Thursday, September 10, 2009
What to watch in the Pac-10
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
I apologize I forgot to tell you last week to watch the post-game at Boise State. I talked to more than a few folks who clicked their TVs off either late in the fourth or at the final bell and missed all the, er, fun.
As for this week, we've got three marquee nonconference road games, Oregon trying to bounce back and Washington trying to end a 15-game losing streak, among others.
- Barkley on a big stage: USC's freshman quarterback passed his first test against San Jose State, but things will be much tougher for Matt Barkley at Ohio State. It's hard to imagine he won't struggle, but if he shines and leads the Trojans into the national title chase, buckle up for the hype that will commence.
- Prince of Rocky Top: Speaking of young quarterbacks, UCLA's redshirt freshman Kevin Prince is not as young as Barkley but his supporting casts is much younger, and Neyland Stadium at Tennessee is just as tough as the Horseshoe, even if the Volunteers are a step or two behind the Buckeyes. How will Prince and the Bruins O-line perform on the road, where UCLA traditionally struggles?
- Take three on young QBs: Not to establish a theme or anything, but redshirt freshman Andrew Luck leads Stanford across the country for an early PDT kickoff at Wake Forest with a chance for the Cardinal to announce to the college football world that they are again a contender not to be trifled with.
- Ducks Blounted: Oregon needs to beat Purdue to salvage its season. That sounds extreme, but the Ducks are back at home and they are a vastly superior team. If they don't prevail, it won't be because the better team won. It will be because the Ducks suffered a Boise State hangover that could well last the entire season. If Oregon wins, they likely will be able to look at the schedule ahead and know they have a lot to play for. Shoot, a victory over Utah on Sept. 19 should get them back into the top-25.
- Secondary test for Beavers: The first order of business is can Oregon State's rebuilt secondary thwart a strong UNLV receiving corps -- Ryan Wolfe and Phillip Payne are a Pac-10-worthy combination. The second is can the Beavers win an early-season nonconference game on the road? Their recent track record -- LSU, Boise State, Louisville, Cincinnati, Penn State, Utah -- isn't good. If Oregon State does prevail, it will be 2-0 and a long way toward not repeating a 2-3 start for the fourth consecutive year.
- Huskies winning streak: It might not last long -- USC comes to town on Sept. 19 -- but Washington should be on a one-game winning streak by Saturday afternoon with Idaho coming to town. That winning streak, obviously, will end a 15-game losing streak. It will be interesting to see if the Huskies pounce with a relentless hunger to win or if they are flat after the emotional effort vs. LSU.
- Cougars offense steps up: Hawaii needed a fourth-quarter comeback to beat Central-Arkansas, an FCS program. The Warriors only have two starters back on defense. They are projected to finish in the bottom half of the WAC. This is a prime time for the Cougars to get a win. It would be a particularly good time for the offense, which showed some life against Stanford, to put up some numbers -- and points, which might mean either Kevin Lopina or Marshall Lobbestael would establish himself as the starter.
- Best 200 before the half?: Cal didn't need Jahvid Best in the second half of its blowout win over Maryland. But if his Heisman Trophy candidacy is going to pick up steam, he might want to post some fancy numbers against FCS team Eastern Washington. Or maybe coach Jeff Tedford wants to rest him before the Bears head to Minnesota.
- Passing Wildcats: Arizona is going to beat Northern Arizona, but the Wildcats night won't be a success unless they walk into the post-game locker room feeling good about their quarterback situation before heading to Iowa. That means a quality, confidence-building outing for Matt Scott and some good reps for backup Nick Foles.
- Nonconference tests: When the smoke clears Saturday, how will the Pac-10 stand up to against a tough nonconference schedule? There are six games here that are "losable." If USC goes down, the conference won't have much say in the national championship race, unless Cal surges. If UCLA gets whipped at Tennessee, the SEC folks will howl with delight. If Stanford goes down at Wake Forest, it will be played as "the Pac-10 lacks depth." If Oregon loses to Purdue, the Chip Kelly doubters will be out in force. If the Huskies lose to Idaho, all the goodwill from the LSU game will go splat. If Oregon Sate loses at UNLV, the Mountain West will start crowing again. If the Cougars lose to Hawaii, the specter of a winless season will appear. There's lots at stake this weekend.