NCF Nation: Keegan Herring

Posted by's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Jacquizz vs. the Cal LBs: California might have the second-best crew of linebackers in the nation behind USC, which is the singular explanation for why the Bears adopted a 3-4 defense during the offseason. They lead a defense that is fourth in the Pac-10 vs. the run (117 yards per game). Oregon State freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers has six 100-yard games in eight starts. His ability to hide behind his line, read the creases and then explode is uncanny. Limiting Rodgers is priority No. 1 for the Bears.

2. Are those cheers or boos in Autzen Stadium? Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was uneven, to say the least, against Stanford a week ago. He missed open receivers and fumbled twice, earning boos from frustrated Ducks fans. He also led a game-winning touchdown drive. The visit from Arizona likely determines the ultimate trajectory of the Ducks season: a quality bowl or a plate of mediocrity. What sounds will echo within the Pac-10's loudest stadium?

3. Mark Sanchez will get more than a passing fancy vs. Stanford's secondary: When an opponent passes, it's feast or famine for Stanford, with large portions of the latter. The Cardinal likes to blitz and is tied for the Pac-10 lead with three sacks a game. But if the attack fails, it's bombs away -- see a 63 percent completion percentage for opposing offenses and and a conference-worst yield of 248 yards per game. Twice in the past three games, the Stanford defense surrendered game-losing drives that concluded with short touchdown passes. The athletic mismatch between the USC receivers and the Cardinal secondary is profound. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez knows this.

4. Cal's offense would like some home cooking from Kevin Riley: As noted by the San Francisco Chronicle, from the first three games to the past six, California's offensive production has dropped by more than 150 yards and 18 points a game. Is it a coincidence that Kevin Riley started each of those three games but only three of the past six? Perhaps. Well, Jeff Tedford handed the offense to Riley on Tuesday, and the Beaverton (Ore.) High School product can make a statement in Beaver-Town against Oregon State.

5. On a scale of 1 to 10, how lusty will the boos be for Rick Neuheisel at Husky Stadium? With UCLA struggling mightily and Washington completely in the toilet, the interest in Neuheisel's return to Seattle seems lukewarm. Many fair-minded Huskies fans probably remember all that winning Neuheisel did (33-16 in four seasons). Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if he merely encounters a small wave of half-hearted boos or three hours of vitriol.

6. Keegan Herring will rush for 200 yards against Washington State: Arizona State's chatty running back has suffered through a miserable senior season due to a tenacious hamstring injury. But he broke out for 144 yards at Washington last weekend and now faces the worst run defense in the history of the world -- or at least FBS football in 2008. He needs 170 yards to move up to sixth on the Sun Devils' career rushing list. He'll get that and then some.

7. Can Stanford go all Oregon State on USC? Do you think the Stanford coaches spent any time studying how Oregon State scored 27 points and gained 343 yards against the impenetrable USC defense? Of course, all Trojans opponents have since then, and the tea leaves from that contest didn't provide bupkis for them. What's often missed while tipping a cap to Beavers freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers' performance, is how efficient Lyle Moevao was that night, completing 64 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard won't be able to lean entirely on the Cardinal running game. He must pass efficiently for there to be any chance of another monumental upset.

8. Wet noodle vs. cotton candy fork: UCLA's offensive line vs. Washington's defensive front is a classic "somebody's got to win because there ain't nobody else on the field." The Bruins rank 116th in the nation in rushing (78 yards per game). The Huskies rank 115th in run defense (236 yards per game). UCLA ranks 112th in sacks allowed (27). Washington ranks 118th in sacks (nine). It's going to be a heck of a battle.

9. How will Lyle Moevao's shoulder hold up? The pained tone of Oregon State coach Mike Riley's voice early in the week suggested that his quarterback wouldn't be ready to start against California and that backup Sean Canfield would again get the call. But Moevao made progress by midweek and Riley said Thursday night that Moevao will start. So will the Beavers get the vintage, swashbuckling Moevao who looked like an All-Pac-10 quarterback? Or will they get a guy who's playing with a bum shoulder? And if it's the latter, will Canfield need to save the day?

10. Will the Ducks touted secondary finally show up this season? Many (who, me?) projected Oregon's experienced, athletic secondary to be the class of the Pac-10 and one of the best units in the nation. That hasn't been the case -- see a 58 percent completion rate for opposing offenses (eighth in the Pac-10) and 246 yards yielded through the air (ninth). That won't do against Arizona, which boasts the conference's best receiver-tight end tandem in Mike Thomas and Rob Gronkowski. If that duo piles up big numbers, the Ducks will be back in black but singing the blues.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Welcome to Soap Opera Saturday: Down year in the Pac-10? Whatever! This is the Conference of Intrigue on Soap Opera Saturday! (Cue dramatic music). We've got a coach with a history, a tale of woe and redemption. A man facing his demons. Likely in the rain. Rick Neuheisel and his band of UCLA Bruins, the football family that brought him into the football world, return to Seattle to face the bitter and woebegone Washington Huskies, the team he left in an acrimonious split that has been wounded and lost ever since. But there's more in the Northwest! California visits Oregon State, and the last time these two teams tangled, the Bears were poised to ascend to No. 1 in the nation. But then quarterback Kevin Riley, a freshman filling in for injured starter Nate Longshore, while leading a potential game-tying drive, made a fateful decision to scramble with no timeouts and the clock ran out on the Bears. And their glorious season promptly fell apart, as that became the first of six losses in seven games amid locker room recriminations. Meanwhile, downstate in Eugene, Oregon faces the Arizona team that ended its 2007 national championship hopes when quarterback and leading Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon crumpled to the ground with a knee injury. Wait! There's more! Remember the Greatest Upset of All-Time! USC, a 41-point favorite, going down at home vs. Stanford. Guess who's coming to dinner, Stanford!

Oregon State Canfield a Rose Bowl team. Or it Can'tField one: Sean Canfield has been solid for Oregon State since taking over for quarterback Lyle Moevao, who's still nursing a shoulder injury this week and is questionable for the Cal game. Canfield has completed 70 percent of his passes for 440 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in roughly seven quarters of action. But California is a much better team than Arizona State and UCLA, and the Bears defense has been outstanding of late. It has limited opponents to under 300 yards of total offense in five of nine games and in the last six games it has recorded 19 quarterback sacks among 41 tackles for a loss and forced 19 turnovers (12 interceptions and seven fumbles). The Bears' 17 interceptions this season lead the Pac-10 and rank third in the nation. Canfield has been surprisingly poised thus far, but Beavers fans surely remember that a year ago, as a nine-game starter, he tossed 15 interceptions. The Bears will come after him. And they'll drop eight into coverage and try to tempt him to force balls into tight spaces. How will he respond? And will Moevao be ready and available, if needed?

Arizona's success this year is defined by run defense; Oregon's by running the ball: Oregon leads the Pac-10 and ranks fifth in the nation with 274 yards rushing per game. Only USC shut down the Ducks' running game, holding them to 60 yards on the ground. Arizona has been decent against the run this year with its no-name but productive defense, ranking sixth in the conference (131 yards per game). Yet, at least during the first half of the season, the Wildcats faltered against power running teams. New Mexico rushed for 211 yards with rugged Rodney Ferguson leading the charge, while Stanford piled up 286 yards behind twin 100-yard efforts from Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble. That convinced coach Mike Stoops that the Wildcats needed to get fancier up front, mixing up looks and using more stunts to keep opposing linemen -- and offensive coordinators -- guessing. It worked great against California, which only rushed for 110 yards at Arizona, and pretty well against USC (151). But these new looks have been on film for a couple of weeks now. They won't surprise the Ducks. Or will the Wildcats have a few new wrinkles for the run-happy, spread-option?

Does Stanford have enough offensive balance to challenge the USC defense? Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers rushed for 186 yards against USC. Since then against the Trojans D: Nothing. Seven of nine opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing. The Trojans have allowed only one touchdown in their last five games and that came on a 15-yard drive by Arizona following a turnover. They have held their last four opponents to less than 200 yards of total offense. So the odds of Stanford just lining up and playing smash mouth in the run game, particularly with running back Toby Gerhart hobbled with a hamstring injury, fall somewhere between zero and none-at-all. The image of last year's upset victory, in fact, were well-thrown, clutch passes from Tavita Pritchard. Last week at Oregon -- in a persistent rain -- Pritchard completed 15 of 22 for 138 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Not spectacular numbers, but they suggest the Cardinal might have a larger offensive inventory now than they showed during the first half of the season.

The stars are rising for Arizona State: The Sun Devils will take one more step in the milquetoast portion of their schedule Saturday by trouncing Washington State. Expect to see more from some of the familiar names who created high -- and misguided -- expectations during the preseason. Quarterback Rudy Carpenter will make his nation-leading 41st consecutive start, and he's finally getting some help on offense as his skill position cohorts get healthy. Receiver Michael Jones, muted much of the season with a variety of injuries, hauled in 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in last weekend's trouncing of Washington. Running back Keegan Herring, who's been limited much of the season with a hamstring injury, had 22 carries for 144 yards, giving the offense a one-two, lightning and thunder punch at tailback with burly Shaun DeWitty. Meanwhile, on the defen
se, underrated safety Troy Nolan has helped the offense by scoring two touchdowns over the previous two games -- a 41-yard interception return against Oregon State and a 44-yard fumble return against the Huskies.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Helmet stickers for those who stood out during the weekend's games.helmet sticker

USC's defensive stars: Linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and safety Taylor Mays led the Trojans with 10, 9 and five tackles, respectively, but they also led by setting a tone. A very physical one. All three posted multiple hits that drew gasps from the crowd in the Trojans' 17-3 victory, another gem for the nation's best defense.

Sean Canfield: It's one thing to come off the bench and lead a team to victory, which is what Canfield, Lyle Moevao's backup, did for Oregon State two weeks ago against Arizona State. It's another to start a game and lead a team to victory, which Canfield did Saturday in a 34-6 win over UCLA. He completed 16 of 22 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns, and led the Beavers to a 31-3 advantage in the second half.

Keegan Herring and Michael Jones: This was supposed to be a big year for Herring and Jones -- both in their final years of eligibility -- but injuries and the general struggles of the Arizona State offense have mostly left them out of the picture. But both busted out against Washington. Jones hauled in 11 receptions for 146 yards with two touchdowns, while Herring rushed 144 yards on 22 carries.

California's defense: USC gained 411 yards and notched 22 first downs, but the Bears stiffened when the Trojans pushed into their territory. Nine such trips yielded just 17 points. The Bears were particularly tough on third down, holding the Trojans to a 4-for-11 conversion rate. Anthony Felder (team-high 10 tackles), defensive end Cameron Jordan (six tackles, a sack) and Zack Follett (five tackles, forced fumble) turned in noteworthy performances.

Posted by's Ted Miller

I don't know about you, but when unranked West Virginia scored 31 unanswered points last night and rolled up 445 yards against a SUPER-VICIOUS SEC DEFENSE, I wondered if our SEC friends got an idea of why playing any BCS team on the road isn't so easy.

For all of the discussion about OSU's offensive line, and how much the insertion of prodigal tackle Tavita Thompson (if he moves right into the starting lineup) will impact continuity in the ASU game, the more pressing issue this week might be starting RG Gregg Peat's sore shoulder, which kept him out of practice. ... the depth chart shows Jeremy Perry as Peat's backup. That is wishful thinking, with Perry not even around because of his health and some personal issues. ... OSU has not made an official announcement, but we wouldn't be surprised if JP is done.

What to watch in the Pac-10

October, 24, 2008

Posted by's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. Can anybody win on the road (USC, Oregon, UCLA)? The best road win in conference play thus far is Arizona's 31-10 victory at UCLA. Otherwise bupkis (wins at Washington and Washington State don't count this season because everyone wins there). Even the Trojans aren't immune. Last time USC played a quality conference foe on the road it got Oregon Stated. To win the conference -- or to earn a good bowl berth -- a team needs to figure out how to win on the road.

2. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen should feel at home against Washington's pass defense: Washington ranks last -- 119th -- in the nation in pass efficiency defense. It's yielded 18 TD passes and grabbed only two interceptions. Opponents are completing passes at nearly a 73 percent clip. Enter Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who's shown dramatic improvement this year. He's tossed 14 TD passes and has thrown for 730 yards over his last two games. Odds are he's headed for another 300-yard-plus day through the air.

3. Another Mighty Mouse wants a piece of the USC defense: Arizona true freshman running back Keola Antolin burst onto the scene last week against California, rushing for 149 yards and three touchdowns. His stature -- 5-foot-7, 180 pounds -- notably approximated Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who gashed USC for 186 yards rushing. The Trojans defense has given up 316 yards rushing in its other five games total. Maybe small running backs are an Achilles' heel for the Trojans D?

4. Who's California's quarterback this week? Kevin Riley won the Bears starting quarterback job in a tight race in the preseason and went 3-1, but lost the job the past two games to Nate Longshore, the starter the previous two seasons. Longshore went 1-1. Coach Jeff Tedford said the competition is open and the starter Saturday against UCLA will be the guy who performs best with the game plan during practices. The more mobile, less mistake-prone Riley is decidedly the fan favorite. If Longshore takes the field, count on more than a few hoots from the crowd, which blames him for Cal's inconsistency. That has to register in Tedford's mind.

5. And what about Oregon's quarterback situation? The Ducks quarterback quandary is less controversial but just as vague this week as Oregon heads to Arizona State. Coach Mike Bellotti said that either Justin Roper, who began the season as the starter before injuring his knee, or Jeremiah Masoli, a first-year junior college transfer who's filled in, could start. And both could play. Roper is the more refined passer, and the Ducks passing game has been lacking. But Masoli's running skills are superior.

6. Will the return of Keegan Herring help the Arizona State running game?: The Sun Devils lack of any semblance of a running game -- they rank 117th in the nation with 83.7 yards per game -- has crippled the offense. Herring, the Pac-10's active career rushing leader, has struggled all season with a hamstring injury. He's played in only three games, turning in his best work when he went for 59 yards on 12 carries against Stanford before aggravating the hamstring. If he's back to his old quick, slashing self, he should give the ground attack a lift against the Ducks.

7. Get rid of the ball, Rudy!: While a run threat would help protect Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter and his bum ankle more than anything, it's unlikely it will perk up enough to carry the offense. And when Rudy throws, the Ducks will come after him hard. In last year's game, Oregon sacked Carpenter nine times. This year, the Ducks lead the Pac-10 with 3.57 sacks per game. The Sun Devils' game plan, with an extra week to refine it, likely will feature quick throws and a moving pocket. Anything to protect Carpenter, who can help himself by not holding onto the ball so long, looking for the big play downfield.

8. Will UCLA get Crafty on the road? UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft has led the Bruins to a pair of dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks, and both came after he played poorly in the first half. So he's shown he can bounce back during crunch time. But both performances came at home. Will a slow start at California create too wide a gap for Craft to bring the Bruins back? Can Craft put a complete game together? UCLA hasn't won in Berkeley since 1998. The Bruins also are riding a five-game road losing streak and have lost 12 of 15 on the road. It would be as thrilling for Bruins fans to see that run reversed as to see late-game heroics.

9. Speaking of bouncing back in crunch time, Cal: If California loses at home to a UCLA team the Bears should beat, then it will be impossible not to wonder if the program is headed for a repeat of last season's second-half collapse (though obviously the Bears never climbed to No. 2 in the polls this season). Forget the quarterback controversy: Cal needs to show resiliency. Its defense needs to recover its mojo after flopping in the second half against Arizona. The running game needs to give whoever plays quarterback a lift. And whoever plays quarterback needs to avoid making momentum-quashing mistakes.

10. USC needs another dominant performance: This likely will be a weekly "what to watch." If the Trojans are going to re-emerge in the national title hunt, they need to make statements every week because, at present, the remaining schedule doesn't including any ranked teams. Arizona is a solid foe and its stadium is going to be packed and frenzied. If USC stomps that enthusiasm and wins going away, a lot of Big 12 and SEC fans are going to start getting nervous because nobody wants a part of the Trojans in a championship game.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. We should know fairly quickly if USC solved its run defense problems: What stood out more than anything in the Trojans loss to Oregon State was their poor run defense, with true freshman Jacquizz Rodgers rushing for 186 yards and USC's defensive linemen and linebackers struggling to get off blocks. Oregon is the nation's No. 4 rushing team and its passing game is still trying to find its rhythm with juco-transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli running the show. Ergo: The Ducks will immediately challenge the Trojans up front.

2. Who will start at quarterback for California and what will it mean?: Coming off a 42-7 victory in which your quarterback doesn't throw an interception is a curious time to renew a quarterback competition, but that's just what Bears coach Jeff Tedford did. And based on news reports this week, both sophomore starter Kevin Riley and senior challenger Nate Longshore -- who started 26 games before losing out to Riley -- practiced well, with neither surging ahead or falling behind. So Tedford said he'd wait until pregame warmups to announce who will start against Arizona State. How much of this is gamesmanship, and how much of an advantage does this garner Cal, if any? Here's a guess that the tag goes to the incumbent, and Riley remains the starter, with Longshore seeing spot action, which was the plan entering the season.

3. As usual, Rudy, not the run game, will be the key for Arizona State: Dennis Erickson said the Sun Devils need to run the ball more, period. The return of running back Keegan Herring from a nagging hamstring injury should help the Sun Devils sagging (110th in the nation) ground attack. But that won't change the basic fact that quarterback Rudy Carpenter is Arizona State's centerpiece, its singular star who will determine this team's fate almost every week. The speedy Herring might break a run or two for a big gain, but the Sun Devils will live or die by the pass in this game and the rest of the season.

4. Washington's new quarterback Ronnie Fouch won't wilt at Arizona: Don't be shocked if the Huskies offense puts up some points against the Wildcats with Fouch, a redshirt freshman, making his first start on the road after Jake Locker was lost to a broken thumb. Fouch has looked solid in limited action and seems confident in his abilities. More than a few folks have noted that he's already a more accurate passer than Locker. He might inject energy into a sagging team that may, in fact, be grateful to be away from its unhappy home fans.

5. Notre Dame will attack Stanford's secondary: Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is rapidly improving and is developing timing with his young, talented receiving corps. Stanford's secondary is mediocre at best -- it allows opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes -- so the Cardinal will rely on pressure to keep Clausen in check. Stanford is second in the Pac-10 with three sacks a game, and the Fighting Irish offensive line is still figuring things out. But if Clausen gets time on his home field, he'll pick the Cardinal apart.

6. Rick Neuheisel's UCLA honeymoon will end if the Bruins lose: Neuheisel talked about noticeable improvement in the Bruins loss to Fresno State, but moral victories don't inspire a fanbase. And losing at home to the Cougars, a bad team even before it became a M.A.S.H unit, could cause some early grumbling in our win-now-or-else culture. UCLA should win going away. They should run right at the Cougars sagging defense and pressure redshirt freshman quarterback Marshall Lobbestael into making mistakes as he makes his first start on the road. Most of the schedule will be an uphill slog for the Bruins, so they shouldn't treat a rare weekend as a favorite as a time to relax.

7. Arizona should score 50: Arizona had a bye week to prepare for Jake Locker, and now they don't even have to deal with the annoyance of a running quarterback who can play keep-away from the Wildcats potent offense. And that offense will be rested and reloaded as it faces one of the nation's worst defenses. Tight end Rob Gronkowski figures to be completely back to form after missing the first three games with mono. Also, receiver Terrell Reese returns from a suspension, giving quarterback Willie Tuitama another option in the Wildcats potent spread attack.

8. Who will lead USC's tailback-by-committee this week?: Joe McKnight had emerged as first among equals in USC's crowded running back depth chart, but then he fumbled and was mostly ineffective in the loss to Oregon State. This past week, Allen Bradford, who had fallen off the radar, expressed frustration to coach Pete Carroll about his lack of carries. More than a few observers piped in that Stafon Johnson is being underused. And C.J. Gable remains the most complete back the Trojans have. The chatter won't matter if USC runs for 200-plus yards and rolls to victory -- success has always been Pete Carroll's justification for trying to distribute the ball among so many talented backs without establishing a consistent pecking order. But another meandering performance by the offense, particularly the rushing attack, might force a philosophy change.

9. Cal's offense won't be worse without Best: Well, of course, there will be some dropoff without the playmaking of speedy Jahvid Best, who's expected to return from a dislocated elbow on Oct. 18 at Arizona. But Shane Vereen is pretty fancy, too. Sure, Best has two 80-yard touchdown runs, but Vereen has an 81-yarder to his credit and he went 39 yards for another score for good measure. Vereen is averaging 69.8 yards rushing per game and a stout eight yards per carry. He also has 10 catches for 44 yards, so, like Best, he's also a good receiver. If Arizona State's defense exhales
because it doesn't see Best in the backfield, that could be a critical mistake.

10. This is Washington State's best chance for a Pac-10 win, at least until the Apple Cup: UCLA should beat the Cougars. The Bruins also should have beaten the Cougars last year, but Washington State won 27-7, a game that became a significant nail in then-Bruins coach Karl Dorrell's coffin. UCLA is prone to distraction. It may look at the schedule and yawn. Moreover, the Rose Bowl is hardly a hostile environment these days, so redshirt freshman quarterback Marshall Lobbestael might not be overwhelmed in his first road start. The Cougars may, in fact, benefit from being on the road, considering they lost by an average of 56 points in their first two conference home games. This might not qualify as an upset alert, but it won't be written very often this season that Washington State actually has a shot to win.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Oregon State's real test is Utah: The massive, shocking upset is a staple of college football and its frequency relative to other sports is one of the reasons we love the game so much. The issues for Oregon State is whether there's an encore for its win over top-ranked USC. Follow a victory over USC with a win at No. 15 Utah, and the Beavers figure to be the first two-loss team to enter the national polls. Or they can lose and retreat to the muddle of the middle-50 teams, their 15 minutes of 2008 fame over. The key for the Beavers will be the run game. Can Jacquizz Rodgers slash and dash against the Utes like he did against the Trojans? Most would say why not? But it's tougher going on the road, and Utah's run defense is stout. It ranks fifth in the nation and yields just 60 yards per game and 2.0 yards per rush. Oh, by the way, the Utes also have the best secondary in the Mountain West Conference, so passing won't be easy either against the nation's No. 5 overall defense (223.4 yards per game).

USC goes blue collar: The demotion of sophomore defensive end Everson Griffen and the likely decreased carries for sophomore tailback Joe McKnight may suggest that a true culture of competition is back at USC. Griffen and McKnight were both marquee recruits even among the Trojans superstar recruiting classes and both are exceptional physical talents. But the production -- and in Griffen's case, consistent effort -- hasn't been there. Griffen has just seven tackles and a sack thus far. His backup,Clay Matthews , a former walk-on, has 17 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. So who should start? As for McKnight, he's been spectacular at times and seemed to break through against Ohio State, but Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford each are more complete players and are far more likely to run north-south and get tough yards. Oregon's defensive scheme is to gang up on the run and force teams to throw into its talented secondary. But it's possible the Trojans will want to play some smash-mouth at home and take out their anger, which might mean less McKnight.

Stanford needs ball control: The injury report tells you what you need to know about the Stanford offense: Running back Toby Gerhart (concussion) will play at Notre Dame but wide receiver Richard Sherman (knee) will not. With its most talented receiver again on the sidelines, the Cardinal will need to lean on its dramatically improved running game, with the capable Anthony Kimble spelling Gerhart at times. The Fighting Irish defense is mostly bend-but-don't break, surrendering yards (385 ypg) but not a whole lot of points (18.5 ppg), but it's hardly dominant against the run (134 ypg). While Stanford is grinding it out, it also is keeping the Irish offense and rapidly improving quarterback Jimmy Clausen -- 20-for-35, 275-yards, three touchdowns in a win over Purdue -- on the sidelines and away from the Cardinal's suspect secondary.

Is Arizona State really going to run? Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson is a wily sort, and he's not above using the media for his purposes. This week he told reporters that his offense must run the football, period, and that if he had one regret he wished he'd run more against Georgia. For real? The Sun Devils ran 19 times and gained four yards against the Bulldogs, so Erickson is almost saying he'd rather bang his head against a wall 25 times rather than 19 times. And consider that, just three weeks ago before the Stanford game, Erickson told reporters that, "Right now, philosophically, we're going to come out flinging it." Then they came out and ran 36 times and passed 36 times. Sure, the return of speedy running back Keegan Herring will help the Sun Devils' anemic -- last in the Pac-10, 110th in the nation -- running attack, but this offense with Rudy Carpenter out front prefers to "fling" it. It is notable, however, that Cal is playing very good pass defense: It's ranked 11th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and leads the Pac-10 with eight INTs.

I have no feel for Cal's reopened QB competition, and maybe that's the point: How many teams opt for a high-profile QB controversy after a 42-7 victory with a critical game the next weekend? That's what Cal coach Jeff Tedford did by announcing that starter Kevin Riley, a sophomore, would need to fight off a challenge from senior Nate Longshore, who's started 26 career games, during practices this week. Tedford's official explanation is the offense has been starting slowly the past few games, and Riley has been inconsistent of late. He completed just 6 for 13 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State, one of two games this year when he's passed for less than 60 yards. In fact, Riley hasn't looked good since the season-opening win over Michigan State, when Longshore seemed to hammer the final nails into his QB coffin by tossing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. Tedford said it looks like Riley is pressing, which was something Longshore often did as well. One possible explanation: Riley may need the competitive pressure in practice to thrive. Or maybe Longshore is legitimately winning back his coaches' favor. Guess we'll see on Saturday, eh?

Posted by's Ted Miller

Happy Friday! The Pac-10 will be undefeated today -- guaranteed.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Hope this weekend's game features more speed than my Internet connection in LA. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

Posted by's Ted Miller

TEMPE, Ariz. -- From the Sun Devil Stadium press box:

  • Dimitri Nance starts at TB instead of Keegan Herring, who's nursing a hamstring injury.
  • WR Michael Jones is in -- his first reception went for 9 yards and a first down.
  • Sun Devils can't be too happy that a 15-play drive only yields a field goal, but a drive that kills 7:15 off the clock can't be easy on the Stanford D in this heat.
  • The Cardinal offense needs a few first downs to let the D rest -- which it promptly does. QB Tavita Pritchard looks sharp -- completely different than he did vs. Oregon State. Wow! Nice drive to answer.
  • Pritchard is 5-for-5 for 68 yards on a nine-play 80-yard TD drive to take a 7-3 lead.
  • Bam. ASU bounces back with a 46-yard completion, Carpenter to Chris McGaha. But the Cardinal pressure is getting through the Sun Devil OL. He's getting hit after almost every pass, though only one sack so far.
  • It's second-and-goal on the 4 (after a loss of 2) as the quarter ends.
  • Stanford is winning in the trenches so far, thwarting the ASU running game and getting after Carpenter.

Posted by's Ted Miller

These links are trying to establish a running game.

  • Arizona wants to keep the number of people on the sideline manageable, which means some guys don't suit up. QB Willie Tuitama is searching for the perfect game. Toledo has some good receivers who should challenge the Wildcats CBs.
  • Arizona State is leaning on its freshman class, with nine in the playing rotation (out of a class of 20). Injured TB Keegan Herring (hamstring) and WR Michael Jones (Achilles) are improved, with Herring being the more questionable for the Stanford game.
  • California notes from Thursday's practice, with an injury update calling WR Michael Calvin and P Bryan Anger healthy and OT Mike Tepper not. Calvin should help the WRs, who mostly struggled against Michigan State.  Another step forward for building the California training facility.
  • Oregon faces a team with no hope, and it only cost $235,000 to lure the Utah State Aggies to their demise. CB Walter Thurmond III will wear the No. 29 jersey in tribute to former Ducks DB Todd Doxey, who drowned this summer. A look at potential QB combinations for both teams.
  • Rachel Bachman takes a look at Penn State legend -- and presently divisive figure -- Joe Paterno. With two starting Penn State D-linemen suspended, the Beavers O-line has a chance to shine.
  • Stanford's already struggling secondary is down a top reserve for its visit to Arizona State.
  • UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel wasn't thrilled with the effort in practice. And that's not good because there are injury holes to fill, including at running back. The freshmen are helping on defense. WR Nelson Rosario sprained his knee at practice Thursday.
  • USC's WRs have always been talented, but now they seem to be performing. True freshman OL Tyron Smith and redshirt freshman RB Broderick Green are trying to get into the mix. Speaking of Green, I wish I saw this hit on Rey Maualuga. Trojans are thinking about Buckeyes.
  • Washington -- and beleaguered coach Tyrone Willingham -- are looking for a turning point that doesn't turn sour. How much will the Huskies gain from week one to week two? Willingham talks about how the Huskies might attack BYU. Remembering 1984, when BYU won a "national championship" and a clearly superior Washington team didn't.
  • Washington State will play California without its best D-lineman, A'i Ahmu, for a half. Ahmu is suspended after missing a court date over minor in possession charges. Injuries are preventing OL continuity.

Posted by's Ted Miller

The Pac-10 will stop being paranoid about East Coast bias as soon as it stops falling victim to it.

The Texas-based Doak Walker Award (Central Time Zone bias?) included just two Pac-10 running backs -- UCLA's Kahlil Bell and Arizona State's Keegan Herring -- on its 43-player watch list released Thursday.

Of course, the initial list didn't even include Bell. It featured Marc Dellins instead.

Dellins is UCLA's long-time sports information director.

Wonder how many of these guys would make the rotation at USC? Or Oregon or California for that matter.

In fairness, the watch list is based on nominations by sports information directors, but it's hard to believe some of the obvious Pac-10 omissions wouldn't register -- and be corrected -- by someone who knew a little bit about the conference.

You know: Like watched the Rose Bowl (Joe McKnight).

Here's a helping hand: McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable, all from USC; Jahvid Best, California; and Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon.

Semifinalists will be announced on Nov. 10, and the Doak Walker Award National Selection Committee will cast votes to determine the finalists, who will be announced on Nov. 24. The committee will cast a second vote beginning on Dec. 1 to determine the recipient.

Here are the other 41 players:

  1. Tarrion Adams (Sr.), Tulsa
  2. Reggie Arnold (Jr.), Arkansas State
  3. Andre Brown (Sr.), North Carolina State
  4. Donald Brown (Jr.), Connecticut
  5. Donald Buckram (So.), UTEP
  6. James Davis (Sr.), Clemson
  7. Mike Davis (Sr.), South Carolina
  8. Andre Dixon (Jr.), Connecticut
  9. Anthony Dixon (Jr.), Mississippi State
  10. Jonathan Dwyer (So.), Georgia Tech
  11. Jamelle Eugene (Jr.), North Carolina State
  12. Tyrell Fenroy (Sr.), Louisiana Lafayette
  13. Rodney Ferguson (Sr.), New Mexico
  14. Damion Fletcher (Jr.), Southern Mississippi
  15. Arian Foster (Sr.), Tennessee
  16. Mike Goodson (Jr.), Texas A&M
  17. P.J. Hill (Jr.), Wisconsin
  18. Deonte Jackson (So.), Idaho
  19. Terrell Jackson (Sr.), UTEP
  20. Eugene Jarvis (Jr.), Kent State
  21. Ian Johnson (Sr.), Boise State
  22. Eric Kettani (Sr.), Naval Academy
  23. Jorvorskie Lane (Sr.), Texas A&M
  24. Luke Lippincott (Sr.), Nevada
  25. Greg Little (So.), North Carolina
  26. Marlon Lucky (Sr.), Nebraska
  27. Darrell Mack (Sr.), Utah
  28. DeMyron Martin (Sr.), SMU
  29. LeSean McCoy (So.), Pittsburgh
  30. Knowshon Moreno (So.), Georgia
  31. DeMarco Murray (So.), Oklahoma
  32. Javon Ringer (Sr.), Michigan State
  33. Kory Sheets (Sr.), Purdue
  34. Michael Smith (Jr.), Arkansas
  35. C.J. Spiller (Jr.), Clemson
  36. James Starks (Jr.), Buffalo
  37. Frank Summers (Sr.), UNLV
  38. Tyrell Sutton (Sr.), Northwestern
  39. Joseph Turner (Jr.), TCU
  40. Harvey Unga (So.), BYU
  41. Chris Wells (Jr.), Ohio State

Posted by's Ted Miller

And so it begins. Pause for a moment and imagine yourself 14 weeks hence. Are you smiling? Love the optimism!

Posted by's Ted Miller

If these links were any hotter, they'd be, you know, like on fire or something.

  • A youth movement may be afoot at Arizona, and it's more than touted CB Robert Golden. While he's not that young, junior Earl Mitchell also qualifies as precocious, at least in terms of how well he appears to be transitioning to the defensive line. Finally, there's a little piece of Tim Tebow in Tucson.
  • With Keegan Herring nursing a shoulder injury, there are other guys who can carry the rock for Arizona State. While battling for a starting job at CB opposite Omar Bolden, Terell Carr is playing hurt. And an evening monsoon (a new experience for this Arizona transplant) sent the Sun Devils into their new bubble, indoor facility for the first time.
  • The QB competition at California is heating up, with Kevin Riley doing well while working with the first-team offense Thursday. Speaking of competition, Derrick Hill and Mika Kane have a tight one for the lone interior defensive tackle position in the Bears new 3-4 look.
  • A report from Oregon's Thursday workout, with coach Mike Bellotti providing a long list of youngins and oldins who are doing well. Rob Moseley also has this about position battles:

One thing apparent through four days is that some of the position battles I anticipated aren't developing, at least not yet. When the first units are on the field, it's almost always Nate Costa at quarterback, Jeff Kendall at left guard, Jake Hucko at right tackle, T.J. Ward at free safety, and Spencer Paysinger at WILL linebacker.

Middle linebacker is one that's still tough to call. Because of the laceration on John Bacon's forehead, which I wrote about Tuesday, he's not doing a lot of full-contact stuff, so Casey Matthews is running with the ones.

  • Here's some video of Autzen Stadium's GIANT new scoreboard.
  • Oregon State is replacing three good linebackers with... three more good linebackers. And so the Beavers' defense will just reload. We shall see. Here's an update of another rebuilding effort -- the Beavers' special teams.
  • He cut short his Mormon Mission, so now Stanford defensive tackle Sione Fua, who saw significant action as a freshman, will be on a mission to help the Cardinal defense.
  • The Orange County Register charts the UCLA QBs. The conclusion: Hopefully the cliché -- "It's early" -- applies. The LA Times also checks in with QB Ben Olson. Brian Dohn looks at the secondary. Finally, it turns out that Brian Bosworth's nephew , Kyle, might be a pretty good LB, too.
  • Who's the next great USC nose tackle? It's one of the best competitions of the preseason. The lead from the LA Daily News is the move of Clay Matthews from linebacker to defensive end, where he'll rotate with sophomore Everson Griffin. The Orange County Register discovered strippers working for the USC defense.
  • This might interests USC fans: Ohio State defensive backs suspended for first two games! Only the Buckeyes come to LA for their third game and don't figure to have much trouble with Youngstown State and Ohio University (or is that THE Ohio University?).
  • The tailback competition heads up at Washington. Molly Yanity talks with touted freshman receiver Anthony Boyles, while Don Ruiz concerns himself with the secondary. Bob Condotta reviews the day's events.
  • This from the Washington State football office: "Following [Thursday] morning's practice, Cougar sophomore wide receiver Jeshua Anderson was seen by a team doctor and it was determined he has a hernia. Surgery has been scheduled for Monday morning and a prognosis will be determined following the surgery." Anderson, who nearly qualified for the Olympics, is one of the Pac-10's fastest players and was viewed as a potential deep threat for the Cougars offense. In general, the Cougars receivers are hurting.
  • Finally, here's Jon Wilner's AP top 25 vote. Wilner's poll is often quirky, which is why a lot of people keep up with its changes.&

Posted by's Ted Miller

Touching all the bases while optimism remains high.