Sunday, November 29, 2009
What we learned in the Pac-10: Week 13
By Adam Rittenberg
What did we learn from Week 13 of Pac-10 action?
1. Toby Gerhart's Heisman Trophy candidacy is legit: Playing against 11 BCS conference teams, including seven that are or have been ranked this season, Toby Gerhart ended up ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing touchdowns (26) and No. 2 in rushing (144.7 yards per game). His worst game? 82 yards on 17 carries on Sept. 12 at Wake Forest. Unlike other candidates, he always produced big against rivals and ranked teams. In his season-finale against Notre Dame, he hoisted the Cardinal upon his shoulders and rushed for 205 yards and accounted for four touchdowns -- three rushing, one passing -- in a comeback 45-38 victory. It's fair to ask: How can rational minds not judge him to be this season's most outstanding player?
2. Carroll vs. Neuheisel makes USC-UCLA more interesting: USC and UCLA don't like each other. Never have, never will. It appears, however, that Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel -- who seemed to get along fine when Neuheisel was first hired to coach the Bruins before the 2008 season -- will make the dislike deeper and more entertaining in coming years. Some folks will think Carroll unnecessarily piled on with that late 48-yard touchdown pass that made the final count 28-7 Saturday. Others will point out that Neuheisel called a useless and annoying time out, which justified the Trojans tacking on an in-your-face TD. The end result is there will be lots to talk about annually, both before and after these coaches and teams tangle. That's cool with me.
3. Washington State has a lot of ground to make up: The Cougars were a much worse team last year, but they still won the Apple Cup with a spirited comeback. This year, the Huskies utterly dominated in a 30-0 win, the first Apple Cup shutout in 45 years. Washington State struggled to find a healthy quarterback during the game, so the offensive futility was understandable, if hard to stomach for fans who are tired not only of losing but doing so badly. New Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian may land a top-25 recruiting class. It appears his program is trending up. Paul Wulff will need to counter, first this winter in recruiting, then next fall. Washington State has fallen way behind in the Pac-10, which may be even tougher and deeper in 2010. Can it get up?
4. Arizona finally got lucky: Arizona, you looked terrible in the second half as Arizona State made its comeback from a 14-point deficit. But you've been through a lot this year, including that dispiriting double-overtime loss to Oregon that ended your Rose Bowl dreams. While Stanford and Oregon State fans likely would remind you that not all your luck has been bad this year, that muffed punt that saved the day against the Sun Devils might have been a kindly gesture from the college football gods. "Here," they said. "Here's a gift for 'ya. Sorry about those deflections."
5. Dennis Erickson needs to win in 2010: Boy, did we see some tough coach walks after games Saturday? Kansas' Mark Mangino, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson. I always look at the coach's face and gait -- the extraordinary effort it takes to simultaneously walk to mid-field and maintain as close to a neutral expression as possible. You can feel how hard each step toward their grinning counterpart must be. I wanted to crawl through the TV and offer a pat on the back to Erickson as much as anyone. He just looked so... pained. But empty seats at Sun Devil Stadium and a second consecutive losing season won't cut it in Tempe for long. With what Erickson has coming back in 2010, there are reasons to believe the program will be on the uptick. But he needs to recruit his butt off this winter and produce a winning season or his seat will get plenty hot in the desert.