Three games will consume your attention, starting with the big Thursday night throwdown for the Rose Bowl.
1. Oregon State needs to play sound run defense: Oregon’s spread-option running game does three things to stress a defense. It tries to fool you. Then it tries to block you. Then it tries to make you miss. It will be first things first for the Beavers defenders: Do your job. That means play within the scheme. Defend your gap. Don’t freelance. The rest is just a physical question. Defeat the block. Don’t miss the tackle. Expect your teammate to do the same.
2. The poised team is going to the Rose Bowl: In last year’s Civil War, Oregon swaggered into Reser Stadium and played fast and loose. And dominated. The Beavers were tight, knowing that a win earned them their first Rose Bowl invitation since the 1964 season. For the Ducks, the Civil War was the thing. For the Beavers, the focus was the Rose Bowl. That's a mistake that coach Mike Riley and his players talked about repeatedly this week. While it could sound counterintuitive, it might help the Beavers to be on the road. Autzen Stadium won’t intimidate the Beavers, and it may help them focus. The Ducks, meanwhile, could tighten up at home -- like the Beavers did -- if things don’t start well.
3. Arizona needs to rediscover its running game to beat USC: What has made the Wildcats' offense so tough the past two seasons is balance. Sure, they spread out a defense, but Arizona has been perfectly comfortable going mano-a-mano with the power running game. But with injury issues at tailback -- starter Nic Grigsby won’t play against the Trojans -- the running game has been inconsistent, at best. Quarterback Nick Foles will need some help against the Trojans defense, which probably will be perfectly comfortable if Foles throws 40 times. Moreover, Foles is nursing a broken bone in his non-throwing hand. Being able to hand the ball off and gain 4 yards will be a big boon to him.
4. Is California or Washington more focused and hungry? Surging Cal is coming off a bye week. It should be rested, but sometimes bye weeks hurt teams that are playing well. Washington is coming off the emotions of a big Apple Cup win, but for the Huskies, this should feel like their bowl game, only in front of their home fans. It’s possible one or both teams will be flat. It’s also possible this will be a spirited battle, with Jake Locker trying to keep the Bears from improving their standing in the Pac-10 bowl pecking order.
5. Ducks stars vs. Beavers stars -- or someone else? Either Oregon’s Jeremiah Masoli or Oregon State’s Sean Canfield is going to be the first-team All-Pac-10 quarterback. It’s also possible that either LaMichael James or Jacquizz Rodgers will be first-team tailback (though both seem like locks for a tripartite backfield with Stanford's Toby Gerhart). Toss in Canfield’s favorite target, James Rodgers, and Masoli’s top man, tight end Ed Dickson, and you have a crew of impact offensive stars hoping for their close-up. On the other hand, big games often produce unlikely heroes. Who might that be? Two names to think about: For the Beavers, tight end Joe Halahuni. For the Ducks, receiver Jamere Holland.