What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
10:15
AM ET
Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Cal's defense will be tested at Nevada: California presently ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, giving up a scant 160 yards per game. So kudos to new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. But Nevada ranks No. 1 in total offense, rolling up a monstrous 592 yards per game. So who wins: The irresistible force or the immovable object?

2. Arizona's O-line vs. Iowa's D-line: The Wildcats have a good offensive line, probably among the top three or four units in the Pac-10. But Iowa probably has the best defensive line in the country, led by end Adrian Clayborn. All four starters are back from 2009's stingy unit that combined for 27 sacks and allowed just 3.5 yards per rush. The first question is can the Wildcats line do enough to create any sort of run threat or occasional creases for Nic Grigsby? The second is, failing that, will the line give QB Nick Foles enough time to throw the ball?

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansen
AP Photo/Ben MargotCal has the nation's No. 1 defense through two games, allowing just 160 yards per game.
3. Locker on the big stage: There is a bizarre crew that haunts the Pac-10 blog and constantly calls Washington QB Jake Locker "overrated," meaning they disagree with Mike Bellotti, Pete Carroll, every Pac-10 coach, every NFL scout, LSU's players (who called Locker the best player they saw in 2009) and just about everyone who makes a living around football. Of course, they have the right to call the world flat. But guess what? If Locker doesn't turn in an impressive performance vs. Nebraska, his Heisman Trophy candidacy will end before it gets started. So this is his big moment to either lead an upset or take a step back in national stature.

4. Vontaze Burfict vs. John Clay: Arizona State's 245-pound linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented and aggressive LBs in the country. Wisconsin's 248-pound running back John Clay is one of the best power runners in the country. When these two meet, the violence of the impact should be dynamic. But who knocks the other backwards? Burfict and the ASU defense is looking to make a national statement. To do so, it needs to contain Clay.

5. Can USC put it together? USC's offense looked great in the opener at Hawaii. The defense looked terrible. The offense looked terrible vs. Virginia. The defense looked pretty good. The cumulative affect is we really don't know who these Trojans are. Will they put it all together at Minnesota's expense? Or will it be another piddling effort?

6. Luck through the air: Stanford QB Andrew Luck looked great running, but, despite two TD passes, didn't throw terribly well at UCLA. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards. Wake Forest's secondary didn't look great while giving up 358 passing yards and four touchdowns to Duke in a wild 54-48 victory. You'd think Luck would feast on that at home and revert back to his accurate, playmaking self.

7. How will UCLA's offense bounce back? Stanford shut out the Bruins and held them to 233 total yards last weekend. That had many screaming for QB Kevin Prince's head. But Prince's biggest problem is he's barely seen practice time due to a back injury and then a shoulder injury. He's practiced all this week. Moreover, Houston's defense isn't anything like its offense. The Cougars are surrendering 26 points and 393 yards per game. Expect the Bruins to be much better on offense Saturday.

8. Jacquizz should break out vs. Louisville: Dating back to last season, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing in three games. That's a mini-slump for him. Louisville gave up 230 yards rushing to a mediocre Kentucky team in week one. So expect for Rodgers to get his 100 yards. And also expect him to get some touches in the passing game, which he didn't vs. TCU.

9. Cougs stepping forward? Does the comeback win vs. Montana State turn a page for Washington State? Sure, it was just an FCS opponent, but showing some backbone feels meaningful. SMU has a high-powered, balanced offense and is one of the favorites in Conference USA. Moreover, the Mustangs will be plenty motivated after losing at Washington State last year. But if the Cougars pull the upset, the entire tenor of their season could change.

10. How did the Pac-10 measure up? It wasn't the most creative name or anything, but "Measuring Stick Saturday" is real. The Pac-10's place in the pecking order among BCS conferences largely will be based -- at least during the regular season -- on what happens Saturday. A winning weekend will earn it consideration with the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. A losing one? It falls to the bottom half of the six. Considering the Pac-10 is an underdog in five of the nine games, the conference needs for all its favorites to prevail and at least one underdog to come through with an upset.

Ted Miller | email

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