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Thursday, September 15, 2011
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 3

By Ted Miller

Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Luck versus Foles: Both Andrew Luck and Nick Foles are mature starters with lots of skills with NFL futures. They won't spend a lot of time comparing stats during the game, but it's hard to imagine both are completely uninterested in the other and how he performs. Quarterbacks study other quarterbacks. While both these guys want to win above all else, they'd also like to walk away with a better looking stat sheet than the other. Luck has a better running game and a better defense supporting him. Foles has better receivers. Who ends up with the best efficiency rating, oh and the W?

2. Nebraska's O-line versus Washington's D-line: The Cornhuskers offensive line is billed as perhaps the youngest in program history, with a freshman and two sophomore starters. And the 'Huskers 2010 O-line lost the battle with the Huskies D-line in the Holiday Bowl, rushing for just 91 yards. UW's 333-pound DT Alameda Ta'amu, in particular, dominated inside. While the Huskies pass defense has been suspect so far, the run defense is another story, ranking seventh in the nation. UW is talented and experienced up front. Nebraska is a run-first team, and quarterback Taylor Martinez is much more comfortable running than passing. While the Huskies pass defense, again, has been poor, coordinator Nick Holt certainly would feel better about his unit's chances if Martinez is forced to throw downfield to move the ball.

Brock Osweiler
Can Brock Osweiler repeat the dominant performance he had against Missouri last week when the Sun Devils face the Illini?
3. Osweiler's encore? Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler was a tour de force in the win over Missouri, passing for 353 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 34 yards and a score. Also, he projects confidence and is a vocal leader. The Sun Devils will be challenged to match the intensity they showed against Missouri on the road at Illinois. That's where Osweiler's leadership comes in. He needs to rally the locker room and make sure distraction and complacency don't take root. It would be nice if he played like he did against Missouri, too.

4. Can UCLA run against Texas? Texas' defense has been stout in the first two games. It held BYU to just a field goal in the second half. It's yielding just 86.5 yard rushing per game. In the Bruins upset victory last year, the Longhorns couldn't stop UCLA's pistol offense, which raked up 264 yards on the ground. The Bruins are still a run-first team with a questionable passing game. But it will be much easier to throw downfield if the running game is gashing the Longhorns and giving them a sense of déjà vu.

5. Washington State's defense makes a stand? The Cougars defense has been outstanding so far, and it's particularly encouraging that it has been stout against the run, which hasn't been the case for three years. But Idaho State and UNLV are terrible, and San Diego State is not. In fact, it has two NFL prospects leading the offense in quarterback Ryan Lindley and running back Ronnie Hillman. Both put up huge numbers in 2010, and they will challenge the Cougs with a potent pass-run balance. Want to know if the Cougs D is for real? This game will tell. And if the D passes the test, Washington State should win because it should be able to score plenty of points against the Aztecs.

6. Rodney Stewart gets going: Colorado ranks 114th in the nation in rushing even though it has an A-list running back in Stewart. While the passing game has been impressive, coach Jon Embree is not the sort to abandon the run and surrender balance. Colorado State gave up 150 yards rushing to New Mexico. You'd think the Buffs can at least match that, even with a injury-riddled offensive line. And if Stewart gets going, that will open up chances for quarterback Tyler Hansen to find wide receiver Paul Richardson over the top.

7. Pin your ears back, Trojans: Despite a soft schedule featuring Wake Forest and Rhode Island, Syracuse ranks 107th in the nation in rushing (78.5 yards per game). While Ryan Nassib is a nice quarterback, life won't be easy for him against a strong Trojans pass rush if he's got no running game to keep the defense honest. He's already been sacked four times, and his offensive line hasn't seen the likes of the Trojans front four.

8. Rediscover the run, Utes: While Jordan Wynn is a gamer, he looked significantly better at USC than in the season opener. But he's not the sort who can win a game alone, at least not while he's still regaining his shoulder strength after surgery. He needs a running game, which he didn't have against USC. BYU plays tough defense, but the Utes need to establish a run threat and some offensive balance to make life easier for Wynn, both in terms of opening up the downfield passing game and protecting Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder.

9. Road tough? Good teams win on the road, and good conferences have teams that consistently win on the road. Utah, Arizona State, Washington and Washington State each can make statements for themselves and for the Pac-12 if they take care of business in hostile environments. None are favored to do so. If the conference goes 3-1 in these games, it will significantly bolster the conference's Q-rating nationally. Oh, and its computer rating in the BCS standings.

10. Oregon and California? Oregon plays Missouri State and California plays Presbyterian. What to watch? Something else.