NCF Nation: Ricky Elmore

Final Pac-12 NFL draft tally

May, 1, 2011
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The Pac-12 provided 37 players to the NFL draft over the weekend, one fewer than the SEC, which led all conferences.

If the six combined picks from Colorado and Utah are taken away from the conference, the old Pac-10 provided NFL teams 3.1 draft picks per team, also just behind the SEC at 3.17.

Here's where the Pac-12 players went:

First round
No. 8 Jake Locker, QB, Washington: Tennessee
No. 9 Tyron Smith., OT, USC: Dallas
No. 17 Nate Solder, OT, Colorado: New England
No. 24 Cameron Jordan, DE, California: New Orleans
No. 27 Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado: Baltimore

Second round
7. Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA: Tennessee
10. Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona: Houston
13. Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA: Denver
21. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State: Chicago
24. Shane Vereen, RB, California: New England

Third round
13. Jurrell Casey, DT, USC: Tennessee
20. Mason Foster, LB, Washington: Tampa Bay
25. Shareece Wright, CB, USC: San Diego
29. Christopher Conte, S, California: Chicago
33. Sione Fua, DT, Stanford: Carolina

Fourth round
5. Jordan Cameron, TE, USC: Cleveland
19. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon: Philadelphia
21. Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado: Kansas City
27. Owen Marecic, FB, Stanford: Cleveland

Fifth round
8. Brandon Burton, CB, Utah: Minnesota
9. Gabe Miller, DE, Oregon State: Kansas City
14. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State: Atlanta
23. Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford: Seattle

Sixth round
2. Ryan Whalen, WR, Stanford: Cincinnati
14. Caleb Schlauderaff, OG, Utah: Green Bay
17. Ronald Johnson, WR, USC: San Francisco
19. David Carter, DT, UCLA: Arizona
22. Allen Bradford, RB, USC: Tampa Bay
24. Mike Mohamed, LB, California: Denver
32. Ricky Elmore, DE, Arizona: Green Bay
38. Zach Williams, C, Washington State: Carolina

Seventh round
12. D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona: Minnesota
24. Scotty McKnight, WR, Colorado: New York Jets
30. Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State: Green Bay
37. Stanley Havili, FB, USC: Philadelphia
38. David Ausberry, WR, USC: Oakland
39. Malcolm Smith, LB, USC: Seattle

By Pac-12 school:
Arizona (3)
Arizona State (1)
California (4)
Colorado (4)
Oregon (1)
Oregon State (3)
Stanford (4)
UCLA (3)
USC (9)
Utah (2)
Washington (2)
Washington State (1)

The final tally by automatic qualifying conferences:
SEC... 38
Pac-12... 37
Big Ten... 36
ACC... 35
Big East 22
Big 12...19

Nebraska was a big swing to the Big Ten from the Big 12 with seven picks. With Colorado and Nebraska, the Big 12 provided 30 selections.

This was the tally through three rounds:
SEC: 20
ACC: 19
Pac-12: 15
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 9
Big East: 4
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's not difficult to come up with a fair explanation for Arizona's 7-1 start that devolved into a 0-5 finish. In the first eight games, the Wildcats played an easy schedule. They were better than teams such as Toledo, Washington State and UCLA. In the last five games, they played a brutal schedule. Their opponents went a combined 49-15, including two top-five (Stanford and Oregon) and one top-10 team (Oklahoma State).

Still, at 7-1 and ranked 13th with a win over Iowa, the Wildcats headed into a marquee showdown with Stanford on Nov. 6 believing they could play with anyone. Turns out they couldn't. And, considering the Cardinal, Ducks and Cowboys whipped up the Wildcats badly, well, a fair explanation only goes so far.

"It still exposes some things within your team," coach Mike Stoops said. "It told you when the going got tough, we didn't respond as well as we needed to."

[+] EnlargeStanford's Anthony Wilkerson
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREDuring a five-game losing streak that began with a loss to Stanford, coach Mike Stoops said his Wildcats were exposed. "The physical part of it, we didn't respond well," he said.
And where the Wildcats most didn't respond clearly bothers Stoops.

"The physical part of it, we didn't respond well," he said. "We have to be more than just a finesse team. The physical matchup is what I didn't like."

Therein lies the challenge for the Wildcats as they leave spring practices behind and focus on offseason workouts. They must find five new starters on the offensive line -- the 2010 unit decidedly underachieved -- and they must replace the best defensive end combination in the Pac-10: Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.

That suggests a need for some finesse due to physical losses. The defense is likely going to have to blitz more, while the offense -- which welcomes back quarterback Nick Foles and one of the best groups of receivers in the country -- is likely going to be pass-heavy.

Said Stoops, "We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that."

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who learned offense from spread savant Mike Leach after four years coaching at Texas Tech, talks about finding "different ways as coaches to scheme people to run the football," but he admits there's going to be a temptation to scrap the handoffs and throw 50 times a game.

"Absolutely. Especially because that's kind of the background where I came from," he said. "That's what I, at times, feel comfortable with. But at the same time you've got to take pressure off the quarterback by running the football."

A key proponent of balance: Foles. All quarterbacks like to throw the ball, but the passing game is much easier when defenses have to respect the run.

"There's definitely a need for balance," Foles said. "People saw that in the national championship game with Oregon, one of the nation's most high-powered offenses. When you can't run the ball, it's tough. Passing is great but to be a great team you've got to be able to do both."

During the five-game losing streak, the Wildcats averaged 98 yards rushing. Not good.

On the other side of the ball, the run defense wasn't much better during the downturn. Oregon rushed for a whopping 389 yards, while Stanford and USC both went over 200.

That's the out-physical-ed part that irks Stoops.

The Wildcats also head into the 2011 season with significant changes on the staff, starting with the departures of one half of the coordinator tandems they used on both sides of the ball in 2010. That means the offense is up to Littrell and the defense belongs to Tim Kish. Stoops said the co-coordinator setup was more of a challenge on offense. The theme this spring was simplify.

"We were trying to mix and match too much last year," he said. "We got discombobulated, I think. We got exposed late in the year on some things. Seth has to grow into this position and have total control with Nick. We need to all be on the same page."

Stoops has built a winning program but taking the next step means that no portion of the schedule proves insurmountable. And, yes, that five-game losing streak still lingers in just about every Wildcats' head, coaches and players.

"We all have it in the back of our minds," linebacker Paul Vassallo said. "It's not talked about anymore. It's the 2011 season. But we're all hungry to get that first win, that's for sure."

Ah, but the scheduled does a reverse next fall. The Wildcats figure to get their first win -- and end the losing streak -- in the opener against Northern Arizona, but then look at the schedule: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends. The Cowboys, Cardinal and Ducks each will be ranked in the preseason top-10, and it's still not easy to visit the Coliseum.

It won't be too difficult to come up with a fair explanation for a slow start. But those fair explanations have a shelf life. Stoops and his Wildcats don't want to give them anymore. And Wildcats fans don't want to hear them.

Foles focuses on present, not NFL

April, 19, 2011
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Before we engage our topic -- Arizona quarterback Nick Foles -- let's pause for a moment and consider the Wildcats' NFL history at Foles' position. It will only require the briefest of pauses, however, so don't worry about your eyes glazing over.

In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.

In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.

And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeArizona's Nick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said of quarterback Nick Foles following a dramatic win over Iowa. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
If Foles were in this class, he'd probably yawn. He's not much into history, even though he could have made it for the Wildcats if he'd opted to enter the draft instead of returning for his senior season. Heck, he's not much into the future either because he says -- convincingly, by the way -- that he's not thinking about the NFL.

"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."

In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).

Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.

The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.

For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.

"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."

Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.

So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.

"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."

Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.

"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."

Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."

In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.

"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."

Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.

Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.

"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."

Arizona poaches an Oregon State recruit

January, 28, 2011
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Recruiting is a tough business.

Today we noted that Washington had picked off a player committed to Arizona after previously poaching two from rival Washington State. Now, it seems Arizona has done the same to Oregon State, as JC defensive end Lamar De Rego has switched his allegiances south from the Beavers to the Wildcats.

De Rego is a 6-foot-3, 255-pound Hawaiian from San Jose City College.

Defensive end is a huge need area for Oregon State and Arizona, but the Wildcats lost their top three ends -- including Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, a pair of All-Pac-10 performers -- while the Beavers only need to replace one starting end, Gabe Miller.

What we learned from the bowl season

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
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What did we learn from the bowl season?

Oregon is on the rise, but it's not there yet: Oregon has won two consecutive Pac-10 titles and will be the favorite to win a third in 2011. The Ducks are solidly atop the conference. But they also have now lost two consecutive BCS bowl games. And after both losses, coach Chip Kelly cited his offensive line losing the battle at the line of scrimmage versus Ohio State (Rose Bowl) and Auburn (BCS National Title Game) defensive lines. Further, it seems that a defense can overcome the Oregon offense when it gets extra time to prepare. For the Ducks to take the next step, they need to win a BCS bowl game. Of course, beating LSU in the opener -- a likely top-10 team with an "SEC defense" -- would certainly make a statement early in 2011.

Jim Harbaugh built an elite team: Harbaugh's transformation of the Stanford program -- 1-11 the year before he came to 12-1 the year he left -- will rate as one of the great reclamation projects in conference history. Sure, it helped to have Andrew Luck, but Stanford's demolition of Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl was a complete effort on both sides of the ball. The Cardinal under Harbaugh were tough and physical and innovative. It will be interesting to see how the Cardinal look under their next coach, who would be wise to try to maintain the present culture as best he can.

There will be life after Locker: Washington finished the season with a four-game winning streak that wasn't due to quarterback Jake Locker asserting himself. Locker was more of a game manager and leader down the stretch as the Huskies played better defense and ran the ball consistently -- see an average of 237 yards rushing during the winning streak. The Huskies over the final third of the season were more physical, and that indicates that the program will be in good shape going forward, even with some big losses on both sides of the ball. Of particular good news is the return of running back Chris Polk, who will be an All-American candidate in 2011.

Arizona is regrouping: Arizona started 7-1 and then the wheels came off with a five-game losing streak, including a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Things went wrong on both sides of the ball, but the defensive struggles were most glaring. The Wildcats will welcome back quarterback Nick Foles and receiver Juron Criner in 2011, and that's a good start. But the offensive line will need to be completely rebuilt, while the defensive line loses three of four starters, including standout defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. Further, coach Mike Stoops lost three coaches, so he's rebuilding his staff, too.

It will be another "Year of the QB" in 2011. Only better: Luck, Foles, USC's Matt Barkley and Oregon's Darron Thomas: Does any conference match that foursome of quarterbacks? The answer is no. Toss in up-and-comers like Ryan Katz at Oregon State, Jeff Tuel at Washington State, Jordan Wynn at Utah and Brock Osweiler at Arizona State and it looks like another season of marquee quarterback play.
The Pac-10 finally begins its bowl season on Thursday with Arizona taking on Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Here's a look.

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Nick Foles needs to come up big for Arizona to notch the upset. Foles led the Pac-10 with 291 yards passing per game this year, and the Wildcats didn't consistently run the ball well. Oklahoma State's defense is OK versus the run, but it's terrible against the pass, ranking 115th in the nation. Further, the Cowboys own one of the nation's most potent offenses with receiver Justin Blackmon, running back Kendall Hunter and quarterback Brandon Weeden. They are going to score points. The question is can Foles and the Wildcats passing attack keep up?

WHAT TO WATCH: And speaking the Wildcats defense, it got gashed late in the season, particularly on the ground. If Hunter can pile up yards in the early going, then it could be a long night for the Wildcats. So Arizona's run defense will need to make a statement against Hunter and company with physical play. Then, if the Cowboys take to the air --their 354 yards per game ranks No. 2 in the nation -- Wildcats ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore will need to pressure Weeden and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Problem is: The Cowboys do a great job in pass protection, surrendering just 10 sacks this year, which is tied for eighth fewest in the country.

WHY TO WATCH: For one, Pac-10 fans should be eager to see one of their own in a bowl game. Further, this one figures to showcase lots of offense, so it should be entertaining if you enjoy a spinning scoreboard. Arizona is trying to avoid ending its season with a five-game losing streak. Oklahoma State fans are eager to see their Cowboys stick it to Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whom they developed a distaste for when he was Oklahoma's defensive coordinator.

PREDICTION: Arizona would be challenged to keep up the scoring pace with the Cowboys in any event, but they are going to have to throw the ball to win, and it's a big problem that center Colin Baxter, who's started 48 consecutive games, won't be available because of knee surgery. He's the guy making all the line calls for the Wildcats. That's a good reason to expect the Cowboys defense to get at least a couple more stops than the Wildcats. Oklahoma State 44, Arizona 38.

Now that was a drive

November, 26, 2010
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EUGENE, Ore. -- You can't do much better than drive 99 yards in 19 plays for a touchdown, which is what Oregon just did to take a 27-19 lead over Arizona.

Of course, the drive might have ended with a missed field goal if not for a bad offside penalty against Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore. That turned a fourth-and-5 from the Wildcats' 25 into a first down from the 20.

Two plays later, Darron Thomas sprinted in for the score.

The momentum is now with Oregon, but there's plenty of time for Arizona to regroup.

That said, the Wildcats' defense started to show signs of fatigue on that drive. A short Wildcats possession -- such as a three-and-out -- wouldn't be good here.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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Issues to consider heading into the 11th week of games.

Brock Mansion needs a fast start: Getting off to a fast start versus Oregon doesn't mean much. Just ask Stanford, which led 21-3 before the Ducks switched the engines to ludicrous speed. Oregon is a second-half team (see a 215-48 scoring advantage after the break). But there is no way Cal can start slow and stay in this game, particularly with a QB making his second career start. Mansion needs to gain some early confidence, and he needs to not be forced to throw every down in order to play catch-up. Moreover, you may have noticed that both of Cal's blowout Pac-10 losses -- USC and Oregon State -- were over at halftime.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Paul SakumaNick Foles struggled at times against Stanford after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap.
Foles back in sync: Arizona QB Nick Foles didn't play badly at Stanford. He just wasn't himself. Part of that was more than a handful of dropped passes, a couple on key third-down plays. But Foles probably shook off all the rust at Stanford due to missing two games with a dislocated knee cap, and another week of practice also should have helped him recover his rhythm for USC's visit. Foles doesn't have to look over his shoulder at backup Matt Scott, who played well in two starts while Foles was out, because Scott is out indefinitely with a wrist injury. A key for the Wildcats getting back on track -- and getting the "Zona Zoo" into the game -- is the offense clicking early against the Trojans.

No letdown for Cardinal: The reason sportswriters are always writing about "letdowns" is they happen so often (just ask South Carolina). And so we have Stanford, which is riding high -- sixth in the BCS rankings! -- after beating Arizona. But Arizona State is fully capable of hanging with the Cardinal. For one, the Sun Devils will have a speed advantage on both sides of the ball, so if the Cardinal isn't focused, it will get upset on the road. Often the toughest step for teams to take -- one that advances them good to elite -- is learning how to bring their A-game consistently. As well as finding ways to win if they only can muster their B-game.

Run, Jacquizz, run! The loss at UCLA hit Oregon State hard. Suddenly, a team that was in the Rose Bowl race is now fretting just earning bowl eligibility because of back-loaded scheduled. The visit from Washington State, in fact, could be considered a must-win. Much of the hand-wringing this week was over the shortcomings of the running game due to poor offensive line play. While the Cougars are greatly improved, you can't hide their numbers versus the run: 119th in the nation (out of 120), yielding 223 yards per game. That's why Beavers fans should expect lots of Jacquizz Rodgers, early, middle and late (if necessary).

LaHeisman moments? You guys may have heard but there's some, er, stuff going on at Auburn concerning QB Cam Newton (one word for USC fans: schadenfreude). At present, Newton is the leading Heisman Trophy candidate. More than a few list have Oregon running back LaMichael James at No. 2. A lingering scandal at Auburn, however, could have voters looking to James. So if James were to put up big numbers at Cal, and maybe post a few more fancypants plays, he could move to the top of the Heisman heap with just two games to play.

Barkley vs. Reed, Elmore: Arizona was the best pass rushing team in the Pac-10 before Stanford didn't allow a sack last weekend. USC doesn't allow many sacks, either. But Wildcats defensive ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, who have combined for 13.5 sacks, should be plenty motivated to get back on the sack track. And they probably need to if Arizona is going to beat USC. While Trojans QB Matt Barkley wasn't great in the win over Arizona State last weekend, he's still one of the nation's most talented and efficient passers. If he has time, he will pick apart a Wildcats secondary that has proven surprisingly vulnerable.

Can ASU play mistake-free? Here's the thing: Arizona State is good. It just hasn't figure how to win. Three of its four losses have come by a field goal or less (and the Sun Devils also, by the way, gave Oregon its toughest game). There are so, so many what-if moments. This isn't new: Last year, the Sun Devils lost four games by five or fewer points. While the Sun Devils have been less sloppy over the season's second half in terms of penalties and turnovers, it still seems like critical penalties and turnovers -- and missed field goals and PATs -- are killing them. But here's a guess: If they put up a clean sheet vs. Stanford, they will at least be in the game last in the fourth quarter.

Tuel time?: Oregon State is ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in pass-efficiency defense. At times this year, they've struggled to pressure the QB, and they've surrendered 16 TD passes, third most in the conference. Washington State's sophomore QB Jeff Tuel has taken a step forward this year, and freshman receiver Marquess Wilson is a budding star. The Cougars can throw the football. If Washington State is going to notch the upset -- and end a 16-game Pac-10 losing streak -- it likely will because it puts up big numbers in the passing game.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
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Issues to consider heading into the 10th week of games.

Is Foles in sync early? Nick Foles is expected to return to his starting spot at quarterback after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap. Foles is one of the best QBs in the nation, no doubt. But this is not just another start. For one, he'll be thinking about his knee early, no matter how hard he tries to block it out. That might affect his performance. And rust might be an issue -- Foles hasn't been at game-speed since going down at Washington State on Oct. 16. Moreover, if Foles isn't in-sync and, say, throws an early interception, how quickly might Mike Stoops go with Matt Scott, who was outstanding filling in for Foles? In a big game, when the stakes are high, it might be hard to be patient.

[+] EnlargeUSC V. Oregon
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUSC will have to rebound after getting crushed by Oregon in its "bowl game" last week.
Fight still on for USC? USC can't play in a bowl game this season, so a few Trojans called last week's game with No. 1 Oregon their bowl game. Well, they lost their bowl game by three TDs; does that mean the season is over? Does the cumulative effect of two last-second losses and that blowout defeat -- not to mention what figures to be a small crowd in the Coliseum -- leave the Trojans unfocused and unmotivated with Arizona State in town fighting for its bowl life?

"Tavita" Price? Washington would have had no chance at Oregon even with Jake Locker. It will have even less of no chance without him. Right? Redshirt freshman Keith Price surely will wilt under the pressure of boisterous Autzen Stadium and relentless blitzing from mean-old Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Right? Well, Duck fans, let's not forget that in 2007 a Stanford team with no chance that also was starting a backup QB who made things even no-chancer entered the Coliseum -- where USC had won 35 in a row -- and beat the No. 2 Trojans, 24-23, on a 10-yard TD pass on fourth down from Tavita Pritchard. But lightning won't strike again. Right?

Lots of Jacquizz: Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State running game broke through last weekend versus a good California run defense. So what will it do against a struggling UCLA run defense, which is yielding more than 200 yards per game? The guess here is Mike Riley will be eager to test the fortitude of the Bruins, whose season is teetering on the brink.

Building a Mansion on the road: Cal has been a complete disaster on the road this year, at least other than a tight game at Arizona. That makes even a trip to Washington State ominous. Further, after QB Kevin Riley suffered a season-ending knee injury during a blowout loss at Oregon State, junior Brock Mansion now will be making his first career start. Crowd noise won't be an issue -- Martin Stadium won't be full. And, while there might be some rain, the elements won't be a factor, as they sometimes are in Pullman. For Mansion, it will be all about staying focused and poised and making plays against perhaps the worst defense in the nation. Is Mansion -- and his supporting cast -- up to that, even if they aren't playing inside the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium?

Make Luck un-Lucky: The challenge for Arizona's defense is to get the Pac-10's most talented and efficient passer, Stanford's Andrew Luck, out of his comfort zone. That won't be easy. The Cardinal again has a great running game -- 224 yards per game -- and it protects Luck well, with just three sack surrendered. And even if you pressure Luck, he's such a good runner that he can make a big play with his legs just after you think a sack dance is coming. The Wildcats lead the conference in sacks, with 3.38 per game, and Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are the best defensive end combo in the conference. But the Wildcats will have to give Luck lots of different looks, and hope that a few of them cause him a bit of angst. And provoke a mistake (or two).

A Threet to the Trojans' secondary: Arizona State QB Steven Threet leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game. USC ranks last in passing yards surrendered. That would seem to favor Threet and the Sun Devils. At the same time, Threet has hurled 13 interceptions, most in the conference. Threet has proven he can make plays in the passing game, and USC has proven vulnerable to passers. But Threet sometimes is his own worst enemy. Can the Trojans -- and coordinator Monte Kiffin -- rattle Threet into making mistakes?

James makes more Heisman noise (and maybe Thomas, too): My Mama always said if you can't say something nice, don't say anything. But then I wouldn't be able to do my job, which is at this moment to observe that the Washington defense is lousy. The Huskies are particularly bad versus the run. Oh, by the way, Oregon rushes for 309 yards per game. So expect Ducks running back LaMichael James to get another 200-yard performance and then sit out the fourth quarter. And when the Huskies become addled trying to stop James, Thomas will find plenty of opportunities downfield. Count on both putting up numbers that are noted in next week's review of Heisman Trophy candidates.

Just when you count the Bruins out...: Seems like we've already written off UCLA about five times this year. And folks are always trying to write of Rick Neuheisel. But it also seems like, just when things are darkness for Neuheisel ... sunrise! Mike Riley seemed to be aware of that this week; he seemed genuinely concerned about how his team might view UCLA's vulnerability. Not sure how the Bruins would beat the surging Beavers, but stranger things certainly have happened. Recall that the Beavers didn't exactly shine the last time they were on the road at Washington.

Breakthrough for the Cougs? Speaking of strange things: The Cougars last Pac-10 win came in the 2008 Apple Cup against the winless Huskies. So Cal comes to Pullman looking to hand the Cougs a 16th consecutive conference defeat. If Washington State had played Arizona State tougher last weekend -- instead of, say, losing 42-0 -- then it would be easier to project an upset. Still, you'd think that, based on some of the competitive performances this year, the Cougs are going to surprise someone and get a win at some point. Cal, with a new starting QB and a tendency to throw up on itself on the road, seems like a legitimate potential victim.
As a strength-on-strength matchup, Stanford's offense versus Arizona's defense is about is good as it gets.

Arizona is No. 7 in the nation in scoring defense, No. 6 in rushing defense and No. 10 in total defense. Stanford is No. 5 in the nation in scoring offense, No. 10 in the nation in passing efficiency and No. 16 in the nation in total offense.

[+] EnlargeRicky Elmore & Brooks Reed
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona's defensive backs Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed have combined for 13.5 sacks.
The Cardinal has the best quarterback in the Pac-10 in Andrew Luck, who might be the first overall pick in this spring's NFL draft. The Wildcats counter with the best tandem of defensive ends in the conference, in Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, who have combined for 13.5 sacks.

Just ask the players and coaches. No. 15 Arizona's visit to No. 13 Stanford on Saturday certainly has inspired a mutual admiration society on both teams.

"No question this is the best defense we've played. Or will play," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "These are the best defensive ends in the conference. You could probably say by far. Even their third defensive end [D'Aundre Reed] would start on any other Pac-10 team but Arizona."

Added Luck, "They are a tough bunch -- those numbers don't lie. They are extremely well-coached, extremely physical, they've got a great set of defensive ends. It's definitely going to be our toughest challenge so far."

Not to be outdone, Arizona coach Mike Stoops found plenty to like about Harbaugh's offense.

"The creativity of Jim is what makes his offense very unique -- the way they move and create formations is the biggest thing," Stoops said.

Of course, if you were to pick two coaches who are mostly likely to claw out the eyes of an opponent, Stoops and Harbaugh would probably be you first choices in the Pac-10. Both are fiery. Both love physical football. And both know that the winner of this game will remain in the Rose Bowl race and likely will land in a comfortable spot in the nation's top-10.

Last year, these teams put on a barn burner, and suffice it to say neither defense felt terribly good about itself. They combined for nearly 1,200 yards -- both Luck and Arizona's Nick Foles passed for more than 400 yards -- and the Wildcats rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 43-38 in Tucson.

One of the reasons the Wildcats defense struggled was Brooks Reed only saw a couple of plays due to a high-ankle sprain that mostly killed his season. He watched most of the action helplessly from the sidelines.

"I remember us stopping their running game, which is surprising because they had Toby [Gerhart] back there," he said. "But then they threw all over us. They killed us in the air."

Gerhart rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, but that was well off his season average. Luck completed 21-of-35 for 423 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Foles, who has missed the past two games with a dislocated knee cap but is expected to play Saturday, completed 40-of-51 for 415 yards with three touchdowns and no picks.

"We both really lit up the scoreboard," said Luck, who added he didn't expect the same point production on Saturday.

The Wildcats had almost no running game the entire night, but two long, fourth-quarter touchdown runs -- Greg Nwoko for 43 yards and Nic Grigsby for 57 yards on a third-and-12 play -- were the difference.

The first matchup is the ground game. Even without Gerhart, the Cardinal is averaging 223.8 yards rushing per game. Arizona is yielding just 88.4.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck will have his hands full Saturday when he faces the No. 10 defense in the country.
Reed said he expects Stanford to "come out heavy" and try to test the Wildcats interior defense with power running plays.

"They move so many guys around," Reed said. "They have all sorts of motions, where they try to get guys out of gaps. Once they do that you are screwed. They got some big old-linemen and they like those heavy sets. It will be a challenge to get everyone on the right page."

And, of course, once a defense is worried about the run, Luck goes over the top. Luck ranks 10th in the nation in passing efficiency, but he's probably the nation's most accurate downfield passer, which is why NFL scouts click their heels together while watching his game film.

"We've got to make sure we don't overreact to the run," Stoops said.

One more thing to worry about: Luck is an outstanding athlete who is a run threat himself, see his 51-yard touchdown run at Washington last weekend on a zone-read play. That athleticism and an outstanding line is why Stanford has surrendered just three sacks this year, which is tied for second fewest in the nation.

Meanwhile, Arizona ranks fifth in the country with 3.38 sacks per game. Something must give in that head-to-head. Reed admitted that Luck isn't easy to touch.

"When they pass, they like to max protect, and they like play action," he said. "So it's hard for D-linemen to get a pass rush."

The key for Arizona will be at least getting a stalemate at the line of scrimmage -- as it did last year -- while giving Luck a variety of looks and pressures, while still maintaining rush lanes and spying on Luck if he opts to take off.

That won't be easy.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats are pretty good on offense -- their 453.4 yards per game ranks 19th in the country -- and Stanford is vastly improved on defense, ranking third in the Pac-10 in total and scoring defense.

But the money matchup is Luck versus the Wildcats D.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
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Ten items to track in what figures to be an exciting Week 9 in the Big Ten.

1. Spartans try to stay perfect: Michigan State isn't being viewed as a legit national title contender just yet, and the odds makers and others expect the Spartans to go down Saturday at No. 18 Iowa. But if Mark Dantonio's edgy team gets out of Iowa City with a win, look out. Michigan State's remaining schedule is very favorable and a 12-0 mark certainly will be within reach. Standing in the Spartans' way is an Iowa team that must win Saturday to remain in the Big Ten title race. The past three games between the Spartans and Hawkeyes have been decided by a total of 12 points, so expect another close one at Kinnick Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Dantonio's Spartans could be looking at a 12-0 record if they can survive Saturday's game at Iowa.
2. Moment of truth for Michigan, Rodriguez: It's not the first so-called "must-win" for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, but the Wolverines and their constantly scrutinized coach would really benefit from a victory at Beaver Stadium. A win makes Michigan bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, ends a two-game slide and quiets talk about Rodriguez's job and a second straight collapse. A loss would turn up the heat even more on Rodriguez and the Wolverines before a challenging November slate.

3. Dan Persa vs. Ben Chappell: Two underrated and underappreciated quarterbacks meet up at Indiana's Memorial Stadium. Most of the quarterback hype in the Big Ten centers elsewhere, but these two signal callers have been outstanding. Persa gained some national respect with his gutsy performance last week against Michigan State, but his Davey O'Brien Award snub suggests he still has something to prove. The junior will look to strike against a vulnerable Indiana secondary. Chappell has been brilliant at home and tries to bounce back from a rough afternoon at Illinois against a Northwestern defense that has struggled to stop the pass.

4. Robs reeling: Both Penn State and Purdue are dealing with injuries at the most important position on the field. Penn State could be without starting quarterback Rob Bolden against Michigan, as the freshman continues to recover from a head injury suffered last Saturday. If Bolden can't go, Matt McGloin likely will make his first career start for the Lions. Purdue will make a game-time decision on starting quarterback Rob Henry, who suffered a laceration on his throwing hand against Ohio State. If Henry isn't ready at Illinois, the Boilers will turn to true freshman Sean Robinson, who entered the season No. 4 on the depth chart.

5. Banged-up Buckeyes secondary to be tested: Injuries have been the big story for Ohio State's defense, especially in the secondary. Though the Buckeyes posted a shutout last week against Purdue, they faced a team that didn't test them through the air. Ohio State shouldn't have trouble beating last-place Minnesota, but Gophers wideouts Da'Jon McKnight and MarQueis Gray and tight end Eric Lair have combined for 98 receptions, 1,381 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Expect Minnesota to air it out against an Ohio State secondary very thin at the safety spot.

6. Royster approaches rushing record: Seven games into the season, Evan Royster still needs 31 rushing yards to break Curt Warner's all-time Penn State record. The Nittany Lions senior should reach the mark against a Michigan team allowing 144.7 rush yards per game, although Royster has only one 100-yard rushing performance this season. Aside from the record, Penn State likely needs a big game from Royster and/or freshman Silas Redd, especially if Bolden sits out. It's important for the Lions to control the clock and keep Michigan's explosive offense off of the field.

7. Hyde vs. Hyde: Asked about getting tickets for the Iowa game, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose grandfather played for the Hawkeyes, said he didn't want to take any away from teammate Marcus Hyde. Saturday will be special for the Hyde family as Marcus, a senior safety for Michigan State, goes up against his younger brother, Micah, a sophomore cornerback for Iowa. Although both brothers play in the secondary, they had a run-in on a kickoff play in last year's game at Spartan Stadium. "He kind of hit me in my back," Marcus Hyde said. "I thought it was somebody else. When I saw it was him, I started laughing." It should be fun watching these two on Saturday.

8. Zook aims for a Big Ten sweep: Name the only Big Ten team Ron Zook hasn't beaten in his Illinois tenure? If you guessed Purdue, well done. Zook is 0-3 against Purdue in his six seasons as Fighting Illini coach. Illinois has dropped five consecutive games against the Boilers and last captured the Cannon in 2002. A victory Saturday would continue Illinois' surprising surge and put the team one step close to bowl eligibility with four games to play.

9. Pivotal game for Lynch, Hoosiers: Bill Lynch calls it simply "the next game," but Saturday's contest against Northwestern could have major implications for the Indiana program. The Hoosiers are 0-3 in Big Ten play this fall and 2-17 in the league since the start of the 2008 season. Athletic director Fred Glass has been loyal to Lynch and has spoken publicly about the need to honor contracts, but another loss would increase the calls for change. Lynch and the Hoosiers only need two more wins to become bowl-eligible, but they need to show they can get over the hump in league games.

10. Stanzi, Cousins take center stage: The Big Ten is a quarterback's league in 2010, and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins are two of the best. Both men have a chance Saturday to distinguish themselves in the race for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and possibly get some Heisman Trophy love. Stanzi has been one of the nation's most improved players, although he'd like to recapture some of his crunch-time magic from 2009. Cousins returns to a stadium he visited often as a boy and has a chance to lift Michigan State one step closer to Glendale.

Pac-10 predictions: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
9:03
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Went 4-0 last week and improved to 38-12 on the year.

But I didn't put 110 percent into these picks.

Oregon 41, USC 30: This will be a competitive game, with both offenses getting their licks in. But the Trojans won't be able to keep up the pace in the second half.

Oregon State 30, California 27: If the Cal team that whipped Arizona State last weekend shows up, the Beavers are in trouble. But because the Bears haven't produced that team on a regular basis, we're tapping the Beavers.

Arizona State 35, Washington State 24: The Sun Devils figure to be smarting after the loss at Cal, and that should help them focus on the Cougars, who no longer can be taken lightly. But the Cougs are banged up, and the Sun Devils are too athletic to pick the upset.

Arizona 33, UCLA 17: UCLA has too many issues. And Arizona is too good on both sides of the ball. Wildcats DEs Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore should have a fun day chasing Richard Brehaut around.

Stanford 40, Washington 31: There's a temptation to see an upset here -- the Huskies always seem to follow a disappointing effort with a good one. Expect Jake Locker to have a good day at home with Andrew Luck on the opposite sideline. The issue is the Huskies defense, which is down two starting D-linemen and wasn't even playing well with them.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
10/21/10
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Issues to consider heading into the eighth week of games.

Ducks make a statement: Oregon is the big show Thursday night. Everybody will be watching ESPN to see what all the fuss is about regarding that team in the funny uniforms with ludicrous speed on offense. Folks, style points matter in the BCS system. If the Ducks post a, "Wow," performance, it helps them maintain or even improve their stature. It means, for example, the voters in the Southeast or the flyover states who raise a skeptical eye at Pac-10 football go, "Golly." Don't believe blowing out UCLA won't have traction. You can't argue about how the Bruins physically dominated Texas, which probably isn't going to lose another game in the Big 12. You want pollsters to go, "You know, Auburn/Oklahoma/Boise State is good, but Oregon, man, that team looks good."

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Rick BowmerRunning back LaMichael James and Oregon will be looking for style points on Thursday against UCLA.
Riley, Cal on the brink: The Pac-10 blog enjoys talking to California QB Kevin Riley. Strikes me as a cool dude. But one of the tough things about this job is you sometimes have to say unkind stuff about good dudes. Riley isn't alone to blame for the Bears' problems by any fair measure. But, as a senior, he needs to be more a part of the solution. He hasn't played well this season, particularly during the past three games (that doesn't include the Nevada game in which he made some critical mistakes but mostly played well). If Riley plays like he did against Colorado against Arizona State on Saturday, the Bears will win. Of course, the Sun Devils are a lot better than the Buffaloes. But it isn't about the opponent. It's about Riley being smart, accurate and making plays. And leading.

Cougs D-line vs. Stanford O-line: Stanford has the most physical offensive line in the conference. The Cougars' front seven showed some signs of improvement against a good Arizona O-line, but they still rank 119th in the nation in run defense. If you can't stop the run versus Stanford, well, suffice it to say, you are in big trouble, because Jim Harbaugh loves to be cruel -- which means running power at you over and over again until you wilt. You know, like he did to USC last year.

Great Scott? The storybook, at least from the Arizona side of things at it faces Washington, is Matt Scott replacing Nick Foles as the Wildcats' starting QB and playing great until Foles is able to return. That allows Scott to redeem himself for losing the starting job after three mediocre games in 2009. Fact is, plenty of folks in Tucson think Scott is a pretty good QB and they aren't panicking about him taking over. The truth, in fact, is the Wildcats' offense has been hot-and-cold, even with Foles. A more punchy running game would make things a lot easier for Scott, but it's likely he will have to make plays passing against Washington and going forward to keep the Wildcats in the Pac-10 race.

Bruising Bruins: What happens if UCLA eschews the passing game and runs right at the Oregon and it works? Sure, that doesn't sound very likely -- Stanford sure couldn't do it. But who thought the Bruins would overpower Texas a few weeks back and not need a passing game to post a blowout victory? As far as upset scenarios go, most for the Bruins start with an ability to consistently run the ball at the Ducks -- fast but undersized -- which also has the added benefit of keeping the Ducks' offense on the sidelines. You know, like Ohio State did in the Rose Bowl.

Sun Devils turn the corner: Was the win at Washington a breakthrough for Arizona State? Well, we should know Saturday at California. The Sun Devils, who should be rested after a bye, won a number of converts while losing three tough, competitive games to Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State, but it's hard to become too effusive about a team that keeps almost winning. You know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And curling. And parallel parking. But we digress. The win in Husky Stadium wasn't fancy, but it wasn't sloppy, which was why there was a happy ending. If QB Steven Threet doesn't throw interceptions, and the Sun Devils as a whole avoid stupid penalties, this team can play with anyone.

Luck for Heisman? Stanford probably could run 75 times and beat Washington State. But style points matter, on a team and individual level. Harbaugh wants to win big and help his team climb the national polls. And QB Andrew Luck needs to post some impressive numbers to remain in the Heisman Trophy discussion. If the Cardinal softens up the Cougars with the power run game, there figure to be plenty of opportunities over the top. Luck should get three or four TD passes and then sit out the fourth quarter. Unless, of course, the Cougs make his life unexpectedly difficult.

Wildcats and Huskies and a pass rush: Arizona, led by DEs Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, leads the Pac-10 with 21 sacks. The Huskies, led by mobile QB Jake Locker and pretty good pass protection, have surrendered just eight sacks. Some Wildcats (and Huskies) fans might recall Locker having a fairly fancy moment of escapability against Arizona last year (hint: 56 yards). That's a strength-on-strength matchup. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have surrendered 17 sacks, second worst in the Pac-10 (a surprising number but the O-line had a terrible game at Washington State). The Huskies only have 13 sacks, which also ranks second to last in the conference. And the Huskies will be without the services of injured end Talia Crichton. That's a weak-on-weak matchup. Considering the Wildcats are starting their backup QB -- albeit an experienced one in Scott -- it seems the Huskies would really like to get a strong rush. And the Wildcats want to thwart that desire.

Pac-10 helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 17, 2010
10/17/10
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Who deserves a sticker on his helmet for a job well done?

Matt Barkley: The USC QB completed 25 of 37 passes for 352 yards with five TDs -- all in the first half -- in the Trojans 48-14 win over California.

Robert Woods: The true freshman receiver caught seven passes for 116 yards with two TDs for the Trojans against Cal.

USC defense: The maligned unit looked like a Trojans defense of old, holding Cal to just 245 yards and 10 first downs.

Ricky Elmore: The Arizona defensive end had 2.5 sacks in the 24-7 win at Washington State among his six total tackles.

Tyree Toomer: The Washington State safety had four tackles for a loss -- two sacks -- and seven total tackles in the loss to Arizona.

Jacquizz Rodgers: Rodgers had 140 yards on 32 carries with three TDs in Oregon State's 35-34 double-overtime loss to Washington. He also caught four passes for 49 yards and a TD.

Jake Locker: Locker threw five TD passes in the double-overtime win over Oregon State, completing 21-of-35 for 284 yards. He also rushed for 60 yards.

Arizona can't handle prosperity

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
10:13
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- There is only one certainty from Arizona's 29-27 loss to Oregon State: The Wildcats won't go undefeated in 2010. That puts them in the same boat with Alabama. That's one way to look at things.

Another way to look at it? There they go again.

Just when it seemed like the ninth-ranked Wildcats were ready to take a major step forward -- beating then-No. 9 Iowa, riding a high national ranking -- they take a step back.

"Tonight was a tough night in a lot of ways," coach Mike Stoops said. "When you look at the entire game, we just weren't there."

The feeling entering the game was the Wildcats were on the cusp of a potentially special season. It still might turn out special. Only not as special as it could have been. The first loss is often the hardest, but it's even harder when it comes at home to a two-loss team, and when it feels like a lot of football was played badly.

"I don't think it's a wake-up call," linebacker Paul Vassallo said. "It's disappointing with two weeks of prep."

Vassallo is a JC transfer, so he hasn't been around the program long. But it's good he's not leaning on the idea of this team needing a "wake-up call." The Arizona program is awake. It's just sometimes confounding -- see Vassallo's noting of how the Wildcats played after getting two weeks to prepare for the Beavers.

It's hard to put much blame on Nick Foles and the offense, which gained 541 yards, including 311 in the second half. Foles passed for 440 yards and three touchdowns and led scoring drives of 57, 66, 66 and 80 yards.

Special teams weren't special. Kicker Alex Zendejas missed a 37-yard field goal just before halftime and had a PAT blocked. Struggling punter Keenyn Crier blasted a beautiful 47-yard punt in the fourth quarter -- only he blasted it into the end zone for a touchback instead of pinning the Beavers deep in their own territory. Oregon State then drove for the decisive TD.

And that was telling -- yielding a 10-play, 80-yard, nearly five-minute drive when the screws were tightening . Ultimately, the predominant blame falls on the unit that had been so dominant this year: the defense.

The Wildcats entered the game ranked among the nation's leaders in nearly every major defensive statistical category. The Beavers had been struggling on offense. But the Wildcats gave up 486 yards, including 393 yards passing to the Beavers, who were 10-of-15 on third-down plays.

"We played sloppy tonight," end Ricky Elmore said after the game.

And, considering the Wildcats visit Washington State next weekend, it probably cost them a 7-0 start and all that might have brought -- such as a potential top-five ranking.

Of course, a top-five ranking eight weeks into the season isn't really all that great. It doesn't include a trophy or a bowl invitation. It's always about how you finish.

"I don't really know if we just lost our edge or took for granted what we had or what, but it's going to be a very long season," Stoops said.

That's good, because Saturday was a long and mostly unpleasant night for the Wildcats; the first time that's been the case this season.

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