Pac-12: Toledo Rockets

ASU, Arizona aim to make early statements

September, 5, 2012
Arizona and Arizona State are bitter rivals, but they also have a lot in common at present.

Both were severely disappointing in 2011. Both have new head coaches as a result. Those new coaches, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Todd Graham at Arizona State, know each other well. They both are somewhat controversial for various reasons. Both run up-tempo offenses that looked pretty good in week one. And both won.

Further, both will be home against major-conference foes on Saturday. Both teams lost on the road to those foes last year.

Of course, the parallels are not exact. Arizona is a double-digit underdog to No. 18 Oklahoma State, while Arizona State is a slight favorite over Illinois.

The Wildcats are playing the Cowboys for a third time in 15 months. Both previous meetings were blowout defeats. But these aren't the same Cowboys who nipped Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. They lost quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Justin Blackmon and welcome back just 12 starters. Their new signal-caller, freshman Wes Lunt, will be making his first road start after receiving no challenge at all last weekend against a dreadful Savannah State team.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriASU ran roughshod over Northern Arizona in Todd Graham's debut; Illinois presents a stiffer test.
"They could have scored 184 by halftime if they'd kept their starters in," Rodriguez said of the Cowboys' farcical 84-zip victory.

Illinois beat the Sun Devils 17-14 last year, but those programs' seasons were notably similar. Both Arizona State and Illinois started fast, earned national rankings, then cratered. And, therefore, fired their coaches.

Another tie that binds: New Illinois coach Tim Beckman coached Toledo, the team Arizona beat last weekend, for three years before arriving in Champaign, losing at home to the Wildcats in 2010.

Still, while everyone will know each other in points central and south in Arizona, there are plenty of unknowns. Last season's game films shouldn't be too revealing for anyone.

"We watched it a whole bunch looking at the personnel," Graham said. "I think it helps us evaluate their personnel but their defense is different, their offense is different. It's all new coordinators so from a schematic standpoint it didn't help us at all. From a personnel standpoint, studying their personnel, that is what we mostly used it for."

And even that is a bit confusing. Veteran Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is decidedly questionable after hurting his ankle during a 24-7 win over Western Michigan. The Sun Devils might be facing a dual-QB system with Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei.

That would be a big advantage for the Sun Devils, though Graham said he's preparing his team as if Scheelhaase will play. On defense, the Illini are stout. It should give Graham's up-tempo offense and new starting QB Taylor Kelly a far bigger challenge than Northern Arizona did in week one.

Still, the Sun Devils appear far more likely than the Wildcats to improve to 2-0 and generate further positive momentum for Graham.

The Wildcats have a puncher's chance for an upset, but their defense is going to have to catch a few breaks. The unit played fairly well against Toledo, at least based on low expectations entering the game. But Oklahoma State, the defending Big 12 champion, is not Toledo. Even with some new players in key positions, the expectations for a lot of points will continue in Stillwater. The Cowboys have been consistently good on offense under coach Mike Gundy.

“It’s an opportunity for us to play a ranked team," Rodriguez said. "I told our team there’s not a lot of people who talk about Arizona football in certain circles, and if you want to become more relevant, the best way to do it is to beat a ranked team. It’s a great challenge but also a great opportunity."

Arizona and Arizona State are constantly trying to one-up the other, and it will be popular to compare the records Rodriguez and Graham produce their first seasons. While both are ultimately trying to build programs that consistently compete in the top half of the conference, the competition and rivalry will be present each step of the way.

So fans of both programs are hoping, with considerable zeal, that they don't share anything in common at the stroke of midnight on Saturday.

Hat trick for Pac-12 in night games

September, 2, 2012
After a rough start to the day for the Pac-12, USC pounded Hawaii and the conference swept the night games. Here's the breakdown of the three 7:30 p.m. kickoffs:

Oregon 57, Arkansas State 34: For 30 minutes Saturday night, Arkansas State outscored the No. 5 Oregon Ducks 24-7. That would have been great news for the Red Wolves, had the Ducks not dropped 50 on them halfway through the second quarter.

Marcus Mariota impressed in his debut as Oregon's starting quarterback, completing 19 of 23 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Twice he connected with De'Anthony Thomas and another went to Josh Huff.

Thomas -- who enters the season with some Heisman hype -- didn't disappoint. The versatile player who comes at you from all angles rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on three carries to go with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner also added a pair of rushing touchdowns, carrying the ball nine times for 66 yards.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly pulled a large portion of his starters halfway through the second quarter when the Ducks had built a 50-3 lead.

Byron Marshall got plenty of work, carrying the ball 24 times for 65 yards and a score. In relief of Mariota, Bryan Bennett connected on 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rahsaan Vaughn.

Washington 21, San Diego State 12: It was a mixed-bag performance for Washington, which topped San Diego State 21-12.

The defense showed significant signs of improvement -- at times -- and the offense looked explosive -- at times -- but both also faltered at times leaving the end result in doubt until the final minutes.

Quarterback Keith Price completed 25 of 35 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown and Bishop Sankey rushed for 66 yards on 22 carries with a score. Washington's third score came on a 44-yard fumble recovery from Will Shamburger. The Huskies defense -- revamped under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox -- forced three SDSU turnovers.

The Huskies jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but gave one back when SDSU receiver Tim Vizzi pulled the old Pop Warner, sneak-on-the-field-near-the-sideline play. No one picked him up and Ryan Katz hit him for a 47-yard touchdown.

But despite giving up 327 total yards (199 on the ground), the Huskies kept the Aztecs out of the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Adam Muema scored on a 1-yard run. Both of SDSU's two-point conversion attempts failed.

Washington is sure to get a tougher test on both sides of the ball when it travels to face LSU next week.

Arizona 24, Toledo 17, OT: Matt Scott connected with Terrence Miller for a 10-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17, bailing out kicker John Bonano, who missed a 25-yard field goal as time expired that would have given the Wildcats a victory.

Rolling to his right, Scott found Miller just in front of the end zone and released a dart just before being pulled out of bounds. He finished 30-of-46 for 384 yards and two touchdowns and helped make Rich Rodriguez a winner in his first game as Arizona's head coach.

Scott's first touchdown was a 30-yarder to Austin Hill, who laid out and made a fingertip catch in the end zone to put Arizona ahead 10-7 in the second quarter after Bonano's 26-yard field goal Arizona a 3-0 lead early in the game. Hill finished with seven catches for 136 yards and Dan Buckner also broke 100 yards, catching a team-high nine balls for 118 yards.

Running back Ka'Deem Carey turned in a strong performance with 149 yards on 20 carries that included a 73-yard touchdown run.

Arizona piled on 623 yards of offense, but also committed three turnovers, including two fumbles lost. By contrast, Toledo had 347 yards of total offense.

Video: Friday Four Downs

August, 31, 2012

The Friday Four Downs segment looks at four main points of interest for the Pac-12's weekend games.

Media rankings for nonconference schedule

July, 31, 2012
We've told you about the preseason Pac-12 media poll, which projected things as most folks believed it would. But what about all the other media polls out there for teams that cross paths with Pac-12 teams this fall?

Don't worry. We are here to help.

The Pac-12 has dates with the preseason SEC (LSU-Washington) and Big Ten (Wisconsin-Oregon State) favorites, but there also is plenty of mediocrity on the nonconference slate this season. There's only one game between the conference and the ACC (Duke-Stanford) and Big 12 (Oklahoma State-Arizona). There's two between the Pac-12 and SEC because Missouri (Arizona State) switched its affiliation away from the Big 12.

And it's clear the Big Ten, the Pac-12's Rose Bowl rival, is still the chief partner for quality nonconference action. There also are dates with Illinois (Arizona State), Ohio State (California) and Nebraska (UCLA).

There also are seven dates with the Mountain West Conference: Colorado State (Colorado), Fresno State (Oregon, Colorado), Nevada (California), Hawaii (USC), San Diego State (Washington State) and UNLV (Washington State).

BYU and Notre Dame, as Independents, aren't in preseason media polls. FCS teams aren't included

Arizona: Toledo (first in MAC West Division); Oklahoma State (fourth in Big 12)

Arizona State: Illinois (fourth in the Big Ten Leaders Division); Missouri (fourth in SEC East)

California: Nevada (second in Mountain West); Ohio State (second in Big Ten Leaders Division);

Colorado: Colorado State (eighth in Mountain West); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon: Arkansas State (second in Sun Belt); Fresno State (third in Mountain West)

Oregon State: Wisconsin (first in Big Ten Leaders Division)

Stanford: San Jose State (third in WAC); Duke (last in ACC Coastal Division)

UCLA: Rice (fifth in Conference USA West Division); Nebraska (first in Big Ten Legends Division; Big Ten champs); Houston (first in Conference USA West Division)

USC: Hawaii (seventh in Mountain West), Syracuse (seventh in Big East)

Utah: Utah State (second in WAC)

Washington: San Diego State (fifth in Mountain West); LSU (first in SEC West, SEC champs)

Washington State: UNLV (ninth in Mountain West)

Week 1 primer: Pac-12 South

July, 3, 2012
Week 1 can't get here soon enough. Every team plays an out-of-conference opponent in the first two weeks of the season, so we thought we'd take a quick look at who is coming up in Week 1. We'll go into greater detail as the start of the season draws closer. This is just a primer for those who need their beaks moistened and whistles whet. We'll take a look at the North later today.


Game: at Arizona, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Matt Campbell (1-0, first full season)

2011 record: 9-4 (7-1 MAC)

Did you know: Even though the Rockets lose seven starters on offense, quarterbacks (yes, plural) Terrance Owens and Austin Dantin both ranked in the top 20 nationally last year in passing efficiency. Fun fact: Owens was also drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 40th round (pick 1,215), even though he has almost no baseball experience. (Wisely, he turned down the offer and as someone who used to be on the Padres beat, can't say I blame him).


Game: at Arizona State, Thursday, Aug. 30

Coach: Jerome Souers (76-82, 15th season)

2011 record: 4-7 (3-5 Big Sky)

Did you know: Running back Zach Bauman returns after posting 1,435 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. He's joined by returning quarterback Cary Grossart, who completed almost 66 percent of his passes for 2,745 yards with 16 touchdowns to seven interceptions. ASU downed the Lumberjacks 41-20 in 2010, pulling away in the fourth quarter after NAU drew to within 27-20 at the end of the third.


Game: at Colorado, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Jim McElwain (first year)

2011 record: 3-9 (1-6, MWC)

Did you know: Last year Colorado State ranked 116th in rush defense and Colorado ranked 106th in rush offense. Something's gotta give, and since Colorado's offensive line is fairly solid this year, I'm banking on the Buffs and Tony Jones. The Rams also need to break in a new quarterback after Pete Thomas, a two-year starter, opted to transfer following the firing of Steve Fairchild.


Game: UCLA, Thursday, Aug. 30

Coach: David Bailiff (23-38, sixth year)

2011 record: 4-8 (3-5 Conference USA)

Did you know: Canadian-born tight end Luke Willson played in the Toronto Blue Jays extended spring training and was drafted by the Toronto Argos of the CFL. The running joke around campus is that the Maple Leafs will draft him next (yes, he played hockey in high school). This is someone Jim Mora & Co. will have to worry aboot.


Game: at USC, Saturday, Sept. 1

Coach: Norm Chow (first season)

2011 record: 6-7 (3-4 WAC)

Did you know: Chow spent four years at USC. Of course you knew that. Everyone knows that, which is what makes his return to Southern California such a fascinating reunion. Though it's not entirely novel because he spent time at UCLA prior to Hawaii. But now he's coming back as a head coach. This will be Hawaii's first year in the Mountain West Conference and they return seven starters on offense, four on defense.


Game: at Utah, Thursday, Aug. 30

Coach: Earnest Collins Jr. (0-11, second year)

2011 record: 0-11 (0-8 Big Sky)

Did you know: The Bears only lose three offensive starters and those who return accounted for 94.5 percent of their total offensive yards. However, returning quarterback Seth Lobato (Buffs fans might remember the name) loses his favorite receiving threat in Patrick Walker, who had 84 catches last year for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns.
What if the Mayans got it right? Or worse ... what if John Cusack got it right? That means there is only one season left of college football before civilization gets a facelift (and we won't even get to see the national championship game, bummer). So every week has got to count. We're taking you on the ultimate week-by-week road trip in the Pac-12.

Welcome to Week 1.

Thursday Aug. 30
  • Northern Colorado at Utah
  • UCLA at Rice
  • Northern Arizona at Arizona State
  • Washington State at BYU
Friday, Aug. 31
  • San Jose State at Stanford
Saturday Sept. 1
  • Nevada at Cal
  • Nicholls State at Oregon State
  • Colorado State at Colorado
  • Hawaii at USC
  • San Diego State at Washington
  • Arkansas State at Oregon
  • Toledo at Arizona
My choice: Washington State at BYU

Why: Who isn't excited to see Mike Leach return to his roots in Provo, Utah? As we talked about in our most-important-game series, this is going to be a good first measuring stick to see how far Washington State has come in Leach's short tenure.

There is a good vibe coming out of Pullman right now with the potentially explosive combination of Jeff Tuel to Marquess Wilson and a quality road victory to start the year -- and the new era -- would keep that momentum going.

BYU is replacing at least one starting cornerback and one safety, so the Cougars will be tested by WSU's passing onslaught. Should make for an exciting first game.

If that game is sold out, my backup would be San Diego State at Washington. First, Ryan Katz makes his return to the Pac-12 since transferring out of Oregon State. Second, a lot of folks are curious to see what Washington's overhauled defense is going to look like outside of a scrimmage situation. (But we'll get to the Huskies in Week 2).
TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's not difficult to come up with a fair explanation for Arizona's 7-1 start that devolved into a 0-5 finish. In the first eight games, the Wildcats played an easy schedule. They were better than teams such as Toledo, Washington State and UCLA. In the last five games, they played a brutal schedule. Their opponents went a combined 49-15, including two top-five (Stanford and Oregon) and one top-10 team (Oklahoma State).

Still, at 7-1 and ranked 13th with a win over Iowa, the Wildcats headed into a marquee showdown with Stanford on Nov. 6 believing they could play with anyone. Turns out they couldn't. And, considering the Cardinal, Ducks and Cowboys whipped up the Wildcats badly, well, a fair explanation only goes so far.

"It still exposes some things within your team," coach Mike Stoops said. "It told you when the going got tough, we didn't respond as well as we needed to."

[+] EnlargeStanford's Anthony Wilkerson
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREDuring a five-game losing streak that began with a loss to Stanford, coach Mike Stoops said his Wildcats were exposed. "The physical part of it, we didn't respond well," he said.
And where the Wildcats most didn't respond clearly bothers Stoops.

"The physical part of it, we didn't respond well," he said. "We have to be more than just a finesse team. The physical matchup is what I didn't like."

Therein lies the challenge for the Wildcats as they leave spring practices behind and focus on offseason workouts. They must find five new starters on the offensive line -- the 2010 unit decidedly underachieved -- and they must replace the best defensive end combination in the Pac-10: Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore.

That suggests a need for some finesse due to physical losses. The defense is likely going to have to blitz more, while the offense -- which welcomes back quarterback Nick Foles and one of the best groups of receivers in the country -- is likely going to be pass-heavy.

Said Stoops, "We're going to have to throw to set up the run, I don't think there's any question about that."

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who learned offense from spread savant Mike Leach after four years coaching at Texas Tech, talks about finding "different ways as coaches to scheme people to run the football," but he admits there's going to be a temptation to scrap the handoffs and throw 50 times a game.

"Absolutely. Especially because that's kind of the background where I came from," he said. "That's what I, at times, feel comfortable with. But at the same time you've got to take pressure off the quarterback by running the football."

A key proponent of balance: Foles. All quarterbacks like to throw the ball, but the passing game is much easier when defenses have to respect the run.

"There's definitely a need for balance," Foles said. "People saw that in the national championship game with Oregon, one of the nation's most high-powered offenses. When you can't run the ball, it's tough. Passing is great but to be a great team you've got to be able to do both."

During the five-game losing streak, the Wildcats averaged 98 yards rushing. Not good.

On the other side of the ball, the run defense wasn't much better during the downturn. Oregon rushed for a whopping 389 yards, while Stanford and USC both went over 200.

That's the out-physical-ed part that irks Stoops.

The Wildcats also head into the 2011 season with significant changes on the staff, starting with the departures of one half of the coordinator tandems they used on both sides of the ball in 2010. That means the offense is up to Littrell and the defense belongs to Tim Kish. Stoops said the co-coordinator setup was more of a challenge on offense. The theme this spring was simplify.

"We were trying to mix and match too much last year," he said. "We got discombobulated, I think. We got exposed late in the year on some things. Seth has to grow into this position and have total control with Nick. We need to all be on the same page."

Stoops has built a winning program but taking the next step means that no portion of the schedule proves insurmountable. And, yes, that five-game losing streak still lingers in just about every Wildcats' head, coaches and players.

"We all have it in the back of our minds," linebacker Paul Vassallo said. "It's not talked about anymore. It's the 2011 season. But we're all hungry to get that first win, that's for sure."

Ah, but the scheduled does a reverse next fall. The Wildcats figure to get their first win -- and end the losing streak -- in the opener against Northern Arizona, but then look at the schedule: Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC on consecutive weekends. The Cowboys, Cardinal and Ducks each will be ranked in the preseason top-10, and it's still not easy to visit the Coliseum.

It won't be too difficult to come up with a fair explanation for a slow start. But those fair explanations have a shelf life. Stoops and his Wildcats don't want to give them anymore. And Wildcats fans don't want to hear them.

Arizona season recap

December, 7, 2010
That Arizona got blown out by both Oregon and Stanford isn't the problem with the 2010 season. The Wildcats' what-might-have-been season is based on three close defeats by a combined six points.

The Wildcats started impressively. They dominated on the road at Toledo -- the Rockets finished 8-4 and are playing in the Little Caesars Bowl -- and then made an impressive physical assertion in a 34-27 win over then-No. 9 Iowa.

They gutted out a win over California -- a second-consecutive game-winning TD drive from quarterback Nick Foles made the difference -- but then seemed flat on both sides of the ball in a 29-27 loss to Oregon State. Still, after a three-game winning streak, they were 7-1 and were 15th in the BCS standings, having survived an injury to Foles due to impressive play by backup Matt Scott.

They got humbled at Stanford 42-17, as the run defense sprung a leak that would be the story over the final third of the season. They got outrushed 205-51 in a home loss to USC. And they got outrushed 389-58 by Oregon.

But the late-season slide would have been bearable -- hey, the schedule was much tougher -- if not for the double-overtime home loss to rival Arizona State due to a pair of blocked PATs. That was excruciating.

Offensive MVP: This will be our only co-MVP: QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner. They are the Pac-10's best pass-catch combination, and if both opt to return for their senior seasons, the Wildcats should be pretty dangerous throwing the ball in 2011. Foles completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,911 yards -- in 10 games -- with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Criner was eighth in the nation and first in the Pac-10 with 98.8 yards receiving per game and 10 TDs. Whenever the Wildcats' offense needed a play, Foles and Criner were the ones who made it.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Ricky Elmore led the Wildcats with 13 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. His 48 total tackles also led all Wildcats defensive linemen.

Turning point: Arizona went to Stanford 7-1 and ranked 15th. That humbling game became the first of four losses to end the season.

What’s next? If Foles and Criner return, the offense has a chance to be good, though the entire line must be rebuilt (which is sort of a big issue). The defense is a reverse of last year. There will be a lot of returning experience in the secondary and at linebacker, and there's some young quality at tackle, but replacing three quality ends -- Elmore and Brooks Reed as well as solid No. 3 guy D'Aundre Reed -- won't be easy. But the Pac-12 South figures to be wide open in 2011. And don't be surprised if the 2011 Territorial Cup plays a significant role in figuring out who wins the division. A tough road trip to Oklahoma State is the highlight of the nonconference schedule.

Pac-10 did you know?: Week 7

October, 15, 2010
Some quick notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Arizona has won the past four meetings with Washington State, outscoring the Cougars 182-72 (27.5 ppg margin of victory).
  • Arizona has not started 5-1 since 2000. That team, however, lost its final five games to finish 5-6.
  • Arizona is fifth in the nation in passing yards per game (328.6) and Washington State’s pass defense is 108th in passing yards allowed (262.8). The Cougars run defense ranks last in the nation: 254.7 ypg.
  • Arizona will be playing its first road game since a season-opening win at Toledo. Since 2007, the Wildcats have struggled on the road with a 7-11 record (compared to 17-6 at home).
  • Washington State has lost 12 straight and 20 of its past 21 Pac-10 games since 2008, with the only win coming against Washington in the final game of 2008 (16-13 in OT). The Pac-10 record for most consecutive conference losses is 20 by Oregon State from 1979-82.
  • Oregon State has won six straight vs. Washington, its longest streak against the Huskies. A Beaver running back has had 100 yards in five straight meetings, including Jacquizz Rodgers’ 159 yards last season.
  • The Beavers are 2-0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 2003, when they then lost to Washington. They haven’t been 3-0 in conference play since 1968, when they started 4-0 in the Pac-8.
  • Expect lots of points in Seattle. Oregon State is 90th in FBS in scoring defense (30.0 ppg), while Washington is 95th (30.8 ppg).
  • The Huskies rank sixth in the nation in red-zone efficiency, scoring on 15 of their 16 trips inside the 20 (10 TD, five FG). The only failure was an end-zone interception in the closing minutes of last week’s loss to Arizona State.
  • Jake Locker has been held in check rushing the ball this season. Other than his 110 yards against USC, he has rushed for a total of 106 yards in the other four games combined.
  • California leads the Pac-10 in total defense, surrendering only 254.8 yards per game. USC yields 287.5 passing yards per game, which ranks 116th in the nation.
  • USC ranks 13th in the country in total offense (476 yards per game) and 24th in scoring offense (35.67 ppg).
  • Trojans QB Matt Barkley ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency.
  • Cal hasn't beaten USC since 2003. The Trojans won in Berkeley last year 30-3.
  • The first official BCS Standings of 2010 will be released Sunday on ESPN at 8:15 pm ET on BCS Countdown. Based on the coaches' poll, Harris poll and five of the six BCS computer rankings, here's an almost-exact version (missing one computer poll) of what the BCS Standings would've looked like if they had been released this week.

1. Boise State .913
2. Oregon .863
3. TCU .854
4. Oklahoma .8425
5. Ohio State .8421
6. LSU .782
7. Nebraska .777
8. Auburn .744
9. Michigan State .642
10. Alabama .634

Pac-10 Week 2: Did you know?

September, 10, 2010
Some quick notes to get you through the hours until Saturday.
  • Five Pac-10 players accounted for at least three TDs last weekend: California's Shane Vereen, Oregon's Kenjon Barner (5 TDs), USC Ronald Johnson (4 TDs), Arizona State's Deantre Lewis and Arizona State's Cameron Marshall.
  • Three Pac-10 QBs rank among the nation's top seven in passing efficiency: Stanford's Andrew Luck at No. 3, USC's Matt Barkley at No. 4 and California's Kevin Riley at No. 7.
  • Seven different Arizona receivers caught at least three passes last week at Toledo.
  • Arizona State kicker Thomas Weber is 3 for 3 from beyond 50 yards in his career after booting a 52-yard field goal vs. Portland State. He was one of three conference kickers to connect from beyond 50 yards (Washington's Erik Folk, 54 yards, and Washington State's Nico Grasu, 56 yards).
  • Cal is 2-2 all-time with Colorado, but this is its first meeting since 1982.
  • Oregon is one of eight teams nationally that produced shutouts last weekend.
  • Ducks CB Cliff Harris returned two punts for TDs -- for 61 and 64 yards -- in the win over New Mexico. Two punt returns for TDs has only been accomplished twice before by Pac-10 players: USC's Mike Garrett in 1965 vs. Cal; UCLA's Sam Brown in 1954 vs.Stanford.
  • Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell leads the conference in tackles after recording 18 vs. TCU. Fellow safety Suaesi Tuimaunei is tied for third with 14.
  • UCLA leads its series with Stanford 45-32-3.
  • UCLA kicker Kai Forbath tied two NCAA records after going 3 for 3 vs. Kansas State. His 27 games with at least two field goals ties Georgia's Kevin Butler and his 13 with at least three ties Arizona State's Luis Zendejas. Forbath has made 40 consecutive field goals inside of 50 yards. His 75 career field goals are just 12 short of the NCAA record of 87.
  • USC has won 31 consecutive night games (USC-Oregon kicked off at 5 p.m. last year).
  • Washington QB Jake Locker made his college debut as a redshirt freshman at Syracuse in 2007. The Huskies won 42-12.
  • Dating back to the last part of the 1975 season, the Huskies have gone 35-14 when playing at home the game after a loss on the road.
  • Washington State is trying to snap a 10-game losing streak Saturday vs. Montana State. The Cougars are 6-0 all-time vs. the Bobcats.

Pac-10 power rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2010
Some movement after Week 1. To paraphrase Lane Kiffin: If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

1. Oregon: New Mexico isn't very good, but the Lobos' badness doesn't completely account for 72-zip and 720 total yards. The Ducks look athletic and poised on both sides of the ball. Now let's see how they handle a tough road test against Tennessee.

2. Arizona: The Wildcats answered a lot of questions with a 41-2 win at Toledo. They'd put an exclamation point on those answers if they can beat Iowa when it visits on Sept. 18.

3. Oregon State: The Beavers don't go down because they lost on the road to the nation's No. 6 team. Still, the run defense has to be a concern.

4. Stanford: We learned nothing from the Sacramento State game -- we already knew Andrew Luck was a good quarterback. The visit to UCLA should be more revealing.

5. USC: The Trojans offense looked great, the defense pitiful at Hawaii. It wasn't supposed to be like that. Wonder if the defense will redeem itself Saturday in front of the home fans against Virginia?

6. California: The biggest news from the easy win against UC Davis is that freshman receiver Keenan Allen is as advertised. Colorado will be a far better test for the Bears.

7. Washington: The Huskies went to BYU to throw down the gauntlet on their return to relevance. Didn't happen, though it might turn out that BYU is pretty good. The Huskies must avoid a letdown this week against a Syracuse team that is capable of beating them.

8. Arizona State: While whipping Portland State means nothing, and doing the same to Northern Arizona won't either, there was enough on the field last Saturday -- most particularly better offense with quarterback Steven Threet -- to suggest reasons for hope for beleaguered Sun Devils fans.

9. UCLA: The offense wasn't good. The defense wasn't good. Kansas State probably isn't very good. And with this schedule -- Stanford, Houston and Texas over the next three weeks -- the Bruins need to get good fast.

10. Washington State: Those who expected significant signs of WSU improvement at Oklahoma State -- a group that included me -- were surprised by how bad the Cougars looked. A home loss against Montana State, an FCS team, on Saturday likely would ignite "Paul Wulff on the hot seat" talk in earnest.

Pac-10 lunch links: Stanford is banged up

September, 6, 2010
Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, all your money won't another minute buy
Dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind.
  • If you're going to nitpick, Arizona's running game wasn't great at Toledo.
  • A look back at Arizona State's easy win against Portland State. The only downer is some more health issues at defensive tackle.
  • What grade does California's win against UC Davis get?
  • Tennessee's best chance vs. Oregon is the Ducks doing a Cal, 2006, at Neyland Stadium. Folks, do not underestimate the road atmosphere challenges here. And the dominance vs. New Mexico doesn't mean much.
  • Oregon State just couldn't get TCU's offense off the field.
  • Some observations from Stanford's opening win. Does Stanford have injury issues? Tight end Levine Toilolo, running back Jeremy Stewart, receiver Chris Owusu and linebacker Shayne Skov are banged up, but it's hard to say for sure because Jim Harbaugh has gone all super-secret with injury info.
  • UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel remains hopeful despite the bad performance at Kansas State.
  • USC isn't ready to make major changes on defense. Yet.
  • Washington doesn't want the poor performance at BYU to define its season.
  • Washington State needs to get better in many ways. And quick.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 6, 2010
One week is in the books, and it wasn't a good one. The Pac-10 went 6-4 and ended up frowning in each of its major tests.

Team of the week: Other than a brief first-half lull, Arizona looked like a good team in midseason form, despite losing both of its coordinators and rebuilding its defense. The 41-2 blitzing of a solid Toledo team featured dominance in all three phases. Goodbye bad taste from the Holiday Bowl. The Wildcats outgained the Rockets 518 to 183. Nuff said.

Best game: It's very possible that Oregon State lost to a TCU team that will play for the national title. I came away more impressed with the top-to-bottom quality of TCU than believing the Beavers got exposed. As it was, it was a competitive, well-played, entertaining game. And if Beavers fans need to vent for the sake of venting -- as we all sometimes do -- I'd suggest wondering how might the Beavers' defense have looked if end Matt LaGrone and middle linebacker David Pa'aluhi, returning starters from 2009, hadn't decided to quit the team.

Biggest play(s): Washington twice had fourth-down plays in the fourth quarter inside BYU's 30-yard line. Both times QB Jake Locker threw an incompletion. The Huskies lost 23-17. Great QBs need to make those plays.

[+] EnlargeBarner
AP Photo/Rick BowmerKenjon Barner rushed 17 times for 147 yards and four touchdowns Saturday.
Offensive standout(s): Wow. Lots to choose from. USC QB Matt Barkley completed 78 percent of his passes at Hawaii with five TDs. Arizona's Nick Foles and Stanford's Andrew Luck also were outstanding. But the top notice has to go to Oregon's "backup" running back Kenjon Barner, who was a force of nature against New Mexico, rushing for 147 yards on 17 carries -- 8.6 yards per tote -- with four TDs. Oh, he also caught a short pass he turned into a 60-yard TD.

Defensive standout: Wow. Not a lot to choose from. While it's hard to laud a player from UCLA's defense after it got pushed around by Kansas State, OLB Akeem Ayers showed why so many NFL scouts are salivating over him. He piled up 11 tackles with a sack and a pass breakup. But what really stands out is his ability to get his hands on the football -- he recovered two fumbles. He might want to refrain in the future, however, from pushing a running back when he's out of bounds.

Special teams star: USC receiver Ronald Johnson not only caught three TD passes against Hawaii, but he also went 89 yards for a TD on a punt return. It's notable that UCLA kicker Kai Forbath ignored a preseason injury that was supposed to keep him on the bench and went 3-for-3 on field goals at Kansas State, with a long of 44.

Smiley face: The QBs lived up to the preseason hype. The known guys -- Barkley, Foles, Locker and Luck -- each played well. The new guys -- Arizona State's Steven Threet, Oregon's Darron Thomas and Oregon State's Ryan Katz -- were solid. California's Kevin Riley played well, and Washington State's Jeff Tuel was hardly the reason the Cougars went down hard at Oklahoma State. The only QB who played poorly was UCLA's Kevin Prince, and he probably looked rusty because he sat out most of fall camp with a back injury.

Frowny face: Defense. The top two rushers in the nation at present -- and three of the top 14 -- played against Pac-10 defenses this past weekend. And look who ranks 106th in the nation in total defense, two slots below Washington State.

Thought of the week: This is a quiet week with few marquee games, other than the start of the Pac-10 slate with Stanford's visit to UCLA. But the week of Sept. 18 will define how the Pac-10 is perceived nationally this season. Consider the slate:

Iowa at Arizona
ASU at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Washington
Cal at Nevada
Wake Forest at Stanford
Houston at UCLA
USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at Oregon State

Five at home, four on the road. Three ranked teams. No patsies. The Pac-10 needs to get at least six wins or you'll start to hear how it's a "down year" instead of folks lauding the conference's depth.

Questions for the week: Can California (vs. Colorado), USC (vs. Virginia) and Washington (vs. Syracuse) take care of business against inferior BCS conference foes at home? Same for Oregon: Will the Ducks be able to handle the atmosphere at Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee team the Ducks shouldn't have too many problems against? How will the Trojans' defense react after a terrible effort at Hawaii? Who's got the advantage between UCLA's new pistol offense and Stanford's new 3-4 (which the Cardinal didn't use vs. Sacramento State)? How do the Huskies react to a disappointing loss at BYU?

What we learned in the Pac-10: Week 1

September, 5, 2010
What did we learn in the Pac-10's opening week?

1. Pac-10 quarterbacks were as advertised (mostly): While the level of competition varied, the four Pac-10 quarterbacks who were showcased in New York and at ESPN put up huge numbers. USC's Matt Barkley, Arizona's Nick Foles, Washington's Jake Locker and Stanford's Andrew Luck combined to complete 72.5 percent of their throws, averaged 300 yards per game and threw 12 TD passes vs. just one interception (a Foles pass that bounced off his fullback's hands). Of course, Locker lost at BYU, turning the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter after incompletions.

2. New QBs were solid if unspectacular: Three conference QBs made their first career start. Oregon State's Ryan Katz was mostly solid vs. a good TCU defense, throwing for a pair of TDs with no interceptions, though completing just 9 of 25 passes isn't ideal. Oregon's Darron Thomas shook off an early interception to complete 13 of 23 for 220 yards with two TDs in the blowout win over New Mexico. Finally, Arizona State's Steven Threet completed 14 of 21 for 239 yards with two TDs and an interception. While none of the three was gangbusters, each suggested he can get the job done.

3. The Mountain West strikes again: Thank God for New Mexico, otherwise the Mountain West Conference could crow about another strong showing versus the Pac-10. Washington fell at BYU and Oregon State went down to No. 6 TCU. Sure, both were road games. Sure, both were against two of the MWC top-three teams. But many projected wins for the Pac-10 in both. The visit to BYU was supposed to be the launching point for Locker's Heisman Trophy campaign. Didn't happen, and suddenly the Huskies high hopes entering the season are in question. And Oregon State was hoping to get off to a rare fast start with a strong showing vs. the Horned Frogs. Moreover, with UCLA's loss at Kansas State and Washington State's poor showing at Oklahoma State, the Big 12 also got into the act, pushing the conference around. Going 6-4 on the opening weekend was not what the Pac-10 wanted.

4. Play defense; win the conference: USC gave up 588 yards and 36 points at Hawaii. Bad. UCLA gave up 31 points and 313 rushing yards to Kansas State. Bad. Washington State surrendered 65 points and 544 yards at Oklahoma State. Yuck. Oregon State yielded 30 points and 278 rushing yards vs. TCU. Ugh. While Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon and Stanford probably feel good about their defensive numbers, the mostly poor competition leaves each with an incomplete. Clearly, there's a lot of offense in this conference. So whoever can pair stops with points is going to win this thing.

5. FCS teams have no chance vs. the Pac-10: Arizona State, Cal and Stanford buried three FCS teams by a combined count of 168-29. While that's really not something to celebrate, at least one BCS conference can't say the same this morning.

Pac-10 helmet stickers: Week 1

September, 5, 2010
Who deserves a sticker on his helmet for a job well-done?

Matt Barkley, USC: Barkley completed 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards with five TDs in the Trojans 49-36 win over Hawaii.

Arizona: There was little not to like about the Wildcats 41-2 win at Toledo. A rebuilt defense gave up just 183 yards. Quarterback Nick Foles completed 32 of 37 passes for 360 yards with two TDs. Receiver Juron Criner caught 11 passes for 187 yards and a TD. Co-coordinators on both sides of the ball seemed to make beautiful music together.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: With starting running back LaMichael James suspended, Barner accounted four five touchdowns in the Ducks 72-0 stomping of New Mexico. He rushed for 147 yards on 17 carries -- 8.6 yards per rush -- and turned a short pass into a 60-yard TD.

Keenan Allen, California: The true freshman made the most of his four receptions in a 52-3 win over UC Davis, gaining 120 yards on them, including a 48-yard TD pass from Kevin Riley.

Doug Baldwin, Stanford: Baldwin only caught four passes last year and fell off the radar. But in the Cardinal's 52-17 win over Sacramento State, the senior caught two of Andrew Luck's four TD passes among his four receptions for 111 yards.