California v. USC
Oregon v. UCLA
Washington State v. Stanford
Oregon State v. Arizona State
After a couple of games this year, the Oregon State Beavers were showing Sports Illustrated that maybe they were just a year off in predicting the Corvallis woodchucks world-beaters, but after consecutive losses to USC and UCLA, they have been brought sufficiently back to earth. The vaunted Beav D took a monster hit on the chin, as the Bruins rolled up 625 yards of total offense in OSU's own house, including 247 on the ground. Cory Paus decided to show up, going for a career-high 378 yards passing. So I guess the question to ask is; will Craig Bray and the Beaver D be able to stop an Arizona State team that hung 65 on Stanford within the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium? I think ASU wins, and for a couple of reasons. First, ASU is susceptible through the air, but they also lead the league in sacks. That means more headaches for Derek Anderson. Oregon State has a very opportunistic defense, but so does ASU. The Beavs are 7th in the Pac in sacks, so that means Andrew Walter (already the most proficient passer in the league) will have time to find Shaun McDonald and company downfield. I think Steven Jackson keeps the game interesting for OSU, but in the end ASU's offense will not be stopped if Manning, Edwards, Swancutt, Happe, et al... can't get pressure upfield. If UCLA can administer that much payback against Erickson, Koetter should be able to keep the ball rolling.
California v. USC
There's no question Oregon v. UCLA is the game of the week in the Pac, but I contend this matchup between the Bears and Trojans just might be the most intriguing. USC's home record against Cal since 1995? 0-3. That's right. This is a big-time payback game for the Men of Troy, and when you add onto it the heartbreaking OT loss they just suffered against WSU...let's just say that Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford could have picked a better week to travel to LA. But watch out Pete Carroll! This isn't the Cal team you might remember. They do throwbacks, flea-flickers and all sorts of gadget plays that are intent on confusing the bejeezus outta defenses. It sure worked against Washington, as the Bears beat UW for the first time since Nixon was in office. But also give Tedford and his staff credit for instilling a system and having their players buy into it lock, stock and barrel, so expect the Bears to come in with all their barrels blazing. Kyle Boller will be playing on Sundays, and this will be a very entertaining matchup of two highly-touted prep phenoms finally scratching past the surface of their promise. The key for the visiting Bears? Two things. First, get Joe Igber off in a hurry. He can only help to stifle USC's incredible upfield rush, giving Boller time to run play-action and do what he does best - the short stuff. The second key is to make sure to win the battle of third down. USC is dead-last in the conference, converting only 31.2 percent of their third-down opportunities. If they can keep their defense relatively fresh and can minimize mistakes like they did against the Huskies, Cal wins. It'll be a tough task, as Carroll will have his troops rip-roaring to go and knock heads, but I think Cal's confidence, Tedford's offensive mastery and their chemistry get them through another tough road game. But it won't be easy.
Oregon v. UCLA
The Pac-10 game of the week, no question. Oregon finally has to play somebody. They avoided it long enough, but this game is where the rubber meets the road for Mike Bellotti and crew. UCLA's offense found a catalyst in tiny Tyler Ebell, California's all-time prep rushing leader, who went for over 200 on the road against Oregon State. UCLA's number one in the league in rushing offense, Oregon number one in rushing defense. Like the kid with his hand in the dike, something's got to give. The Rose Bowl hasn't been a big home field advantage to the Bruins, as Colorado rocked them in their last home game, but if you don't think Bob Toledo is looking to this Saturday for retribution... UCLA was just a Chris Griffith FG away from stunning the Ducks last year, so the Bruins know they can play with UO. Jason Fife looked nice and poised against Arizona last weekend, so Oregon hopes Fife got his road-game jitters out of the way. If he does have a problem, it could be a long day for Onterrio Smith. Same goes for Paus and Ebell. This game hinges on QB play, and Paus has suddenly stepped up and looks to be the guy that can lead UCLA places this year. His play against the Beavers has to give the Bruin faithful hope he can keep the Big Mo rolling. But one thing is for sure; any Mike Bellotti-coached Oregon team will play balls-out and will not give the game away. Toledo will have to take it from them. With a renewed sense of confidence, Paus will lead the home team to a win in this war of attrition. Ebell will be a marked man, but Akil Harris and Manuel White can provide solid backup and enough curveballs to counter Oregon's rush D, led by Mitchell and Moretti.
Washington State v. Stanford
On paper, this one should be a blowout. Well, it's going to be a blowout on paper too. WSU is riding high off an overtime win against USC, so the only thing they may have to worry about this Saturday is a letdown. Playing a team with the worst scoring defense and worst turnover margin allows the Cougs a certain amount of comfort when heading toward Palo Alto. Chris Lewis hasn't emerged as the player Buddy Teevens needs to lead the Cardinal attack, so if he stumbles don't be surprised to see Kyle Matter pick up the slack. It's not as if WSU is immune to offense - they are currently 8th in the league in total defense - it's just that Stanford has no prayer of stopping a high-octane O led by a proven senior quarterback. Jason Gesser just keeps racking up the 'W's and with the Cardinal D dead-last in the league in sacks, he'll have all day to pick apart a young Stanford secondary. There's no question they are talented, but when you only have two players on D that played any significant minutes at all last year (Matt Leonard and Colin Branch), you're going to have problems. Add to that the fact that the Cougs also found a running game (201 yards on the ground against USC), and it's a double ouch. Just too much O in COugs.
Washington State 55-30
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