Monday, September 13, 2010
'Measuring Stick' Saturday awaits Pac-10
By ESPN.com staff
How many BCS conferences play four nonconference road games in one weekend? How many BCS conferences play four ranked nonconference foes in one weekend? Heck, how many BCS conferences play nine respectable nonconference foes in one weekend?
But that's what the Pac-10 has this weekend, which we're calling "Measuring Stick Saturday" (even though California is at Nevada on Friday night).
Here's the slate (Oregon plays Portland State, an FCS team):
No. 9 Iowa at No. 24 Arizona
Arizona State at No. 11 Wisconsin
No. 8 Nebraska at Washington
California at Nevada (Friday)
Wake Forest at No. 19 Stanford
No. 23 Houston at UCLA
No. 18 USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at No. 25 Oregon State
The Pac-10 team is the underdog in five of the nine games. USC, Oregon State and Stanford are big favorites. Washington State and Arizona State are big underdogs. The expectation, at least according to Vegas, is the Pac-10 will go 4-5.
But 4-5 won't cut it. It would inspire smirks from fans and college football pundits. It would hurt the perceptions of the conference, and 4-5 certainly would come into play if a Pac-10 team is trying to get into the discussion for the national championship or a second BCS bowl berth.
Argue that it's unfair that the Pac-10 gets judged instead of praised for its tougher nonconference scheduling compared to other BCS conferences all you want. It won't do much good.
What will change minds -- even the stubborn ones -- however, is nice, shiny Ws. Five would be solid. Six should be enough to put the conference on par with the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 in the national discussion.
Assuming the four Pac-10 favorites take care of business -- Cal, USC, Oregon State and Stanford -- and struggling UCLA and Washington State don't pull upsets, the weekend mostly turns on the troika of Iowa-Arizona, ASU-Wisconsin and UW-Nebraska.
In other words, the Pac-10 needs to upset at least one top-10 (11) team.
The Sun Devils will have their hands full in Camp Randall Stadium, but it's unlikely new starting quarterback Steven Threet will be afraid of the Badgers, and not just because he's a former Michigan starter familiar with Big Ten play and stadiums. In 2008, you see, Threet led Michigan to the second biggest comeback in school history when he rallied the Wolverines from a 19-0 third-quarter deficit to a 27-25 win.
The red-letter the matchup, though, is the Sun Devils defense vs. the Badgers veteran offense that welcomes back 10 starters from last year's 10-3 team, including 250-pound running back John Clay and fifth-year senior quarterback Scott Tolzien. The Badgers offensive line is among the biggest in the country, averaging 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. The Sun Devils will counter with speed.
Still, you'd think the the home teams -- Arizona and Washington -- with veteran quarterbacks have the better chance.
Nick Foles came off the bench last year at Iowa and threw a touchdown pass in a 27-17 defeat. He's been the Wildcats starter ever since. He has plenty of weapons, and he's going to need them against what is widely considered one of the nation's most talented defenses, particularly a defensive line that returns all four starters, including All-American end Adrian Clayborn.
Speaking of QBs matching up with talented defenses: Jake Locker figures to have his hands full with Nebraska, another candidate for "nation's top defense." While the Hawkeyes are strong up front, the Cornhuskers area of strength is their secondary, which is led by All-American Prince Amukamara.
The Pac-10 spent the summer touting its quarterbacks. Well, it's time for Foles or Locker to come through and post a marquee victory.
If either does, "Measuring Stick Saturday" will be a success for the conference.