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Friday, November 7, 2008
What to watch in the Pac-10, Week 11

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ten things to consider, underline or anticipate heading into the weekend.

1. California's offensive line will struggle vs. USC's D-front: Every offensive line struggles with USC's defensive front. But consider that four players -- including guard Noris Malele, who is questionable -- from the Bears first unit during the preseason won't play Saturday. We harped on this before the Oregon game and the replacement line did fine. But Oregon's defense doesn't rate the same as the Trojans, unquestionably the nation's best crew.

2. Arizona is going to run. And run. And run. Washington State ranks 118th in the nation in run defense, yielding 275 yards per game. The Cougars have surrendered 323, 362 and 344 yards on the ground in their last three games, so things are actually trending downward. So Arizona tailbacks Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin should have a lot of fun in Pullman.

3. UCLA jinx vs. UCLA jinxed: Oregon State coach Mike Riley has never beaten UCLA. He is 0-5 vs. UCLA as Oregon State's coach and was also 0-4 while offensive coordinator at USC (1993-96). He's beaten every other Pac-10 team at least twice, including USC. But injury-riddled, struggling UCLA just suspended three players for, according to multiple reports, failing a drug test. That's not good for team morale. So which bad juju is more powerful?

4. Stanford's Tavita Pritchard vs. Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli: These two quarterbacks rank eighth and ninth in the Pac-10 in passing. Pritchard has throw more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8), while Masoli is barely completing 50 percent of his passes. It's possible that passing will be a non-factor in this matchup between two of the conference's best running offenses. But it's also possible that the quarterback who throws better -- or less worse -- will have a significant say in the final score.

5. Will Nate Longshore rise to the moment? It's still possible that Kevin Riley, who was sidelined in the Oregon game with a concussion, will start. But if Longshore gets the call, there's the potential for a storybook ending for his tumultuous career. Longshore as a sophomore looked like a future NFL draft pick. But his tendency to throw bad interceptions at inopportune times soured Bears fans on him. He played well in relief of Riley in the big win over the Ducks, but beating USC is a whole different cup of yogurt. If he leads Cal to the upset, he'll have his legacy win that enshrine him in Golden Bears lore.

6. Good Mark Sanchez vs. Bad Mark Sanchez: The truth is most teams would take any Sanchez. He leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game, pass efficiency and touchdown passes. It's only that when you play quarterback at USC you're expected to be spectacular just about ALL THE TIME! With a college football nation seemingly salivating over the notion of eliminating USC from the national title hunt, it would be an auspicious time for Good Sanchez to help the Trojans make a dominant statement vs. Cal. The Bears, who lead the nation with 17 interceptions, are hoping for Bad Sanchez.

7. Arizona State's offense will break out at Washington: Washington has the worst pass defense in the country, so Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter should feast on the Huskies wide-eyed secondary. But coach Dennis Erickson probably would like to see more progress in the running game, seeing that running back Shaun DeWitty just last week gave the offense its first 100-yard rushing game. Don't worry: There's plenty Huskies defense to go around. So share the bounty.

8. Can Craft find consistency? UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft is two weeks removed from his worst all-around performance of the season -- a 17 for 35, four interception effort in the Bruins loss at California. He threw four interceptions earlier this season against Tennessee, but he also led the Bruins to a shocking comeback victory. The enduring image of the Cal game is UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel going haywire each time Craft slogged to the sidelines after a turnover. If the Bruins woeful offense is going to have any chance against Oregon State, Craft's going to have to be more careful with the football.

9. Field position is boring but so, so important: Cal coach Jeff Tedford noted this week how important field position will be against USC. He probably was thinking that after watching film of USC's tight 17-10 victory over Arizona. In that game, Wildcats punter Keenyn Crier averaged 50.3 yards on seven punts, four of which were downed inside the 20-yard line. Arizona made USC play on a long field, which prevented the Trojans from mounting one of those demoralizing, explosive scoring flurries -- the game is close; now it's not! -- that they've become accustomed to. Just so happens the Bears have a good punter, too: Bryan Anger, who averages 44 yards per boot.

10. Any road warriors out there?: Pac-10 teams have been mostly terrible on the road this year -- at least when they aren't playing Washington or Washington State. Visitors in conference games are 8-19, with five of those wins coming in Seattle or Pullman. Well, Arizona is playing for bowl eligibility in Pullman, while Arizona State is trying to end a six-game losing streak in Seattle. They should be plenty motivated to notch the easy win. But what about Cal at USC, trying keep alive its Rose Bowl hopes? Same goes for Oregon State at UCLA. And Stanford could earn bowl eligibility if it upsets Oregon. In other words, there's a lot at stake for road teams this week.