Pac-10 Race Breakdown
The Pac-10 race becomes just a little clearer every week. This last week effectively eliminated Oregon from the list of contenders and brought it down to Washington State, USC, and Arizona State. Because the Cougars beat the Trojans, they automatically have a leg up on the race. Arizona State, however, could take over sole possession of first place in the conference with a win over Washington State in Pullman this weekend. It is the premier game in the conference this week, and perhaps the biggest game of the year so far. If the Cougs win this game, they will then be the only Pac-10 team to control its destiny the rest of the race to the Rose Bowl. An Arizona State win keeps the Trojans alive.
After this week, Washington State gets Oregon and Washington at home, before ending the season at UCLA December 7th. Arizona State still has to play Cal at home, and USC and Arizona on the road. USC has games remaining with Stanford, ASU, UCLA, and Notre Dame.
So what happens if the season ends in a three-way tie? USC would go to the Rose Bowl with a win over Notre Dame, because they would have three wins against 1-A non-conference opponents. Arizona State beat Eastern Washington and Washington State beat Montana State. WSU and USC lost once in the non-conference schedule, while Arizona State lost twice, although one loss was to Nebraska in an exempt preseason game that does not count toward tie-breaking purposes. But if Notre Dame beats USC, Arizona State would be the representative because Washington State was the Rose Bowl representative more recently.
The Cougars have the best opportunity to get there. Their toughest games will be at home, and a win over Arizona State means they would only need to go 2-1 against Oregon, Washington, and UCLA to get in the Rose Bowl.
USC Wins at Autzen
For the second straight week, a team beat Oregon at home and couldn't stop talking about how much fun it was to beat the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. The Trojans were sick of Oregon putting billboards up in Los Angeles, and also of the arrogance of their team. But mostly, here's one believing that USC was just plain sick of losing. They hadn't beat the Ducks since 1997. So when USC rolled to a 44-33 victory last week, they were living it up.
"I loved every second of it. There is nothing better than playing in this place and beating these guys," Carson Palmer said after the game. Sound familiar?
"You go to bed dreaming about getting a win at a place like this," said Andrew Walter after his record setting performance against Oregon.
"I hate losing, period. And I hate losing to Oregon even more," was all Cory Paus could say after losing to Oregon.
The Ducks are as high as anyone right now on the list of teams to hate. For so many years it has been USC, Washington, and UCLA that drove everyone crazy. Now, those same thoughts are being directed at Oregon. Why? Oregon is no longer looked upon as the underdog. They have been solid over the past few years, while USC and UCLA have struggled. Oregon has had a great deal of success against these teams and that more than anything else, is what makes teams disliked. Would USC care if Idaho put up a billboard in Los Angeles? Nope. I guarantee they wouldn't think about it enough that after a victory at the Kibbie Dome, the Trojans would recreate the billboard while walking off the field.
The Ducks may be a bit arrogant. Their fans may have overblown expectations (which are probably coming back to earth about now). But if anyone in the conference deserves to be arrogant these days, it's Oregon. You really haven't arrived until everyone else hates you (see the Yankees and the Lakers).
This Week's Power Poll
3) Arizona State
6) Oregon State
Shaun McDonald, from Arizona State, has been selected as the only Pac-10 receiver on the Fred Biletnikoff watch list. While McDonald is a great receiver very worthy of this award, he may be the only one of these receivers to not make his respective all-conference team.
Bobby Wade has been the most dominant receiver in the conference to date. Wade has shown the ability to consistently get open without much help. Arizona cannot run the ball, and for much of the season has had nobody else to throw to. Wade is the only weapon Arizona has to beat its opponents and he is still consistently the best receiver week in and week out.
And on top of Wade, a couple of Williams' are making their presence known. Reggie Williams is probably the conference's best athletic receiver. His pure skills are incredible. He is big, tall, quick, has incredible hands, and can out-jump just about anyone. He has struggled a bit as teams are focusing on him. Washington, like Arizona, cannot run the ball. But he is still having an outstanding season with 857 yards on almost 50 catches.
Coming into the year, USC's Kareem Kelly was supposed to be their best receiver. He is a blazing fast guy with hands that have improved every year. He is a four-year starter and is tied with Keenan Howry for the most consecutive games with a reception in Pac-10 history. They both passed Dennis Northcutt of Arizona in their game last weekend. But Kelly has probably evolved into USC's third option as this year has progressed. Early on, Keary (pronounced like Kerry) Colbert made some incredible plays that moved him up on Carson Palmer's list. But true freshman Mike Williams has probably passed them both up as the number one receiver. Williams caught both USC touchdowns against Oregon State and used that as a springboard to success. Every Pac-10 game since, he has been over 100 yards and he was over 200 against Oregon.
Arizona comes to Corvallis this weekend after a tough loss to Washington State. The Wildcats hung in the whole game, playing some of the best defense I have seen in the Pac-10 this season. But the game overall was marred with sloppy play by both teams offensively. There were lots of fumbles and drops. The Cougars are now free to go on to winning the Pac-10 after getting through the required bad game on the road unscathed.
Jason Johnson is a very smart quarterback. All he has to do it wait for Bobby Wade to get open and then throw him the ball. Wade is moving up the all-time Pac-10 receptions list. He is 14 catches behind DeRonnie Pitts, who is currently second on the list with 228. Ahead of Pitts is another Stanford alum, Troy Walters, who is the all-time leader at 248. Wade would have to average 12 catches per game over the remaining games to catch Walters, but he is almost a lock to catch Pitts. Wade can get open and make catches, but he is most dangerous after he gets the ball. He is very quick and has made more than one defensive back look foolish this year. Arizona has not been successful running the ball. That means any success they will have will be from throwing to Wade. Dennis Weathersby will be shadowing Wade all game. He will have to repeat his terrific performance against Cal.
The Wildcats are very tough on defense, playing the famed flex defense designed by defensive coordinator Larry MacDuff. The Wildcats play it well, but they don't have the personal in the secondary to run it as well as they ought to. Part of the reason they do not have the players is because of injuries. It is believed that cornerback Michael Jolivette will finally be back this weekend, but he won't be at full strength. Lance Briggs has been playing extremely well at middle linebacker after also missing time due to injury.
This Week's Focus
Season Prediction Record: 41-12
Last Week: 5-0
Arizona State heads up north to Pullman where they will face some cold weather and a very tough Washington State team. It should be around 40 degrees and clear at kickoff, great football weather. The game is sold out and should be great game between two teams undefeated in conference play.
It will be a wide-open passing game, as both teams like to throw the ball around. There will be some great receivers on this field. Both these quarterbacks have been playing extremely well. Gesser will have to be very aware of Terrell Suggs and his presence. The Cougars have given up the least sacks in the Pac-10 and have done it with a line that has started a different combination every week. Much of this has to do with Gesser's great mobility and his quick release. But the offensive line deserves credit for working through adversity.
Both teams will be able to throw the ball, but Washington State has proven to have the better defense and running game. This game will come down to who can get more stops and Washington State's defense will be the one to do that.
Washington State 38, Arizona State 30.
Oregon 44, Stanford 24. Oregon should recover from two straight home losses to avenge its only loss last year. The Cardinal are beat up and don't have much confidence after blowing last week's game against UCLA. Buddy Teevens had some answering to do after going for it on 4th and 1 on his own 30 with around six minutes remaining. Kerry Carter was stuffed and UCLA ended up kicking a field goal that sealed the game. The Ducks will improve on their defense, only because Stanford's offense has been pitiful of late.
Washington 31, UCLA 23. Washington has been dropping games like a school with a compass direction in its name. Their only conference win to date came over Arizona. In other words, one of the two had to have a conference win afterwards. Their defense has been awful and their running game has been worse. Rick Neuheisel is facing all sorts of heat, especially after just receiving a brand new contract extension that eerily coincided with his being sanctioned by the NCAA for recruiting violations at Colorado. But UCLA is vulnerable as well. The Bruins have lost Cory Paus until their final game, and a true freshman quarterback's first start away from the Rose Bowl will come this week at Husky Stadium. That isn't the ideal place to get things off on the right foot. It will either be Drew Olson, who was Paus' backup before following in the path to the infirmary, or Matt Moore, last week's starter against Stanford. The Huskies still have an incredible passing offense and will be looking forward to this game to get a chance to show it off.
Oregon State 20, Arizona 6.
Arizona plays some incredible defense, but their offense will have a very difficult time sustaining a drive against the Beavers. Oregon State is coming off a great win in which Steven Jackson was the focal point of the offense. Expect that to continue, with more setting up the pass with the run. This could be a breakthrough day for Derek Anderson with all the pressure Arizona will put up front to stop the run. Lance Briggs is much better at linebacker than anyone Cal had. Part of the reason OSU was so successful running the ball versus the Bears was because Jackson consistently made the first tackler miss. He won't be able to make Briggs miss. The blocking schemes must key on him first. The Beavers should have a happy homecoming as long as Bobby Wade is limited in the amount of damage.
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