Pac-12: Adrian Clayborn

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
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video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.

Foles leads Arizona to signature win

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
4:09
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Signature wins require signature performances from signature players, and Arizona's top nominee for the post had just fed Iowa a pick-6 that put the final touches on a wasted 20-point lead. Quarterback Nick Foles was positioned to be one of a handful of goats for the Wildcats after they blew a great opportunity to send a message of the program's arrival on the national scene.

The air had been sucked out of Arizona Stadium. Anxiety had taken over everyone dressed in red.

Everybody other than Foles. Anxiety? He joked with his teammates on the sidelines. And when the Wildcats got the ball back on their 28-yard line with 8:07 left, with the game tied and the momentum hugging the team in white and gold, Foles just had a quick comment for his teammates.

[+] EnlargeRyan Donahue
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona blocked this punt on its way to a 27-7 halftime lead. But Iowa stormed back to tie the game, and that's when quarterback Nick Foles and the Wildcats' defense responded.
"I love y'all and let's do it," he said. "I don't need to go out there and give them a speech."

Nope. Instead, he gave them a signature performance, leading the Wildcats on a nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that provided the winning margin in a 34-27 win over No. 9 Iowa.

He was 5 for 6 for 76 yards on the drive, including a seeing-eye dish to Bug Wright for the TD on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line. The one incompletion came on the previous play, a beautiful throw that Wright dropped.

"He does what special players do," coach Mike Stoops said.

Foles completed 28-of-39 for 303 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. But it was his cool when everything seemed to be crumbling around him that was most remarkable.

"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."

Of course, Foles wasn't the only one who kept his cool on this hot night. Take Grant. His task was to handle perhaps the best defensive end in the nation: Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn finished with three tackles, none coming for a loss.

And what about the Wildcats' defense. It looked like the dominant unit on the field, rolling up six sacks. Iowa got the ball back after Arizona went ahead with 3:50 remaining. That was plenty of time to put together a tying drive. Only the Arizona defense forced an incompletion and the recorded three consecutive sacks (it was actually four, but one was killed by an Iowa false start penalty).

Stoops and the Arizona players didn't shy away from calling the win transformative for the program. Transformative from what? Iowa beat Arizona 27-17 in 2009. And Arizona blew a big game here last year against Oregon. Its fans, in fact, prematurely stormed the field and then watched in horror as Jeremiah Masoli led the Ducks to a dramatic comeback and then overtime win.

And then there's the Holiday Bowl. That 33-0 defeat made the Wildcats an object of national ridicule. And don't think they didn't hear that.

"[This victory] just shows Arizona can play football," Foles said. "There was a lot of talk about Arizona, especially after the bowl game."

You wouldn't think that team that looked so awful in a bowl game just a few months ago could maintain its composure while watching a 27-7 lead disappear amid a flurry of mistakes. But when Foles convened the huddle, everybody shared a wavelength of positive expectation.

"Just keep cool. Know what you've got to do. Do your job," Grant said. "When I saw [David Roberts] catch that ball [for38 yards to the Iowa 34], there was no doubt in my mind we'd win this game. I screamed like a little girl. Clayborn looked at me like I was an idiot. But I was pretty excited."

Foles seemed excited, too. Just not that excited. It was a signature win and a signature performance by a signature player, but there are nine games left in the regular season.

"This isn't the end," Foles said. "It just shows how much we've grown up as a team."

Halftime: Arizona 27, Iowa 7

September, 19, 2010
9/19/10
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- That was a bit surprising.

Arizona came out on fire, and Iowa sloppy, and that's why the Wildcats lead 27-7 at the half.

The Wildcats get the third-quarter kickoff.

Turning point: From the opening bell, Arizona attacked. It held Iowa to a three-and-out on its first possession and then blocked the ensuing punt and quickly scored a TD. Iowa started driving, but Trevin Wade got a pick-6 and it was 14-0 before Hawkeyes fans had settled into their seats.

Stat of the half: Who's the better running team? Iowa rushed for 71 yards in the first half on 16 carries. The Wildcats rushed for 69 on just 10.

Best player in the half: Arizona left tackle Adam Grant made Iowa's All-American DE Adrian Clayborn disappear in the first half. Guess here is some NFL scouts will raise an eyebrow at that if he keeps it up through the second half.

What Arizona needs to do: Play smart. Possess the ball. Don't give up big plays. Force Iowa to drive the length of the field. A 20-point lead is significant. But it is hardly insurmountable. The Wildcats can't let their outstanding first-half focus and intensity slip. Getting points on the first possession also might send a message that could get the Hawkeyes a bit off their game.
A new Rose Bowl access rule could prevent the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but at least the two leagues will get to know one another very well on Saturday. Three Big Ten-Pac-10 games are on the slate, as No. 18 USC visits Minnesota (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), Arizona State visits Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and No. 9 Iowa visits No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCan Arizona State's defense stand up to Wisconsin running back John Clay?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, it's been too long, my friend. The Rose Bowl seems like decades ago, although they're still celebrating in Columbus. Given the likelihood of Boise State or TCU crashing the party in Pasadena this year, it's nice to have some Pac-10-Big Ten flavor this Saturday. Let's start off with Arizona State-Wisconsin. The name Steven Threet still makes people shudder in Madison after he led Michigan to a historic comeback against Wisconsin in 2008, triggering the beginning of the end for the Badgers that year. It also turned out to be the beginning of the end for Threet in a winged helmet. He seems to be settling in very nicely so far in Tempe. What should Wisconsin expect from Threet and the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?

Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.

Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerMatt Barkley will try to exploit a Minnesota defense that gave up 258 yards to South Dakota
Miller: Here are two teams that are muddling along, though the Trojans surely feel better about 2-0 -- no matter the way they got there -- than the Gophers do with 1-1, including the loss to a team from the Dakotas. Adam, I have no idea about the Trojans. They still look great getting off the bus. They still have NFL prospects at every position. In Week 1 at Hawaii, the offense looked great, the defense terrible. In Week 2 at home versus Virginia, it was mostly the opposite. Is it a question of fire and focus in the face of NCAA sanctions? I think we won't really be able to answer that question until the Pac-10 schedule starts. As for this one, I think the Trojans are going to roll. But I wrote that the previous two weeks and ended up being wrong. So what do I know?

What's your take?

Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.

OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?

Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.

What do you see from this one?

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Icon SMICan Arizona's offensive line contain Adrian Clayborn?
Rittenberg: Should be a great one in the desert. Iowa knows Arizona has come a long way since last year's meeting in Iowa City, when Foles hadn't yet emerged as the starter. The game could come down to whether Arizona can get Grigsby going and protect Foles against the Hawkeyes, who boast arguably the nation's best defensive line. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been a bit quiet so far this season, but he usually plays his best in big games. Arizona typically has some outstanding defensive backs, but don't underestimate The Manzi, who has yet to throw an interception this year. So love it or leave it, pal! Iowa can stretch the field with receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and the run game has looked good so far with Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. The Hawkeyes won in State College, Madison and East Lansing last year, but they haven't fared well historically in these trips out West. Arizona definitely has some built-in advantages.

OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?

Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.

I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.

I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.

So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.

Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.

The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.

Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.

Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.

So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
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Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Cal's defense will be tested at Nevada: California presently ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, giving up a scant 160 yards per game. So kudos to new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. But Nevada ranks No. 1 in total offense, rolling up a monstrous 592 yards per game. So who wins: The irresistible force or the immovable object?

2. Arizona's O-line vs. Iowa's D-line: The Wildcats have a good offensive line, probably among the top three or four units in the Pac-10. But Iowa probably has the best defensive line in the country, led by end Adrian Clayborn. All four starters are back from 2009's stingy unit that combined for 27 sacks and allowed just 3.5 yards per rush. The first question is can the Wildcats line do enough to create any sort of run threat or occasional creases for Nic Grigsby? The second is, failing that, will the line give QB Nick Foles enough time to throw the ball?

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansen
AP Photo/Ben MargotCal has the nation's No. 1 defense through two games, allowing just 160 yards per game.
3. Locker on the big stage: There is a bizarre crew that haunts the Pac-10 blog and constantly calls Washington QB Jake Locker "overrated," meaning they disagree with Mike Bellotti, Pete Carroll, every Pac-10 coach, every NFL scout, LSU's players (who called Locker the best player they saw in 2009) and just about everyone who makes a living around football. Of course, they have the right to call the world flat. But guess what? If Locker doesn't turn in an impressive performance vs. Nebraska, his Heisman Trophy candidacy will end before it gets started. So this is his big moment to either lead an upset or take a step back in national stature.

4. Vontaze Burfict vs. John Clay: Arizona State's 245-pound linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented and aggressive LBs in the country. Wisconsin's 248-pound running back John Clay is one of the best power runners in the country. When these two meet, the violence of the impact should be dynamic. But who knocks the other backwards? Burfict and the ASU defense is looking to make a national statement. To do so, it needs to contain Clay.

5. Can USC put it together? USC's offense looked great in the opener at Hawaii. The defense looked terrible. The offense looked terrible vs. Virginia. The defense looked pretty good. The cumulative affect is we really don't know who these Trojans are. Will they put it all together at Minnesota's expense? Or will it be another piddling effort?

6. Luck through the air: Stanford QB Andrew Luck looked great running, but, despite two TD passes, didn't throw terribly well at UCLA. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards. Wake Forest's secondary didn't look great while giving up 358 passing yards and four touchdowns to Duke in a wild 54-48 victory. You'd think Luck would feast on that at home and revert back to his accurate, playmaking self.

7. How will UCLA's offense bounce back? Stanford shut out the Bruins and held them to 233 total yards last weekend. That had many screaming for QB Kevin Prince's head. But Prince's biggest problem is he's barely seen practice time due to a back injury and then a shoulder injury. He's practiced all this week. Moreover, Houston's defense isn't anything like its offense. The Cougars are surrendering 26 points and 393 yards per game. Expect the Bruins to be much better on offense Saturday.

8. Jacquizz should break out vs. Louisville: Dating back to last season, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing in three games. That's a mini-slump for him. Louisville gave up 230 yards rushing to a mediocre Kentucky team in week one. So expect for Rodgers to get his 100 yards. And also expect him to get some touches in the passing game, which he didn't vs. TCU.

9. Cougs stepping forward? Does the comeback win vs. Montana State turn a page for Washington State? Sure, it was just an FCS opponent, but showing some backbone feels meaningful. SMU has a high-powered, balanced offense and is one of the favorites in Conference USA. Moreover, the Mustangs will be plenty motivated after losing at Washington State last year. But if the Cougars pull the upset, the entire tenor of their season could change.

10. How did the Pac-10 measure up? It wasn't the most creative name or anything, but "Measuring Stick Saturday" is real. The Pac-10's place in the pecking order among BCS conferences largely will be based -- at least during the regular season -- on what happens Saturday. A winning weekend will earn it consideration with the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. A losing one? It falls to the bottom half of the six. Considering the Pac-10 is an underdog in five of the nine games, the conference needs for all its favorites to prevail and at least one underdog to come through with an upset.

Foles, Arizona want to take the next step

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
10:17
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It's easy to imagine a Hollywood version of Arizona's Nick Foles coming off the bench against Iowa last year. Mike Stoops, played by Russell Crowe, would toss his headset to the ground in frustration over the Wildcats' offensive ineptitude. And as he picked it up, amid the din of Kinnick Stadium, he'd catch sight of Foles, played by Kip Pardue, looking chill but also engaged.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireNick Foles' key to success: "I just try to keep it level."
"Foles!" Stoops/Crowe would bellow. "Son, the Wildcat nation is depending on you!"

Cue inspirational music.

And, of course, Foles would lead the Wildcats to a comeback win, all the while looking chill but also engaged.

Not what happened. The unsentimental reality: A coach -- Foles doesn't remember who -- told him to warm up after Iowa took a 20-10 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

"And as I was warming up, they said, 'you're going in'," Foles recalled.

He led the Wildcats to a first down. And then they punted. After an 8 1/2-minute touchdown drive from Iowa made it 27-10, Foles led the Wildcats 62 yards for a TD that made the score more respectable. That was it.

Foles would arrive at the football offices early the next day, a Sunday. He watched film. After that, he went out to throw into a net on the practice field. Then he was summoned by then-offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who told him he would make his first start at Oregon State. Against the Beavers, Foles completed 25 of 34 passes for 254 yards with three TDs and no interceptions in a 37-32 victory.

And away he went. Nothing Hollywood about it, really. But by remaining chill and engaged and not letting the frustration of initially losing out a close quarterback competition to Matt Scott drive him to distraction, Foles set himself up to be ready when called.

"I was just continuing to work hard, preparing like I was a starter," Foles said. "I knew at any moment I could get an opportunity to play. My big thing was just staying focused, staying ready. I didn't get frustrated because I knew I might eventually get a chance."

Now Foles is something of an X factor in the rematch with Iowa on Saturday in Arizona Stadium. A lot of the same players will be on the field for both teams, but Foles went on to become one of the nation's best quarterbacks after the Iowa game.

Of course, the Iowa defense, which welcomes back eight starters, including all four members of what is probably the nation's best defensive line, is a year older and a year scarier.

"They are very disruptive," Stoops said. "They took away a lot of stuff we thought we would be able to do [last year]. We've got to come up with a better game plan. But they do that to a lot of people. They are so good inside and up front they limit what you can do."

Stoops even specified what Iowa does: While most defenses need seven (or eight) guys to stop the run, Iowa can do it with six, which is not unlike what Nebraska did in the Holiday Bowl -- sorry for bringing that up, Wildcats fans. More guys playing in space makes it harder to throw the ball.

"[Foles] is going to have to play much faster," Stoops said. "Things have to happen a lot faster this week. The windows are going to be a lot tighter to throw in. So we're going to need his accuracy and our players are going to have to make a lot of tough, competitive catches."

Accuracy? Foles is completing 83 percent of his passes.

But Foles is going to need plenty of help. He's going to need his receivers to be aggressive with the ball in the air, his line to stand up to the Hawkeyes' front and he needs running back Nic Grigsby to be a threat on the ground. Also, he needs his guys to remain chill but engaged, because Iowa is going to make big plays on defense. The unit, led by future NFL first-round draft pick Adrian Clayborn at end, is too talented not to.

Foles is the right guy to role model that state of mind.

"I just try to keep it level. I think that's the key to being successful," he said. "You are going to have highs and you are going to have lows but you've got to keep steady. I tell the guys all the time during a game you can have some bad plays and you have some great plays, but the key is to stay steady, to stay mentally focused. That's how I go about it every day. Just have fun. That's a key. Play the game. Just let it come to you."

Arizona defensive end Brooks Reed let the Iowa game come to him last year. It gave him a high ankle sprain early in the second half that pretty much ruined his season. Remember that long, back-breaking Iowa drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter that made it 27-10? Reed tried to come back and play during it. Bad idea.

"I think they noticed I was limping around, and they started running power to my side," Reed said. "Got a few yards, and I got taken out."

Reed and fellow end Ricky Elmore are the best DE-tandem in the Pac-10, and the Wildcats' secondary is good enough to mute Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi and his solid crew of receivers. But the big question is how the two new tackles and three new linebackers will handle the power running game, which is Iowa's primary mode of travel.

"They like to run guys over -- that's their deal," Reed said. "This is our first real test as a defense. The first two games kind of got us warmed up."

Reed has seen encouraging signs in the first two games, in which Arizona gave up eight points (two came on a safety) and just 177 yards per game. It reminds him of his first year as a starter in 2008 when the Wildcats had to replace eight starters on defense and ended up ranked 24th in the nation in total defense.

But this is a major step up in competition. And opportunity. The Wildcats have become a top-25 program under Stoops. The next step means entering a rarefied atmosphere.

"That's a hard place to get, but we're fighting like mad to get there," Stoops said. "This is another opportunity. Hopefully, we take advantage of it."

'Measuring Stick' Saturday awaits Pac-10

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
6:40
PM ET
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?

Not many.

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.

Over Wisconsin.

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.

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