Around the Pac-10

With week four behind us and the non-conference games in nearly everyone's rear view mirror, the "Big Boy" season is now upon us. No more, "this team is better than that team, therefore these guys are better than those guys," it's time to butt heads. It's time to put up or shut up. And it's time for the cream to begin its migration to the top of "the" left-coast-conference.

From players to teams, surprises to disappointments, let's take a look at the conference as a whole and who, what, and where to look for supremacy, as well as futility amongst the Pac-10 conference: 1) USC. The Trojans are good. I need not say more and surely you've heard this enough. They can run, they can pass, and their defense is the "second coming." While impressive, victories over an over matched Idaho team, an athletically inferior Nebraska squad, and a very limited Washington State bunch are not yet grounds for anointment…at least not by me.

2) Oregon/California. Contrary to popular belief, there's really no way to differentiate between these two teams. While many will try to convince you that Cal's win over Tennessee is in some way superior to anything Oregon has accomplished thus far, I beg to differ. How is it that a 32 point road victory over previously fifth ranked Michigan is in some way a lesser feat than a fourteen point victory over a slightly above average Tennessee team…at home? Cal's beaten Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Arizona at home, while struggling mightily in a victorious effort at Colorado State. To the contrary, Oregon has beaten Houston and Fresno State in Eugene, while winning at Stanford and Ann Arbor. Both teams have scored at will, while at times shown vulnerability on defense.

This debate will be ironed out Saturday in Eugene, but don't be surprised if Special Teams is the difference in what could be an elimination game in the race for a Pac-10 title.

4) Arizona State. Everybody's favorite mercenary Dennis Erickson is continuing his winning ways in Tempe. With his recent victory over one of his many previous employers (Oregon State), "Hurricane Dennis" cleared a hurdle which was unquestionably occupying his mind. At 4-0, the Sun Devils look good on paper, but when a win over a seemingly mediocre Beaver team is your "cherry on top" and you've yet to leave your city limits, questions remain.

5) UCLA. It's hard to believe that one horrific loss at Utah could displace a team so incredibly far from the radar screen. (rightfully so, I might add.) The Bruins loss to the Utes ranks slightly above Michigan's well documented loss to Appalachian State, after all, Utah looked clumsy during an opening season loss to Oregon State and equally inept during last weekend's 27-0 loss at UNLV. Karl Dorrell may be a "dead man walking" in regards to his future coaching status, but he and his players began their resuscitation with a win over a resurgent Washington team and will attempt to move to 3-0 in the conference in Corvallis this coming weekend. The only question is; who's going to be taking the snaps? Ben Olson remains a mystery due to post-concussion symptoms and back up Patrick Cowan left last weekend's game in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury. Ever heard of McLeod Bethel-Thompson? It's not a law firm, but likely the Bruins signal-caller versus OS.

6) Washington. Pardon me while I take a moment to compose myself. You'll have to excuse me, for the mere thought of Jake Locker brings tears to my eyes. Rumor has it he's currently solving Seattle's traffic problem by way of parting Lake Washington between the times of 7:00 - 9:00 AM, and 3:30-6:00 PM, creating a previously unthinkable solution to a problem at the forefront of Washington's Department of Transportation. Athletic? Yes. Full of potential? No question. Moses? Probably not. While I like this kid and think he's going to cause a number of problems for Defensive Coordinators throughout the conference, he's a freshman, who's making freshman mistakes, and who's taking entirely too many hits. If Coach Willingham continues using his savior in such a manner, Locker, Ty and Washington's futures are in jeopardy.

7) Oregon State. Surprise, surprise, a young quarterback is struggling to the detriment of his team. Anyone who thought the Beavers were going to challenge for one of the top three spots in this conference were either kidding themselves or wearing one of those bright orange sports bras. Aside from a rare exception, young quarterbacks don't win in the Pac-10. Sean Canfield has thrown nine anderceptions…err…interceptions in four games, projecting to a 2007 total of twenty-seven. While it's easy to put much of OS's problems on the signal-caller, Coach Riley should be taking some heat for failing to put his greenhorn QB in positions to succeed. High percentage passes, plus Yvenson Bernard, plus above average defensive personnel, equals something less than twenty-seven interceptions and probably more wins. You're a smart man Riley, figure it out.

8) Washington State. Larry Doba's attempt to save his job is going poorly. The Cougs look like your typical sub par Pac-10 team, a fair amount of offense and essentially no defense to speak of. If you allow the Idaho Vandals twenty-eight points through three quarters, 325 yards of total offense, and 120 yards of rushing, you've got some long days ahead. Alex Brink is a good quarterback, Michael Bumpus is a good receiver, and Larry Doba is a heck of a good guy, but all will most likely be leaving Pullman at year's end.

9) Arizona. This team is consistent by its inconsistency. Arizona remains Arizona, full of mistakes and with an inability to play four quarters of football. At some point the coaching in Tucson has to take the blame…and I mean the bulk of it. Basically, no signs of improvement, similar results, and losses to non-conference foes the likes of New Mexico, does not an impressive resume make. While quarterback Willie Tuitama has been impressive, the Wildcats are only averaging 72 yards rushing per game and have scored just 2 touchdowns on the ground. With a ground attack like that, combined with a quarterback whose arguably one concussion away from retirement, the light at the end of the tunnel is dimming.

10) Stanford. The bad news is, the Cardinal seem to be on their way to another losing season and cellar dwelling tour through the Pac-10, the good news is, their a third of the way through it. New coach Jim Harbaugh brings enthusiasm to a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, but a lack of depth along with a lack of athleticism can only equal frustration, defeat, and eyes towards the future. Harbaugh's got his work cut out.

We'll learn a thing or two this weekend. Is Oregon ready to take the next step or will Cal again derail a red-hot Duck start? Can the Bruins continue their climb back to respectability with a win at Oregon State or will the Beavers solve their quarterback woes at the expense of the "Powder Blues?" How will Saint Locker hold up against the mighty Trojans? And which Pac-10 head man will take a further step towards the chopping block when the Wildcats play the Cougars? Of course I don't have the answers, but my guesses are as good as any.

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