What to watch in the Pac-10

October, 24, 2008
10/24/08
11:09
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Can anybody win on the road (USC, Oregon, UCLA)? The best road win in conference play thus far is Arizona's 31-10 victory at UCLA. Otherwise bupkis (wins at Washington and Washington State don't count this season because everyone wins there). Even the Trojans aren't immune. Last time USC played a quality conference foe on the road it got Oregon Stated. To win the conference -- or to earn a good bowl berth -- a team needs to figure out how to win on the road.

2. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen should feel at home against Washington's pass defense: Washington ranks last -- 119th -- in the nation in pass efficiency defense. It's yielded 18 TD passes and grabbed only two interceptions. Opponents are completing passes at nearly a 73 percent clip. Enter Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who's shown dramatic improvement this year. He's tossed 14 TD passes and has thrown for 730 yards over his last two games. Odds are he's headed for another 300-yard-plus day through the air.

3. Another Mighty Mouse wants a piece of the USC defense: Arizona true freshman running back Keola Antolin burst onto the scene last week against California, rushing for 149 yards and three touchdowns. His stature -- 5-foot-7, 180 pounds -- notably approximated Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who gashed USC for 186 yards rushing. The Trojans defense has given up 316 yards rushing in its other five games total. Maybe small running backs are an Achilles' heel for the Trojans D?

4. Who's California's quarterback this week? Kevin Riley won the Bears starting quarterback job in a tight race in the preseason and went 3-1, but lost the job the past two games to Nate Longshore, the starter the previous two seasons. Longshore went 1-1. Coach Jeff Tedford said the competition is open and the starter Saturday against UCLA will be the guy who performs best with the game plan during practices. The more mobile, less mistake-prone Riley is decidedly the fan favorite. If Longshore takes the field, count on more than a few hoots from the crowd, which blames him for Cal's inconsistency. That has to register in Tedford's mind.

5. And what about Oregon's quarterback situation? The Ducks quarterback quandary is less controversial but just as vague this week as Oregon heads to Arizona State. Coach Mike Bellotti said that either Justin Roper, who began the season as the starter before injuring his knee, or Jeremiah Masoli, a first-year junior college transfer who's filled in, could start. And both could play. Roper is the more refined passer, and the Ducks passing game has been lacking. But Masoli's running skills are superior.

6. Will the return of Keegan Herring help the Arizona State running game?: The Sun Devils lack of any semblance of a running game -- they rank 117th in the nation with 83.7 yards per game -- has crippled the offense. Herring, the Pac-10's active career rushing leader, has struggled all season with a hamstring injury. He's played in only three games, turning in his best work when he went for 59 yards on 12 carries against Stanford before aggravating the hamstring. If he's back to his old quick, slashing self, he should give the ground attack a lift against the Ducks.

7. Get rid of the ball, Rudy!: While a run threat would help protect Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter and his bum ankle more than anything, it's unlikely it will perk up enough to carry the offense. And when Rudy throws, the Ducks will come after him hard. In last year's game, Oregon sacked Carpenter nine times. This year, the Ducks lead the Pac-10 with 3.57 sacks per game. The Sun Devils' game plan, with an extra week to refine it, likely will feature quick throws and a moving pocket. Anything to protect Carpenter, who can help himself by not holding onto the ball so long, looking for the big play downfield.

8. Will UCLA get Crafty on the road? UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft has led the Bruins to a pair of dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks, and both came after he played poorly in the first half. So he's shown he can bounce back during crunch time. But both performances came at home. Will a slow start at California create too wide a gap for Craft to bring the Bruins back? Can Craft put a complete game together? UCLA hasn't won in Berkeley since 1998. The Bruins also are riding a five-game road losing streak and have lost 12 of 15 on the road. It would be as thrilling for Bruins fans to see that run reversed as to see late-game heroics.

9. Speaking of bouncing back in crunch time, Cal: If California loses at home to a UCLA team the Bears should beat, then it will be impossible not to wonder if the program is headed for a repeat of last season's second-half collapse (though obviously the Bears never climbed to No. 2 in the polls this season). Forget the quarterback controversy: Cal needs to show resiliency. Its defense needs to recover its mojo after flopping in the second half against Arizona. The running game needs to give whoever plays quarterback a lift. And whoever plays quarterback needs to avoid making momentum-quashing mistakes.

10. USC needs another dominant performance: This likely will be a weekly "what to watch." If the Trojans are going to re-emerge in the national title hunt, they need to make statements every week because, at present, the remaining schedule doesn't including any ranked teams. Arizona is a solid foe and its stadium is going to be packed and frenzied. If USC stomps that enthusiasm and wins going away, a lot of Big 12 and SEC fans are going to start getting nervous because nobody wants a part of the Trojans in a championship game.

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