<
>

Looking at the Pac-10 race at the quarter pole

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

First off: I hear you in my overflowing mailbag.

Yes, it's curious that USC's loss at Oregon State is analyzed one way, while Florida's loss at home to Ole Miss -- a program that is inferior to the Beavers by any objective measure -- is analyzed another.

The "SEC depth!" vs. "USC choke!" line of thinking should raise an eyebrow or two.

But, honestly, the Pac-10 hasn't done much at the season's quarter pole to challenge the college football orthodoxy.

(Know what would be huge? Oregon State winning at 15th-ranked Utah on Thursday. That would substantially counter the 1-5 deficit to the Mountain West Conference and demonstrate that the Beavers fluke game was at Penn State, not against USC).

Sure, the Beavers victory over USC made the formerly greatest squad ever look vulnerable, but is anyone willing to say that a team other than the Trojans will win the Pac-10?

So, it's still USC and everyone else scrapping for second place.

Well, not everyone.

Fair to say that the conference has developed a decided bottom tier with Washington and Washington State headed toward an Apple Cup showdown that will decide ninth and 10th place.

UCLA notched a shocking season-opening win over Tennessee, but hasn't won since and looked terrible in losses to BYU and Arizona. The competitive loss to a good Fresno State squad, however, suggested that the Bruins can win at least a couple of Pac-10 games, the best peer-level matchup probably being a visit from Stanford on Oct. 18.

For the now 3-2 (2-1 Pac-10) Cardinal, that's a critical game for bowl hopes and a benchmark for how far Stanford has progressed under Jim Harbaugh.

As for that elusive No. 2 spot, it could be any of these five teams: Oregon, California, Oregon State, Arizona State or Arizona.

Of that group, only the Beavers have a conference defeat (opener at Stanford), but the Beavers canceled that out with a win over USC.

Oregon, California and Arizona State all play at USC, while Arizona gets the Trojans at home.

The Wildcats, a decided darkhorse in the race, have the most favorable schedule, with California, Oregon State and Arizona State coming to Tucson. The Beavers also will face most of their toughest tests at home: Arizona State, California and Oregon.

The Ducks visit Cal, ASU and Oregon State, while the Sun Devils will be on the road at Cal this weekend and must visit Oregon State and Arizona.

And Cal visits Arizona and Oregon State.

In other words: Nos. 2-7 could go any way, and the team that gets No. 2 is going to have to show its mettle on the road.

Or, just maybe, this is the Year of the Trojan Tumble.

A long shot, yes, but in college football, nothing is impossible.