Ten issues to consider heading into the sixth week of games.
1. Oregon State's pass rush reborn? The Beavers had six sacks in their win over Arizona State. They had two in their previous three games. The biggest push came inside from tackles Stephen Paea and Brennan Olander. Will they be able to get the same heat on Arizona QB Nick Foles? The Wildcats have a much better offensive line than the Sun Devils and Foles gets rid of the ball quickly, so consistent pressure won't be easy.
2. What's USC's deal? It's now clear that USC of 2010 is closer to the 2009 version than a rebirth of 2002-2008. Or is it? A win at Stanford would certainly change minds about the Trojans. USC should be able to move the ball versus the Cardinal, but perhaps the bigger issue is can the defense, ranked 99th in the nation, stop Andrew Luck and company?
3. Pistol, Take II: Cal did a terrible job its first time against a pistol offense, see the 52 points rolled up by Nevada. But two things were stacked against the Bears: 1. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast is an NFL guy who'd never schemed against a pistol; 2. It was a short week of preparation (Friday night game). With UCLA coming to town on Saturday, the Bears have two things stacked in their favor: 1. Pendergast now knows exactly what a pistol is and what can go wrong defending it; 2. Cal had a bye last week so it had an extra week to prepare for the Bruins.
4. Bowl on the line? You'd guess when Huskies and Sun Devils fans went through the 2010 schedule looking for bowl eligibility, they each put a "W" by Saturday's game. For the Sun Devils, it's now a must-win. No way they could win five of their final six games to get the seven victories they need (because they played two FCS teams). The Huskies situation isn't as dire but it's still critical for them to hold serve at home, particularly for a team that typically -- until last week at USC -- struggles on the road. Losing inside Husky Stadium to the Sun Devils, who were predicted to finish ninth in the conference in the preseason, wouldn't be a good thing.
5. LaMichael goes for 200 in the first half? If Oregon running back LaMichael James can gain 257 yards against Stanford, what can he gain against Washington State, which has the worst run defense in a BCS conference? The guess is Ducks coach Chip Kelly would like to have him on the bench in the second half. But if LaHeisman gets 20 carries, he could get his third 200-yard-plus game of the year.
6. Katz vs. the Pac-10's best defense: Despite replacing seven starters, Arizona is ranked No. 2 in the nation in total defense and No. 3 in scoring defense. Beavers QB Ryan Katz seemed to break through last weekend against Arizona State, but part of that was little pressure from the Sun Devils. Katz was sacked eight times in the first three games, but he has yet to throw an interception. The Wildcats get good pressure -- 2.75 sacks per game -- and have a good secondary. Will the Wildcats be able to pressure Katz and either get him down or force a critical mistake (or two)?
7. Andrew Luck vs. a struggling USC secondary: The first question for Luck is will his best two receivers -- Ryan Whalen and Chris Owusu -- play. Both are injured, but coach Jim Harbaugh doesn't reveal injury information. The second: How will the Trojans young secondary, which has struggled with coverage as well as tackling, handle Lucks' downfield accuracy? They certainly didn't do well versus Washington's Jake Locker. The Trojans have given up 10 TD passes, second most in the conference.
8. Will the real UCLA defense stand up? At first, the Bruins couldn't defend the run (Kansas State, Stanford). Then Washington State QB Jeff Tuel passed for 311 yards last weekend. California will bring a good running game with Shane Vereen and a solid passing game with QB Kevin Riley. In fact, other than Stanford, this is likely the best offense the Bruins have faced, though it didn't get in the end zone at Arizona. The Bruins put the clamps on Houston and Texas. Can they do the same to the Bears?
9. Deantre Lewis vs. the Huskies run defense: Arizona State QB Steven Threet has thrown a lot of interceptions (9) and the Sun Devils have struggled in the red zone (last in the Pac-10). Those two stats are not unrelated. Perhaps it's time to give the ball to running back Deantre Lewis in the red zone, particularly when you look at the Huskies run defense, which is yielding an average of 234.8 yards per game. In fact, it might make sense to run to set up the pass.
10. Will Cougars fans stick around until the fourth quarter? It will be a significant victory for Washington State if it is within two touchdowns of Oregon entering the fourth quarter. Heck, even three would be notable. What won't be good is if the Cougs are down by 40 or 50 points entering the fourth quarter, with no fans remaining in the stands. Paul Wulff needs fans to feel hope. Hope means he can still hear support as the clock ticks down in the waning moments.