NCF Nation: Jon Monga
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Getting deep into this week's games.
USC needs style points to stay No. 1: It's clear that USC coach Pete Carroll respects and genuinely likes Oregon State coach Mike Riley. But the Trojans can't afford to sleepwalk through the Pac-10 schedule, looking bored and sloppy while winning by seven to 10 points. The nation saw the Beavers get physically manhandled 45-14 at Penn State, and the Trojans need to turn in a similarly dominant performance if they want to remain atop the polls. While this is not a topic that coach Pete Carroll will engage, he's well aware that his team needs style points because he's not going to get much credit for just running the Pac-10 table, considering no other conference team is presently ranked.
California should bounce back: Cal didn't use its bye week to get healthy. It used it to get more physical with a lot of full-go hitting. Of course, considering what happened last year -- the team went into a tailspin when its high-expectations imploded -- the chief concern is making sure that the upset loss at Maryland doesn't ruin the season. While the Cal players and coaches didn't seem to care much about getting a dose of Pac-10 redemption against the Mountain West Conference, which is 5-0 vs. the Pac-10 thus far, the Bears should be pretty gritty for their return home. The Rams, though 2-1, were picked to finish at or near the bottom of the MWC. They don't run the ball well and only beat Sacramento State by three points. If the Bears are angry, this would be a good weekend to take out some aggression.
If the Huskies can't stop Stanford, they can't stop anyone: Washington's 2007 defense was widely considered the worst in program history. But the 2008 Huskies are putting up even worse numbers, despite hiring veteran NFL coach Ed Donatell. They presently rank 118th in the nation in total defense -- just ahead of SMU, which is last -- surrendering an eye-popping 521 yards per game. Stanford, however, will offer a much more manageable offense than Oregon, BYU and Oklahoma (which are ranked Nos. 7, 4 and 13, respectively, in total offense). The Cardinal ranks 109th in the nation in passing, though QB Tavita Pritchard improved enough to hold onto his job in the win against San Jose State. The key to stopping the Cardinal is simple: Keep RB Toby Gerhart in check and force the Cardinal to pass.
UCLA might be able to run against Fresno State: First, the Bruins rushed for a season-high 115 yards in the loss to Arizona, so they moved up from worst in the nation (119th) to 117th. Second, senior TB Kahlil Bell, who's missed essentially the entire season with an ankle sprain, is expected to play. Bell, when healthy, is one of the Pac-10's best running backs. Third, Fresno State's run defense is ranked 95th in the nation (185.7 yards per game). And, finally, the Bulldogs will be without their two starting DTs,Jon Monga (knee), perhaps their best defensive player, and Cornell Banks (ankle). Their replacements are two freshmen and a sophomore.
Things are getting tougher, not better at Washington State: A desperate situation got even more arduous for the Cougars when it was discovered that starting QB Kevin Lopina's shoulder injury was actually a "fracture of the L-4 transverse process of his vertebrae" and he'll be out two to six weeks (and here's a guess it's closer to six). With No. 2 Gary Rogers done for the year with a fractured vertebra, that means redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael is now the man. Lobbestael looked great coming off the bench against Portland State, but starting against Oregon is a different story. And things are thin behind him, with true freshman J.T. Levenseller likely the first option ahead of redshirt freshman walk-on Dan Wagner. Oh, by the way, the Cougars also announced that junior linebackerJason Stripling is done for the year due to a shoulder injury.