That pattern is mostly in place this weekend as well, with only two games between teams remotely on same performance level, Stanford at UCLA and Arizona State at Cal. Across the board, this season has shown the conference to have less parity and fewer surprises than any in recent memory. Let's step into the not-so-wayback machine and review last week's slate:
Arizona State 48 - UCLA 42 (Pick: ASU 38 -17)
An old-fashioned WAC game masquerading as a Pac-10 conference game, my did the yardage and points accumulate over the course of this one. A one-point game at the half, the second half was a shoot out with a tying score by the Bruins in the mid third quarter, then 3 lead changes before the final. The two biggest surprises were the inability of the ASU defense, which had played physically and soundly early in the season, to stop UCLA – giving up 535 total yards. Ten, count ‘em, TEN receivers caught 30 passes for 325 yards. For the Sun Devils, quarterback Andrew Walter completed 25 of 51 for 6 – that's right, six touchdowns. In doing so, he threw 3 interceptions, so perhaps it would be more correct to state that UCLA had completions to a total of 13 receivers. UCLA quarterback Drew Olson's also found several extra receivers in the wrong colored jersey, ending up 4 picks for the day. Yeah – it was that kind of game… and a very entertaining 4+ hours in front of the TV.
The final score could easily have been much worse. It was not a surprise that first time starting quarterback Alex Brink would struggle, going 15-41 in pass attempts and getting intercepted twice. Less understandable was OSU quarterback Derek Anderson not doing much better statistically, completing 18 of 39 attempts for 270 yards. The game tape shows a very over-matched opponent in the Cougs and that Oregon State found the cruise control button by the middle of the 1st quarter. Then too, the Beavs did focus from the start of the game toward establishing the running game, gaining 171 yards, more than twice the average number of yards (73.16 yd/g) they had managed in previous games. If you are the Beavs, take the "W" and look to polish a few more of the rough edges next weekend against Arizona in Tucson. As for Washington State – it gets much bleaker… USC is next
Oregon 16 - @ Stanford 13 (Pick: Oregon 31 -17)
Whowouldathunk… a defensive struggle on the Farm? Both teams were able to move the ball up and down the field, so this wasn't a classic defensive epic filled with four downs and out on both sides. A game ending injury to Stanford Trent Edwards surely was a defining moment in the game, though replacement QB T.C. Ostrander filled in capably with an 18 for 29, 236 yard outing. Stanford's running game has been suspect all season long, and Oregon's defense made certain that remained the case on Saturday, giving up only 51 positive yards from scrimmage. Subtract 10 sacks of the Stanford QB and the Cardinal netted a –8 yards for the day. Although the try should not have been allowed (the officials mistakenly called the previous play dead when the receiver attempted to lateral to a teammate before stepping out of bounds even though the ball itself never left the field of play), in the dark and wet of the late afternoon, a last second, 49-yard field goal attempt to tie the score fell just short, serving as the appropriate ending to this tussle.
USC 38 – Washington 0 (Pick: USC 101 -6)
USC approached this game with all the intensity of a 6:00 a.m. practice and the final score was much less revealing of the disparity between these two programs that it should have been. I am not defending the levity of my pick for the final score – I remain convinced it is a truer assessment of the relative abilities of these two teams than is the official score. The total offensive output for the Huskies paints a picture similar my projected score – 113 total yards on 7 for 28 passing and 27 rushes. Good thing the Huskies don't have Army on their schedule…
California 38 – Arizona 0 (Pick: Cal 57 -10)
This week's contests:
Stanford @ UCLA
An intriguing match-up in the Rose Bowl. Each team has flirted with the upper division in the conference standings and has confounded some early season prognostications. Neither has established a conviction they belong there. The winner of this contest will have some claim to legitimacy; the loser will surely finish in the lower tier of the conference. Here's saying that it will be Stanford, by a score of 24 – 21. Though the Cardinal still lacks a running game, The Stanford defense flying under the radar of most observers, has developed into a very physical unit that will bully Drew Olson and UCLA's receivers into a poor performance. With Trent Edwards healthy, the Trees will be able to move the ball and control the game.
Oregon State @ Arizona
Upset special? This is the only real opportunity for there to be an upset in the conference this weekend, but I think it is pretty unlikely to happen. The Mildcats are simply too inept offensively and the Oregon State offense will be able to score enough to win. Beyond that, there isn't anything to make this a very interesting game. As was the case last weekend against the Cougs, the Beavers will be happy to have another "W" and not have their own unique shortcomings exploited by a higher quality opponent. That will certainly happen next weekend in spades when the Trojans show up and raze Reser Stadium… For this Saturday, OSU 27 – Arizona 10
USC @ Washington State
If the weather were 10 degrees below zero, with a 30 mph wind whipping across the Palouse loaded with a blinding snow the Cougars still wouldn't have a chance in this one. A lock down certainty for the Trojans, even if rampant complacency was to set in. It is a fair question to ask how good this USC team will become when quality opponents do not challenge them on a regular basis – but in a historical perspective, it has never seemed to bother either Miami or Florida State. For years, those programs have only had to focus on one or two key match-ups each season, coasting through the rest of the schedule. Still, they did win those key contests to reaffirm their position among the elite programs, and the current USC season is built in that mold. The only remaining test for the Trojans is the Orange Bowl. Here's hoping Oklahoma is the opponent. USC 35 – WSU 7.
Washington @ Oregon
Another lock down certainty – despite the intense rivalry between these two schools, and despite the recent history that has had the underdog Huskies (no pun intended) score 42 points in each of their past two contests to embarrass the Ducks. Regardless of the recent past, the disparity between these two programs has been widening for the past three or four years and this contest should provide an opportunity for the Ducks to punctuate that reality with an emphatic exclamation point. Oregon 35 – Washington 0. Last week's shutout against USC was the first in 271 games for the Huskies… this could be their second in a row.
Arizona State @ California
This is almost certain to be the most entertaining of the weekend's slate. If Memorial Stadium truly is built along a tectonic fault line, there might be consequences beyond just the conference standings as these two offenses rumble through Strawberry Canyon. The buzzard luck schedule that has Arizona State playing all the conference's better teams on the road will haunt them here. Given the performance of UCLA's offense last weekend, the Sun Devil defense is likely a bit shell-shocked, and a road date with the Ted-Heads isn't much of a cure…. Cal 38 - ASU 27
Until next week… Happy Tailgating!!!