Pac-12: internal affairs
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A look inside the Pac-10 this week.
Pac-10: This week defines the conference, with eight of 10 nonconference opponents having played in bowl games last year and five representing other BCS conferences. It's more than USC trying to defend its No. 1 ranking against visiting Ohio State, ranked fifth. It's UCLA at No. 18 BYU. It's No. 16 Oregon at Purdue. It's Arizona looking for revenge at New Mexico. It's Washington playing host to No. 3 Oklahoma. It's California at Maryland, Stanford at TCU, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and Arizona State trying not to look ahead to Georgia while playing UNLV. The Pac-10 is 7-3 so far in nonconference games, and two of the losses came against ranked opponents. If the conference were to have a big weekend -- say go 8-2 or 9-1 -- it would send a message to the rest of the nation.
USC: Coach Pete Carroll sometimes can be difficult -- in a pleasant way, of course -- with reporters. Ask him a question that has a negative turn, and he'll reject it in favor of something positive. But when asked about linebackers Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga nursing wrist and hand injuries this week, he admitted that, yes, those types of injuries make it harder to tackle. Harder to tackle, say, 240-pound speedsters like Ohio State RB Chris Wells. Maualuga has practiced all week, but seems to favor his hand. Cushing missed half of practice Tuesday, but because of a hip bruise, not his wrist. If Cushing is limited, DE Clay Matthews, a pass-rush specialist, would slide over at strongside LB. It's hard to believe that one of these injuries won't become an issue Saturday.
Washington: It's hard to imagine Washington beating Oklahoma, so that means an 0-3 start for the Huskies with the screws tightening on coach Tyrone Willingham. The question, really, then is whether the Huskies play hard the entire game and keep things interesting. Would a respectable performance mollify fans, with a string of more manageable games ahead after a bye week (Stanford, Arizona, Oregon State and Notre Dame)? After school president Mark Emmert -- who held the same post at LSU and loves his football -- went public with a request for patience, it seems like even a blowout loss wouldn't cost Willingham his job before the end of the season. If the Huskies gut it out and put a scare into the Sooners, it's not unreasonable to project them winning a couple of their upcoming games and possibly building some momentum. Still, finding six wins over the remaining nine games feels extremely difficult, and the general feeling is six wins is a minimum standard for Willingham to survive.
UCLA: Is UCLA ready to refocus after a bye week? BYU will come at the Bruins with a far more sophisticated -- and balanced -- offense than Tennessee, so the week off to game plan likely will help. Washington barely touched Cougars QB Max Hall, who looked like a Heisman Trophy candidate while completing 30 of 41 passes for 348 yards and three TDs, so figuring out ways to apply pressure will be the biggest task for defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. This will be the second consecutive veteran offensive line Walker has schemed against, and the Cougars may be even better than the Vols. On the other side of the ledger, the Cougars' secondary is vulnerable -- it will not be able to match the athleticism of the Bruins WRs. But QB Kevin Craft needs time to throw, and it's still uncertain how well the Bruins OL will hold up. The BYU front seven won't be as athletic as the Vols, but it's still a strong crew. Further, will "Leaky" Craft or "Jet" Craft show up? Guess is OC Norm Chow is hoping for the Craft of the second half of the Tennessee game, not the one who threw four interceptions in the first half.
Oregon: With Oregon, it's almost always about the Ducks' potent spread offense, which is fancy. But the visit to Purdue figures to be more of a test for the defense. Purdue QB Curtis Painter has started 33 consecutive games and has thrown for a lot of yards in the Boilermakers' version of the spread. In other words, he knows most of the tricks in the book. The Ducks' defense focuses on stopping the run first and relying on an experienced and talented secondary to win one-on-one matchups in the back-half. So this one figures to turn on how the touted Ducks' secondary does against Painter. Will the front seven help by pressuring Painter into mistakes? Or will Painter find seams in the secondary and earn the Big Ten a statement victory?
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
A look inside the Pac-10 this week.
Washington: The heat is on coach Tyrone Willingham, and his likely tall order is producing an upset victory over No. 15 BYU at Husky Stadium this weekend in front of an increasingly disgruntled fan base. It's obvious that the Huskies defense can only do so much with schemes to mask talent gaps. But it's the offense that severely underachieved at Oregon. That should improve this week inside a home stadium where calling audibles at the line of scrimmage will be far easier than inside boisterous Autzen Stadium. The offensive line, which was surprisingly bad against the Ducks, also should feel challenged this week, and a less athletic BYU defense should help. Moreover, offensive coordinator Tim Lappano told reporters he plans to expand the playbook after holding back with so many freshmen in the playing rotation.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils offensive line -- picked apart during the preseason -- mostly passed its first test against Northern Arizona. Give them a gentleman's C, considering the absence of a running game while yielding only one sack. Stanford will offer a far stouter test. For one, the Cardinal feature a veteran defense with nine starters returning. Second, that defense was strong against the run vs. Oregon State but gave up 404 yards passing, which means ASU QB Rudy Carpenter will be firing away. But will he be safe in the pocket? This won't just be a test of the OL, either. It will be a test of whether Carpenter will stick to the plan to get rid of the ball quickly instead of trying to wait for a big play to develop downfield. It's notable, though, that the Beavers rebuilt offensive line only gave up two sacks in 54 pass attempts to the Cardinal.
Oregon State: It's interesting how so many appear to be expecting Penn State to roll through the Beavers. That gets a big "hmmm" here. Are folks supposed to be impressed with the Nittany Lions bludgeoning Coastal Carolina 66-10 with 334 yards on the ground and six rushing TDs? If so, why isn't Arizona getting more hype for its 70-zip win over Idaho, which would beat Coastal Carolina, a team that, apparently, is located on the coast of one of the Carolinas? I see an Oregon State team that will shock Penn State with its speed on the perimeter. If the Beavers maintain something approaching parity in the trenches, this will be a close game. The return of safety Al Afalava also will substantially help the Beavers run defense, which was so porous against Stanford. One caveat: It's also possible that some of OSU's younger players will be wide-eyed playing in front of 107,000-plus at Beaver Stadium, so that could lead to early and critical mistakes.
USC: Which is more important a RB's foot or an LB's finger? While most eyes are on Ohio State RB Beanie Wells' injured foot in anticipation of the Buckeyes Sept. 13 visit to USC, it might be as important to pay attention to Trojans LB Rey Maualuga's broken finger, which he aggravated vs. Virginia while turning in a performance well below the All-American's standards. The thing with a RB's foot -- it becomes obvious when it's injured and the back can't play. With a finger, the feeling is tape it up and go. But it's often worse to play with a seemingly minor injury because it can lead to major mistakes. Recall QB John David Booty playing with an injured hand in the upset loss to Stanford and tossing four interceptions. What if a RB or TE escapes a Maualuga tackle and transforms a routine play into a TD? Moreover, USC has been quietly hit by injuries to its LB depth, most particularly Maualuga's talented backup Chris Galippo (back). At present, Maualuga's backup is true freshman Uona Kaveinga, though Galippo could be back for the Ohio State game.
UCLA: If we can step away from the glow of an upset win over Tennessee for a moment, the present and future reality is the Bruins need to replace three injured offensive starters. Recall: This offense already has a patchwork line and is using its third QB. So who steps in for TE Logan Paulsen (broken foot), WR Marcus Everett (toe) and TB Kahlil Bell (ankle)? Well, Paulsen's replacement Ryan Moya didn't look like a lightweight after leading the Bruins with seven receptions for 65 yards against the Vols -- including the go-ahead 3-yard TD pass with 27 seconds left -- but Paulsen's absence hurts the viability of two-TE sets. With Everett out a few weeks, junior Terrence Austin steps in. He caught five passes for 37 yards against the Vols. Sophomore Dominique Johnson and freshman Taylor Embree both played well against Tennessee, so there's encouraging depth there. And at TB, Raymond Carter jumps to the first team, but count on Rick Neuheisel tapping into his talented freshman class, including Aundre Dean.