Friday, September 5, 2008
Pac 10: Ten things to watch for Saturday
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten big issues as we gambol into Week 2. 1. Willingham must win: The heat already was on Washington coach Tyrone Willingham before his Huskies went belly-up at Oregon. Now rumblings about his job security are registering on the Richter scales by Mount Rainier. He needs an upset win over No. 15 BYU to regain some footing, with No. 4 Oklahoma next headed to Seattle. The schedule is unforgiving, yes, but so suddenly are Huskies fans.
2. Put '55' to bed: A 41-3 victory doesn't raise many fretful eyebrows for a winning team, but Arizona State bludgeoned Stanford by that count in its 2007 Pac-10 opener, while -- eyebrow arch now! -- giving up five first-half sacks. Thus commenced a storyline that continues today with the oft-repeated stat of 55 sacks yielded last year by the Sun Devils OL. Stanford's defensive front is stout, winning the battle at the line of scrimmage last Thursday against Oregon State. If the rebuilt Sun Devils offensive line, however, can at least reach a stalemate, then...
3. Given time, Carpenter will shine: If Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter isn't running for his life against Stanford, he will pick apart the Cardinal secondary, which won't match up with the Sun Devils skill and depth at WR, even if Michael Jones is limited by a toe injury. Oregon State and its outstanding WRs piled up over 400 yards passing; Carpenter could equal that.
4. They do call it 'Beaver' Stadium: Oregon State's pattern is struggle early, or at least lose a couple of winnable games, then surge over the second half of the season. But many of us also recall the Beavers going down to LSU in the 2004 opener and losing 22-21 in overtime, a game in which three missed extra points made the difference. So it's not a matter of being good enough to play with the so-called Big Boys, even in one of their overflowing venues. Penn State suspended two starters on its D-line; can OSU take advantage? The Beavers have the skill on offense and speed on defense to shake up the Nittany Lions and notch the upset.
5. Jahvid Best will live up to his last name: The California running back piled up 277 total yards in the win over Michigan State, including 111 yards rushing on 24 carries. No one on the Washington State defense will be able to keep up with him, so don't be surprised if he meets or exceeds last weekend's numbers. And, if he does, how long before he starts getting some national love?
6. Tuitama is No. 1 with a Rocket: Arizona QB Willie Tuitama threw for three scores vs. Idaho to establish a new school career record for TD passes with 47. He should get Nos. 48, 49 and 50 (51 & 52?) against Toledo. It will be interesting to see if the Wildcats maintain the intensity they displayed on both sides of the ball while dominating overmatched Idado 70-0. Arizona basically scheduled itself a preseason with the Pac-10's softest nonconference slate, but there's no reason these games shouldn't be useful tune-ups.
7. Oregon will Roper some Aggies: Ducks QB Justin Roper was knocked out with a concussion in the first half against Washington, but coach Mike Bellotti said he should be good to go Saturday against a Utah State team that has no hope. Will Roper: 1) stay healthy, something Ducks QBs struggle to do; 2) play well? While Oregon has way too much athleticism for this one to be interesting, at some point offensive coordinator Chip Kelly is going to want his Ducks to develop some continuity, particularly with a visit to Purdue ahead the following weekend.
8. What about Gerhart's encore?: Stanford running back Toby Gerhart ate up Oregon State with 147 yards on 19 carries and two TDs. The 230 pounder has the speed to get to the corner and the size to make things difficult once he breaks the line of scrimmage. He shredded the Beavers typically rugged run defense, so what will he do against the Sun Devils? If there's not a lot of room for Gerhart and the Cardinal running game, then things will be much harder for Stanford, which struggled to establish its passing game against the Beavers and is thin at receiver.
9. Look sharp in L.A.: It's a weekend of rest in the City of Angels -- or the City of a Challenged Football Monopoly. Of course, everyone knows No. 1 USC is working itself into a froth with No. 3 Ohio State coming to town. But the No. 23 Bruins, perhaps even more than the Trojans, who are accustomed to a big stage, need to stay sharp and focused during their bye weekend. They head to BYU next, which figures to get a challenge at Washington. A 2-0 start no one saw coming would show the nation that UCLA wasn't just a flash in the pan.
10. Staying healthy is the key (knock on wood): To a person, college football writers will tell you their least favorite thing to do is catalog injuries -- and to endure the irritation from coaches as the writers try to figure out just how "questionable" or "doubtful" a player is. Injuries can wreck a season -- or a young man's career. Lost amid UCLA's big win over Tennessee was three senior offensive starters going down to significant injuries, particularly TE Logan Paulsen (at least eight weeks), who likely would have been a key weapon for QB Kevin Craft this season. Recall how the trajectory of Oregon's season changed when QB Dennis Dixon went down. Writers don't root for teams, but I will certainly admit to rooting for each team being able to start its best players.