Ten things to watch for Saturday
August, 29, 2008
By Ted Miller | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Ten big issues to consider as we enter the first weekend of action.
- Is USC QB Mark Sanchez's dislocated knee cap in the past or will it riddle him much of the season? Trojans coaches aren't shy about pointing out the vast distance between the way Sanchez is playing and the way the other QBs are. He's the guy. So, it's a blow if his knee doesn't hold up. He's an athletic guy who is unafraid to scramble, but he probably should play things fairly safe at Virginia.
- Oregon QB Justin Roper needs to take control in the huddle and show his teammates he's the man. By most accounts, one of Nate Costa's primary edges in the Ducks QB competition was leadership. Coaches always talk about taking charge in the huddle, and Costa did -- and Roper sometimes didn't. With Costa out for the season with a knee injury, Roper needs to grab his teammates by their figurative lapels and show them he's in charge. Otherwise, coaches might look to backup Jeremiah Masoli.
- We'll get a good measure of California's new 3-4 defense right out of the gate. Michigan State has a huge (average weight: 308) and experienced offensive line leading the charge for one of the most explosive running backs in the country in Javon Ringer. The Bears new linebacker-heavy defense needs to thwart the Spartans running game, or this one probably won't go well.
- Will UCLA QB Kevin Craft be able to manage the offense and avoid major mistakes? The Bruins won't win a track meet with Tennessee. The only way this one stays tight is if Craft and the offense play safe and smart and lean on their defense and special teams, which then need to do their part. If the Bruins consistently win the field position battle, the defense could force new Vols starting QB Jonathan Crompton to make his own gaffes, which could give Craft and company the short field they need.
- Will Washington State's new no-huddle offense be just the ticket for QB Gary Rogers? Rogers, a fifth-year senior, has waited a long time to take over the offense. New coach Paul Wulff's fast-paced, spread scheme doesn't seem like the ideal fit for the 6-foot-7 senior, but coaches surely mixed and matched parts to fit his skill set. Oklahoma State's defense isn't very good. The Cowboys figure to run all over the Cougars thin defense -- might the Cougars and Rogers return the favor?
- Arizona shouldn't just mail it in against overmatched Idaho; make a statement Wildcats! Arizona has the softest schedule in the conference, and these types of nonconference patsies are supposed to help a team build its confidence. But what if Arizona wins 27-24? That message is little more than a whimper. QB Willie Tuitama and his veteran offense should be satisfied with no less than 40 points, and the rebuilt defense should want to hold Idaho to no more than half of that.
- Arizona State's offensive line can start shutting up the so-called pundits by not allowing a sack against Northern Arizona: It's as easy as that. Last season's 55 sacks -- the oft-repeated stat of ignominy in Tempe -- will no longer be brought up as soon as the line shows QB protection problems are a thing of the past. The Lumberjacks aren't USC, but they certainly will come after QB Rudy Carpenter. If Carpenter's pants are free of grass stains after the final gun, mission accomplished.
- Give me the, er, darn ball! USC coach Pete Carroll has repeatedly -- endlessly -- insisted that he sees no problem in trying to give as many as four TBs carries in a game. That means Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and Allen Bradford will each get touches at Virginia. McKnight, due to his versatility, is a sure-thing. But how will the ball be distributed among the other three?
- All eyes are on QB Kevin Riley, but don't be surprised if TB Jahvid Best steals the show: Best is one of the nation's fastest football players. My guess is he's a step (or two) faster than Michigan State's Javon Ringer. So it's possible Spartans defenders will be shocked when the pursuit angles they've taken on Ringer leave them looking at Best's rear end.
- Washington's defense will be better, but by how much? The Huskies don't have amazing talent, but the biggest thing veteran NFL coach Ed Donatell can do to improve the defense is install a sound scheme the players understand. Last season, the Huskies often didn't know where to go and didn't understand why they were asked to do things. Without a sound plan, a team has no hope against Oregon's potent, elusive spread option.