Thursday, September 2, 2010
What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 1
By Ted Miller
There's a full slate of 10 nonconference games this week, so there's a lot to watch.
1. How will Katz react when the lights go on at Cowboys Stadium? Oregon State's Ryan Katz has done everything well since he quickly took control of the quarterback job during spring practices. He's got the arm, head and athletic ability to become an All-Conference QB. But no one really knows how he will react to the big-stage pressure of his first career start. Many great QBs played like a squirrel darting across a highway in their first start. Others did just fine.
2. Time for Locker to step up: It's no longer about Jake Locker's extraordinary potential, which has NFL scouts salivating. Now it's about Locker performing. It's about him becoming the QB he is projected to be but hasn't yet been. That means completing 60-65 percent of his passes with few mistakes and converting big play after big play with both his arm and his feet. The visions of Locker now need to match the reality of him. Otherwise, a season of great hope for the Huskies won't get out of the starting gate.
3. Is Prince ready? what about his line? UCLA QB Kevin Prince has missed almost all of fall camp with a back problem. Sure, he's a returning starter, but the Bruins are adopting -- at least parts of -- a new "pistol" offense, which he inconsistently ran during the spring. You would think Prince, at the very least, will be a bit rusty at Kansas State. Also, it won't help much that the line he played behind in the spring doesn't look much like the makeshift unit that will be protecting him Saturday.
4. USC can make a statement: Everybody is curious how motivated the Trojans will be in 2010 when they aren't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. If they deliver an angry beatdown at Hawaii, some of that curiosity will be answered. And it wouldn't hurt Lane Kiffin for his squad to be sharp in his first game as head coach.
5. Oregon QB Darron Thomas needs to get his starters legs under him: Oregon is going to whip New Mexico, no matter how Thomas does in his first start at quarterback. But Thomas needs to push through those inevitable first-game jitters and find a comfort level on the big stage. Because next weekend he's going to be playing at Tennessee in front of 105,000 folks who will be slightly less supportive than the crowd Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
6. Can Oregon State get pressure on TCU QB Andy Dalton? While much of the pre-game attention with the Beavers showdown with TCU is focused on how Katz will react to the Horned Frogs' relentless blitzes, the Beavers own pass rush is almost as big a question. Recall that last year Oregon State, typically an attacking defense, struggled to get much pressure on opposing QBs, registering just 17 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference and was just four more than poor ole Washington State. The hope is tackle Stephen Paea will be such a distraction inside that ends Gabe Miller and Taylor Henry will be able to beat one-on-one blocks with their athletic ability. But if the Beavers can't get to the underrated Dalton, it could be a long evening.
7. Are Arizona's three new LBs still thinking too much? The chatter started in spring and lasted through much of fall camp: The Wildcats new linebackers were thinking too much and therefore not playing with the right amount of aggressiveness. And then when they attacked, they often made the wrong fit or ended up in the wrong place. Toledo plays well at home and runs a productive spread offense. They will challenge Derek Earls, Jake Fischer and Paul Vassallo, who are each making their first career start. The Rockets will try to confuse them and get them out of position. There's inevitably going to be a growth process for the new LBs. The question is how slowly that process will progress.
8. How much better is Washington State? Few folks believe the Cougars are going to win many games this season, but there are good reasons for cautious optimism, starting with a more experienced -- and healthier -- lineup. It's certainly not helpful, however, to open at Oklahoma State, even if the Cowboys are rebuilding. Still, if the Cougs make this one competitive heading into the second half, they likely will have already exceeded some expectations. The key here is for WSU to walk away from Stillwater thinking, "We can win some games this year." Conversely, a blowout loss could prove catastrophic to the program's fragile confidence.
9. Will anyone produce a Heisman moment? Locker at BYU? Jacquizz Rodgers versus TCU in his home state? Will Arizona's Nick Foles or USC's Matt Barkley roll up big numbers? There are many potential Heisman Trophy candidates in the conference in 2010. Will any make a statement with a SportsCenter performance in week one?
10. Cal, Stanford and Arizona State just need to avoid injuries, not embarrass themselves: All three take on FCS foes -- UC Davis, Sacramento State and Portland State, respectively -- which means they are going to win easily (or become national laughingstocks). The key thing is to start fast and then get the starters safely to the bench.