October 28, 2010

Week 9 preview in the Pacific 10

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THE SCHEDULE
Arizona at UCLA, 3:30 p.m.
Cal at Oregon State, 3:30 p.m.
Stanford at Washington, 7 p.m.
Washington State at Arizona State, 7 p.m.
Oregon at USC, 8 p.m.

Pac-10 officials probably wish expansion could be expedited and Utah added now.

That way, the conference wouldn't have to sweat out the embarrassment of again failing to qualify enough teams for its six bowl partners.

In 2008, five Pac-10 programs met the six-victory requirement for postseason eligibility, but the conference had contracts with seven bowls. The Poinsettia Bowl recovered nicely and chose TCU to face WAC champion Boise State. The Hawaii Bowl was left searching the postseason scrap heap and invited Notre Dame.

That scenario may be repeating itself.

NCAA sanctions that forbid USC from making a postseason appearance and mediocre play by the lower teams in the standings mean the Pac-10 will struggle to fill its six bowl slots.

The Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, which will be played Jan. 9, is supposed to a regional matchup with teams from the Pac-10 and the WAC. The WAC will have a team there. But the Kraft people may have to look east of the Mississippi for another team. Notre Dame, perhaps?

For all the talk that the Pac-10 might have surpassed the SEC as the premier conference, it's a top-heavy league.

Oregon, Stanford and Arizona already have qualified for postseason play. USC is ineligible. Washington State is already mathematically eliminated from consideration.

That leaves Arizona State, California, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington scrambling to reach six wins. Unless some significant upsets occur, as many as three of those teams don't figure to make it.

Here's a breakdown of the obstacles each team faces to reach bowl eligibility:

Arizona State (3-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. Washington State, @ USC, vs. Stanford, vs. UCLA @ Arizona.
Outlook: Only one win over an FCS opponents counts toward bowl eligibility and Arizona State has two of those. Therefore, the Sun Devils still need four wins. Even with probable victories over Washington State and UCLA they're in trouble. Can they post two victories against USC, Arizona and Stanford? Doubtful.

California (4-3)
Remaining schedule: @ Oregon State, @ Washington State, vs. Oregon, vs. Stanford, vs. Washington
Outlook: The Bears are winless away from Berkeley, and their next two games are on the road. But coach Jeff Tedford doesn't appear too worried by that. "We went to Arizona [a 10-9 loss] and I thought played well and probably did enough to win the game, but we didn't win and it was a close game," Tedford said. "In the Nevada thing [52-31 loss], the 'Pistol' [offense] just got us. And then at SC [a 48-14 loss] ... I don't know if there is any explanation for that." Even away from home, the Bears will beat Washington State, and their last three games are in Berkeley. The best chance for a win would be against Washington, but they did beat archrival Stanford last year. Cal should reach at least six wins.

Oregon State (3-3)
Remaining schedule: vs. Cal, at UCLA, vs. Washington State, vs. USC, @ Stanford, vs. Oregon
Outlook: The Beavers' uncertainty stems from starting 1-2 in a rugged trio of non-conference games. They typically get better as the season progresses, but they'd better get their needed three wins in the next three games. The Beavers don't want their bowl hopes dependent on getting a victory over USC, Stanford or Oregon, especially now that they're without WR James Rodgers. Still, they figure to get there.

UCLA (3-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. Arizona, vs. Oregon State, @ Washington, @ Arizona State, vs. USC
Outlook: It's bleak. Take out a win over Washington State, and the Bruins have scored 20 points in three games against Pac-10 teams. That doesn't bode well for this week's game against Arizona. The Bruins' best chances to win are the two road games.

Washington (3-4)
Remaining schedule: vs. Stanford, @ Oregon, vs. UCLA, @ Cal, @ Washington State
Outlook: The Huskies have a last-play win over USC and an overtime victory over Oregon State, so they're obviously capable of pulling off an upset against Stanford or Oregon. More likely, they will have to win their last three games to become bowl-eligible. That would include winning at Berkeley, where Cal has been so tough. Washington hasn't played in a bowl since 2002, and the chances of ending that dubious streak don't look good.

Best matchup: USC pass offense vs. Oregon pass defense. Top-ranked Oregon could be the Pac-10's next national championship team, but first the Ducks have to get by the last Pac-10 team to win a national championship. The battle within the battle will be an intriguing matchup between USC QB Matt Barkley and the Trojans' passing game against the Oregon pass defense. Behind Barkley, who has passed for 742 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games, USC is ranked 21st in the nation in passing offense and averages 281 yards per game. Barkley has thrown 20 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He hasn't thrown any interceptions in the past three games. Meanwhile, Oregon has been vulnerable to the pass at times - but also opportunistic. Although the Ducks allowed more than 300 passing yards against Arizona State and Stanford, they also had six interceptions in those two games. Oregon is among the national leaders with 13 interceptions. CB Cliff Harris has four.

Player On The Spot: Washington QB Jake Locker. He has been listed here before, and he's back again. The Huskies' precarious bowl hopes are highly dependent upon Locker, who has been good in victories and largely unimpressive in losses. In Washington's three victories, Locker has averaged 295 yards, with 10 touchdowns and one interception, and completed 62 percent of his passes. But in the Huskies' four losses, the completion percentage is 51.6, and he has averaged 182.3 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Locker will have to be at his best in what could be an offensive shootout against Stanford QB Andrew Luck. He'll also have to play well despite being hobbled by sore ribs and a bruised thigh.

Numbers game: When Steven Threet transferred from Michigan, it was hoped that he would be the solution to Arizona State's quarterback problems. And early in the season, it appeared he might be as Threet completed 60 percent of his passes for 841 yards and five touchdowns in three non-conference games. But Threet has struggled since Pac-10 play started. In four conference games, he has completed just 55.3 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 interceptions and six touchdowns. But coach Dennis Erickson says Threet still gives the Sun Devils their best chance to win.

What they're saying

"I just want to win up there, more than anything. Really early on in my career, it felt good going back home and playing. But now that I've played everywhere and my family has seen me play everywhere, it's just another game. We haven't beat them in a while. We need to beat Oregon State." - Cal QB Kevin Riley, who is from the Portland area and has not won in his home state as a starter

"I think that game in general, if you study it, will surprise a lot of people. Oregon punted 11 times in that game. [Arizona State] forced 11 punts, but they turned the ball over seven times. They had to go out there seven times with turnovers. If there is a blueprint for how to play them, they did it." - USC coach Lane Kiffin, on Arizona State's defensive strategy against Oregon earlier this season.

"Obviously, we're in the midst of a difficult time in our season with the last two games being one-sided. We certainly understand the problems and are working hard and diligently to fix them. The situation from outside looking in I know looks dire, but we believe we have a bunch of kids with great resolves. We're going to find a way out of this." - UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, whose Bruins have been outscored 95-20 in back-to-back losses to Cal and Oregon.

Etc.: UCLA QB Kevin Prince had arthroscopic surgery on torn meniscus in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. Richard Brehaut will start the rest of the way. ... Arizona is being secretive about who will start at quarterback against UCLA. Usual starter Nick Foles has a sprained knee and missed last week's game. Backup Matt Scott played well in a win over Washington and passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns. Wildcats G Vaughn Dotsy's season is in jeopardy of ending because of persistent back problems. ... Arizona State will be without LB Shelly Lyons (broken foot) for the remainder of the season. ... Cal is 4-0 and has an average margin of victory of 38.8 points at home. But the Bears are 0-3 and have lost by an average of 18.7 points on the road. ... Look for junior FS Sean Cattouse to stay in the starting lineup after he posted eight tackles and an interception last week against Arizona State. Cattouse was a starter in 2009, but was bean out by Josh Hill earlier this season. ... Oregon RB LaMichael James has 14 career 100-yard rushing games, which matches the school record set by Jonathan Stewart. His backup, Kenjon Barner, has returned to practice after sustaining a concussion three weeks ago, but his playing status remains uncertain. ... Oregon State QB Ryan Katz has a .647 completion percentage with 859 passing yards and five touchdowns over the past three games. ... Last week, Washington State WRs Marquess Wilson and Karstetter both had more than 100 receiving yards. That was the first time the Cougars had two 100-yard receivers in the same game since 2007. ... Oregon State continues to lead the nation in fewest turnovers. They've committed just four - all interceptions. ... Stanford and Oregon are among five teams that have scored at least 30 points in every game. The others are Boise State, Oklahoma State and Troy. ... UCLA senior Micah Kia has been named to start at offensive tackle in place of Sean Sheller, who's been suspended for violating team rules. WR Ricky Marvray has also been suspended. ... USC QB Matt Barkley has thrown 119 passes without an interception. ... Washington WR Jerome Kearse leads the Pac-10 with 10 touchdown receptions. ... UCLA MLB Patrick Larimore (dislocated left shoulder) is out at least three weeks. Freshman Jordan Zumwalt likely will step into his place. ... Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor has four consecutive 100-yard games.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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