NCF Nation: David Pa'aluhi
Team of the week: Other than a brief first-half lull, Arizona looked like a good team in midseason form, despite losing both of its coordinators and rebuilding its defense. The 41-2 blitzing of a solid Toledo team featured dominance in all three phases. Goodbye bad taste from the Holiday Bowl. The Wildcats outgained the Rockets 518 to 183. Nuff said.
Best game: It's very possible that Oregon State lost to a TCU team that will play for the national title. I came away more impressed with the top-to-bottom quality of TCU than believing the Beavers got exposed. As it was, it was a competitive, well-played, entertaining game. And if Beavers fans need to vent for the sake of venting -- as we all sometimes do -- I'd suggest wondering how might the Beavers' defense have looked if end Matt LaGrone and middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi, returning starters from 2009, hadn't decided to quit the team.
Biggest play(s): Washington twice had fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter inside BYU's 30-yard line. Both times QB Jake Locker threw an incompletion. The Huskies lost 23-17. Great QBs need to make those plays.
Defensive standout: Wow. Not a lot to choose from. While it's hard to laud a player from UCLA's defense after it got pushed around by Kansas State, OLB Akeem Ayers showed why so many NFL scouts are salivating over him. He piled up 11 tackles with a sack and a pass breakup. But what really stands out is his ability to get his hands on the football -- he recovered two fumbles. He might want to refrain in the future, however, from pushing a running back when he's out of bounds.
Special teams star: USC receiver Ronald Johnson not only caught three TD passes against Hawaii, but he also went 89 yards for a TD on a punt return. It's notable that UCLA kicker Kai Forbath ignored a preseason injury that was supposed to keep him on the bench and went 3-for-3 on field goals at Kansas State, with a long of 44.
Smiley face: The QBs lived up to the preseason hype. The known guys -- Barkley, Foles, Locker and Luck -- each played well. The new guys -- Arizona State's Steven Threet, Oregon's Darron Thomas and Oregon State's Ryan Katz -- were solid. California's Kevin Riley played well, and Washington State's Jeff Tuel was hardly the reason the Cougars went down hard at Oklahoma State. The only QB who played poorly was UCLA's Kevin Prince, and he probably looked rusty because he sat out most of fall camp with a back injury.
Frowny face: Defense. The top two rushers in the nation at present -- and three of the top 14 -- played against Pac-10 defenses this past weekend. And look who ranks 106th in the nation in total defense, two slots below Washington State.
Thought of the week: This is a quiet week with few marquee games, other than the start of the Pac-10 slate with Stanford's visit to UCLA. But next week will define how the Pac-10 is perceived nationally this season. Consider the slate:
Iowa at Arizona
ASU at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Washington
Cal at Nevada
Wake Forest at Stanford
Houston at UCLA
USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at Oregon State
Five at home, four on the road. Three ranked teams. No patsies. The Pac-10 needs to get at least six wins or you'll start to hear how it's a "down year" instead of folks lauding the conference's depth.
Questions for the week: Can California (vs. Colorado), USC (vs. Virginia) and Washington (vs. Syracuse) take care of business against inferior BCS conference foes at home? Same for Oregon: Will the Ducks be able to handle the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee team the Ducks shouldn't have too many problems against? How will the Trojans' defense react after a terrible effort at Hawaii? Who's got the advantage between UCLA's new pistol offense and Stanford's new 3-4 (which the Cardinal didn't use vs. Sacramento State)? How do the Huskies react to a disappointing loss at BYU?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Not to brag, but I know everybody.
Yes, I'm so cool that I can practically recite every Pac-10 team's starting lineup. Practically. At least by September.
[I see all of you mustering Chevy Chase's perfectly mocking, "God, I admire you," from Fletch at this moment.]
Ergo, today's topic: Out of nowhere.
Rory Cavaille, WR, Oregon: Cavaille moved up the pecking order when Aaron Pflugrad decided to transfer. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound senior and former walk-on has caught just six career passes. But he's smart -- he was honorable mention Pac-10 All-Academic last year -- and he has good hands. The Ducks get an influx of talent at receiver from their 2008 recruiting class, but Cavaille apparently has played his way into the mix.
D.J. Shoemate, FB, USC: Pete Carroll loves fullbacks -- just ask him about Stanley Havili sometime (if you have an extra half hour) -- and Carroll loved Shoemate, a sophomore, after spring practices, telling the Orange County Register that he was the spring's most-improved player. Shoemate isn't a complete mystery, of course. He was a marquee recruit and he started the Rose Bowl when Havili was academically ineligible, but he has moved around a bit, seeing action before at receiver and tailback.
Kai Maiava, C, UCLA: The Bruins' offensive line is loaded with questions, but Maiava is a firm answer. Barring injury, he will start at center. He sat out last season after transferring from Colorado and missed half of spring ball with an ankle injury, but he's shown enough already to solidify his standing. As for his football bloodlines, yes, he's former USC linebacker Kaluka Maiava's brother and his uncle is pro wrestler/actor "The Rock" (Dwayne Johnson).
David Pa'aluhi, LB, Oregon State: Pa'aluhi wasn't a complete unknown -- the sophomore was impressive enough to top the depth chart entering spring -- but my guess is that, outside of folks who follow the Beavers, he's going to draw a "Who?" at least until the games start. First thing to know: Don't pick a fight with him. He's a mixed martial arts guy. Second, he's fast, reportedly running the 40 under 4.5. And he's got upside, considering he started playing football his senior year of high school.
Alex Debniak, RB-LB, Stanford: Coach Jim Harbaugh gushed about Debniak this spring as a guy who could see significant action at strongside linebacker and running back. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore appeared in eight games as a true freshman and finished with four total tackles. He and Will Powers were practically an either-or at linebacker this spring.