Around The Pac-10 With The Toe

USC visits Kansas State, Arizona travels to Winsconsin, and Oregon State hosts Fresno State this weekend in the last weekend before conference play begins. The Toe gives his thoughts on these games and all the other Pac-10 games on schedule.

Last Week's Recap

After last week's performance, my record on the year improved to 22-3. But there is a discouraging trend. The first week, I correctly predicted all 8 games. The second week, I correctly predicted all but one. And last week, all but two. If I get three wrong this week, I'll probably have to throw on a rally cap.

Washington State outplayed the Buckeyes in the first half, but weren't able to score any points. The Buckeyes made key adjustments to the WSU passing attack and came out and dominated the second half. A few special teams blunders made the game look ugly for WSU. Not having Jerome Riley in the lineup was also quite costly. Mike Bush and Devard Darling command attention, but no one else the Cougars had in Columbus did, including WSU's rush offense that managed just 26 yards on the ground. I'm not in Pullman this week, but I'm pretty sure I can give you a practice report. The Washington State defense is working on their tackling skills after showing Saturday that four guys together are not adequate to bring down a ball carrier. I think it was mostly Maurice Clarett's running ability, but he sure did make those linebackers look silly trying to bring him to the ground.

Cal rolled on the road. Kyle Boller did it all, in case you haven't already heard, by passing, catching, and running for touchdowns. He has a new sense of confidence this year and will not go down without a fight. The Bears pounced on an unprepared Michigan State team looking ahead to the visit from Notre Dame this weekend. Cal was aided by great special teams, notably a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jemeel Powell. The blocking scheme on that return was incredible. I hit rewind over and over again just to see the hit.

Colorado is trying to shake the hangover from being destroyed by USC last weekend. They better lose it quickly, because another perennially underachieving Los Angeles team is on the docket for this weekend in UCLA. The Bruins topped Oklahoma State in Stillwater by forcing five turnovers (four picks and a fumble). Colorado starting QB Robert Hodge completed just one pass in nine attempts. USC loaded up at the line of scrimmage and was going to make Colorado pass to beat them. The Buffs couldn't pass.

Utah got edged out at the end of the game by the back judge – uh, I mean Arizona. Ron McBride is being a bit overdramatic by calling this the worst call he's seen in his coaching career, but it seems the Pac-10 has some issues to deal with involving having a homer in charge of officiating a contest. Jim Fogltance, the crew leader for the game Saturday who also lives in Tucson, was not the one who made the call that Ron McBride felt cost his team the game. It was actually the back judge, Mike Aaronian, that negated a touchdown that TV replays showed should have been six points. The bottom line in this issue is that is doesn't matter if it wasn't Fogltance making the call. The Pac-10 needs to prevent officials from working games in their hometowns. I doubt either official was secretly wanting Arizona to in the split second in which the call was made. But when these conflict of interest situations are allowed to happen, the conference is deservedly going to take a public relations beating.

In the Dennis Erickson era, the non-conference games have been a little more exciting than most Beaver fans would prefer. From Georgia Southern to Eastern Washington to Fresno State and New Mexico State last year, Oregon State has typically started slow out of the box. This year is a much different story. The Beavers have completely dominated all three contests. The Oregon State defense came out ready to play Saturday. It took the Rebels seven offensive series before they even got a first down. The 17 points on the scoreboard at game's end were quite misleading. Make no mistake. That was a thumping.

I have to go back to the UCLA game in 1999 to find a game in which OSU completely dismantled their opponent from start to finish (or in this case until the game was much out of hand and the water boys were playing). Even the Fiesta Bowl thrashing put on Notre Dame wasn't as impressive as this one. The Beavers blew a bunch of opportunities to pull away early in that one and the game was still close in the first half. It was very satisfying to see that game take place. I feel it's indicative of the way this group is coming together.

Cal Missing From Coaches Poll

There are now five teams ranked in the coaches poll (Oregon, USC, Washington, Washington State, and UCLA) and six teams ranked in the AP poll (those five plus Cal). Oregon State is on the verge of cracking in and Arizona jump in the fray with a big win over Wisconsin this weekend. The notable stat in all of this is that the Bears didn't even receive a vote in the coaches poll. The reason for this is not that the coaches weren't paying attention when Cal roared into East Lansing, but rather because of their probationary period. When Cal was slapped on the wrist by the NCAA in the off season and told they couldn't play in a bowl game, the response was laughter, as if Cal (hahaha) would be bowl eligible. A winning season looks quite a bit more probable now than month ago. But even if Cal goes undefeated, as part of their probation, they can't receive votes in the coaches poll.

An interesting side note to this is that they could, however, be eligible for the AP National Championship. The Associated Press, though probably having reservations about crowning a team on probation as national champions, has no barriers to prevent them from finishing the year as the AP #1.

Scheduling Talk

Many people are questioning the schedule the Beavers have played this year. It's almost an annual thing these days (I say almost, because no one was questioning their schedule after getting pasted by Fresno last year). Most people are in agreement that it just doesn't add up for OSU to play a schedule of top-flight opponents in non-conference matchups. But there needs to be some clarification. Most people think OSU's schedule strength doesn't matter because they are in a BCS conference and will get in a top flight bowl, regardless of who their opposition is. This is only partially true. The reason a Pac-10 team will (and should) get into a top-tier bowl game is BECAUSE they have to play these Pac-10 teams. Sure, you have to respect Fresno State for going on the road to Wisconsin, Oregon, Oregon State, and hosting Colorado State. But is that any tougher than playing at Washington, at USC, and hosting UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona? Oregon State has cupcake season in September. Fresno State has cupcake season from October until the end of the season.

This is also the case in many other conferences. People are in awe of Miami's schedule, playing at Florida and Tennessee, and hosting Florida State and Virginia Tech. I agree, this is tough. But after everything shakes down, will it be tougher than USC's? There is no tougher conference to play in than the Pac-10. Every week is a challenge. There are no gimmies. There are no games a team can sleepwalk through like Rutgers, West Virginia, and yes, Temple. The Big 12 and SEC are the same way with the likes of Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Baylor, and Kansas.

ASU Quarterback Quandary

In this conference of great quarterbacks, every school has a set QB situation without a hint of controversy, with the exception of Arizona State. Redshirt freshman Chad Christensen has been the starter in all four games. But sophomore Andy Walter has come off the bench in every game for at least a few snaps. Christensen is mobile and has quite a bit of potential, but it is Walter who has impressed me game after game. Christensen cannot throw the ball down field with accuracy, while that seems to be Walter's strength. His throws one of the nicest spirals in the conference. I expect to see Walter get the start next weekend in their Pac-10 opener against Stanford (both teams have byes this weekend).

Power Poll

1) USC
2) Oregon State
3) Washington State
4) Cal
5) Washington
6) Oregon
7) Arizona
9) Stanford
10) Arizona State

Cal is jumping toward the top of the list. Arizona State gets bottom billing for having to rally from 22 down against San Diego State. Oregon State could jump to the top after this weekend if USC falls on the road and the Beavers are impressive at home. Washington State will spend some time in purgatory for a lack of execution and for being the Pac-10's only blemish on an outstanding conference Saturday last week. Washington and Oregon are hovering around the middle waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Saturday provides another telling slate of games.

Miscellaneous Stats and Notes

· UNLV had –16 total yards in the first quarter

· Nick Barnett is still leading Pac-10 in tackles

· The Oregon State offensive line is the Pac-10's biggest, averaging 310 pounds across the front. But Fresno State's is even bigger at 320 pounds each.

· Jayson Boyd should play, despite still suffering a bit with turf toe.

· The Pac-10 has a record of 22-4 in non-conference games. The only four losses have come on the road, and three were to teams ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game (at Nebraska, at Michigan, at Ohio State, and at Boston College).

· Of the 50 first downs the Beaver defense has given up this year, 22 have come on runs, only 12 have come on passes, and an inexcusable 16 have come as a result of penalties.

· Oregon State leads the Pac-10 in total offense; Derek Anderson leads the Pac-10 in touchdown passes, fewest interceptions, and pass efficiency; and the OSU defense still leads the nation in pass defense efficiency.

· A look ahead at next week's schedule shows two more games that will give a good indication about where the Pac-10 leaders stand. OSU plays at USC, and WSU plays at Cal. Of course, ABC chose Stanford-Arizona State to broadcast over both those matchups.

The Toe's Focus

In our brand new column feature this week, I chose Arizona-Wisconsin as the Pac-10 matchup that most intrigues me. It's not simply the best game on the schedule. That honor goes to Kansas State-USC. It has the most significance nationally, but I am incredibly interested to see how Arizona performs with a chance to emerge on the national level. The Pac-10 is getting much deserved respect by having six teams ranked in the top 10. Arizona could join that list with a win in this one. Wisconsin hasn't really looked unbeatable in any of its games. They were outplayed by Fresno State, but pulled it out in their opener. They beat West Virginia in unimpressive fashion and had to come back late to knock off Northern Illinois.

While opposing defenses are keying in on probable All-Conference selection Clarence Farmer (and being successful at that), Jason Johnson has been putting up sick numbers, well, almost as sick as the numbers Derek Anderson has. Johnson is averaging 398.5 yards passing per game. He's also just behind Anderson in passing efficiency at 176.7 (4th in the nation). The big beneficiary of this explosion has been Bobby Wade who is averaging 8.5 receptions per game for 154 yards receiving per game. Things will open up for Clarence Farmer if he is patient as teams begin to adjust to. One thing that works in the Wildcats' favor is that Johnson and Wade will face a Badger defense that is 8th in the Big 10 in passing yards allowed per game. They will give up some yards. Arizona is primed for an upset on the road, but they have a few things to work on.

Besides the rush offense (which has been pathetic – worst in the Pac-10 at 73 yards per game), Arizona must improve on red zone scoring. This is probably in fact just another symptom of that lacking rush offense. The Wildcats have scored just 2 touchdowns in 9 trips inside the opposing 20-yard line. Another interesting note is that in two games, Arizona has yet to return a kickoff (not returning a kickoff for a TD, not at ALL). All kickoffs have either been touchbacks or gone out of bounds. The Wildcats must get more points out of their yards. They are leading the Pac-10 in total yards per game, yet are ninth in the conference in scoring offense. Arizona needs to take advantage of any opportunities they get this weekend. Those great opportunities just don't arise as much away from home.

I predict the Wildcats will improve on their red zone habits and win this one close on the road. Wisconsin has been less than amazing and will be challenged by this passing attack. Arizona 31, Wisconsin 24.

Oregon 49, Portland State 10.  Oregon wins big. The Ducks ran the score up late last week, but Idaho was within a few touchdowns for nearly the entire game. Mike Bellotti is surely hoping for a better defensive performance this week.

UCLA 31, Colorado 7.  Colorado must find a way to score some points without Craig Ochs. Their running game has struggled because of the lack of a passing game. Here's predicting Colorado QB Robert Hodge completes almost as many passes to UCLA defenders as to Colorado receivers.

Washington State 45, Montana State 13.  The Cougars are at a key junction in their season. After last week's defeat and a few off the field problems, they will be ready to be playing football again. They must win this one convincingly to give themselves some confidence heading into the Pac-10 season or they'll face some problems at Cal. Most importantly, their defense must have a great day.

Cal 37, Air Force 20.  Air Force brings the option to Berkeley and it will take some adjusting for the Bear defense to go from Charles Rodgers, arguably the country's best receiver to Air Force's deceitful rush attack. They will probably take a few drives to adjust, but Cal wins this one in Strawberry Canyon.

USC 24, Kansas State 20.  USC faces yet another challenge. Kansas State has been beating up on patsies so far. This is a big test for K-State and another one for USC. The Wildcats won in Los Angeles last year 10-6. Both teams have good defenses, but both offenses are improved from last year and will score more points. USC has the edge, but its always tough to play in Manhattan. It will be a fun one. Look for Carson Palmer to make a few mistakes that requires some rescuing by the Trojan defense.

Washington 34, Wyoming 10.  The Cowboys are 0-3, including a healthy loss to Central Michigan and a thumping by Boise State. They are not good. But the Huskies struggled early against San Jose State. I think the Huskies will set out to prove they can play a good game beginning to end. They can't be happy with their performance on the field thus far but they have this game and a meeting with Idaho to work out some kinks before hosting Cal.

Oregon State 31, Fresno State 20.  This one is finally a game for the OSU faithful to get excited for. The Bulldogs come into Reser with a deceiving 1-2 record. The Bulldogs will put more pressure on Derek Anderson than anyone the Beavers have faced to this point. The key will be an effective running game. If the Bulldogs can force the Beavers into 3rd and long, the battle is already lost. Steven Jackson must have a great performance and the offensive line has to open some holes.

The tendency in this game will be for the Beavers to come out too hyped. Rivalry-type games (and the Beavers are treating this like on) tend to be close. The reason for this is often poor execution. Take the last two Civil Wars. Neither team played very well and were ugly games marred with turnovers and mental mistakes. Teams that get too excited will have difficulty executing their game plan. Come out trying to play Oregon State football, not trying to kill the Bulldogs. The latter will only result in mistakes.

Fresno State is a very well-coached team that will be very efficient. They won't be intimidated by crowd noise – they've already played at Wisconsin and Oregon. They will run passing routes that are very tough to defend and will create some problems for the OSU defense. The Beavers have not been tested by a good passing team this year, which is a concern. I expect to see a few big pass plays early before adjustments are made.

That being said, Oregon State has been a dominant football team to this point. The defense has been everything it was promised to be and the offense has been much better than expected. Having Jayson Boyd will be key because he provides another play-maker to go along side James Newson. This could be Boyd's big breakout day. If OSU has success running the ball early, it could turn into a blowout.

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