Pac-10 Weekend Preview

One of the nation's best and most competitive conferences will be on display this weekend with three of the five games being broadcast on either ABC or ESPN. And although there are many great college football games being played across the country, there is none bigger than the BCS heavyweight match up between BCS No. 4 ASU and BCS No. 5 Oregon.

UCLA (5-3, 4-1 Pac-10) @ Arizona (3-6, 2-4 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 12:30 PM Television: ABC Regional Coverage Stadium: Arizona Stadium (5,002)

Who can forget the 2005 game between these two schools when a young Willie Tuitama broke onto the national scene by throwing two early touchdown passes against then No. 7 UCLA en route to a 52-14 upset victory? At the time, Arizona fans thought the team was finally onto something, but then the Wildcats turned around and lost to a winless Washington team 38-14 the very next weekend. Again, Arizona is faced with the same situation except that this time they're trying to rally off the momentum of a comeback win over Washington by upending the Bruins this weekend amidst Homecoming festivities. UCLA QB Cowan is expected to play and if he does, despite the Bruins being down after last weekend's loss to lowly WSU, this game looks to be a fight to the end. Arizona has two conference wins and is looking for back-to-back victories for the first time since winning three in a row last November. Amazingly, the Bruins, suffering three embarrassing losses (Utah, Notre Dame, and WSU) are still in the hunt for a conference title. Arizona can put an end to the Bruins' hopes by avenging last year's 27-7 loss. Arizona was in sync against the Huskies, amassing 535 yards of total offense. 510 of those came in the air, though, so a balanced attack is still an issue. The Wildcats rank No. 113 in rushing and will need to do better on the ground if they expect to beat UCLA who has a very strong secondary. If the Bruins drop eight into coverage, Tuitama will have to show poise in the pocket, make his reads, and throw to the open man. Tuitama has been accused of locking onto receivers at times this season and that has gotten Arizona into trouble. Last weekend, he made his progressions very well. In fact, on the game-winning touchdown pass to Mike Thomas, the speedy wideout from Texas was Tuitama's fifth option. The key to this of course will be Arizona's ability to protect Tuitama in the pocket. For UCLA, the Bruins are stout in the running game (171 ypg) thanks in part to a big and agile offensive line. Arizona will need to find a way to clog the middle while still maintaining containment on the ends. If Arizona can stop the run and force Cowan to make throws, Arizona will gain a significant advantage. If the Bruins are able to run the ball down Arizona's throat, then UCLA can control the clock and keep Arizona's potent offense off the field. Turnovers will also help decide who wins but perhaps the biggest factor is which team wins the kicking game. Both teams have had great success in the return game, oftentimes running back kick offs well beyond the 40-yard line. To this end, the team that plays with the shortest field all day will win. There's a collective hope in Bruinland that a loss such as one to Arizona will be enough to show head coach Dorrell the door. Something tells me that they'll get their wish this weekend.

Washington (2-6, 0-5 Pac-10) @ Stanford (3-5, 2-4 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 3:30 PM Television: FSN – Direct TV Channels 649, 651, 653 Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000)

Who would've thought that after early-season blowout losses to UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon the Stanford Cardinal would be in position to go to a bowl game? As crazy as this may have once sounded, it's entirely possible that the Cardinal can not only go to a bowl game, but perhaps finish in the top tier of the conference. Three of their final four games are at home and of those four, only one team (Cal) has a winning record. The Cardinal get UW this weekend before traveling to Pullman to face the WSU Cougars. They then get Notre Dame in Palo Alto before hosting the Big Game against the boys from Berkeley. The emergence of their head coach Harbaugh as a true leader to rally behind has Stanford playing inspired football and although they continue to lose some games (OSU last weekend) they're playing much better. In fact, had they not been beaten by the injury bug so badly this season, this is a team that could easily have finished the season 8-4. For Washington, it's the exact opposite as they seem destined for yet another last place finish in the conference for the third time since 2004. The Huskies have a ton of talent but it has not yet gelled, or materialized into wins yet. Why is anyone's guess? QB Locker is one of the conference's best, but only when he's able to get outside of the pocket and make plays. He was able to break containment in a loss to Arizona, rushing for 157 yards and throwing for 336. The problem though is that he was a one man show and in the Pac-10 no one player is going to single-handily beat a conference foe – at least not this season. This is a winnable game for both teams and the fact that it's played at Stanford gives the Cardinal the edge. The Huskies are just 4-9 on the road under Willingham. The good news is that the Cardinal are just 1-4 at home this season. Stanford's DE's will do a better job than Arizona in containing Locker and in doing so I don't think the results will be any different. If it's a close game, Stanford will find a way to win under Harbaugh. If I had to guess at a final score, I'd say the Cardinal pull one out late 28-27.

Arizona State (8-0, 5-0 Pac-10) @ Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 3:40 PM Television: ESPN Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000)

This is a huge game for both teams. Never has so much been on the line for two teams in the Pac-10 since perhaps the 2004 season when No. 1 USC hosted No. 7 Cal at the Coliseum. The Ducks are a last second fumble into the end zone against Cal from being perhaps the No. 1 team in the BCS rankings while ASU has made one of the biggest climbs the BCS rankings has ever seen. Oregon QB Dixon is a special player who deserves Heisman recognition and he'll finally get a second chance to showcase his skills to the entire country after the early season beat down of Michigan way back on Sep. 8. His counterpart, ASU QB Carpenter, is also having a strong season, but may be hampered by a nagging wrist injury. The Sun Devils have been silent about Carpenter's injury but knowing head coach Erickson, Carpenter is probably just fine. Assuming he doesn't snag his throwing hand on a blitzing opponent's helmet, expect him to throw the ball with no trouble. ASU is without RB Torain for the rest of the season and this could be significant. Torain is speedy, but he's also powerful and his toughness against the Ducks will be sorely missed. With all the national hype leading into this game, Erickson and Bellotti will have their kids raring to go. The team that can channel their emotions the best in the first quarter may find themselves up early. If it's ASU, then forget about it, the Sun Devils will win as they, like all great teams, are a tremendous second half team. If it's the Ducks, then watch out as ASU has shown a propensity to rally back and win every game they've trailed in this season. ASU's secondary is very good but how they account for the duel-threat Dixon is in doubt. If they shadow Dixon, expect the Ducks to throw screen passes to RB Stewart in space. If they back off, expect Dixon to take to the ground and most likely turn what would be a 5-yard gain for most QB's into a 20-yard jaunt down the field. This game will be fast and explosive ala what you would see from a typical LSU/Florida game. Both teams will represent the conference well but only one will go home happy. The statistics say the winner will be Oregon, but I have a gut feeling (and it utterly disgusts me to write this) Erickson finds a way to get it done. ASU 38, Oregon 35.

Oregon State (5-3, 3-2 Pac-10) @ USC (6-2, 3-2 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 5:00 PM Television: ABC Regional Coverage Stadium: Los Angeles Coliseum (92,000)

Something tells me that the loss to Oregon last weekend will pave the way for USC QB Booty to find himself back in the starting lineup. The last time these two teams played, OSU jumped out to a 23-point lead before the Trojans came storming back. The game was eventually decided on a late 2-point conversion that failed when Booty's pass to the end zone was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Most will say the beginning of the end of USC's reign as the supreme team in the conference ended that day and they'd be right. Since then, the Trojans have lost three more games to conference foes. While this doesn't sound like much, the conference will now have been responsible for keeping USC out of the BCS Championship Game for two straight seasons. USC is getting healthier and healthier by the day and, if Booty does start, should have no trouble in beating the Beavers for the 22nd consecutive time in the Coliseum. If Sanchez gets the start, all bets are off as the blitz-happy Beavers will try and exploit a banged up Trojans OL and the inexperienced QB. When the Beavers get more than five sacks in a game, they're tough to beat. USC will try and reestablish their running game to neutralize the OSU defensive onslaught. If they can, that should open receiving lanes down the field for Booty or Sanchez to throw into. TE Davis continues to be one of the nation's best at his position. The problem is that having a TE as your leading receiver is not what USC is used to. For OSU, their QB remains a liability. He has only 8 TD's against 13 INT's for the season. The good news is he hasn't throw any INT's in the past two games. The bad news is he has only thrown 1 TD in his last four and has three games this season where he hasn't thrown a TD at all. Both teams boast strong ground attacks with average passing attacks. This would suggest a low scoring game with limited possessions. Give the slight edge to USC on defense and an even slighter edge on offense thanks to the fact that the Trojans' receivers finally demonstrated an ability to catch the ball against Oregon. Still, this is a USC team in transition that is searching for an identity behind center. I like USC in this game, but not by much. Trojans 27, OSU 17.

Washington State (3-5, 1-4 Pac-10) @ California (5-3, 2-3 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 7:00 PM Television: FSP and FSNW – Direct TV Channels 653 and 651 Stadium: California Memorial Stadium (72,516)

Cal has lost three straight games and is in dire need to post a victory soon in hopes of salvaging the season. Who better to get one against then Wazzu at home? The problem is that WSU is coming off a win over UCLA last weekend, a Bruins team that beat Cal two weeks ago 30-21. The big question I have is Cal the type of highly ranked team that when they finally lose and all their end-of-season goals are dashed, simply falls apart, or are they capable of rallying the troops and finding their way into a decent bowl game? It's hard to say. Based on the evidence, Cal seems to be heading in the direction of the Emerald Bowl as opposed to the Sun Bowl. Still, a loss to the Cougars this weekend would be incredibly shocking. WR Jackson should be able to exploit a shoddy WSU secondary while RB Forsett should be able to compile at least 100 yards on the ground. ASU and UCLA were both able to hold Forsett to 78 and 76 yards rushing, respectively. Wazzu though does not have as good a defense so expect Forsett to carry the load and have a breakout game. This game is a late start and fortunately for the Pac-10 only those on the west coast will see it. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cougars score early and make things difficult for the Bears as they too have struggled against the pass. However, the Bears should rally and begin to get pressure on WSU QB Brink in the second half where you'll see the tide turn. Any lead the Cougars have will be short-lived and the Bears should win going away in the fourth quarter. Cal 41, WSU 28.

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