What to watch in the Pac-10
September, 3, 2009
By ESPN.com staff | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The games are finally here, and the first one is a doozy, with Oregon squaring off with Boise State on the Smurf Turf. The other big ones include a conference game -- Stanford at Washington State -- LSU paying a visit to Washington (giving new coach Steve Sarkisian a serious challenge for his debut), and California looking for redemption at home after laying an egg last year at Maryland.
- Kelly green or blue: Chip Kelly makes his debut as Oregon's head coach at Boise State in a matchup of ranked teams on ESPN. If the Ducks look well-prepared and poised and -- most important -- win, the majority of questions about whether Kelly was ready to take over for Mike Bellotti will go away. If they are sloppy and lose, well, Kelly will experience his first heat since making a huge splash as the offensive coordinator in 2007.
- Can Sarkisian's Huskies compete? Some folks have been, curiously, touting Washington's capability to upset visiting LSU. Hmm. While there's a strong sense that the Huskies, particularly with the return of a healthy Jake Locker at quarterback, are significantly better than their 0-12 record from 2008 would indicate, being significantly better than winless means only a couple of wins, not an upset of an SEC superpower. The big picture matters here, even more than how Locker looks as a pro-style quarterback: Will the Huskies fight and claw for four quarters and keep this one respectable?
- Best for first: Perhaps California running back Jahvid Best's worst memory from 2008 was his performance at Maryland. Not only did he have only 25 yards on 10 carries, he also got smashed on a pass play and threw up while the TV cameras were on him. Well, the Terrapins are coming to Memorial Stadium with a rebuilding defense, and Best is supposed to be the West Coast's leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Good time for him to break out a few highlight-reel runs so his post-game film and YouTube clips are better this time.
- Can Wulff's Cougars compete? Much like its hated cross-state rivals, Washington State is trying to return to the realm of respectability after a dismal 2-11 finish last season, which included a 58-0 pasting at Stanford. While the Cougars will tell you they are going for the upset, the real mission here is to keep the score respectable and fight for four quarters. If the Cardinal again run over the Cougars -- this time in front of a Martin Stadium crowd -- the heat might turn up on Wulff, whether that is fair or not.
- Says Barkley, "Hello world!" While the game might not be terribly thrilling, USC's matchup with San Jose State will be the debut of super-frosh quarterback Matt Barkley, who takes over the premier position in college football as an 18-year-old. If Barkley is lights-out, then Heisman talk will begin and the hype before the Trojans visit Ohio State will be epic. If Barkley struggles, then the hand-wringing and second-guessing will begin and the hype before the Trojans visit Ohio State will be epic.
- Who the heck is Arizona's quarterback? Perhaps Arizona coach Mike Stoops will send out a quarterback against Central Michigan with a mask on and a "?" for his number. While most signs point to Matt Scott getting the start and Nick Foles seeing some action, Stoops has refused to reveal who will take the first snap. His most definitive statement is both will play. Maybe. The Chippewas are not a team to take lightly, so the hope is whoever is at quarterback will capably lead the offense. The guess here is Stoops and offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes would like to have a true starter before the trip to Iowa on Sept. 19.
- Prince or pauper on offense? UCLA's redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince makes his debut against San Diego State -- L.A. fires permitting -- and Bruins fans are hoping last year's horrible offensive showing will be rendered a distant memory as Prince and a youthful offensive line dominate the action. The reality figures to fall short of that as Prince likely will only be as good as his line, which may struggle with three first-time starters going against a peculiar 3-3-5 scheme. If the Bruins can't block the Aztecs, then it won't have much hope against Pac-10 defenses.
- Secondary test: Portland State won't beat Oregon State, but its high-flying passing attack might test the Beavers' rebuilt secondary. At least a little. In any event, an FCS foe means the Beavers will start 1-0, which is 100 percent better than 2008.
- Suspended sentence: Arizona State will be missing six or seven suspended players -- coach Dennis Erickson wouldn't be specific -- against Idaho State. And there are injury issues. A good way to get fans' minds off the recent bad news is for the Sun Devils rebuilding offense to push Idaho State around and for new quarterback Danny Sullivan to put up big numbers before yielding to true freshman backup Brock Osweiler in the third quarter.
- Quarterbacks and offensive lines: Every Pac-10 team has preseason questions either at quarterback or on the offensive line. A few have questions with both. While one weekend won't provide complete answers, it should reveal which teams are going to be OK fairly soon and which teams need work. And who might be in big trouble. If the Pac-10 is going to thrive when the meat of the nonconference schedule hits during the next couple of weeks, it's going to need quarterbacks and O-lines to grow up quickly.