Around the Pac-10

Will the Beavers win in Seattle for the first time in 17 years? Will the Ducks upset the Cougars in Pullman? Is the BCS better than a playoff system? Find out what the Toe thinks on these issues and more.

Undefeated hubbub?


We knew it couldn't last.  The chances of more than two teams making it through a season undefeated, especially through the expanded twelve game season, is very little.  But that doesn't change the question of whether the BCS still needs help.  In the case of only one undefeated team, which is still very possible, the BCS perhaps shows its biggest vulnerability.  Why?  With four or five one-loss teams, there are only more fans to complain. 



Notre Dame vs. USC BCS Battle


The November 30th game at the Los Angeles Coliseum between USC and Notre Dame could have a little something extra on the line.  If Notre Dame wins the rest of its games, it will be assured a BCS bid, probably in the Sugar Bowl against the SEC champion.  But things will get interesting if USC can prevail at home.


The Trojans would probably have a great case for a BCS bid.  At number nine now in the BCS, USC could move up as high as four or five, after the conference championship games.  With a standing that high, it would be unlikely that Notre Dame would be selected over the Trojans.  USC would almost certainly be selected for the Rose Bowl, if Washington State slid into the Fiesta Bowl. 


Speaking of Notre Dame, Tyrone Willingham has got to be the most respectable coach in college football.  Instead of talking about how his team got burned by the referees (which they did, by the way), he talked about how they didn't execute and they didn't play the way they should have.  He refused to use that as an excuse.  He doesn't make excuses.  It's a breath of fresh air from all the complaining about officiating that has gone on this year.  What people need to realize is that whining will not make it any better.



Is BCS Better Than Playoffs?


All this potential BCS speculation leads to questioning our current system.  Is it really the best?  Yes and no.  Will it ever be the best way to decide who is the best team in the country?  No.  But if I were in charge of college football, I would keep things as is. 


Before you send me your nasty e-mails, hear me out.  The past two seasons are the perfect example.  Both Oregon State and Washington finished 11-1 in 2000 and probably had very valid arguments as to having the right to play in the national championship.  Last year, Oregon also finished 11-1, and felt they had the right to play Miami.  None of those teams got the opportunity to play for the National Championship, but they all avoided the let down that comes from ending the season with a loss.  It sounds crazy, but who was most satisfied with their season last year, Oregon or Nebraska?  Nebraska got the chance to play to become the national champion, but they were demolished and were bitter until this fall (when unfortunately, they became more bitter with more disappointing losses).  Oregon, however, went out on a high note and it catapulted Joey Harrington into a high draft position and the team into high poll position to start the year.  A big season-ending loss to Miami would have hurt optimism and the buzz wouldn't have been the same when the Ducks opened their newly renovated Autzen Stadium.


In other words, fans of TWO teams can say that their team could have beaten anyone else in the country the way they were playing at the end of the season.  This creates more excitement for college football, which is obviously better for ticket sales and television revenue.  The system as it is now has its flaws, but it is also possible, that its flaws are its strength. 



Gesser and Palmer for Heisman


With all the Heisman talk going around, it's amazing that Jason Gesser and Carson Palmer aren't getting more consideration.  Gesser and Palmer are both putting up great numbers for great teams.  Only Byron Leftwich has been more impressive at the quarterback, but doing so against mid-major teams won't get it done in the minds of the Heisman voters.  If Washington State and USC win out, it's very likely that both QBs would be invited to New York.



Young Blood


True freshman come out of nowhere every year and make huge impacts on teams.  This year in the Pac-10, there are three that stand out.  USC receiver Mike Williams has probably had the biggest impact.  He is currently fourth in the conference with 50 receptions for 819 yards and nine touchdowns.  Also making an impact are UCLA quarterback Drew Olson and Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.  When Bob Toledo was giving Olson playing time early this year, it was in preparation for next year when he will likely be the starter for the Bruins.  But after the ugly injury to Cory Paus, Olson stepped in led the Bruins to a victory over the Huskies in Seattle.  He may have been able to do the same thing in the game where Paus was injured if he didn't have to leave with a shoulder injury.  And finally Ngata is now a starter for the Ducks after having his breakout game against UCLA.  His penetration led to a blocked extra point that ended up being the game winner in the 31-30 contest.



Power Poll


1)                  WSU

2)                  USC

3)                  ASU

4)                  OSU

5)                  UO

6)                  Cal

7)                  UCLA

8)                  UW

9)                  Arizona

10)              Stanford



Looking at the Numbers


Cody Pickett, even with the Husky struggles, has been putting up some incredible numbers.  He has already thrown for 3240 yards this year.  He is only 397 yards from becoming the all-time single-season record holder.  Ryan Leaf is the current leader with 3637 yards in 1997.  Pickett has three games to reach that mark. 


On the career charts, Carson Palmer will almost assuredly become the all-time leader in passing yardage over a Pac-10 career.  With 10,305 yards so far, he passed Oregon State's Jonathon Smith earlier this year and is just 63 yards behind Cade McNown for second place.  Steve Stenstrom is the all-time leader with 10,911.  Palmer has four games to reach that mark. 



Husky Breakdown


The Huskies are backed into a corner.  They cannot run the ball and they cannot play defense.  At least that was the prevailing thought coming into last week's game against UCLA.  They were not amazing at either, but they were good enough in both areas to win.  Chris Singleton rushed for 92 yards on 20 carries and UCLA only had 198 yards passing.  The problem was another familiar one.  Turnovers.  In Washington's four wins, Cody Pickett has thrown one interception.  In the five losses, Pickett has thrown ten, including four against the Bruins. 


Washington will allow teams to run, but expect this weekend to see them key on Steven Jackson.  Derek Anderson should have the opportunity to have a big game if his receivers will make plays.  That has clearly been the most frustrating part of his struggle.  His receivers are not making plays when given the opportunity.  Only James Newson seems to want to catch the ball.


Offensively, the Huskies will look to Reggie Williams.  The Beavers were very successful last year in holding "The Freak" to just 4 catches for 49 yards last year.  They will need a similar effort to make other receivers make plays.  Paul Arnold, Charles Frederick ("E.T." to his teammates), and Patrick Reddick will all get chances against the Beavers.  The key will be forcing these receivers to make plays.  Expect to see OSU stay with their defensive game plan against Bobby Wade.  They will take turns singling up on him, and leave some safeties to help or straight up double team from time to time.  Expect to see a wide variety of strategies employed to switch things up and keep them guessing as to the coverage.



This Week's Focus


Season Prediction Record: 44-13

Last Week: 3-1



Oregon travels to Pullman this weekend to take on the Cougars.  It is an exciting rematch of one of the better Pac-10 games from a year ago.  Onterrio Smith rushed for 285 yards on 26 carries in his best performance of the year after Maurice Morris was injured early.  The Cougars were expecting the Ducks to come in throwing.  Orego switched it up and dominated the game up front.  The Duck offensive line was extremely impressive, dominating the WSU defensive line.  Expect to see Oregon implement a similar plan this week. 


The only problem is that it won't be as successful this year.  The Cougar defensive line, notably Fred Shavies and Rien Long, are much improved over last year.  And this year, they are expecting to see the run dominate the game. 


The Ducks will use their safeties to help in coverage.  They will use lots of man coverage when WSU goes to five receiver sets.  Look for WSU to take advantage there.  The Cougars have put their adversity behind them and should win this one.  The key to this game for the Cougars will be getting an early lead and forcing Oregon to throw the ball.  If the Ducks can hang around, they have a great shot leaning on Smith. 


Washington State 42, Oregon 27


Cal 30, Arizona State 24.  In my upset pick of the week, look for the Golden Bears, coming off a bye week, to make this game much more interesting than might be expected.  Expect to see ASU have a bit of a let down early, after a disappointing showing in Pullman last weekend.  Look for a few new wrinkles in Cal's offense.  They have been a little more reserved of late, not employing any trick plays that dominated the offense early. 


USC 44, Stanford 10.  Coming off a bye, USC might be a little sloppy, but expect the Trojans to win big in this one.  Stanford is already looking to next year.


UCLA 24, Arizona 13.  There is some bad blood between Bob Toledo and John Mackovic dating back to their 1996 matchup while Mack was at Texas.  This is nothing new between Pac-10 coaches.  With all the recent recruiting battles and controversy between coaches, this is nothing big for either.  This one is all about players.  UCLA is a solid team, while Arizona has struggled due to its injuries.  Look for the Bruins to win a game dominated by Tyler Ebell.


Oregon State 24, Washington 17.  After the last two closely contested battles in Seattle between these two teams, look for this one to be another in that fashion.  This won't be much of an offensive explosion.  The Huskies can win this game if they do what no other team has been able to do to OSU this year, score a first quarter touchdown.  If the Beavers can get the early lead and let Steven Jackson take over, it should be a Beaver victory. 


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