Pac-10 is about run D vs. run O

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Some interesting numbers ...

Four Pac-10 teams rank among the nation's top 25 in total defense: No. 3 Arizona State, No. 6 USC, No. 15 UCLA and No. 25 Arizona.

All four have played at least one A-list BCS conference foe, so the numbers aren't inflated.

USC, Arizona State and UCLA also rank among the top 12 in scoring defense.

But that's not what's interesting. It just shows that Pac-10 defenses are as good as any in the nation this year.

Here, however, is where the Pac-10 may turn this year: run D vs. run O.

Five Pac-10 teams rank among the top 21 in run defense: No. 5 USC, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 9(tie) UCLA, No. 18 Oregon State and No. 21 Arizona.

Four Pac-10 teams rank among the nation's top 24 in run offense: No. 11 Stanford, No. 12 Arizona, No. 16(tie) USC and No. 24 California.

And based on what we saw in the Cal-Oregon game, here's a guess that the Ducks run offense and run defense won't be anything to take lightly going forward.

Going into the season, with five 1,000-yard rushers back (though Oregon's LeGarrette Blount is obviously no longer back), everyone knew it was the year of the running back. The questions were mostly on the offensive line.

The rushing offenses are meeting expectations. The run defenses are probably exceeding expectations, though there was clearly a lot of defensive talent back from 2008.

Consider this week's top matchups.

  • UCLA at Stanford. That's strength-on-strength. There will be plenty of pads popping in this one -- Toby Gerhart plus Reggie Carter equals SMACK! Should be great fun.

  • USC at California. Before the debacle at Oregon, Cal ranked 10th in the nation in run defense. With the Trojans' struggles throwing the ball, the running game will be a linchpin of this matchup. And Cal's Jahvid Best is probably plenty motivated after his bad day in Eugene to prove himself against a defense that shut him down last year.

  • Oregon State at Arizona State: This one has the makings of a low-scoring game because of who the Sun Devils are -- good defense, struggling offense. If the Beavers can't run, though, their offensive line is going to struggle to protect Sean Canfield.

There's a lot of underclass quarterback and receiver talent in the Pac-10. The passing games likely will uptick next year.

But this year's conference race may end up being about who can gain four -- not three -- yards and a cloud of dust. And who can stop it.