Pac-12: Husky Stadium

Video: Washington AD Scott Woodward

April, 30, 2013

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward talks with Ted Miller about remodeled Husky Stadium and the upcoming College Football Playoff.

Huskies set to go back-to-back with Boise

December, 21, 2012
On Aug. 31, 2013, Washington will play a hugely important game.

After a lengthy and sometimes contentious bureaucratic process, it finally will open a renovated Husky Stadium, as one of the most spectacular settings in college football finally gets a stadium worthy of sitting on the banks of Lake Washington in the shadow of Mount Rainier.

It likely will own its first preseason ranking since 2002.

And it will face Boise State, one of the nation's top programs.

On Saturday, Washington will play a hugely important game. It will try to shake off the frustration of a horrible collapse in the Apple Cup against rival Washington State and end its season on the uptick in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Steve Sarkisian
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIRESteve Sarkisian's focus is on Saturday's game with Boise State, not the one next August.
And it will face Boise State, the nation's 19th-ranked team.

Yes, Washington and Boise State are set to play back-to-back games connecting this season to the next. Yes, it's strange.

But Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian isn't obsessing about it. The preparation for the Las Vegas Bowl is no different than any other game, no matter that it amounts to Game 1 of a two-game series.

"We've got basically nine months to worry about the next game," he said.

Sarkisian acknowledges that there are certain to be plenty of moments he will file away -- matchups, tendencies, formations -- that he will grind over the next few months. Both teams surely will.

"There's going to be plenty of stuff we take from this game, good and bad, that we will be able to apply in the preparation for the second one," Sarkisian said. "That goes without saying. It's hard to prepare that way now for what is down the road, but I do think, whether it's during the game or looking at the film of returning personnel, we'll be thinking of things we can take from the game."

The reality is the Huskies are just glad to have a next game on their schedule. The stink of their last game has surely been hard to shake.

Washington arrived in Pullman riding a four-game winning streak. It seemed on its way to its first postseason national ranking since 2001, which would have further boosted the perception of promise for 2013.

Washington State, meanwhile, was in seeming disarray, coach Mike Leach's first season turning from hopeful to massively disappointing. The Cougars were 2-9, had lost eight in a row and were coming off a 46-7 shellacking at Arizona State. Their best defensive player, outside linebacker Travis Long, wasn't going to play.

While it was a sloppy game throughout, things seemed to be going according to the Huskies' plan. They led by 18 heading into the fourth quarter, and there was little to suggest the Cougars could overcome a 28-10 deficit. It seemed more likely they would mail it in and hustle into the offseason.

Then things went completely haywire for the Huskies. In one of the worst fourth quarters a team has posted in Apple Cup history -- a fumble, six penalties and a missed 35-yard field goal for the win -- the Huskies allowed the Cougars to tie the game and force overtime.

In overtime, QB Keith Price's first pass was intercepted.

Yeah, it was really bad. Sarkisian even laughs when a reporter awkwardly tries to accurately describe its badness without giving offense. Sark has no illusions about what happened in Pullman, but his message to his team is the big picture, which it still has significant control over.

"We told them one quarter of football wasn't going to define our season," Sarkisian said. "We've come a long way as a football team. We've matured greatly the second half of the season. I couldn't have been more proud of what our defense was able to get accomplished. I'm really proud of some of our younger offensive players, as they matured as the season went on. But unfortunately we played a bad 15 minutes. We gave up an 18-point lead, and we really didn't execute in any of the three phases to win the game."

Boise State offers an opportunity to make at least some of that bad taste go away. It would provide momentum heading into the offseason. And it would quiet some of the grumbling about Sarkisian, as some fans forget he inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008.

So the Las Vegas Bowl is a big, meaningful game -- but not as meaningful as Aug. 31.

Further, Sarkisian points out that the second game won't be a complete redo.

"One of the differences is I think Boise State is starting 13 seniors and we're starting about three," Sarkisian said. "A lot of new faces will be playing for them significantly next fall."

New faces in a new stadium for a hugely important game.

Husky Stadium on schedule and budget

April, 23, 2012
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward told reporters Monday the renovation of Husky Stadium is "on time and on budget and that's music to my ears."

Further, as the Seattle Times reported, the school has nearly reached its fundraising goal of $50 million for before the project is completed in advance of the 2013 season. It already has raised $48.5 million.

This also is interesting:

Also, [UW's associate athletic director for operations and capital projects Chip Lydum] said today there is no exact number set yet for capacity, though it will likely be right around 70,000. That's officially less than the listed capacity of 72,500 of the old stadium. But officials note some of those were obstructed view, which won't be the case in the new stadium. "There will be many more better seats than we have currently,'' Woodward said.

Washington will play at CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Seahawks home stadium, next year while the renovation is ongoing. Woodward also said that, despite playing downtown and away from campus, season ticket sales are brisk.

Woodward also reported that UW is at a 95 percent renewal rate for season tickets for next year at CenturyLink Field which he said is "incredible.'' He said he thought there would be more falloff with some fans not wanting to go to CenturyLink for the year. "I was doubtful, but proven wrong,'' he said. UW sold 42,500 last season.

There is no reason that CenturyLink can't feel like a big-time home-field advantage for the Huskies, even if they are away from their home turf. If they can consistently draw 60,000 next fall (capacity is 67,000) -- the Huskies averaged 62,531 in 2011 -- visitors won't feel terribly comfortable. CenturyLink is one of the loudest NFL stadiums.

Ducks-Huskies: Nameless, faceless foes?

November, 3, 2011
We've got bad news. College football rivalries aren't really about the emotional roller coaster, the good guys versus bad guys of a Hollywood movie. Their fundamental essence is far more akin to those self-help books you see stacked high on the deeply discounted table at your corner bookstore.

While Oregon and Washington fans have spent a lot of time this week painting each other as inferior, uglier, stupider and enemies of all that is right and good, the Huskies' and Ducks' locker rooms have been talking about focusing on "things they can control" and about the "importance of preparation" and about "winning the day."

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
Steven Bisig/US PresswireWashington's Chris Polk remains friends with Oregon's LaMichael James despite the teams' rivalry.
Rivalry talk? It's for fans, not players.

"That stuff is so cool when you are on the outside," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "That's why I love this sport. But from the inside, the rivalry is not going to make us play better. It's our preparation."

On Monday, some Oregon fans probably will make up stories about being spit on in Husky Stadium, just like some Huskies fans probably made up stories about being spit on at Autzen Stadium in the past, as if spitting on people is more accepted as proper behavior in Seattle/Portland than in Portland/Seattle.

And Huskies running back Chris Polk will still be from California and Ducks running back LaMichael James will still be from Texas and they will continue to like each other, because the different colors of their jerseys don't hide the fact they have a lot in common.

"He's a real cool person," Polk said. "It just so happens that he's a Duck and I'm a Husky. I consider him a friend. I respect him as a player and a person."

Further, the bitter hate of this rivalry among fans apparently can be weened out of a young man if he should ever become a player in the game, either via coaching hypnosis, a magic ray beam set up in the locker room, or an untruth serum provided by a sports information department deeply paranoid about players saying anything inflammatory about the rivalry.

For example, Oregon defensive tackle Taylor Hart, a graduate of Tualatin (Ore.) High School, has this in his official bio: "Notable: Father is a UO graduate. Attended first Oregon game (against USC) when he was eight years old."

When asked about this, Hart acts as if he has little memory of it, other than admitting that, yes, he did root for Oregon growing up.

Asked if this game is special for him, he said: "We've been going into every game as the Ducks Super Bowl and that's worked for us. I feel like that's how we're going into this game."

Asked how his father, Doug, might feel about this game, Hart said: "I don't know how he feels."


This, of course, can be attributed to Ducks coach Chip Kelly's well-known mind-control techniques. While Kelly admits that he frequently hears from Ducks fans about their dislike of the Huskies -- "They bring it up. It's relevant to them," he said -- he also coaches by the mantra of playing a "nameless, faceless opponent" each week, and that each game is the equivalent of a "Super Bowl."

If you wish to mock this approach, please note that Kelly is 29-5 as the Ducks' head coach and is 22-1 in conference play.

"We don't get caught up in the 1923 game," Kelly said. "Or what happened in the '89 game or the '96 game. None of us were here. The only thing we can worry about is what we have an effect on. What we have an effect on is the game we're playing on Saturday."

By the way, the Huskies won 26-7 in 1923, 20-14 in 1989 and 33-14 in 1996. They, however, have lost seven in a row in the rivalry, each defeat by at least 20 points.

This "just another game" talk might feel like raining on a parade, but at least Ducks and Huskies are pretty good at handling rain.

Further, when taken as an observable social trend, this represents an interesting shift in thinking. Recall that some coaches celebrate rivalries and talk specifically about how rivalry games are more important than others. Jim Tressel was immediately embraced by Ohio State fans when he started trash talking Michigan before he'd even coached in the game.

And it wasn't too long ago that then-Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel and then-Ducks coach Mike Bellotti were trading barbs in the newspapers, players were openly taunting each other and Oregon players were wearing T-shirts that said, er, "Huck the Fuskies."

Now, instead, it's fairly clear that Sarkisian and Kelly like each other, at least as well as coaches in the same conference can.

"I think the world of Chip," Sarkisian said. "We've got a very good relationship. I probably communicate with Chip as much as any other coach in our conference in season or out of season."

Finally, the "nameless, faceless opponent" mantra makes sense. Shouldn't a team try to practice and play at its highest level every week? The whole "110 percent" cliche is mathematically impossible, after all, but giving just, say, 80 percent in practice and competition is something any coach or athlete would condemn. And the emotions of "We really hate these guys" can only last a few plays before the football part of football becomes most important: blocking, tackling, executing.

"I don't think you have the time or the energy to get up for one game more than another," Sarkisian said. "The preparation process is really more about us than about Oregon, and our ability to go out and play the best brand of football that we can."

Still, there is something there. Just as Kelly and Sarkisian admit that boosters frequently bring up the rivalry, Polk said he hears about Oregon "just about every day." Being that this is the last game in Husky Stadium before a massive renovation begins, and that former Huskies coach Don James and the 1991 national championship team will be on hand, there's an unmistakable gravitas to the approach of Saturday night.

Oh, and there's that whole Pac-12 North and Rose Bowl thing, too. Both teams have designs on those, the Ducks for a third consecutive time, the Huskies as a sign of program recovery from an extended downturn.

So the cumulative effect will be a game atmosphere that should feel more intense than, say, if either team were squaring off with Missouri State or Eastern Washington.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency," Polk said. "Win or lose, the most important thing is respect. Being that we've not really played our best game the last few times we've played them, and they kind of got in to us, we don't feel like they really respect us. They whole thing this weekend is to go out there and earn respect."

And the notion of earning respect works both as a self-help truism and as an us-vs-them cinematic plot point.

Lunch links: Luck downplays calling plays

October, 7, 2011
Happy Friday.

Outrage at Washington!

September, 28, 2011
My old buddy Jim Caple -- we were colleagues at the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- is mad, mad, mad at his alma mater, Washington.

Why? Administrators are moving the student section from their traditional prime seats to the endzone.

Of course, this is about money. Husky Stadium is undergoing a $250 million renovation, and the school is looking to create more revenue by selling those prime student seats to big-money boosters.

Write Caple:

Why do I care? Why does it bother me as an alumnus that the Huskies are opening up thousands of prime seats to myself and fellow older fans? Here's why. Because when the students get hosed, the spray soaks the rest of us as well. The essence of college sports is that first word: college. Without the students -- which also means the band and the cheerleaders -- you don't have college football anymore. You just have a slower, less talented NFL game without the fantasy leagues.

Caple makes some good points.

Here's the university's position.

It will be interesting to see how the Husky Stadium experience is changed. For one, the stadium was always notably loud because of the configuration, but now the student section won't be under those overhanging wings that kept sound inside the stadium. That could decrease the overall volume.

On the other hand, removing the track, which will be the chief accomplishment of the renovation in my mind, will put the students (and everyone else) closer to the field. So that could create a more intimidating atmosphere.

Further, putting the student section in an endzone could make at least one side of the stadium absolutely miserable for visiting offenses.

Sure some of you have thoughts on this.

Getting to know the new Husky Stadium

August, 11, 2011
Washington fans already feel better about their football team, which crawled out of its darkest period with a bowl victory last year, but a wise man once noted that "It is better to look good than to feel good," so it makes sense in a 21st Century sort of way that a major facelift to iconic Husky Stadium will help the program recover "its rightful place of prominence," as a press release on the stadium renovation noted.

The $250 million renovation, which will begin in November and be completed in time for the 2013 season, now has its own website, where fans can get the details and see pictures and simply dream of a stadium that isn't falling apart.

Because, whatever you think about universities spending hundreds of millions of dollars on sports facilities, Husky Stadium had become a decrepit, crumbling dump, though one with an exceedingly scenic location.

Will tickets cost more? Yes, without a doubt. And students will have to surrender their 50-yard line seats, which sort of stinks.

But, as Bob Condotta notes, this upgrade is part of a larger plan to make Washington a national power again. Husky Stadium, one of the nation's loudest venues, used to be a selling point for the program. Over the past decade, it became a (slight) negative in recruiting, particularly in comparison to arch-rival Oregon's Autzen Stadium. Based on what they're telling us about the renovation, that will no longer be the case after 2013.

The biggest change, at least to me, is the removal of the track that surrounds the field, which always whispered "high school stadium" to my raised-in-SEC-country sensibilities.

Further, as sometimes grumpy columnist Art Thiel points out, the remodeling has been privately funded, which is notable in this economy.

Is Washington football trending up under coach Steve Sarkisian? Most signs say yes. Two years removed from an 0-12 season, the Huskies beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. And, as important, recruiting is clearly on an uptick.

Washington officials are expecting that continued improved play on the field will mean more folks will be willing to shell out big bucks to watch the Huskies, resulting in a revenue increase that should fully justify the investment.

I just hope the new press box includes actual chairs and does feel like its going to tumble into Lake Washington every time the Huskies score.

Boise State to open at Husky Stadium

January, 12, 2011
The first game in the new Husky Stadium in 2013 will match Boise State against homestanding Washington.

The Huskies and Boise State announced a home-and-home series Wednesday, with the Broncos visiting Husky Stadium after a $250 million renovation on Sept. 7, 2013. Washington will play on the blue turf on Sept. 19, 2015.

The Huskies will be the fourth Pac-10 team agree to play a road game at Boise State, joining Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State.

Washington beat Boise State 24-10 in the team's only previous meeting in 2007.

Here's the school's official story on the game.

Seattle news for Huskies and Cougs

November, 18, 2010
Two news items coming out of Seattle today, other than UCLA's visit to Washington.

First, Washington's board of regents approved a $250 million renovation of Husky Stadium on Thursday that will be completed by the start of the 2013 football season, according to a press release from the school, which added "the renovation’s funding model includes no public, state or university contributions, and the UW department of Intercollegiate Athletics will be responsible for all funding."

Also from the release: "Plans include the complete demolition and reconstruction of the lower bowl and southside upper stands. The track will be removed, and the field lowered four feet to bring seating closer to the playing surface and improve sightlines. A state-of-the-art football operations facility including team meeting rooms, recruiting facilities and coaches offices will be incorporated into the west side of the stadium. Premium seating opportunities, including 25 suites, 25 loge boxes, and over 2,500 club seats, will be built into the facility. Overall seating capacity is expected to remain similar to the current capacity."

Second, Washington State announced it will play its 2011 game against Oregon State at Qwest Field in Seattle. The game will be played Oct. 22.

Last year Washington State announced its 2011 game against UNLV would be played at Qwest Field. That game will now be played Sept. 10 in Martin Stadium.

More here.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 12

November, 18, 2010
Issues to consider heading into the 12th week of games.

Building a Mansion in the Big Game: In big games, such as a rivalry game, you often get special performances that you don't see coming that go down in rivalry lore. For example, if California QB Brock Mansion were to outplay Stanford's Andrew Luck in Saturday's big game; wouldn't that be something? I know: It sounds crazy. Luck is the likely top pick in the NFL draft this spring. Mansion is making his third career start after Kevin Riley went down with a career-ending knee injury, and he's completed less than 50 percent of his throws with just one TD. But that's just my point. Sometimes you can envision the truly unexpected, and if the Bears are going to notch the upset and win their eighth Big Game in nine years, Mansion is going to have to come up big.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonJake Locker will play his final home game Thursday night.
Locker's final home game: Jake Locker has not had the season anyone envisioned he would when he opted to return for his senior season at Washington instead of grabbing his millions in the NFL draft -- even his critics, who have an odd obsession with calling a humble, classy young man overrated and relishing in his failure to live up to stratospheric expectations. UCLA's visit Thursday is his final game in Husky Stadium. He will get big cheers when he's introduced with his senior class. Will he also inspire them with his play?

Big day for Barkley: Oregon State ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency defense. Opponents are completing 63.5 percent of their passes and the Beavers have yielded 17 TD throws. USC QB Matt Barkley is third in the conference in passing efficiency and leads the conference with 25 TD passes. Toss in a solid Trojans run game, which the Beavers' struggling front needs to account for first, and you have a recipe for Barkley to put up big numbers.

Can Cal's defense duplicate Oregon effort? The Bears held Oregon to just one offensive touchdown and a season-low 317 total yards. It was an inspired effort. But Stanford's offense is pretty salty, too, ranking in the nation's top 15 in both scoring and total offense. And it's a more downhill, punch-you-in-the mouth approach. Cal will need the same kind of consistent effort and focus against the Cardinal because its offense has been struggling and may not be able to score much against an improved Stanford defense.

Bruins run, run, run: Washington ranks 118th in the nation in run defense. The Bruins rank a solid fourth in the Pac-10 with 194.4 yards rushing per game, and their one-two punch of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman is an effective lightning and thunder combo. It's expected to be cold, wet and rainy in Seattle tonight, which are not ideal conditions for the passing game, particularly for UCLA QB Richard Brehaut, who's never played in them. That means the Bruins should stick to the run and try to wear down a Huskies defense that tends to do just that.

Can Katz attack the Trojans' poor pass defense? Oregon State's offensive line has struggled all year, particularly in the running game, and RB Jacquizz Rodgers has vented his frustration a few times. The strength of the USC defense is up front, but it is vulnerable in the secondary, which has surrendered 284 yards passing per game, which ranks 116th in the nation, as well as 25 TD passes, most in the conference. Ryan Katz has struggled of late, and coach Mike Riley even briefly yanked him against Washington State. But Katz showed against Arizona that he can make plays downfield in the passing game. He's going to need to against the Trojans because the game could become a high-scoring affair.

Pac-10 predictions: Week 11

November, 18, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Been mediocre of late. Went 2-2 last week and the season record is now 48-16. You might find the top comment amusing, though.

Won't go .500 this week, that's for sure.

Washington 28, UCLA 24
: Jake Locker can't really lose his final game in Husky Stadium, can he? The Huskies' -- very bad -- run defense will need to step up, though.

Stanford 28, California 20
: The Cardinal has too much at stake to lose the Big Game. Stanford's advantage at quarterback will be too much to overcome for Cal, even playing at home. And will this be Andrew Luck's final Big Game? And what about Jim Harbaugh?

USC 40, Oregon State 24: USC is rolling. Oregon State is not. The Trojans luck in the state of Oregon will change. It just doesn't seem reasonable to believe that a defense that got pushed around by Washington State has a chance to slow down USC.

OFF: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington State.
A lot has been made of California's split personality this season, but it's possible UCLA and Washington are even more deranged.

Both started the season with high expectations, particularly Washington, which thought it had a Heisman Trophy candidate when quarterback Jake Locker opted to return for his senior season.

Splat. Both opened with losses on the road to mediocre teams.

Washington bounced back with a strong win over Syracuse. Joy! Then it got run over at home by Nebraska. Despair! Then the Huskies won at USC. Joy! Then the Huskies got bounced at home by Arizona State. Despair! Then they beat Oregon State in double-overtime. Joy!

Then they got waxed in three consecutive games. Lots of despair.

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesRick Neuheisel, the former Washington coach and current UCLA coach, will be a central figure when the Huskies host the Bruins on Thursday.
UCLA followed up its loss at Kansas State by getting trenched at home by Stanford 35-zip. Abandon ship! Then it beat Houston and Texas when the Cougars and Longhorns were still considered good. Back on the bandwagon! Then, after beating Washington State, the Bruins got waxed in two consecutive games and couldn't make plays at the end to upset Arizona. Bail on the Bruins!

Then, the Bruins upset Oregon State. Hope?

It's hard to project either way for either team as they head into a meeting Thursday night in Husky Stadium.

"When they play well in all three phases, [they] look really, really good -- as we have this year at times," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. "There are other times when things haven't gone well, that [things] have fallen apart on them, as they have for us."

And so both teams find themselves desperate for a win to keep bowl hopes alive. Sarkisian's Huskies need to win their final three game -- visits to California and Washington State are ahead -- while the Bruins need to win two of three -- they are at Arizona State then play host to USC in the season-finale.

So there's not a lot of margin for error, and everyone knows the stakes are high. A bowl game would make it a successful season for either team. A losing record would fall short of preseason expectations. Bruins safety Rahim Moore joked this week -- seemingly -- that he'd quit football if the Bruins didn't manage to earn bowl eligibility. It's clear both coaches aren't against dangling the bowl game as a motivational carrot.

"Whether I dangle it or not, our guys are well aware of what we need to do," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said.

As far as subplots, Neuheisel is one. The Huskies coach from 1999-2002, he's not very well liked by some in Seattle, who still blame him for the program's lengthy downturn, even though Neuheisel went to four bowl games in four years -- the worst was the Sun Bowl -- and won a Rose Bowl after the 2000 season.

Neuheisel, who has been gracious in his comments about Washington since being hired at UCLA, said he expects the animosity to die down, and that Huskies fans will mostly focus on rooting for their team. And as for his role in the program's downturn?

"There were a lot of mistakes made. Certainly, I made some," he said. "But it's been seven years. My last year coaching there was 2002. There's been ample time to fix things."

Another subplot is the return of Locker from a rib injury that sidelines him for the defeat at Oregon on Nov. 6. This will be Locker's final home game after a hugely disappointing season. Can he put on one final, big show, something like did down the stretch last year?

Speaking of quarterbacks, there's also UCLA's Richard Brehaut, who's been surprisingly effective running the Bruins pistol offense and has breathed some life into a once moribund passing game. It's taken some time, however, for Neuheisel and -- particularly -- offensive coordinator Norm Chow to develop confidence in Brehaut. Their hands were forced when starter Kevin Prince was lost for the year with a knee injury.

"Richard is kind of a swashbuckler who can get in there and throw the ball around and make it look really easy," Neuheisel said. "Then all of a sudden, when the defense is coming from a lot of different places, is he really aware of what's happening and remembering all the nuances that go with playing quarterback? He wasn't as advanced [as Prince]. Now that he's having to do it, he's learning and getting better very quickly."

Then there's the weather. It's expected to be cold and rainy. The perception is the Southern-California-centric UCLA roster won't be accustomed to that, particularly Brehaut.

Whatever the weather, though, Brehaut's best bet is to hand the ball off. The Bruins have run the ball well this year, and the Huskies rank 118th in the nation in run defense (219.6 yards per game).

Finally, Washington is going for a blackout -- black uniforms, black shirts for fans, black end zones -- in order to make a statement for the ESPN broadcast.

You could say they are dressing for a funeral. The question is: Will it be their own, or the Bruins in mourning after the game?

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
Issues to consider heading into the eighth week of games.

Ducks make a statement: Oregon is the big show Thursday night. Everybody will be watching ESPN to see what all the fuss is about regarding that team in the funny uniforms with ludicrous speed on offense. Folks, style points matter in the BCS system. If the Ducks post a, "Wow," performance, it helps them maintain or even improve their stature. It means, for example, the voters in the Southeast or the flyover states who raise a skeptical eye at Pac-10 football go, "Golly." Don't believe blowing out UCLA won't have traction. You can't argue about how the Bruins physically dominated Texas, which probably isn't going to lose another game in the Big 12. You want pollsters to go, "You know, Auburn/Oklahoma/Boise State is good, but Oregon, man, that team looks good."

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Rick BowmerRunning back LaMichael James and Oregon will be looking for style points on Thursday against UCLA.
Riley, Cal on the brink: The Pac-10 blog enjoys talking to California QB Kevin Riley. Strikes me as a cool dude. But one of the tough things about this job is you sometimes have to say unkind stuff about good dudes. Riley isn't alone to blame for the Bears' problems by any fair measure. But, as a senior, he needs to be more a part of the solution. He hasn't played well this season, particularly during the past three games (that doesn't include the Nevada game in which he made some critical mistakes but mostly played well). If Riley plays like he did against Colorado against Arizona State on Saturday, the Bears will win. Of course, the Sun Devils are a lot better than the Buffaloes. But it isn't about the opponent. It's about Riley being smart, accurate and making plays. And leading.

Cougs D-line vs. Stanford O-line: Stanford has the most physical offensive line in the conference. The Cougars' front seven showed some signs of improvement against a good Arizona O-line, but they still rank 119th in the nation in run defense. If you can't stop the run versus Stanford, well, suffice it to say, you are in big trouble, because Jim Harbaugh loves to be cruel -- which means running power at you over and over again until you wilt. You know, like he did to USC last year.

Great Scott? The storybook, at least from the Arizona side of things at it faces Washington, is Matt Scott replacing Nick Foles as the Wildcats' starting QB and playing great until Foles is able to return. That allows Scott to redeem himself for losing the starting job after three mediocre games in 2009. Fact is, plenty of folks in Tucson think Scott is a pretty good QB and they aren't panicking about him taking over. The truth, in fact, is the Wildcats' offense has been hot-and-cold, even with Foles. A more punchy running game would make things a lot easier for Scott, but it's likely he will have to make plays passing against Washington and going forward to keep the Wildcats in the Pac-10 race.

Bruising Bruins: What happens if UCLA eschews the passing game and runs right at the Oregon and it works? Sure, that doesn't sound very likely -- Stanford sure couldn't do it. But who thought the Bruins would overpower Texas a few weeks back and not need a passing game to post a blowout victory? As far as upset scenarios go, most for the Bruins start with an ability to consistently run the ball at the Ducks -- fast but undersized -- which also has the added benefit of keeping the Ducks' offense on the sidelines. You know, like Ohio State did in the Rose Bowl.

Sun Devils turn the corner: Was the win at Washington a breakthrough for Arizona State? Well, we should know Saturday at California. The Sun Devils, who should be rested after a bye, won a number of converts while losing three tough, competitive games to Wisconsin, Oregon and Oregon State, but it's hard to become too effusive about a team that keeps almost winning. You know, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And curling. And parallel parking. But we digress. The win in Husky Stadium wasn't fancy, but it wasn't sloppy, which was why there was a happy ending. If QB Steven Threet doesn't throw interceptions, and the Sun Devils as a whole avoid stupid penalties, this team can play with anyone.

Luck for Heisman? Stanford probably could run 75 times and beat Washington State. But style points matter, on a team and individual level. Harbaugh wants to win big and help his team climb the national polls. And QB Andrew Luck needs to post some impressive numbers to remain in the Heisman Trophy discussion. If the Cardinal softens up the Cougars with the power run game, there figure to be plenty of opportunities over the top. Luck should get three or four TD passes and then sit out the fourth quarter. Unless, of course, the Cougs make his life unexpectedly difficult.

Wildcats and Huskies and a pass rush: Arizona, led by DEs Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, leads the Pac-10 with 21 sacks. The Huskies, led by mobile QB Jake Locker and pretty good pass protection, have surrendered just eight sacks. Some Wildcats (and Huskies) fans might recall Locker having a fairly fancy moment of escapability against Arizona last year (hint: 56 yards). That's a strength-on-strength matchup. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have surrendered 17 sacks, second worst in the Pac-10 (a surprising number but the O-line had a terrible game at Washington State). The Huskies only have 13 sacks, which also ranks second to last in the conference. And the Huskies will be without the services of injured end Talia Crichton. That's a weak-on-weak matchup. Considering the Wildcats are starting their backup QB -- albeit an experienced one in Scott -- it seems the Huskies would really like to get a strong rush. And the Wildcats want to thwart that desire.

Pac-10 lunch links: Rodgers, Prince questionable for Saturday

October, 1, 2010
Happy Friday.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 2

September, 9, 2010
Ten issues to consider heading into the second week of games.

1. UCLA's run defense needs to bounce back: UCLA surrendered 313 yards rushing at Kansas State, including 234 yards on 28 carries to Daniel Thomas. Thomas is a quality back, but that's pretty freaking porous. While Stanford visits the Rose Bowl on Saturday without Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal offensive line is more talented than the Kansas State crew. If the Bruins front seven doesn't buck up, Stanford will use a its new backfield-by-committee to run over them. While Andrew Luck is the star, Jim Harbaugh would be perfectly content to run it 40 times. And, of course, if the Bruins can't stop the run, their obsession with it will provide plenty of big downfield opportunities for Luck.

2. Jake Locker and the Washington offense need to play better at home: Washington scored just 17 points and got shut out in the second half at BYU. Twice in the second half, drives deep in Cougars territory ended after failed fourth-down conversion attempts. Locker's numbers weren't bad, but no player shoulders more responsibility for his team's success as he does. The fifth-year senior who spent much of the summer being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate when pundits weren't talking about his NFL prospects. Syracuse won't be a push-over on defense -- 10 starters are back from 2009. But Washington plays better in Husky Stadium, and the guess here is Locker and his supporting cast on offense will be far sharper.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/George FreyExpect Jake Locker and the Washington offense to be more sharp against Syracuse than it was against BYU.
3. Does Oregon QB Darron Thomas start fast or get rattled? Thomas' first career road start will be in Tennessee's Neyland Stadium, which means there will be 105,000 or so orange-clad fans riding his case. There's no way to know how a young man will react to that. He might come out smooth and poised and lead a dominant offensive effort by distributing the ball to all of his weapons. Or he might make an early mistake or two and get rattled and down on himself. Just as Autzen Stadium gives the Ducks a big advantage, so does Neyland do the same for the Volunteers.

4. Did USC's defense just have a bad day at Hawaii? It's possible that USC just had a bad night at Hawaii, that the poor tackling and flat effort weren't indicative of the capabilities of a seemingly talented crew. It's possible that Monte Kiffin and Ed Orgeron will correct mental and physical mistakes, make a few personnel decisions, and USC will show Virginia that it's back to its stingy ways. But there's also enough available evidence now -- see terrible performances vs. Oregon and Stanford in 2009 -- to support the notion that the Trojans' defense has lost its swagger and isn't actually as talented as its recruiting rankings suggest. Virginia shouldn't be able to keep up with USC on Saturday. But if the same defense from Hawaii shows up, the Cavaliers will do just that.

5. Cal's Kevin Riley completes 60 percent of his passes: Riley owns a career 54 percent completion rate. Accuracy has long been his bugaboo. Of course, he also hasn't benefited from great receivers during his tenure. Last weekend, he completed 70 percent -- 14 of 20 -- of his throws, though it's worth noting that UC Davis is an FCS team. What was most notable, however, were the impressive performances by his receivers, particularly true freshman Keenan Allen. There was a reasonable theory in the preseason that Riley would breakthrough as a senior, because that's when the light goes on for many QBs. It will be a lot easier with a dangerous group of playmakers at receiver, guys who can go and get the ball -- even when it's not perfectly thrown -- and boost a completion percentage. Colorado is strong at cornerback, so it will offer a good test as to whether Riley and his receivers are truly in sync and ready for Pac-10 play.

6. Washington State buries Montana State from the get-go: It's fairly simple. Washington State needs to go out and whip Montana State. It needs to start quickly, establish dominance and allow its fans to feel good about the program. The Bobcats are a quality FCS team, but the Cougars should have restocked their talent enough in year three with coach Paul Wulff to take them to the woodshed. Jumping to a big lead will boost the confidence in the locker room. Struggling and playing a tight game into the fourth quarter won't. Losing? Let's not even go there.

7. Arizona's rebuilt defense posts another dominant performance: The Wildcats defense was surprisingly stout at Toledo, a team that piled up big numbers on offense in 2009. Things should be even easier on Saturday against The Citadel in front of the home crowd. Still, another game of experience is another game of experience, no matter the quality of the opponent, and smoothing out any wrinkles will be valuable leading into the Sept. 18 visit from Iowa. Arizona needs to jump on The Citadel hard and then get its starters to the bench early in the third quarter.

8. Arizona State QB Steven Threet is cool, efficient vs. Northern Arizona: Threet played well in the opener vs. Portland State, and the Sun Devils offense as a whole looks substantially more skilled than the anemic unit from 2009. Threet and his mates need to duplicate that performance in another "preseason" game vs. an FCS program. The idea is to be as confident as possible before heading to Wisconsin on Sept. 18. It also would be nice to get all the starters on the bench as soon as possible so they will be rested and healthy.

9. Andrew Luck vs. Rahim Moore: If UCLA's run defense proves stout, that means Stanford will have to throw. And that means a showdown between these two All-American talents. Luck has uncanny downfield accuracy. That's one of the big reasons NFL scouts love him. Moore led the nation with 10 interceptions a year ago, so his ball skills qualify as uncanny, too. Will Luck be able to beat Moore and the Bruins over the top? Or will Moore bait Luck into an ill-advised throw that could be a game-changer?

10. Will Tennessee be able to run against Oregon? If the Vols can't run vs. Oregon, the Ducks are going to deliver a butt-kicking. No way Matt Sims, a junior JC transfer, will be able to pass them to victory. But Tennessee rolled up 332 yards rushing in its opener -- albeit vs. Tennessee-Martin -- and its got a strong stable of running backs, topped by Tauren Poole, and a big, talented, if inexperienced, offensive line. The Ducks defense is as fast as they come, but it also is undersized. If the Vols power-running game is consistently effective, then Oregon will be in for a highly competitive test.