I was listening to the oldies station on my way into work the other day, and the song "Spinning Wheel" came on. You know the tune. It begins with: "What goes up… must come down…" Catchy little tune. So much so that it was on my mind when I made up this year's Pac-10 midterms.
It's also appropriate because, in the Pac-10 every team has experienced its share of ups and downs. Well, almost every team. And with each week's wacky outcomes, the fates of all the teams seem to be on a spinning wheel. With those things in mind, I present this year's Pac-10 Midterms, starting with:
What goes up…: The Huskies' quarterback coach must be Maury
Povich, because Isiah Stanback has had an extensive makeover since he stunk up
the field last year. Wide receiver Sonny Shackleford and running back
Louis Rankin have also done some good things so far this year.
…Must come down: This wasn't the most talented bunch to begin with, and then injuries stymied the offense and decimated the defense. And there doesn't appear to be a Lincoln Kennedy, Steve Emtman, or Lawyer Milloy waiting in the wings, either.
Spinning wheel says: The Huskies suffer from what's known in some circles as "buzzard luck": they can't kill anything, and nothing will die. The last example: sophomore wide receiver Marlon Wood was supposed to be a centerpiece in UW's gameplan against U$C last week. Wood responded by breaking the opening kickoff 92 yards, and by breaking his leg on the same play. But adding injury to insult has been Washington's way this year.
What goes up…: When I watched the Wildcats' season opener
against Utah, I was impressed by, of all things, their offense. True
freshman wide receiver Michael Thomas looked like a beast in the making.
Arizona has long been known for their defense, and for the most part, those guys
have played hard again this season.
…Must come down: Since the opener, Thomas and the other Wildcat receivers have disappeared. So has quarterback Richard Kovalcheck, who has now been benched in favor of true freshman Willie Tuitama. They still can't win Pac-10 games at home.
Spinning wheel says: Tuitama is dangerous to opponents, but he's also dangerous to his own team. They won't win many more games, but they'll be a little more fun to watch.
What goes up…: Jerome Harrison is the Pac-10's best running back
that no one is talking about. But there he is, the second leading rusher
in the country. Not in the Pac-10, folks - in the country. Wide
receiver Jason Hill also doesn't get mentioned in the same breath as the top
receivers in the conference, but he's every bit as dangerous. Defensive
lineman Mkristo Bruce is pretty underrated, too.
…Must come down: A four-game losing streak is bad enough. Blowing some significant leads in each of them makes things worse. Put it all together, and the grumbling is starting to grow in the Palouse.
Spinning wheel says: The last time the Cougs won a game, tenacious linebacker Will Derting was on the field. Coincidence? I don't think so…
What goes up…: If I had to make my All-Time Pac-10 team from
players I have seen in my 12-plus years of following the conference, my
three-receiver set would be Keyshawn Johnson, Troy Walters, and Mike Hass.
The guy is that good. And somehow, running back Yvenson Bernard has posted
100-yard games in three of his last four appearances.
…Must come down: The sooner Matt Moore stops throwing the ball to the other team at an alarming rate, the better. The sooner the secondary puts together a complete game, the better.
Spinning wheel says: If anyone has any clue which Beaver squad will show up from week to week, please let me know.
What goes up…: Trent Edwards and Mark Bradford are reverting to
Spring Game form. Defensive superstars Jon Alston and Babatunde Oshinowo
have erupted in the last two games. And for the first time in a long time,
coaches and players seem to be on the same page.
…Must come down: A running game would be nice (and no, Trent Edwards scrambling for first downs doesn't count). Plus the Cardinal have the toughest remaining schedule of any Pac-10 team. We're going to learn a lot about this squad over the next few weeks.
Spinning wheel says: Since the Davis debacle, Stanford has surpassed expectations. While that is to be commended, there is still a ways to go before this team can be considered a consistent conference contender.
What goes up…: When Sam Keller is on (and healthy), he is
amazing to watch. His passing skills and his toughness will serve him well
on this level and beyond. Running back Keegan Herring is a bit raw, but he
still has game. Sometimes the defense is a bit too nasty for their own
good, but they're still a rugged unit that must be reckoned with.
…Must come down: ASU's special teams allowed LSU to convert a fake punt from the Tigers' own two-yard line. It's been a steady decline ever since, especially for the atrocious kicking game. Punt, Devils, Punt!
Spinning wheel says: Some folks in Tempe are starting to wonder whether Dirk Koetter really is a coaching wizard, or merely the man behind the curtain.
What goes up…: The running game, with Justin Forsett carrying
most of the load, has been explosive. Quarterback Joe Ayoob is growing as
a quarterback. Linebacker Desmond Bishop may make some NFL team very happy
on Sundays when it's all said and done.
…Must come down: Ayoob has made some critical mistakes at some critical times. Marshawn Lynch has been injured, and he fumbled his way out of the Oregon State game. The defense has pulled several disappearing acts at times, costing them the UCLA game, and making thing harder for them against the Cougars.
Spinning wheel says: cal's last few performances have people questioning whether the Bears have merely lost their mojo, or whether they may have been slightly overrated to begin with.
What goes up…: Quarterback Kellen Clemens was really beginning
to shine in the Ducks' spread option offense. Demetrius Williams is so
good, Walt Harris compared him favorably to some of the Miami Hurricane
receivers he once coached against. Safety J.D. Nelson (yes, that's
Darrin's son) is a hell of a hitter.
…Must come down: Losing Clemens for the season could potentially be a devastating, devastating blow to the Ducks. Dennis Dixon had better hone his passing skills quickly if the Ducks want to aim for one of the Pac-10's more prestigious bowls.
Spinning wheel says: With Kellen Clemens, this is one of the best teams in the Pac-10. Without Kellen Clemens? Who knows?
What goes up…: They're the anti-Cougars, the team that snatches
victory from the jaws of defeat, instead of the other way around. Drew Olson's grip on the starting quarterback job was tenuous at best a few months
ago; now he has a stranglehold on the job. Other Los Angeles-based running
backs get more press, but Maurice Drew is a dangerous player. Linebacker
Spencer Havner continues to bring his lunch pail every day.
…Must come down: Their depth has already been tested somewhat at receiver. And even though they're a Top 10 team, many folks still aren't quite convinced they're for real.
Spinning wheel says: Will another trip to Stanford Stadium kill another UCLA season?
What goes up…: Everything.
…Must come down: Besides the BCS standings, there isn't much to complain about. A healthy secondary would be nice, though.
Spinning wheel says: What more do you need to know?
RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
So last week was the first Stanford football home game I've missed since 1998, a streak of 38 games. Weird. But if the Card play like that in my absence, maybe it's a good thing!
After scoring a touchdown against Washington, U$C realized they only had ten men on the field for the extra point. Did the Trojans panic? Are you kidding? Instead of rushing Winston Justice onto the field, they held him back. And instead of burning a timeout, they took the delay-of-game penalty, then sent Justice onto the field. It's always amazed me how quickly some teams call timeouts in non-crucial situations instead of simply letting the play clock run down and taking the penalty. You can get five yards back. You can't get timeouts back…
Quote of the Week, courtesy of Joe Giglio of the Raliegh News & Observer, who switched his first-place vote in the AP poll from U$C to Texas this week: "I didn't move U$C down as much as I moved Texas up." By the way, this is also the same Joe Giglio who earlier this season gave his first-place vote to Louisville. Just thought I'd throw that out there…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… this week's poster boy for abolishing the BCS is Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who went on this little diatribe on Monday: "The national media, led by ESPN, wants to see Vince Young vs. Matt Leinart in the championship game. It's going to be those two teams unless Texas or USC get upset." Well, I'm not the "national media," but I do work for ESPN, albeit in a much lower-profile role than the folks Tuberville bashed. And I'll admit it… I'd love to see U$C and Texas square off at the Rose Bowl. It's the most appealing matchup out there, by far…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… did the Minnesota Vikings celebrate their win by heading to Chuck E. Cheese? Just wondering…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… ohhh, so that's what a Nor'easter is…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… it has been a pleasure to have current Orioles outfielder Eric Byrnes bumping around the ESPN Radio studios this week. Byrnes wanted to go to Stanford, but unfortunately for him, that didn't happen. Unfortunately for Stanford, he killed the Cardinal every time we played against him at UCLA. Just murdered us. That 1997 Bruins team with him, Troy Glaus, Jim Parque, and the rest of the "Legion of Doom" still gives me nightmares to this very day…
Good to hear from the one, the only Brevinwannabe, who had this addition to my list of cursed sports cities: "Buffalo certainly (is cursed)… but it has to be Cleveland in a walk. Not only have they not had a title in any major sport since a 1964 NFL championship, which also happens to be a title that is not the same title as the one currently awarded, they also have had to suffer greatly… So instead of hoping that the Cubs can have a World Series Parade on Waveland Avenue, channel your energy where it's really needed. Hope that LeBron becomes the next M.J. and his Cavaliers take over the league for a decade, or that Eric Wedge leads the Tribe to a World Series ring, or best of all hope that the Dog Pound comes back in force and the Browns become a football force and bring home a Super Bowl that they coughed up in the late 80s.
By the way, the SF Giants are the team that has been in a city the longest without winning a championship, having gone almost 50 years without bringing home a trophy."
Not too long ago, the Oakland A's took a not-so-subtle shot at their Bay Area neighbor by printing T-shirts that read: "Zero splash hits. Four world titles." One of my favorite T-shirts of all time.
And yes, Cleveland. Of course. I'm an idiot. Willie Mays' catch in 1954. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Marlins. How could I have forgotten about them? So now, I hereby crown Cleveland the reigning city of sports woe.
Time to hear from a couple of E-mailbag regulars. Our resident Duck fan Scott in Los Angeles writes: "Great wins for Stanford. It is nice to see them coming together… This Dennis Dixon's big chance. At least Oregon has a bye week to help him prepare more. Someone pointed out that this is the first QB to play for Oregon that Tedford did not recruit to the school. This is Tedford's big chance to see him!"
Plus, Dixon is from San Leandro, so I'm sure that adds a little more to that subplot. By the way, Dixon automatically becomes the most dangerous runner among starting quarterbacks in the Pac-10. Yes, even more dangerous than Trent Edwards.
And as usual, Derek from San Francisco provides a voice of reason: "The cool thing (about last week's win) is, you can feel the team pulling together. Maybe it was the Davis loss, perhaps the pain of remembering the last few years, or it could be that Walt Harris really knows what he's talking about… No matter how you justify it, we can certainly see the team buying into Walt's grand plan, and the leaders of this team showing up Saturdays. I don't think we can say that these guys have turned the corner yet, but it's not too far off now. Over the next month, we'll really be able to tell how far they have come. This is the time that the Willingham teams simply dominated, and the Teevens teams faltered. Sure, Stanford may not win another game all year. But their performance over the rest of the season will decidedly tell us if Walt's got us going in the right direction. So far, I'll gladly let him steer."
Can't argue with any of that!
Got a thought on this column, on Stanford sports, or on anything else that's on your mind, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! The best e-mails I get will end up in next week's Corner…
By the way, circle November 12 on your calendar, because that is going to be a big, big Pac-10 weekend. Arizona State-UCLA, U$C-cal, Oregon-Washington State, and Stanford-Oregon State should all be pivotal games. Even Washington meets Arizona to see who ends up in the Pac-10's cellar (does the loser of that game get the number one recruit?). That might be the biggest concentration of critical conference games that the Pac-10 has seen in a while.
But that's two weeks from now. What about this weekend?
Arizona @ Oregon State. The emergence of Willie Tuitama makes the Wildcats a little more interesting than normal. But is it too much to expect a true freshman quarterback to win his first start on the road? Generally, yes. I like Oregon State by 14.
Washington @ Arizona State. Even if Sam Keller can't go, the Sun Devils should have the talent and the motivation to beat the Huskies. Shouldn't they? I like Arizona State by 21.
Washington State @ U$C. Publicly, Pete Carroll is saying the right things about not being bothered about the latest BCS standings. Privately, I'm sure he's using this as motivation for his coaches and players to smooth out some of the wrinkles this week. Translation: I like U$C by 67. At least the Cougs won't have to worry about blowing a significant lead in this one!
Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 13-4 (straight-up), 9-8 (ATS).
Troy Clardy is a host and reporter for the Stanford Cardinal Farm Report, airing Saturdays on FSN Bay Area.
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