entire program plays like it's in a state of complete disarray. Can you say Dan Hawkins? How about Steve Spurrier?…

…Moving on…

…I think it's important to take in the sights, especially when those sights are at home. I've been to the Desert Museum, I've been to Old Tucson, before and after it burned, I've even been to the Botanical Gardens, and just last week I ventured across the Rattlesnake Bridge. You have to hand it to Tucson. When most places build a bridge, it tends to connect two necessary points. The folks in Tucson are above such a thing. The Rattlesnake Bridge, located across Broadway west of Euclid near downtown, is the quintessential bridge to nowhere. It connects nothing to nothing. On the south side, the entrance requires walking over rocks from a parking lot that appears to benefit a medical supply warehouse. You have to take an off-road just to get there. On the north side, it connects to a small park, but it's one of those not-really-thought-out-well environmentally friendly parks inaccessible by car. Moreover, it appears the park is only for the benefit of the Iron Horse Neighborhood, a historic section of houses that calls itself historic for no other reason than it's been around longer than 20 years, which by Tucson standards makes it historic. Problem is, you can't easily get to the small park from the bridge because there's a big blue prison-style fence separating the two. In the end, it's a really cool art project, and that makes it the greatest bridge in the world. Who needs the Golden Gate or the Brooklyn? In Tucson we have the Rattlesnake Bridge. It has teeth and a tail, and no practicality whatsoever.

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