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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 14


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

1. Who's Oregon State's quarterback and what will that mean? Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he'd announce a starting quarterback on Wednesday, which likely would happen after practice. Guess here is that he's decided Lyle Moevao needs to be 100 percent to retain his job because backup Sean Canfield has played so well while going 3-0. Then the issue becomes how long will Riley stick with one guy? If Canfield/Moevao start slowly, would there be a temptation to have a quick hook and put in the other because, as Riley said, he has "two starting quarterbacks." Another guess: This situation surely has inspired some spirited discussion among the coaching staff because there is no clear right answer. At least until around 8 p.m. PT on Saturday.

2. Notre Dame will play inspired football at USC: Notre Dame made itself a national punchline last week by losing at home to woeful Syracuse, which had already fired coach Greg Robinson. Since starting 4-1, the Irish have gone 2-4, and one of those wins was against beleaguered Washington, so it doesn't even count. Still, the players surely recall last year's 38-zip beatdown the Trojans supplied at Notre Dame. And this is a rivalry game. It would be fairly shocking if USC doesn't get the Irish's best shot. Doesn't mean USC is going to lose. But this won't be a four-quarter walkover.

3. Craft can't give the ball away, but he also needs to make plays: It's a redundant point, but UCLA needs more out of quarterback Kevin Craft. Yes, he doesn't have much help. Yes, he's led some nice comebacks. Yes, the coaches still believe he and not any other quarterback on the roster gives the Bruins their best chance to win. Yes, a few of his 16 interceptions weren't his fault. Nonetheless, the Bruins slim bowl hopes depend on him not making poor decisions against Arizona State. The Sun Devils solid defense is going to gang up on the run and force the ball into Craft's hands. He will have to make plays for the Bruins to have a chance to win.

4. A competitive fight at Hawaii might suggest a corner turning for Washington State: It's probably too much to ask that the Cougars put their Apple Cup euphoria behind them and focus on Hawaii. But if they do challenge the Warriors -- 30-point favorites -- for four quarters, that would bode well for the future, making it reasonable to assume coach Paul Wulff and his staff's message is getting through.

5. Despite a strategic disadvantage, USC's defense should be OK against the Irish: Despite having a weak schedule, Notre Dame is ranked 91st in the nation in rushing (119 yards per game). That means the Irish and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen have been forced to throw against just about everyone. That is just not a good thing, even if your coach is an offensive genius who can make mincemeat out of most college defensive coordinators with his magical play calling. Notre Dame can't abandon the run and allow the Trojans to pin their ears back and hit Clausen.

6. Strength-on-strength and nothing Civil about it: Talk about a defense figuring things out. Oregon State surrendered 210 and 239 yards rushing in its first two games against Stanford and Penn State. Since then? No opponent has exceeded 139 yards and six teams have been held under 100, including USC and California. First two games: six rushing touchdowns. Next nine? Six rushing touchdowns. And folks wonder why I am president of the Mark Banker Fan Club. Oh, but here come the Ducks, who rank sixth in the nation with 268 yards rushing per game. They've run on everyone other than USC. And the Ducks ran fairly well in 2007's Civil War. This is the fundamental showdown of this game.

7. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy: Hard to believe, but this is the final home game of Rudy Carpenter's career. The Arizona State quarterback has had some great times during 41 consecutive starts. And not so great. He's one of eight Pac-10 quarterbacks to pass for more than 10,000 career yards and his 80 touchdown passes rank third on the conference's all-time list. He's been feisty and mouthy with opponents and reporters, which has bothered some but amused others, but the tough son of a gun always showed up for work with grit and determination. And his skills and savvy give the Sun Devils a huge advantage against UCLA, and also give them a puncher's chance of winning two in a row and becoming bowl eligible.

8. Can the Beavers run without Jacquizz? Short answer: yes. In the 2007 Civil War, Oregon State didn't have injured running back Yvenson Bernard, the team's heart-and-soul leader. Yet they prevailed 38-31 in double overtime, and a guy named Matt Sieverson rushed for 141 yards on 27 carries, including a 38-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. So likely having to play without freshman phenom running back Jacquizz Rodgers is not a catastrophic blow for OSU. And the running back depth is solid. Recall: Many were touting 240-pound Ryan McCants as a budding star in the preseason. Moreover, the Ducks figure to get a steady dose of scatback/receiver James Rodgers on his fly sweeps. Question is, will it be enough?