NCF Nation: Rudy Carpenter

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Every Pac-10 team will be young somewhere... so what are the green units?

Green Day
College Football Nation is decked out in green to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. While you can't tell if our bloggers actually are wearing the day's color, their posts are green from head to toe.

Green with envy: Teams
Green with envy: Conferences
Who could use a four-leaf clover?
What is your teams' greenest unit?
Best/worst spent green

Arizona -- OT: Both starting tackles are gone, including potential NFL first-round pick Eben Britton. The four tackles on this spring two-deep roster have combined for only five starts, all by right tackle Adam Grant.

Arizona State -- QB: Combined starts of the five candidates to replace Rudy Carpenter at quarterback? Zero.

California -- TE: When Cameron Morrah, the Bears second-leading receiver in 2008, unexpectedly bolted a year early for the NFL draft, he left behind four combined receptions for backups Tad Smith, Anthony Miller and touted redshirt freshman Spencer Ladner.

Oregon -- DT: Both starting defensive tackles are gone and this unofficial depth chart shows 14 combine tackles for seven potential replacements.

Oregon State -- DE: Sackmasters Victor Butler and Slade Norris and their 41.5 combined sacks over the past two seasons are gone. Sophomore Kevin Frahm and senior Ben Terry, who split two sacks between themselves in 2008, are in.

Stanford -- K: Kicker Aaron Zagory is gone and either Travis Golia or David Green will take over, though neither has kicked a college field goal.

UCLA -- P: After four years of huge boots, punter Aaron Perez is gone. Redshirt freshmen Jeff Locke and Danny Rees will compete to replace him.

USC -- LB: All three starting linebackers, including All-Americans and future first-round draft choices Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing, are gone. Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith and Michael Morgan aren't exactly chopped liver, though.

Washington -- K-P: The Huskies need to replace both specialists with players who have no college experience.

Washington State -- TE: Devin Frischknecht and Ben Woodard, the top two guys on the 2008 depth chart, are gone and the expected replacement, JC transfer Peter Tuitupou, unexpectedly opted to go on a two-year church mission.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action.

USC may be the nation's best team but it didn't do enough to prove it: USC was scheduled out of the national title game, and the Trojans didn't get fancy enough with the schedule they had. Sure, the Trojans have the nation's best defense. But in the beauty contest that is the BCS standings, it takes more than just winning, particularly with the widespread (though probably wildly exaggerated) perception of a down season for the Pac-10. If you watched the Trojan' 28-7 domination of UCLA, you saw a team completely in control and a score kept reasonable by three missed field goals and a lackadaisical offensive effort. But Oklahoma beat a solid Missouri team, 62-21, and Florida won by 11 over Alabama, the nation's unbeaten, No. 1 team. The Trojans would be eager -- and confident -- to play either, but it's hard to say they should be ranked ahead of either based on this season's body of work.

Best is the Best: California running back Jahvid Best needed just 19 carries to net 311 yards rushing, breaking the school single-game record and winning the Pac-10 rushing title with 1,394 yards. That total ranks fifth in the nation and his 8 yards per rush is best among backs with at least 125 carries this season. Fact is, if he'd not left the game early in the third quarter, Best would have easily broken former Washington State running back Rueben Mayes' Pac-10 single-game record of 357 yards rushing set in 1984.

Stoops has earned a breather: Gosh, how much difference can one game make? Arizona entered the Territorial Cup against rival Arizona State with some grumbling about another disappointing season under coach Mike Stoops, despite the Wildcats earning their first bowl berth since 1998. But a dominant 31-10 victory over the Sun Devils suddenly made the season feel like a success -- 7-5 feels way different than 6-6, particularly when it includes a beatdown of a hated rival that also knocks them out of bowl eligibility.

Sarkisian can't make the Huskies any worse: Steve Sarkisian's first season at Washington can't possibly end up any worse than 2008, considering the Huskies finished 0-12 and are riding a 14-game losing streak -- hey, is that LSU in the season opener! Great! Sarkisian will sign a five-year contract with Washington paying him $1.85 million a year, according to the Seattle Times. He will pull double duty as USC's offensive coordinator through the Rose Bowl, and plans to call plays as the Huskies' coach, according to the Orange County Register.

UCLA and Arizona State will still be rebuilding in 2009: The Bruins and Sun Devils both played a lot of young players this season. But they also will lose some key veterans. In other words, a dramatic, winning turnaround next season is hardly a sure-thing. The biggest issue for both is quarterback. The Sun Devils will need to replace a four-year starter in Rudy Carpenter, while the Bruins probably will want to present plenty of competition for incumbent Kevin Craft. While expectations of a bowl berth in 2009 certainly won't be out of the question, both programs figure to fall in the Pac-10's second tier.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

Jahvid Best: Best needed 171 yards to eclipse Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers for the Pac-10 rushing title, but the speedy Cal Bear got that before halftime in the blowout win over Washington, finishing with 311 yards and four touchdowns on 19 carries before sitting down early in the third quarter. The performance likely will earn him consensus selection as first-team All-Pac-10 along with Rodgers.

Willie Tuitama: After three years of frustration against rival Arizona State, the Arizona quarterback goes out a 31-10 winner with a poised performance in front of the home fans. Tuitama completed 25 of 37 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns, outdueling his more touted counterpart, Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

USC defense: While Penn State's offense surely will test the Trojans' D in the Rose Bowl, it's too bad this unit won't get a shot at the fancy-pants offenses of Florida, Oklahoma or Texas, because such a strength-on-strength matchup would be a big draw. After holding UCLA to 157 total yards and seven first downs, USC finished the season No. 1 in scoring, passing and total defense (No. 5 vs. the run). Eight of 12 opponents scored a single TD or less. The Trojans yielded only 11 TDs the entire season, and their opponents' 3.38-yard average per play was 0.4 better than any other team.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Last lunch links of the regular season!

  • Steve Sarkisian is a good call for Washington. Perky is important, says Art Thiel.
  • Tyrone Willingham to Chicago Tribune: "Maybe Notre Dame got it right" on Charlie Weis.
  • Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter got booted out of a high school girls basketball game.
  • Deposed California quarterback Nate Longshore opens up and admits things haven't been good for him. The Emerald Bowl strikes a deal for California, which means it's Vegas for the Arizona-Arizona State winner.
  • Oregon and Chip Kelly are talking contract.
  • Oregon State will get either Pitt or West Virginia in the Sun Bowl -- unless UCLA upsets USC.
  • UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow has seen an offense as bad as his before -- at USC. And USC hasn't been the same since Chow was run off.
  • USC assistant Ken Norton doesn't want to talk to New Mexico State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

Jahvid goes for the rushing title: There are a couple of reasons California shouldn't be yawning before facing Washington. For one, the Bears were humiliated by the Huskies last year, 37-23, in Seattle, surrendering an eye-popping 334 yards rushing. Second, tailback Jahvid Best needs 171 yards rushing to win the Pac-10 rushing title, meaning the Best player on the field should get plenty of touches. That also won't bode well for the Huskies -- will they even show up? -- keeping things reasonably close.

Any chance Craft can create art? UCLA's only chance against USC is a near-perfect day. The distance, however, between "perfect" and what the Bruins have been doing on offense this season -- particularly embattled quarterback Kevin Craft -- is a Grand Canyon-like chasm. Craft has thrown 12 interceptions in his last four games. Touchdowns? Zero. Three of his picks were returned for scores in the 34-9 loss to Arizona State, and his fumble led to a fourth touchdown. And yet ... what if the Craft from the fourth quarter of the Tennessee or Stanford games shows up against the Trojans? Two years ago, expectations were low for sophomore Patrick Cowan, but he pulled a rabbit out of his helmet and led the Bruins to a 13-9 victory that knocked the Trojans out of the national title game.

Can Arizona win a close one? Arizona has won six games this year. Smallest margin of victory? 15 points (vs. California). The Wildcats have lost five. Largest margin of defeat? Ten points (Oregon). When Arizona wins, it rolls. But when the screws tighten, it goes belly up. In fact, the Wildcats are 5-16 in games decided by a touchdown or less over the past four seasons under Mike Stoops. Two of those defeats are included in their three-game losing streak vs. rival Arizona State. The home-standing Wildcats are favored by 10 1/2, so there's the potential for this not to be close. But, if things stay tight, will there be worried looks or set jaws on the home sideline?

Will Sarkisian's dance with Washington be a distraction? While the Trojans defense has been reliably dominant in every game save one this season, the offense has been decidedly inconsistent. Some fans, in fact, have been impatient with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, even though the Trojans rank second in the conference in both scoring (38.4 points per game) and total offense (451 yards per game). News broke Thursday evening that Sarkisian is the next Washington head coach. Two potential negatives for the Trojans: 1. Has Sark been able to focus on game planning against a good UCLA defense; 2. Will his imminent departure distract his players, particularly quarterback Mark Sanchez?

Rudy vs. Willie, take four: Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter hasn't had the season most imagined for him. Arizona quarterback Willie Tuitama hasn't put up huge numbers like many thought he would. But Tuitama has been more consistent and statistically impressive than Carpenter. Ah, but Carpenter is 3-0 vs. Tuitama in Territorial Cups. No ASU quarterback has gone 4-0 against UA. After the 5-6 Sun Devils' desperation to earn bowl eligibility, this is the lead item of this year's game. Carpenter has outplayed Tuitama in the series -- see his 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio compared to 4:3 for Tuitama. Will their finale be different or more of the same?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The expression that creased across Mike Thomas' face last spring suggested he'd been forced to take a bite of a rotten (sun) deviled egg.

 
 Jeff Lewis/US Presswire
 Mike Thomas and the Wildcats have lost three in a row to their in-state rivals.

It merely had been noted to him -- with the purest intentions imaginable -- that his Arizona Wildcats had lost three straight to their friends from up north, the Arizona State Sun Devils, which meant the record-setting senior receiver had never sipped victory from the Territorial Cup.

It was further noted to Thomas that that topic seemed to be a great favorite among the Sun Devils, particularly loquacious quarterback Rudy Carpenter.

But Thomas wouldn't take the bait then -- not much at least -- and he's sure as heck not going to talk smack now with things coming to a head in Tucson Saturday.

Carpenter and the Sun Devils cocky?

"Yeah, but when you win, why not get cocky?" Thomas said with only a hint of a harrumph.

"Rudy, you know, is always chatting at the mouth, but he's a good ballplayer. You can't take anything away from him. That's part of the game, talking a little noise."

Neither team has much room to be cocky this week. Both are playing with a sense of desperation.

The Sun Devils, ranked 15th in the preseason, have been a major disappointment. Though they bounced back from a season-wrecking six-game losing streak to win three in a row, they need to beat the Wildcats to finish 6-6 and earn bowl eligibility.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have lost two in a row, which drained much of the enthusiasm from a 6-3 start.

The Sun Devils want to salve their wounds by playing in a bowl game for a fifth consecutive year.

The Wildcats, though headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1998, need to win to stamp success on a critical season for embattled coach Mike Stoops.

Defeats in the previous two season finales knocked the Wildcats out of bowl games and inspired not a small amount of consternation among the fanbase.

"We have three years of losing to these guys and that's not a real good feeling -- in some tough situations that cost us a lot," Stoops said.

Now, Stoops observed, "the shoe is kind of on the other foot."

Said ASU coach Dennis Erickson, "The game itself is more than any bowl game you can go to -- I'm sure for both teams."

Carpenter and Arizona counterpart Willie Tuitama, both four-year starters, are the centerpieces of the recent history of the bitter rivalry.

They've combined for nearly 19,000 career yards passing and 143 touchdown passes, making this one of the most prolific quarterback showdowns in Pac-10 history.

Carpenter, making his 43rd consecutive start, ranks third on the all-time Pac-10 list with 80 touchdown passes and ranks eighth with 10,367 passing yards.

But Tuitama has been the better quarterback this season, ranking ahead of Carpenter in just about every statistical category.

Of course, the number that most interests both is whether or not Carpenter ends up 4-0 in their head-to-head matchups.

"I was also part of a team that lost -- my true freshman year," Carpenter said. "So I know what that can be like, especially when I watched a lot of those seniors play down there and lose their final game to them. We don't want that to be us."

It's supposed to be them, though.

The Sun Devils are 10 1/2-point underdogs playing on the road. Last week, though they prevailed 34-9 against UCLA, even though the offense only managed 122 total yards. Their other two wins during their present streak came over the woeful duo of Washington and Washington State.

The Sun Devils rank 113th in the nation in rushing offense, so if they are going to score, it's all on Rudy.

Meanwhile, Arizona has a balanced offense that averages 38 points and 402 yards per game and is almost in a dead heat with the Sun Devils in scoring defense.

Still, the Wildcats have struggled in tight games under Stoops, who admits his team hasn't learned how to finish games.

For either team to claim a successful season, it's going to have to finish this one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

You know when LeBron James does his talcum powder toss before a game? I did that before gathering these links.

  • Just five Arizona players have beaten Arizona State. Are Willie Tuitama and Rudy Carpenter on the Brink, asks Nick Daschel. Nice tribute to the late Bob Moran: The most valuable player in Saturday's Arizona State-Arizona football game will receive the Bob Moran Most Valuable Player Award.
  • California's players aren't keen on staying home for their bowl game. They'd rather do Vegas, baby!
  • What can Oregon fans expect from a Chip Kelly administration?
  • Things got a little rowdy at Reser Stadium during the Civil War.
  • USC's monopoly in L.A. is still, clearly, in place. Say what you want about UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft, but the dude is tough.
  • Details on USC receiver Vidal Hazelton's decision to transfer.
  • More info on Mike Leach's interests in the Washington coaching job. That and more names here. This is a nice summary of many of Tyrone Willingham's pratfalls.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Went 1-2 last week ... First losing week of the season! D'oh!

Overall mark stands at 53-16.

So, who's going to the Rose Bowl?

FRIDAY

Arizona State 24, UCLA 20: Both teams have solid defenses. Both teams have struggled to run the ball. Both teams have issues on the offensive line. But the Sun Devils have two big edges: 1. They are playing at home; 2. Rudy Carpenter gives ASU a huge advantage at quarterback.

SATURDAY

USC 35, Notre Dame 10: Got a feeling the Irish will hang around for a while before USC asserts itself, probably with a few big plays on defense. It will be interesting to see if the Trojans stick with a conservative offensive plan or throw more aggressively downfield.

Hawaii 35, Washington State 10: First, it's hard to believe that the Cougars will be able to focus on this as a business trip after their emotional Apple Cup win over Washington. Second, they didn't just transform overnight. Beating the winless Huskies is one thing. Beating a team with a pulse is another.

Oregon 27, Oregon State 24: This might seem inconsistent with our previous bowl projection but that was made before Jacquizz Rodgers was declared "very doubtful." Rodgers was the horse the Beavers rode to Rose Bowl contention and without him the offense won't have the same balance. The Beavers played a taxing, emotional game in their comeback win over Arizona last weekend while Oregon rested and plotted. That extra bit of preparation will help.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

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

1. Who's Oregon State's quarterback and what will that mean? Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he'd announce a starting quarterback on Wednesday, which likely would happen after practice. Guess here is that he's decided Lyle Moevao needs to be 100 percent to retain his job because backup Sean Canfield has played so well while going 3-0. Then the issue becomes how long will Riley stick with one guy? If Canfield/Moevao start slowly, would there be a temptation to have a quick hook and put in the other because, as Riley said, he has "two starting quarterbacks." Another guess: This situation surely has inspired some spirited discussion among the coaching staff because there is no clear right answer. At least until around 8 p.m. PT on Saturday.

2. Notre Dame will play inspired football at USC: Notre Dame made itself a national punchline last week by losing at home to woeful Syracuse, which had already fired coach Greg Robinson. Since starting 4-1, the Irish have gone 2-4, and one of those wins was against beleaguered Washington, so it doesn't even count. Still, the players surely recall last year's 38-zip beatdown the Trojans supplied at Notre Dame. And this is a rivalry game. It would be fairly shocking if USC doesn't get the Irish's best shot. Doesn't mean USC is going to lose. But this won't be a four-quarter walkover.

3. Craft can't give the ball away, but he also needs to make plays: It's a redundant point, but UCLA needs more out of quarterback Kevin Craft. Yes, he doesn't have much help. Yes, he's led some nice comebacks. Yes, the coaches still believe he and not any other quarterback on the roster gives the Bruins their best chance to win. Yes, a few of his 16 interceptions weren't his fault. Nonetheless, the Bruins slim bowl hopes depend on him not making poor decisions against Arizona State. The Sun Devils solid defense is going to gang up on the run and force the ball into Craft's hands. He will have to make plays for the Bruins to have a chance to win.

4. A competitive fight at Hawaii might suggest a corner turning for Washington State: It's probably too much to ask that the Cougars put their Apple Cup euphoria behind them and focus on Hawaii. But if they do challenge the Warriors -- 30-point favorites -- for four quarters, that would bode well for the future, making it reasonable to assume coach Paul Wulff and his staff's message is getting through.

5. Despite a strategic disadvantage, USC's defense should be OK against the Irish: Despite having a weak schedule, Notre Dame is ranked 91st in the nation in rushing (119 yards per game). That means the Irish and sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen have been forced to throw against just about everyone. That is just not a good thing, even if your coach is an offensive genius who can make mincemeat out of most college defensive coordinators with his magical play calling. Notre Dame can't abandon the run and allow the Trojans to pin their ears back and hit Clausen.

6. Strength-on-strength and nothing Civil about it: Talk about a defense figuring things out. Oregon State surrendered 210 and 239 yards rushing in its first two games against Stanford and Penn State. Since then? No opponent has exceeded 139 yards and six teams have been held under 100, including USC and California. First two games: six rushing touchdowns. Next nine? Six rushing touchdowns. And folks wonder why I am president of the Mark Banker Fan Club. Oh, but here come the Ducks, who rank sixth in the nation with 268 yards rushing per game. They've run on everyone other than USC. And the Ducks ran fairly well in 2007's Civil War. This is the fundamental showdown of this game.

7. Rudy, Rudy, Rudy: Hard to believe, but this is the final home game of Rudy Carpenter's career. The Arizona State quarterback has had some great times during 41 consecutive starts. And not so great. He's one of eight Pac-10 quarterbacks to pass for more than 10,000 career yards and his 80 touchdown passes rank third on the conference's all-time list. He's been feisty and mouthy with opponents and reporters, which has bothered some but amused others, but the tough son of a gun always showed up for work with grit and determination. And his skills and savvy give the Sun Devils a huge advantage against UCLA, and also give them a puncher's chance of winning two in a row and becoming bowl eligible.

8. Can the Beavers run without Jacquizz? Short answer: yes. In the 2007 Civil War, Oregon State didn't have injured running back Yvenson Bernard, the team's heart-and-soul leader. Yet they prevailed 38-31 in double overtime, and a guy named Matt Sieverson rushed for 141 yards on 27 carries, including a 38-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. So likely having to play without freshman phenom running back Jacquizz Rodgers is not a catastrophic blow for OSU. And the running back depth is solid. Recall: Many were touting 240-pound Ryan McCants as a budding star in the preseason. Moreover, the Ducks figure to get a steady dose of scatback/receiver James Rodgers on his fly sweeps. Question is, will it be enough?

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

These links support ManBearPig awareness week. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Stop the run, get the quarterback -- times two: Oregon and Oregon State play different defensive schemes but both are predicated on stopping the run first and then aggressively pressuring the quarterback. That might sound like every team's basic recipe, but the Ducks and Beavers have the numbers to back it up. They rank second (OSU) and third in the Pac-10 in run defense and second (UO) and third in quarterback sacks. The Civil War will feature four of the top seven quarterback sackers in the conference. The difference in the defenses this year is the Ducks have struggled against the pass (254 yards per game, 10th in conference) -- particularly play-action passes -- while the Beavers' defense is all-around suffocating (178 yards, fourth). Moreover, Oregon State, despite using two quarterbacks the latter third of the season, is a far better at passing -- No. 1 in the Pac-10 -- than the Ducks (7th). On the other hand, only USC has been able to stop the Ducks' run game. What do all of these numbers seem to indicate? That if it comes down the quarterbacks, Oregon State has an advantage, even though we don't know yet who will be the starter between Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield.

A reappearance of Sanchez 07 vs. Notre Dame would work nicely: Last year, USC whipped Notre Dame 38-0, the Trojans' first shutout in South Bend and their most decisive victory in the 79-game series. Mark Sanchez, making just his second career start for the injured John David Booty, threw for 235 yards and four touchdown passes. The Trojans' offense has played it fairly close to the vest of late, with Sanchez throwing for 238 or fewer yards in each of the last four games, and twice throwing for less than 170 yards. That makes sense when the nation's best defense has your back. Maintaining that plan this week also makes sense, considering Notre Dame is far better vs. the pass -- the Irish rank 14th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and have yielded only 10 touchdown passes -- than the run. And the Trojans did rush for 227 yards in 2007. Still, with an extra week to prepare, it wouldn't be surprising if the Trojans opened things up for Sanchez in the interest of posting an impressive all-around performance, not that Pete Carroll would ever -- EVER! -- think about BCS positioning.

Kevin Craft vs. Kevin Craft (and a peeved Rick Neuheisel): UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft "leads" the Pac-10 with 16 interceptions, much to the consternation of his animated coach. He even threw three vs. Washington, which had collected just three interceptions in its previous nine games. Craft's tendency to lock on to his intended receiver and still throw into a naturally reacting coverage will be of interest to Arizona State, particularly linebacker Mike Nixon and safety Troy Nolan, who have combined for seven interceptions. The Bruins and Sun Devils own identical records, and the winner of their matchup Friday keeps their bowl hopes alive. The biggest difference between the teams is at quarterback. While Rudy Carpenter hasn't dominated this season, his 15 TD passes vs. seven picks is far better than Craft's 7 and 16, which largely accounts for the Bruins' stark minus-eight turnover margin -- vs. plus-two for ASU.

Is the Cougs' visit to Hawaii a vacation or a business trip? Escaping Eastern Washington this time of the year for a trip to Hawaii sounds like a great plan (though, honestly, it was beautiful -- crisp and mostly sunny -- last week in Pullman). Of course, there is this little matter of a football game. It is not inconceivable that if the Cougars put together an inspired effort they could win -- even as a 29 1/2-point underdog. Hawaii (6-5) did lose to 2-9 Utah State, 30-14, on Nov. 1. And this is certainly not the offensive juggernaut of the June Jones Era -- see 25 points and 344 yards per game. Still, despite the win over Washington, the Cougars are severely undermanned on both sides of the ball. Moreover, it's hard to imagine them being able to wipe away the euphoria of their double-overtime win and focus on a new game plan. But if they do, it could signal some substantial traction for first-year coach Paul Wulff as he heads into the offseason trying to sell recruits on his rebuilding project.

Special teams come to the fore in special games: Let's just say that Oregon and Oregon State both get their licks in, with the usual suspects making plays on both sides of the ball. What, then, might tip the scales? Special teams, right? In last year's game -- a 38-31 Beavers win in double overtime -- both teams missed field goals to win in regulation, and OSU kicker Alexis Serna missed two other field goals. Last week at Arizona, Beavers kicker Justin Kahut was first the goat -- missing a potential game-tying, fourth-quarter PAT -- and then the hero when he booted the game-winning field goal as time expired. Kahut actually has an edge on Ducks veteran Matt Evensen, who's only hit on 11 of 18 field goals this year. Moreover, Oregon's Jairus Byrd and Oregon State's Sammie Stroughter are two of the Pac-10's more dangerous punt returners, and the Beavers' James Rodgers is the only player in the conference to return a kickoff for a touchdown this season. Oregon has a 4-yard advantage in net punting, with Josh Syria far more consistent that Johnny Hekker. In hard-fought rivalry games, it's often miscues and play-making on special teams that swing the final margin.

Posted by ESPN.com'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 ESPN.com's Ted Miller

A lesser known Simon & Garfunkel ditty:

Where have you gone, Pac-10 quarterbacks,
The West Coast turns its lonely eyes to you.
What's that you say, College GameDay.
The QBs have left and gone away,
Hey hey hey.

Every season since 2002, at least four Pac-10 quarterbacks averaged more than 240 yards passing per game.

This year? Zero.

Every season since 2002, at least two Pac-10 quarterbacks passed for more than 3,000 yards

Heck, in 2002, nine Pac-10 quarterbacks passed for more than 2,750 yards.

This year? Only USC's Mark Sanchez is on pace to eclipse that total.

In only one other season since 2002 has the Pac-10 not produced a quarterback ranked in the top-10 in the nation in passing yards -- 2006 -- and that season four Pac-10 quarterbacks ranked among the top 30.

This year? Just two in the top 30, with Sanchez at No. 23 and Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter at 29.

What in the name of Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Derek Anderson is going on with the Conference of Quarterbacks?

The best QBs apparently migrated to fly-over states of the Big 12.

Quick: Name the starting quarterback for every Pac-10 team.

Of course, you can't do that because, even if you are tuned in enough to know who Ronnie Fouch and Kevin Lopina are, there's uncertainty who will start for a couple of teams Saturday.

Here's the starting list in 2004: Matt Leinart, Aaron Rodgers, Kellen Clemens, Derek Anderson, Trent Edwards, Andrew Walter, Drew Olson and Alex Brink.

All of them are presently on NFL rosters, other than Olson, who was waived by the San Francisco 49ers in July.

Only four conference teams this year have started in every game the guy who led the first-team offense during spring practices, and one of them, Stanford's Tavita Pritchard, has been clawing to hold onto his perch every day since.

The mediocrity (and worse) is so prevalent at the position that USC coach Pete Carroll admitted last week that his outstanding defense might look other-worldly at times because of the lack of talent and experience running the offenses opposing the Trojans.

"There's no question that it's helped us play better defense," Carroll said. "Our numbers and the things we put up here at this point is a benefit of teams that have been banged up. And, of course, good play. I don't want to take anything away from it. It's still seizing the opportunity. But sometimes when players aren't there for you, the big-time guys, it makes an enormous difference."

Yes it has, see the national perception of a down Pac-10.

Here's grounds for measured optimism.

Only two (full-time) starting quarterbacks are seniors: Arizona's Willie Tuitama and Arizona State's Rudy Carpenter. California's Nate Longshore is also a senior, but he's closer to sophomore Kevin Riley's backup than the reverse.

Conventional wisdom is that experience is critical for quarterbacks and even more so in the Pac-10 where offenses are far more complicated than in the cavemen conferences.

So that means eight teams should be stronger at the position in 2009.

Otherwise, Pac-10 fans will sing another obscure Simon & Garfunkel song:

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a QB terribly passing,
Threw more picks and left me weeping,
And the losing that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of booing.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Revelations from the past weekend's action:

1. USC's offensive inconsistency is consistent: For the second time in three weeks, USC scored just 17 points in a victory. In the 17-3 win over Cal, unlike the 17-10 win over Arizona, the Trojans moved the ball fairly consistently. They just couldn't make plays once they got inside Cal territory, which happened nine times. It wasn't turnovers; the Trojans had just one. Cal's defense, just like Arizona's, deserves some credit, but 17 points was well below the 21 the Bears have been giving up this season. Afterwards, coach Pete Carroll said the game plan was conservative because of how many takeaways the Cal defense has forced this year, and he praised quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sure, a win is a win, but it's clear that the Trojans offense is the character actor while the defense is laden with leading men.

2. California's quarterback situation is no less murky today: Coach Jeff Tedford started Nate Longshore but benched him at halftime for Kevin Riley. Then he stuck with Riley while he played much worse than Longshore had. Longshore completed 11 of 15 for 79 yards with no interceptions in the first half, though a pair of apparent picks were killed by penalties. He was sacked once. Riley, who was sacked three time despite his superior mobility, completed 4 of 16 passes for 59 yards with an interception. His only impressive play, a 31-yard completion, was mostly about a circus catch by Verran Tucker. Nine games into the season and heading into a critical matchup with Oregon State, the answer to who should be the starting quarterback isn't clear. Here's a guess that, fully recovered from his concussion, Riley still will get the call at Oregon State on Saturday.

3. It's time to put Oregon's quarterback debate to bed; Jeremiah Masoli is the man: Masoli didn't post huge numbers in the comeback win over Stanford, and the sophomore is still developing as a passer. And a pair of fumbles won't charm fans or coaches. But his clutch play suggests he's got the mental side whipped, which might be the most important quality a quarterback can possess. He only completed 11 of 21 passes for 144 yards, but he led the Ducks 74 yards in 11 plays for the winning touchdown, completing 3 of 6 passes for 39 yards and running for 30 more, including a 25-yard scramble on third-and-8 to the Stanford 8-yard line. It appears that this question already has been answered in coach Mike Bellotti's mind -- Justin Roper didn't play in the 35-28 win.

4. Oregon State appears ready to face the meat of its schedule with the Rose Bowl on the line: The Beavers have won four in a row since a 2-3 start. The four wins have come vs. teams with a combined 7-30 record. The three teams that remain between them and the Rose Bowl all have winning records and are a combined 19-9. Yet the Beavers' second-half surge against UCLA -- they outscored the Bruins 31-3 after the break -- suggests this team is (again) peaking late in the season. What's more, while other teams are still struggling at quarterback, Sean Canfield's performance shows Oregon State has two quarterbacks it can win with. Stepping in for starter Lyle Moevao, Canfield completed 16 of 22 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Of course, Canfield got a lot of help from the Rodgers brothers: freshman Jacquizz (31 carries for 144 yards) and sophomore James (6 receptions, 115 yards).

5. The state of Washington still has a small spark of fight left: In their showdowns with the state of Arizona, Washington and Washington State both turned in semi-respectable performances and perhaps -- for the moment -- dispelled feelings that both teams had quit on their respective miserable seasons. Washington was actually leading 19-16 in the third quarter over Arizona State before Rudy Carpenter rallied the Sun Devils for a 39-19 win, the Huskies school-record 11th defeat in a row. Meanwhile, Washington State scored a season-high 28 points -- against FBS competition -- and didn't surrender more than 60 points for a fifth time this season in a 59-28 loss to Arizona. Sure, the Wildcats had 531 total yards, including 317 on the ground, against the woeful Cougars defense, but it's something, right?

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