NCF Nation: Victor Butler

ESPN.com has been doing a series on great college players who didn't pan out in the NFL -- "Simply Saturday," -- which has featured a number of Pac-10 players, including Washington's Steve Emtman and USC's Matt Leinart.

Interesting stuff.

But ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman, who is always working the angles, decided to take a look at NFL stars with so-so college careers, and his list also includes some Pac-12 guys: USC linebacker Clay Matthews, Oregon State wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and California cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

He ranks Matthews No. 2. Notes Feldman:
No NFL player has better bloodlines than Matthews, but when he was coming up as a recruit he was a wiry, undersized, off-the-radar prospect who reportedly only weighed 166 pounds as a backup LB-TE for Agoura (Calif.) High. Matthews stared to sprout in his senior year, yet still only had one scholarship offer -- from former USC assistant Nick Holt at Idaho.

Sure, Matthews blossomed as a junior and senior. But he never really was seen as the brightest star in the constellation that was the Trojans' 2008 defense.
Still, Oregon's Nick Reed and Oregon State's Victor Butler were the first-team All-Pac-10 defensive ends. Matthews proceeded to wow scouts with his explosiveness and determination. Green Bay drafted the one-time walk-on 26th overall, and he has rewarded them with two spectacular seasons, going to back-to-back Pro Bowls and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors, while helping lead Green Bay to a Super Bowl victory.

Ochocinco rates No. 4.
The Miami native didn't spend much time in the Pac-10 -- just one season at Oregon State. The receiver, then known as Chad Johnson, did flash some big-play potential during his time in Corvallis, catching 33 passes for 713 yards. He also flashed a lot of personality on his way to the draft, as you can tell if you read this old Q&A he did with Mel Kiper Jr., who at one point asks: "When all is said and done, how do you want people to remember Chad Johnson?"

Johnson's response: "As a very humble, nice person who had no off-the-field problems."

I'm not sure how many will recall the Cincinnati Bengals star as "humble," but he certainly has produced, notching seven 1,000-yard receiving seasons and going to six Pro Bowls. In truth, he'd be even higher on this list, but at 33, he has dipped some in the last three years.

Asomugha is No. 5.
Oakland certainly didn't whiff on this pick. Asomugha has emerged as a true shutdown corner, earning trips to the past three Pro Bowls. He's also as good as they come off the field, winning NFL Man of the Year honors, too.

He had a good but not great career for the Bears, getting chosen as an honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick as a senior. Some great individual workouts took a guy who some touted as a fifth-rounder all the way up into the first round when the Raiders selected him 31st overall.

On a personal note, I covered Asomugha's coming-out game: a 34-27 Cal win at Washington in 2002, which ended a 19-game Huskies winning streak in the series. In that game, Cal matched Asomugha, previously a safety, on All-American receiver Reggie Williams. Asomugha's physical style -- read here to see what Williams thought of it -- threw the Huskies' passing game out of sync.

Bet more than a few Cal fans remember that game fondly.
There are two reasons to check in with Oregon State strength and conditioning coach Bryan Miller.

First, there's the Beavers freakishly strong defensive tackle Stephen Paea. He might be the strongest football player in the United States -- NFL included. How the heck did that happen? Then there's the Beavers' outstanding reputation for developing players (see seven players drafted by NFL teams in 2009).

Miller has been the head of the Sports Performance Center staff since July of 2008 and he arrived at Oregon State in 2006. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), a Specialist in Sports Conditioning and a Level I Club Coach (U.S. Weightlifting).

Here's what he had to say.

So were you always a guy who focused on strength and conditioning as an athlete growing up?

Bryan Miller: Absolutely. I'm the son of a high school coach in Chicago. So being properly prepared throughout the year was taken very seriously in the Miller household.

How did you get into this as a profession?

BM: My undergrad degree was actually in marketing. But the further I got into my senior year of college, the less I wanted to wear a coat and tie and sit at a cubicle. So, like a lot of people in my family who are coaches -- football and baseball coaches -- that's definitely the pedigree of my family. It was just something that came naturally.

I realize this is a big question, but how would you summarize your philosophy?

BM: I would say it is a very methodical series of progressions for the total growth and development of the athlete, from when they are freshmen to when they are seniors.

It seems like coach Mike Riley is very good at finding guys in recruiting who aren't top prospects and turning them into NFL players -- 6-foot-5 offensive linemen who only weight 220 pounds as high school seniors. As his strength and conditioning guy, is that something you specialize in?

BM: I would say the room we need to make up for in development is a lot more than some of the other schools that are bringing in those five-star recruits. They are getting linemen in the door who are 6-5, 300 pounds who are already pretty strong and very athletic. The guys we're bringing in are 6-5 but, like you said, as low as 220. So the room we have to make up to put them on the field is a lot.

How do you motivate guys who aren't big fans of conditioning? Are you a carrot or stick kind of guy?

BM: Definitely a carrot. I think one of the philosophies we have here that is different from other schools is we work on our conditioning all year round -- January to January. So at any point during the year we're in very good shape. With the exception of incoming freshman, with everybody else on the team, when we start our first day of summer conditioning, it's never really that hard because we are already in pretty decent shape going in. The other thing is, with the size of players we bring in, our starting offensive linemen are under 295. Same thing with our defensive linemen. We don't have many guys over 300 pounds. From that standpoint, conditioning comes pretty easily to our guys.

Say you're a 15-year-old who wants to play college football: What are the most important things for him to be doing, strength and conditioning-wise, to get a scholarship?

BM: The first thing is proper, usable strength. I say proper and usable because we get some freshmen who think because they can bench-press 300 pounds they're strong enough to play their position. But most freshmen we bring in the door can't do 10 push-ups the right way. So all the freshmen who come in the door here, they don't do any bench press for the first five months. All they do are different types of push-ups.

Speaking of bench press: We've seen the video of Stephen Paea: Is he just a freak of nature or is that about a lot of that hard work?

BM: It's a combination of both. First is, genetically, he's got strength out the butt. He probably had no idea how strong he really was. It was just something that came naturally to him. Then once we got him into a very organized training program, his strength dramatically took off. Again, it came very easy to him, so it was something that he embraced. Having done that, he sets a very good example for all the younger players.

How many times do you think he'll bench 225 at the NFL combine?

BM: I'm going to shoot for the moon and say 50 [which would be a new record].

Who is another one of your hardest workers?

BM: [Defensive end] Gabe Miller, he's a stud. He's actually one of our faster guys and he's 255.

Do you have an all-time workout warrior?

BM: I feel like I'd be leaving people out if I only mention a couple of people. Hmm. Al Afalava he's definitely at the top. And Joey LaRocque and Victor Butler.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Here's a list of players: defensive end Dexter Davis and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy -- both from Arizona State -- Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed, California defensive end Cameron Jordan, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea and Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.

That is a stout crew. Each is a likely NFL draft pick -- a few on the first day -- when their time comes to go pro.

 
 Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
 Dexter Davis has 27.5 career sacks, but none so far this season.
Yet those six defensive linemen, each a contender for all-conference honors, have combined for just two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.

Meanwhile, USC freshman Nick Perry, who's not even a starter and mostly missed the California game due a bruised knee, has six sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Arizona's "other" defensive end, Ricky Elmore, has 4.5 sacks. Stanford end Thomas Keiser has 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

In other words, the big names aren't hanging up big numbers while more obscure guys are.

What gives?

Apparently lots of double-teams. And toss in a few injuries.

One thing is clear, however: No coach was ready to rip his putative defensive star.

"Brooks is playing phenomenal," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. "Sometimes statistics don't tell the whole story, and in Brooks' case that's certainly evident. You just turn the film on. He's a very productive player."

It also hurts that Reed has been hurting. He sprained his ankle against Iowa, missed the Oregon State game and is questionable for Saturday at Washington.

Stoops also said Elmore, a junior like Reed, isn't simply benefiting from offenses focusing on Reed.

"I think Ricky's gotten better as a player," Stoops said.

Davis is a four-year starter with 27.5 career sacks but he has zero sacks thus far in 2009, with only one tackle for loss.

"He's not playing bad. He's getting doubled a lot, which we expect," Sun Devils coach coach Dennis Erickson said, before adding. "We're not getting to the quarterback with those other guys. It's not so much Dexter as the other three guys -- or five guys or six guys who play -- when they double him and they are one-on-one."

One of those "guys" is Guy, who had 10 tackles for loss last year. He's only made five tackles this season with 0.5 TFL and zero sacks. He's also been battling a biceps injury that knocked him out of the season -opener.

Still, it's noteworthy that Arizona State, which is tied for last in the conference with three sacks, ranks third in the nation in total defense. If they maintain an elite overall ranking, then there's not much to gripe about, even if Davis and Guy fail to hang up big numbers.

The situation is not the same at Oregon State, which is tied with the Sun Devils with just three sacks. While the Beavers' defense took a step forward at Arizona State last weekend, it's still not the high-pressure unit of years past.

Coach Mike Riley doesn't blame Paea for that, though.

"I think he's doing a great job," Riley said. "He's getting a lot of attention. He is a disruptive force in the middle."

Paea had five sacks and 11 TFL last year, but he's got two new defensive ends flanking him who aren't stressing the opposing offensive line as much as Slade Norris and Victor Butler did a year ago.

As for Jordan (one sack), the junior been overshadowed by the Bears' other end, senior Tyson Alualu, who's recorded 26 tackles -- tops among conference D-linemen -- with 4.5 sacks. At Washington, Te'o-Nesheim (one sack) is much like Davis and Reed -- he's getting lots of attention from opposing offenses.

Of course, Te'o-Nesheim commanded lots of attention last year. He got off to a slow start but still ended up with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. In fact, he got his first three sacks of 2008 in Game 5 against Arizona.

Guess who's coming to Husky Stadium on Saturday?

In other words, there's plenty of time for the "name" guys to still live up to their, er, names.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Not to start a recruiting riot or anything, but Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, whose combination of power and athleticism is going to earn him a job on Sundays in the not-too-distant future, says where he comes from he's just average.

Of course, Samoan and Tongan success in football is nothing new, though Paea's 50-50 blend -- Tongan mom, Samoan dad -- seems to have worked particularly well.

"I thought I was just an average Tongan guy," said the 6-1, 293-pound junior. "Then I came here, and I was pretty much stronger and bigger than the guys on the [high school] team. There are guys who are stronger than me down there."

When he came here -- as in Provo, Utah -- three years ago, he didn't speak any English and had never played a down of football before.

The transition was tough. No more ocean. No more year-round sunny, warm weather. Everything was unfamiliar. And the earnest student, who actually was ahead of many of his U.S. peers in subjects like math, struggled in class.

"It was hard to explain when I knew something," he said. "Sometimes I'd draw it instead of explaining it."

As you might imagine, football was the easy part.

"One of the coaches saw my size and said, 'Why don't you try out for the football team?'" Paea said.

Paea, then slightly over 300 pounds, didn't clarify whether the coach said that from his knees with a box of chocolates and bouquet of roses in hand.

He played only his senior season, but that was enough for him to become a prospect. After playing at Snow (Utah) Community College, he signed with Oregon State and was almost immediately penciled into the starting lineup last year.

He certainly passed the sight test. After only a handful of practices in full pads, he created a fairly substantial buzz.

"He didn't look like a JC guy coming in to play D-1 ball, he looked like an NFL guy coming back to play in college,'' former Oregon State defensive end Victor Butler told The Oregonian in the fall. "I told the coaches not only should this guy start, but put him on my side of the ball so he can draw some double-teams and free me up.''

Former Beavers guard Andy Levitre spent time during his interviews at the NFL combine telling scouts about Paea.

After recording five sacks and a 11 tackles for a loss in just his third season of football -- he also battled a sprained knee late in the season -- Paea might be the Pac-10's breakout defensive player next fall.

He's the Beavers strongest player -- and maybe one of the strongest in the nation -- with a bench press of over 500 pounds. He's also built like a linebacker, with no excess fat.

Dude is just one big muscle. And he can move.

Part of his athleticism comes from his first love: rugby. Paea was born in New Zealand and growing up dreamed of doing the Haka with the All-Blacks.

When asked now whether he'd like to play for the, say, San Diego Chargers or the All-Blacks, Paea chooses the NFL.

He seems as aware as anybody that his future in the sport looks bright.

"I was no body," he said. "Now I'm making a name for myself for me and my family. It would be a dream come true [to play in the NFL]. It would be perfect for my family because I come from a poor family."

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

I will let you go, Ricky. But first, I want you to say...'I... love... links.'

  • Notes from Arizona's pro day, including former quarterback Willie Tuitama trying to get on the NFL radar, despite a recent DUI arrest. 
  • Quarterback Kevin Riley looked sharp in California's second day of spring practice. And this is an incredibly thorough look at day one -- with tons of depth chart notes! -- from Jonathan Okanes.
  • As strange as it sounds, this is a big day for Oregon's 2009 recruiting class: a letter of intent is expected from junior college receiver Tyrece Gaines and running back Bryce Brown makes his decision.
  • Oregon State's Victor Butler prepares to move from defensive end to outside linebacker in the NFL. Meanwhile, the current Beavers are working toward 2009.
  • Bit of bad news for UCLA from over the weekend: Safety E.J. Woods was charged with six misdemeanor counts of battery and sexual battery.
  • Nick Daschel looks at recent first-time head coaches in the Pac-10, who succeeded and who didn't.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Helmet stickers for those who stood out during the bowl season.

Willie Tuitama: He ended an up-and-down career with perhaps the best performance of his four years as the Wildcats' starter, completing 24 of 35 passes for 325 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in the 31-21 Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU. helmet sticker

Mike Stoops: Stoops has taken plenty of shots from critics, and many of those shots haven't been unfair. But he's grown as a coach because Arizona AD Jim Livengood had patience instead of a quick firing trigger. Stoops' Wildcats were well prepared for their bowl game, the school's first bowl victory since 1998, and things appear to be trending up for a program long mired in the bottom half of the Pac-10.

Jahvid Best: All Best did was turn in one of the bowl season's most dynamic performances, rushing for 186 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns in California's 24-17 Emerald Bowl win over Miami. Best, who won the Pac-10 rushing title, laid substantial groundwork for a 2009 Heisman Trophy campaign.

Zack Follett: Follett posted two sacks for Cal in the Emerald Bowl, the second one from the linebacker forcing a fumble from Hurricanes quarterback Jacory Harris and setting up the Bears' winning score with 2:41 left.

Jeremiah Masoli: How physical is the Pac-10? Well, did you see Masoli run over two Oklahoma State defenders in the Ducks' manhandling of the Cowboys in the Holiday Bowl? The Ducks quarterback rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 258 yards and a touchdown.

Mike Bellotti: His Ducks trailed the Holiday Bowl 17-7 at halftime, but whatever Bellotti said at the break was golden. Oregon outscored the Cowboys 35-14 in the second half, and if the game went on for five quarters the Ducks would have scored 100 points. If that turns out to be his last game at the Oregon helm, it was a heck of a way to go out.

Victor Butler: Butler was unstoppable against Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, recording five tackles for a loss and four sacks -- and four other quarterback hurries -- in the Beavers' 3-0 victory. He finished with 11 total tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Mike Riley: Sure, 3-0 wasn't pretty, but it was about as dominant as a 3-0 victory can be and the Beavers did it without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who accounted for more than 50 percent of their offense this season. And you can't argue with Riley's scintillating 5-0 bowl record.

Mark Sanchez: Sanchez clearly saved his best for last, slicing apart overmatched Penn State in the Rose Bowl with four touchdowns and 413 yards passing. Oh, and he ran 6 yards for a TD, too. He completed 28 of 35 and could have done a lot more damage if not for a decisive 31-7 lead at halftime.

Damian Williams: If Sanchez returns in 2009, there's no question who his go-to receiver will be. Even if Sanchez doesn't come back, Williams showed himself to be first among the Trojans' talented crew of receivers with 10 receptions for 162 yards and a touchdown in the Rose Bowl.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
  AP Photo/LM Otero
  Oregon State's Slade Norris celebrates with his teammates after the Beavers defeated Pittsburgh, 3-0, in the Sun Bowl.

Anybody want to help me out with a scoring summary for Oregon State's win over Pittsburgh in the Brut Sun Bowl?

The best offense in this one, a 3-zip Beavers victory, was the 10 sacks split between the teams.

Make no mistake, though: No. 24 Oregon State (9-4) was way better -- WAY -- better than 18th-ranked Pittsburgh (9-4).

The Beavers, playing without Jacquizz and James Rodgers, who supplied more than 50 percent of their offense this year, outgained the Panthers 271 yards to 178 and got zero points on a pair of first-and-goal situations.

Pittsburgh's deepest penetration was the Beavers 36-yard line.

While the Beavers offense struggled to find a consistent rhythm, coordinator Mark Banker's defense, led by ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler, redeemed itself for the Civil War debacle.

The same unit that gave up 65 points and 694 yards to Oregon, surrendered just 10 first downs to the Panthers. It held touted Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy to 84 yards on 23 carries.

Mike Riley improved to 5-0 in bowl games as the Beavers coach.

The Pac-10 also improved to 4-0 this bowl season with three victories over ranked teams and victories over three different BCS conferences.

The rest of the college football nation is free to draw its own conclusions.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Getting deep into this week's games.

Pressuring the quarterback won't be as easy for Oregon State against Arizona: Oregon State's defensive scheme is all about pressure, and it gave California a heavy dose last weekend, sacking Kevin Riley five times and rattling him many others. The Beavers average 2.8 sacks per game, with ends Slade Norris and Victor Butler combining for 13. But Cal was starting a freshman and sophomore JC transfer at the tackles. Arizona this week will offer junior Eben Britton, a potential NFL first-round draft pick, and senior James Tretheway, who plays beside Joe Longacre, a 37-game starter. The Wildcats haven't been spectacular protecting quarterback Willie Tuitama this year, see 23 sacks yielded. But this is one of the Pac-10's more experienced units, and they won't be cowed by the nation's No. 15 defense.

Stop the run, retake the Axe: Stanford relies almost entirely on its running game. USC knew that last weekend, but burly Toby Gerhart & Co. still rushed for 200 yards against the nation's best defense. The Cardinal can run on just about anybody, so they will try to run against California's 3-4 defense, which ranks fourth in the Pac-10. The Bears hardly dominated the action on the line of scrimmage last week against Oregon State as freshman Jacquizz Rodgers piled up 144 yards on 27 carries. On the other side of the ball, Cal got 116 yards rushing from Jahvid Best against the Beavers, but 65 of those came on one spectacular run. On the plus side for the Bears, though, is the potential absence of Cardinal linebacker Pat Maynor, who missed the USC game with a bruised knee. Still, the ledger leans toward Stanford as the team most likely to run consistently.

Brandon Gibson, you're the best player on the field: Combing the depth charts of Washington and Washington State, it's difficult to see where the pressure points are. Both teams have been so weak across the board in all areas that it's hard to find a strength-on-weakness matchup. It's all weakness on weakness. Both teams are bad on offense (national rankings of 117 (UW) vs. 118) and defense (110 (UW) vs. 112). But at the beginning of the season, Cougars receiver Brandon Gibson was an All-American candidate after finishing seventh in the nation with 107 yards receiving per game in 2007. In last year's Apple Cup, he caught the game-tying and game-winning touchdown passes among his six receptions for 137 yards. The Huskies rank 117th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. While Gibson's senior season -- he considered (and probably regrets not) entering the NFL draft last spring -- has been a massive disappointment, no one in the UW secondary can keep up with him. But can the Cougars get the ball to the best player on the field?

  

Which quarterback has a Big Game? Or just not a Bad Game? Neither Cal nor Stanford wants to find itself needing to throw to win the Big Game. In his past two games, Bears quarterback Kevin Riley has completed 15 of 41 passes with two interceptions and a touchdown. Riley has seemed to regress as the year's gone on, even as coach Jeff Tedford finally made him the permanent starter. While Stanford's Tavita Pritchard has improved in fits and starts, he completed only 9 of 22 for 111 yards with an interception against USC last weekend. Riley ranks sixth and Pritchard ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Both offensive coordinators want to run the ball and allow their quarterbacks to be game managers and perhaps supply a nice scramble or two. But in games like this, it often seems like a quarterback leaves his fingerprints on the final result, either in a good way or a bad way.

Rodgers can seal up Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year against Arizona: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers can put an exclamation point on the greatest true freshman season in Pac-10 history over the next two weeks. He is on the cusp of becoming the first frosh to win conference Offensive Player of the Year. He leads the conference and ranks ninth in the nation with 123 yards per game. The next highest true freshman? Houston's Bryce Beall at No. 42. He's a Doak Walker Award semifinalist and an All-American candidate. But can he carry the Beavers to the Rose Bowl? Arizona has a decent but hardly dominant run defense (sixth in the Pac-10). The Beavers probably want to limit the plays the potent Arizona offense gets in its home stadium. Which means Rodgers going for 100-plus for an eighth time this year would leave a rose-fragranced afterburn.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
 AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
 James Rodgers caught six passes for 50 yards and ran 18 yards for a touchdown in Oregon State's 34-21 victory over California.

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Oregon State is two wins away from "The Event That Shall Not Be Spoken Of."

So, coach Mike Riley, what about that thing? You know. That THING!

"What thing?" Riley said not even trying to keep a straight face.

Please, just ignore that massive bouquet of red flowers sitting in the corner. The one Oregon State hasn't held since 1965.

Oregon State's impressive 34-21 victory over California made its Rose Bowl dreams suddenly seem far more attainable.

Since the Beavers beat USC, they had won four consecutive Pac-10 games over the conference's bottom feeders. Cal, at 6-3, was supposed to be a major test.

If so, the Beavers got an "A" on both sides of the ball.

And it's getting harder to completely ignore that big, red, beautiful flower.

"The thing about having that in the back of our minds is we get hungry for it," quarterback Lyle Moevao said. "We want it so bad and we know what we have to do to get there."

What they have to do to get there is win at Arizona next weekend and then beat Oregon in Reser Stadium on Nov. 29.

Do that and they are going to Pasadena for the Granddaddy. 

Coach Mike Riley said he's not too worried about his players looking ahead and getting distracted.

"I think these guys believe these games are fun," he said. "So why start thinking down the road?"

Typically, this is when teams start talking about respect or their perception of the lack thereof. Funny thing is, the Beavers don't seem to care much what other folks think about them.

Receiver James Rodgers was asked if he thought the Beavers would win over doubters with their performance Saturday.

"It's all in the team," he said. "If they want to ride with us, they're going to ride with us. If not, then we know what we can do."

Defensive end Victor Butler was asked if he thought the Beavers bandwagon might start to fill up.

"It probably will but we've got 106 guys on the team and that's all we need," he said.

Clearly, Riley has these guys well-trained to keep their focus on the moment -- the next practice and the next opponent.

Yet, Riley admits that he's not immune to human nature, and that when he's alone with his thoughts, he does sometime see involuntary flickers of that THING, "The Event That Shall Not Be Spoken Of."

"Yes, I do," he said. "And it scares me."

Funny, he didn't look scared when he said that. He looked confident.

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