Overview: Surprise! This week's biggest game in the Pac-10 isn't the rematch between Oregon State and USC, who started the Trojans' 6-4 run in their past 10 conference games with an upset last season. Instead, it's Arizona State-Oregon. The teams' push for the Pac-10 -- and possibly national -- title has surprised most observers. Undefeated Arizona State was picked fourth in the preseason Pac-10 poll, while Oregon was projected to finish sixth.
Best matchup: Oregon's run game vs. Arizona State's run defense. The Sun Devils have played only two top-50 rushing offenses this year - Washington (ranked 46th) and Cal (ranked 47th) in the past two games. Arizona State is allowing just 89.4 rushing yards per game, good for ninth in the nation. Oregon, though, is a tougher challenge. QB Dennis Dixon and TB Jonathan Stewart lead the fourth-ranked rushing offense in the country (280.4 yards per game).
The pressure is on: The coaches in Tucson. There would have been more pressure if Arizona hadn't rallied for 22 fourth-quarter points for a 48-41 win last week over Washington. Patience is running thin for UCLA coach Karl Dorrell and Arizona coach Mike Stoops. Dorrell's teams have been wildly inconsistent (Exhibit A: a 27-7 loss to Washington State last week), while Stoops has yet to get Arizona to a bowl despite upgrading the talent. If you're looking for whose seat will be hotter this time next week, look no further than the coach who leaves with a loss.
Who's hot: In the two games since backup Jeremiah Johnson was lost for the season, Oregon's Stewart has run 57 times for 358 yards and five touchdowns. ? Arizona State freshman Thomas Weber has converted all 15 of his field-goal attempts, including a 47-yarder last week against Cal. ? Arizona LB Spencer Larsen has 43 tackles in his past three games. ? Stanford has had 21 sacks in its past five games.
Who's not: Washington's defense has allowed opponents to set school records each of the past two weeks. Oregon set a school record with 465 rushing yards against the Huskies on Oct. 20, and Arizona passed for a school-record 510 yards in Seattle last week. Washington has allowed an average of 564.7 yards in the past three games. ? Stanford, down to its fourth- and fifth-string tailbacks because of injuries, rushed for minus-8 yards against Oregon State last week.
Keep your eye on: Oregon State will rely on its defense against USC, especially if TB Yvenson Bernard cannot play. That's no problem for the Beavers, though, who lead the nation in run defense and sacks. Fourteen players have combined for 34 sacks. Meanwhile, USC likely will start freshman Butch Lewis at left tackle in place of All-American Sam Baker. Several other USC linemen are recovering from injuries this week.
Numbers game: Arizona State has outscored teams 153-29 in the second half. The Sun Devils are undefeated despite trailing by double digits in the first quarter to Colorado, Oregon State and Cal. ? Arizona QB Willie Tuitama had 10 touchdown passes against Washington and Washington State. He has two touchdown passes against the other four Pac-10 opponents he has faced. ? USC is 20-0 in November under Pete Carroll. ? Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson is 2-4 in his career against Oregon and 0-2 in Eugene.
Freshman to watch: No freshman in the nation and few upperclassmen have played so well, only to see a loss on the final scoreboard. Washington QB Jake Locker passed for 336 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 157 yards and two scores in the loss to Arizona. A week earlier, he accounted for 335 yards of total offense and four touchdown passes against Oregon. This week, Locker and Washington play Stanford.
Injury update: Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter did not throw in practice Tuesday because of a sprained right thumb, but is expected to play against Oregon. FS Jeremy Payton (ankle sprain) is likely out. ? USC QB John David Booty is expected to return this week against Oregon State after missing two games with a broken middle finger. C Kristofer O'Dowd (dislocated kneecap) returned to practice this week. ? UCLA TB Kahlil Bell is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. TB Chris Markey is still limited with a toe injury. WR Brandon Breazell (bruised ribs) is day to day, and LB Christian Taylor (concussion) is expected to play. ? Oregon State's Bernard (sprained shoulder) could miss the USC game. ? Cal QB Nate Longshore (sprained ankle) will be evaluated throughout the week.
They said it:
"I will be very interested to see how we finish the season. And you can use that."
? UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero when asked about the future of coach Karl Dorrell.
"We're just a bunch of guys who nobody thought was very good. It's kind of scary, starting to read our name in the paper every week now."
? Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson
"Two or three times a day, I think that two weeks ago we were No. 2 in the country. It's a very hard thing to deal with."
? Cal DL Cody Jones, whose team now is unranked.
Worth noting: Cal WR Robert Jordan has caught a pass in a school-record 37 consecutive games. He finished with five receptions for 85 yards against Arizona State last week. ? UCLA LB Kyle Bosworth had 19 tackles in last week's loss to Washington State, the highest total by a Bruin since 1989. ? Washington TB J.R. Hasty left the team last week after saying he felt he didn't receive a fair chance to compete for the backup running back job. He returned to the team Monday. ? The Arizona-Washington game is a must-win if either wants to go to a bowl. The Wildcats haven't played in the postseason since 1998, and the Huskies haven't gone bowling since 2002.