November 11, 2010

Week 11 preview in the Pac-10

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THE SCHEDULE
Washington State at Oregon State, 4 p.m.
Oregon at California, 7:30 p.m.
Stanford at Arizona State, 7:30 p.m.
USC at Arizona, 8 p.m.

Any good blackjack player knows when double-down opportunities present themselves, you have to take advantage.

No doubt, the Pac-10 would like to do that. But it just may not be in the cards.

One of the biggest windfalls for conferences is to have two teams selected for BCS bowls, which pay out in excess of $14 million. Even after expenses, that leaves a nice jackpot to divide among conference teams.

Get two teams in the BCS and the jackpot may double, meaning even more money is divided among conference teams.

The Pac-10 hasn't had two teams reach BCS bowls in the same season since 2002, when Washington State went to the Rose Bowl and USC played in the Orange Bowl.

But this season, it appears the Pac-10 has a chance.

Unbeaten Oregon appears on the fast track to the BCS national championship game. Meanwhile, Stanford, with remaining games against Arizona State (4-5), California (5-4) and Oregon State (4-4), has a great chance to finish 11-1.

But the Cardinal easily could be bypassed by the BCS games and wind up in the Alamo Bowl.

"The general consensus is Pac-10 fans don't travel," said a BCS bowl official who asked to remain anonymous. "The Pac-10 fans' reputation is they're not the die-hard, live-and-die-with-the-team type fans. They'll watch the game on TV. You can see that sometimes with attendance numbers."

Stanford has averaged 40,296 fans for its five home games this season. Capacity at Stanford Stadium is 50,000.

LSU, Ohio State and Michigan State could finish with one loss without winning their conferences. Iowa could be 10-2 and a Big Ten co-champ. Boise State could be 12-0. LSU is averaging 92,663 in attendance. Ohio State averages 105,387, Michigan State 73,964 and Iowa 70,585.

If you're a BCS bowl official needing to sell tickets and bring fans into your city, what teams would you choose?

Yet, a one-loss Stanford may be more attractive than some might think.

"We actually discussed [Stanford]," the BCS bowl official said. "We don't know what to make of them. They have a national following. We're thinking that if you bring Stanford to a BCS bowl, their fans would come out from around the country. That makes them an intriguing option.

"I don't know when was the last time they've been to a bowl game outside the Pacific region."

Actually, that would be last year, when Stanford faced Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl. But the Sun Bowl isn't a BCS bowl and has a tie-in to the Pac-10.

Stanford A.D. Bob Bowlsby said he understands that bowls have do what is best for them, but he says Stanford football is a "good product" and that Stanford has a good argument for a BCS at-large selection this season. Bowlsby said Stanford games have received good ratings on TV this season, which is another important aspect when handing out bowl invitations.

Would a BCS bowl really want Stanford as an at-large team?

"Kind of at first glance, it doesn't make sense," the bowl official said. "They're a smaller school, yeah. But when was the last time Stanford was in a major bowl game? It's an interesting thing. They're definitely on our radar."

But being aware of Stanford and choosing Stanford are drastically different.

"They are definitely a potential team to be considered," the bowl official said. "But put them head-to-head with some other teams, and I'm not sure what the decision would be."

Starting this season, under terms of the most recent BCS agreement, the first time the Rose Bowl loses a team to the national championship game and a team from outside the Big Six conferences is an automatic qualifier, that team will play in the Rose Bowl. But if the non-AQ team was in the national championship game (i.e., TCU vs. Oregon), the Rose Bowl could get its traditional Pac-10/Big Ten matchup and select a one-loss Stanford to face the Big Ten representative.

That seems to be the best chance for Stanford to reach a BCS game and for the Pac-10 to double-down.

Best matchup: Oregon RB LaMichael James vs. California defense. James, the nation's leading rusher, had a good performance last week with 121 yards and three touchdowns against Washington. But good performances won't be enough to overtake Auburn's Cameron Newton in the Heisman race. James needs some jaw-dropping breakout games to enhance his Heisman candidacy, beginning this week against Cal. The Bears are 25th in the nation in run defense and even stingier at home. Cal has allowed a total of 170 rushing yards in its four games in Berkeley.

Player on the spot: Arizona CB Trevin Wade. Wade, an all-conference selection a year ago, was benched and replaced by freshman Shaquille Richardson last week after giving up a 45-yard touchdown pass to Stanford's Chris Owusu. Wade has just 30 tackles, one interception and two pass breakups this season. A starter hasn't been named for this week's game against USC, but Wade needs to respond if he gets the call. Coach Mike Stoops likely would be quick to put in Richardson.

Numbers game: Oregon State has managed just two touchdowns in 26 fourth-quarter possessions this season. The Beavers have been outscored 42-14 in the final quarter and have outscored just one opponent (Arizona) in the period.

What they're saying

"We're the only team playing the No. 1 team in the country this week. This is basically our BCS game. If you can't get up for the No. 1 team in the country, you don't belong on the field." - California LB Mike Mohamed, on facing Oregon on Saturday

"When you break the huddle, everybody's running, everybody's alert because right now you don't know who's getting the ball. Everybody's an option." - Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh on his offense, which has scored more than 30 points in every game

"He gets so anxious to make plays all the times. He has great streaks where he goes 120 passes without an interception. The most disappointing play against Arizona State was when he threw an interception in the red zone on first down. The same thing happened against Washington State. We blocked a punt and then on first down, he threw an interception." - USC coach Lane Kiffin, on the sometimes-inconsistent play of QB Matt Barkley

"It's an embarrassment what their academic institution is, and what's happened to them as far as their state funding has gone. In my mind, it's a wonderful athletic facility, but they've watched it at the expense of the university go really down." - Washington athletic director Scott Woodward, criticizing Oregon during the Huskies' pre-game show. Woodward later apologized

Etc.: Washington QB Jake Locker (broken rib) missed last week's game and is questionable for next week's game against UCLA. DL Cameron Elisara's career may be over because of a recurring stinger injury. ... Arizona RB Nic Grigsby continues to be slowed by a sprained ankle. His playing status this week will be a game-time decision. Backup QB Matt Scott (sprained wrist) won't be available. ... Oregon backup QB Nate Costa will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Costa, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career, also served as the Ducks' holder on field goals and extra points. ... Arizona State P Trevor Hankins was suspended from last week's game against USC as punishment for a DUI arrest. He will be back in action Saturday. ... Stanford QB Andrew Luck has thrown 22 touchdown passes this season and needs six more to break the school record shared by John Elway and Steve Stenstrom. ... Oregon State junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers needs 194 rushing yards to break into the top 10 of the Pac-10's career rushing list. ... Arizona WR Juron Criner has 25 catches for 333 yards over the past three games. ... Oregon's 9-0 start marks the first time they've been undefeated through nine games in their 115-year history. ... Cal LB Mike Mohamed (broken thumb) and WR Keenan Allen (knee) are expected to play against Oregon. Allen wrenched his knee in pregame warm-ups last week and did not play against Washington State. ... Washington State QB Jeff Tuel's streak of 200-yard passing games ended at nine. He threw for just 92 yards last week against Cal. ... Oregon WR Jeff Maehl has caught 33 passes and scored six touchdowns in the past four games. ... Oregon State DT Brennan Olander (torn pectoral muscle) is in jeopardy of missing the rest of the season. ... UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin had his fourth 100-yard game of the season last week. ... USC freshman TB Dillon Baxter got his first start last week and rushed for 52 yards and had another 26 yards receiving. This week's starter against Arizona remains uncertain. Marc Tyler (sprained ankle) is ready to play, and C.J. Gable is recovered from a bone bruise that had slowed him. Freshman WR Markeith Ambles and freshman LB Simione Vehikite are back after serving suspensions for missing classes. ... Washington is the only team to hold Oregon scoreless in the first quarter this season. ... LeQuan Lewis became the fourth player in Arizona State history to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. ... Backup QB Brock Osweiler, who is 6 feet 8, is planning to join Arizona State's basketball team, though he said football will remain his top priority. ... Cal's Matt Summers-Gavin is back in the starting lineup at left guard, his natural position. He had struggled in an experiment at right tackle.

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




 

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