Pac-10 midseason report

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 at midseason could be described as embarrassed and defensive.

Embarrassed because a conference that typically distinguishes itself in nonconference play is just 13-15, and will almost certainly finish with a losing mark considering two of the three remaining out-of-conference games feature weak, woeful and wobbling Washington and Washington State.

Oh, and how could anyone forget the 1-6 mark vs. the Mountain West Conference?

Defensive?

Well, much of the nation won't listen as Pac-10 adherents note that eight of those nonconference defeats came on the road, or that no other conference can claim to have played teams presently ranked Nos. 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15 and 20 in nonconference play. And won twice.

No other conference even comes close.

The Big 12, for example, has played three nonconference foes who are presently ranked. Record? 0-3.

The mighty SEC? It's 0-2 against nonconference teams that are currently ranked.

And Pac-10 adherents wonder why USC's loss at Oregon State, which has won four consecutive bowl games and 19 games over the previous two seasons, doesn't signify conference depth, while Florida's loss at home to Ole Miss, which has won 14 games over the past four years, means there are no days off in the SEC.

Sigh.

Furthering the frustration are injuries, particularly at quarterback. Oregon, UCLA, Washington and Washington State have each lost their projected starting quarterback. The Ducks, Bruins and Cougars have, in fact, at some point turned the ball over to the No. 3 -- or deeper -- guy on their depth chart.

The good news -- yes, there is some -- is that USC is still in good position to play its way into the BCS title game if it wins out, and No. 25 California could play its way into the top-half of the polls before it visits USC on Nov. 8.

This means the Pac-10 could have a real, live marquee game of national interest!

Or maybe Oregon or Oregon State, instead of Cal, will surge.

It's hard to predict in an often unpredictable conference.

What is certain is that the Pac-10 should be highly motivated to prove its merit during the bowl season.

Biggest surprise: Oregon State's 27-21 win over then-top-ranked USC sent shock waves through the college football world. It wasn't just that the Beavers were 25 -point underdogs. It was that the Trojans had looked so dominant while whipping Virginia and Ohio State. It was watching 180-pound true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers gash the vaunted Trojans defense for 186 yards on 37 carries. It was watching a powerful USC offense held to just 313 yards. It was... just shocking.

Biggest disappointment: More than a few folks suspected that Arizona State was overrated when it began the season ranked No. 15. The Sun Devils had big issues on their offensive line and some questions on defense. But few expected them to start a four-game losing streak with a home loss in overtime to UNLV. The biggest problem is the Sun Devils rank 116th in the nation in rushing. Preseason concerns about the offensive line obviously proved well-founded.

Midseason offensive MVP: Rodgers is just a freshman, and a small one at that -- he's listed at 5-foot-6 -- but the saying that good things come in small packages is supported by Rodgers ranking 10th in the nation with 119.7 yards rushing per game and scoring eight touchdowns.

Midseason defensive MVP: USC safety Kevin Ellison doesn't have the flashy big name like many of his teammates on the star-laden Trojans defense. What he does have, though, is the most tackles on the nation's best defense, averaging eight stops per game. He's also defended six passes, grabbed an interception and recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss.

Midseason newcomer: Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount got a lot of hype in the spring after transferring from East Mississippi Junior College, but the speedy, powerful 230 pounder has lived up to his advance billing, ranking fifth in the conference with 84.6 yards per game. He also averages 7.2 yards per carry -- second only to USC's Joe McKnight -- and leads the conference with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Midseason coach of the year: In his second season, Jim Harbaugh has led Stanford, now 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference, back to respectability by emphasizing a blue-collar attitude and a physical style of play. Leaning on a potent running attack that ranks second in the Pac-10 with 184 yards per game, the Cardinal have played their way into bowl contention. Moreover, Harbaugh is proving an effective recruiter as he's expected to sign a class that ranks among the top 25 in the nation.

Bowl bound: USC, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona

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