This Week in the Pac-10

Well, the Pac is back, but not quite off to the auspicious start the conference would have liked. With Nebraska's 48-10 drubbing of Arizona State, there's plenty the conference can prove this weekend. There's one true marquee matchup in Ann Arbor as Washington tries to take the series from Michigan in the Big House and another as Auburn heads to the Coliseum to tangle with the Trojans on Monday. Other than that there's not too much to get excited about.

Eastern Kentucky v. Oregon State
Northern Arizona v. Arizona
Eastern Washington v. Arizona State
Baylor v. California
Mississippi State v. Oregon
Nevada v. Washington State
Auburn v. USC





Eastern Kentucky v. Oregon State

Roy Kidd brings his 307 career victories to Corvallis to tackle the Beavers, and the 1-AA power comes in much like Georgia Southern did back in '99. GS almost came away with the 'W' that day, losing a wild 48-41 decision. The 2001 EKU football team was able to extend an impressive streak of 24 straight seasons of EKU posting a winning record. The 1977 season was the last time Eastern Kentucky did not have a winning record (the Colonels were 5-5 that year), and one has to look back to 1972 before finding the last Eastern Kentucky football team (5-6) that actually had a losing season. Senior defensive tackle Marcus Adams and sophomore tailback C.J. Hudson have been receiving pre-season recognition. Both Adams and Hudson were chosen as second-team All-Americans on The Sports Network's pre-season team and both players were also picked on the Ohio Valley Conference's pre-season first team. Hudson, especially, is a specimen. At only 5-7, CJ will remind Beaver fans of another diminutive tailback, former OSU star Kenny Simonton. He rushed for an average of 135 yards per game and is one of the strongest players on the team, benching 395 pounds last spring. Hudson is going to become very familiar with OSU storming defense, arguably the best in the Pac going into the 2002 season. In fact, the Beavs are flat out loaded. Heading up their D are linebackers Nick Barnett and Richard Siegler, both incredibly experienced and talented. Their DL has Dwan Edwards and Eric Manning back, and their secondary is exceptional, with Dennis Weathersby and Terrell Roberts at the corners and Calvin Carlyle and Mitch Meeuwsen at the safeties. This will not be the first time Kidd and Dennis Erickson have hooked up. EKU played Idaho back in 1982, and the Colonels defeated the Vandals 38-30 on their way to the NCAA 1-AA championship. Kidd will be wishing the Vandals were in town, and while I expect this game to be a lot closer than people think, the Beavs prevail by a couple of scores.
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Oregon State 41-24



Northern Arizona v. Arizona

Another D1-AA team gives a Pac-10 team a smooth welcome into the 2002, as the Lumberjacks head down from Flagstaff to take on the Wildcats at home. Ironically enough, it's been 57 years since NAU and UA have gotten it on, and perhaps this is the beginning of a new chapter in their rivalry. The Lumberjacks come in ranked 20th in the pre-season polls and return some depth, but they will be breaking in a new QB. JC transfer Clint Womack will need some help from Clarence Moore and Jonny Marshall, both all-Big Sky receivers. Lumberjack coach Jerome Souers has some shoring up to do on the offensive line, as only one starter returns. In another ironic twist, NAU went down to UA to learn the double eagle flex defense the Wildcats run. The Lumberjacks have a quality defense coming back, anchored in the middle by all-Big Sky LB Keith O'Neil, but I have a feeling John Mackovic will be able to see what they are doing a mile away. With Jason Johnson seeing the defense all the time, it shouldn't take much to pick apart NAU's defense like a carcass. OL Makoa Freitas is out for this game, but that's the only substantial injury the Wildcats have. Talented WR Bobby Wade sidestepped a potential landmine this week and won't be suspended for fighting. Everything seems to be in place for the Wildcats to send the Lumberjacks packing after a half, but at this level you have to play the whole game.
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Arizona 51-7



Eastern Washington v. Arizona State

Yet ANOTHER 1-AA squad hits the road in search of an elusive win over a D1 opponent, this particular matchup pitting the Eagles against a beleaguered Sun Devil team that needs to put a good whipping on somebody to restore some pride back in the program. So in other words, I wouldn't want to be EWU coach Paul Wulff Saturday. There is no mercy rule in the desert and it could get ugly. The good for the Eagles? Wulff knows about going to the desert and having success, as the former Washington State Cougar was part of the 1986 WSU team that tied ASU 21-21 that year. That was no slouch of an ASU team either. They ended up going 10-1-1, beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The bad for the Eagles? They are unveiling 20 new starters. TWENTY. Wulff and ASU head man Dirk Koetter are familiar with each other, as Koetter's Boise State team dispatched the Eagles 41-23 that year. History is doomed to repeat itself again this year for Wulff, and even though he has former Coug teammate Timm Rosenbach with him as offensive coordinator, they will not be able to re-create the crimson-and-gray magic of 16 years ago. The one bright spot in the newcomers has to be former Tulsa QB Josh Blankenship. He's apparently shown that he's ready to take the experience gained from 20 starts with the Golden Hurricanes to Cheney for a fresh start. Josh will do his best to keep things in check, but they simply won't have the defense to handle Chad Christensen and Shaun McDonald. Mike Williams had glimpses of form against Nebraska, including a pretty 34-yard scamper. Koetter will want more of that from his junior tailback, and I'm sure he'll get it against a defense that is literally replacing every position.
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Arizona State 48-17



Baylor v. California

Whoa. An actual game played by two actual D1 teams. I suppose an argument could be made about that, but that's for a different time and place. You can call this one the 'Battle of the Bears'. Baylor has done quite well in Berkeley historically, but that's also a bit of a problem. They are 2-0 versus the Golden Bears, but the last game played between the two was in 1956. Baylor likes the Golden State, going 6-2 all-time there. The Bears' last game in California was a thrilling, 37-35 win at Fresno State in 1997. This will also be a battle of senior quarterbacks, with Greg Cicero starting for Baylor and Kyle Boller getting the nod for Cal. Other than that, this game is a pretty ugly one on paper. Baylor is a little dinged up for this one, as two of their more experienced defensive players, CB Derrick Cash and DT Aaron Lard, are probable, both with knee issues. Cal is starting from scratch with former Oregon offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford as their head man, and he will have his growing pains starting out. The nice thing is that Baylor is a pretty innocuous opponent, especially defensively. They gave up nearly 420 yards a game last season, good for an 89th-best ranking out of 115 D1 schools. Their offense was even scarier, ranked 103rd. This should bode well for Tedford, known for his offensive prowess. The Golden Bears need it too, as they averaged less than 350 yards per game offensively, 9th in the Pac-10. The only team in the conference that was worse was the woefully anemic USC. Either way, this game is just what Tedford needed; a nice soft landing in his first game as head coach before jumping off that preverbial cliff known as the Pac-10.
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California 28-7



Mississippi State v. Oregon

Compliment Oregon AD Bill Moos for finding a decent replacement in the wake of Michigan dropping the Ducks from their 2002 schedule, and even though MSU was the worst team in the SEC West, that stat is misleading. The fact is, all the SEC teams (minus Vanderbilt and possibly Kentucky), are competitive, both at home and away. This is only the second time Mississippi State has played a Pac-10 opponent. The Bulldogs travelled to Washington in 1977 and won 27-18 but later had to forfeit the contest for using an ineligible player. I don't think that's going to happen in 2002. Jackie Sherrill will be bringing in a relatively new QB into Autzen in Kevin Fant, but Fant led the Bulldogs in passing despite starting only three games last year. He's a good sized kid at 6-2 and 210 pounds and he knows how to chuck the rock. The real battle of wits in this game will be Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti and new OC Andy Ludwig going up against MSU DC Joe Lee Dunn. Dunn hasn't had much to work with the past couple of seasons, but he has seven starters returning, including defensive end Mario Haggan and cornerback Korey Banks. Banks is a little dinged up with an ankle injury but is expected to play. Also watch out for highly touted true frosh Marvin Byrdsong at linebacker. Ludwig needs to make sure Jason Fife is comfortable in his first start for the Ducks, and having Heisman candidate Onterrio Smith is a very comforting thought for Bellotti. Expect Smith to run up, down and sideways against the Bulldogs, and when he's carried it 30 times expect him to carry it 30 more times. Mississippi State's offense hasn't improved that much over last year (85th out of 115 D1 teams), and if Bellotti is able to pound the ball with Smith and get success for Fife with a safe passing game, the Dawg D will simply run out of gas sooner rather than later. Special teams will also be a back-breaker for Sherrill, especially with the dangerous Keenan Howry back returning punts for Oregon.
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Oregon 35-21



Nevada v. Washington State

Talk about lambs to the slaughter. Wolfpack RB Chance Kretschmer had a phenomenal year as a true freshman, going for 1732 yards and leading the country rushing the ball. Not bad for a former walk-on. Seattle native Nate Burleson is the other offensive threat for Nevada, as he was the Wolfpack's leading receiver in 2001. However, with injuries to two of Nevada's offensive linemen with experience, head coach Chris Tormey is going to have a very difficult time making it easy for his new QB, Zach Threadgill. Zach started two games last year in David Neill's absence, but he's never seen a front seven like what WSU is going to throw at him. In short, they ain't going to be kind to the Spokane native. With Isaac Brown, Rien Long, D.D. Acholonu, Tai Tupai, Jeremy Williams and Fred Shavies coming up Threadgill's backside, he'll need a tub of ice afterwards to take the swelling down from the punishment he'll most likely take. And Burleson's assignment will most likely be to beat Marcus Trufant, the much-touted cornerback from Tacoma. Ain't gonna happen. Nate has a better chance of winning the lottery, as Marcus will shut him down. It'll be a decent matchup, but give the edge to the guy that has played in bigger games and had tougher matchups. Offensively, there's nothing new to talk about. Jason Gesser will go bombs away at a defense that that was second to dead last in D1 ball, giving up just a whisker short of 500 yards a game to the opposition. Bank on the Cougs getting their 500 and probably more. JUCO transfer Jermaine Green has seemingly solved the question of who was going to step up for the departed David Minnich, and with Florida State transfer Devard Darling making Coug fans go, 'Nakoa McElrath? Who's he?', Mike Price has his offense ready and humming like a death machine. Death to Nevada, at least. And for week one, that's all he's concerned about.
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Washington State 65-24



Auburn v. USC

To quote our old pal Hugh Millen, this one has the makings of a good old-fashioned slobberknocker. Both defenses were ranked in the top 40 last year and both offenses have big question marks, which means the defenses will be even more important than normal. Tiger QB Daniel Cobb won a heated battle over Jason Campbell for the starting QB spot, but don't expect Tommy Tuberville to have a long leash if Cobb has a long night in LA. Campbell is an incredible athlete and could make life for the Trojans a wee bit unpleasant if he's allowed time to roam the pocket and scramble. Auburn TB Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams is an explosive player and it will be the task of LB Mike Pollard and all-world safety Troy Polamalu to stop him. Also watch out for true frosh receiver Ben Obomanu. He's the real deal and former high school all-american. With the loss of cornerback Kevin Arbet, Pete Carroll has some issues to deal with there. Two converted receivers, Marcell Allmond and William Buchanan, just might factor into Carroll's plans, and if so, watch out Obomanu! The Auburn game also brings Huggy Bear's son back home, Justin Fargas. Justin transferred to USC from Michigan and it's questionable if he'll play on Monday. Sultan McCullough returns, and expect him to try and shoulder the load, but don't forget about true frosh Hershel Dennis from Long Beach Poly. A lot was made of Dennis' recruitment, and he just might factor in if Fargas, Darryl Poston and Malaefou MacKenzie can't adequately back up McCullough. Another sore spot for Carroll just might be at QB, where Matt Leinart will have to be the answer at backup for Carson Palmer, if the Tigers rough up the senior signal-caller. Auburn linebacker Karlos Dansby will be the featured player in the Tigers' defensive attack and he is a good one. Ultimately this game will be decided on who turns the ball over and which offense can have success. I think Auburn is in the best position based on the offensive weapons they have, namely Cadillac Williams. I think the defenses play to a draw but noted kicker Damon Duval makes one of his patented late-game big kicks to take the game.
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Auburn 16-13

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