October 23, 2008

Pac-10: Balanced league race hurts in polls

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The Pac-10's high-rent district is unusually crowded these days, but only one of the residents has the resources to stay there.

At least that's the national perception.

Four teams are tied for the lead in the Pac-10 with 3-1 records; another is a step back at 2-1.

Yet USC (5-1 overall, 3-1 in the league) is the only Pac-10 team ranked this week. Oregon State (4-3, 3-1), Oregon (5-2, 3-1), Arizona (5-2, 3-1) and California (4-2, 2-1) are relegated to the "also receiving votes" category in the latest Associated Press poll, but they still are in contention for the conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth.

"I think it means there is a lot of balance in the conference," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops, whose Wildcats play host to the Trojans on Saturday. "Obviously, USC is sitting up there and is probably without question the most talented team week in and week out. But it comes down to one game, 60 minutes. That's all that matters. That's all we're concentrating on."

USC may enhance its national championship hopes if it avoids an upset in Tucson. But its Pac-10 title aspirations won't get any better.

The Trojans were upset by Oregon State on Sept. 25. So even if the Trojans win the rest of their games, they won't be guaranteed a BCS bid unless Oregon State loses

Of course, that doesn't matter to Stoops. Arizona bounced back from an upset loss to Stanford with a 42-27 victory over California last week.

"We certainly understand the importance of the game," Stoops said. "A win will put us a game up (in the standings) with a win over USC."

It also would allow the Wildcats to remain in the Pac-10's high-rent neighborhood and perhaps prove to the nation they belong there.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • Arizona QB Willie Tuitama vs. USC secondary. Tuitama has thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of the Wildcats' five victories. He ranks third in the Pac-10 in passing with 1,691 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's also thrown just one interception in the past four games. He'll need to be at his best against USC, which leads the nation in pass defense. The Trojans allow just 136.5 passing yards per game and have given up just two touchdown passes this season.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    UCLA at California, 3:30 p.m.
    Notre Dame at Washington, 8 p.m.
    Oregon at Arizona State, 10 p.m.
    USC at Arizona, 10:15 p.m.
    Oregon DE Nick Reed. Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter definitely should watch out for Reed. Reed has eight sacks, including at least one in six consecutive games. He had two in last week's win over UCLA and had 3.5 against Carpenter in the Ducks' victory over the Sun Devils last season. Carpenter has a sprained ankle and the Sun Devils have allowed 15 sacks in six games.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • USC's defense has not allowed a touchdown in 11 consecutive quarters and hasn't allowed a point in 10. The Trojans' back-to-back shutouts of Arizona State and Washington State are their first consecutive shutouts since 1971. Oregon State freshman Jacquizz Rodgers continues to lead the Pac-10 in rushing with 812 yards. No freshman ever has been the Pac-10's leading rusher. Last week, Arizona freshman Keola Antolin rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns in a win over California. USC freshman Broderick Green gained 121 yards and scored two touchdowns in a victory over Washington State. Washington freshman Terrance Dailey rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State. Stanford RB Toby Gerhart has exceeded 100 yards rushing in each of the past three games and has four touchdowns in that span. Arizona has won six in a row at home. Cal has seven sacks in the past two games. Oregon State has rushed for 553 yards in the past two games. UCLA has allowed just 93 passing yards in the past two games. Washington leads the league in third-down conversion percentage, at 49.5.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Stanford's hopes of reaching a bowl cooled considerably after its 23-20 loss to UCLA last week. That left the Cardinal at 4-4 and needing to win at least two more games to become bowl-eligible. Defeating Washington State on Nov. 1 shouldn't be a problem, but the remaining games at Oregon and California and at home against USC will be. UCLA's running game has produced 100 yards or less in each of the past three games. The Bruins leading rusher, freshman Derrick Coleman, has picked up just 191 yards. UCLA ranks 116th in the nation in rushing offense. Washington has just three sacks this season. That's the nation's lowest total. Arizona RB Nic Grigsby was benched after fumbling on his first carry in last week's win over California. That was the fourth consecutive game in which Grigsby fumbled, and the opposing team recovered three of them. Washington State gave up 69 points to USC last week, the fourth time this season the Cougars have surrendered at least 60. The Cougars have a minus-15 turnover margin.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "His family has been in Tucson a long time. In fact, I'm supposed to give his mother some tickets, so maybe he'll take it easy on us."
    Arizona coach Mike Stoops on USC center Kristofer O'Dowd, a native of Tucson

    "We're not playing for the coming years. No, no way. This is about this year. This is about being productive right now and doing what we have to do to win games right now."
    California coach Jeff Tedford on the Bears' quarterback competition between senior Nate Longshore and sophomore Kevin Riley.

    "I would definitely say it feels better. I'm going on 16 days now since I hurt it, so it's getting better every day. So, I think I should be fine for Saturday."
    Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter on how his injured ankle is progressing.

    ''We're not out of anything yet. We can still run the table, we can still get in a bowl game, can still compete in this Pac-10 race. Anything can happen. We lost to Arizona, Arizona lost to Stanford and we beat Stanford. That's a great example of you never know what can happen. We definitely have a lot to play for, even if our record says otherwise."
    UCLA junior CB Al Verner

  • ETC.
  • Arizona was not penalized in last week's win over California. The last time a Pac-10 team had gone through a game penalty-free was UCLA against Alabama in 2001. Stanford leads the Pac-10 in red zone offense. The Cardinal have scored on 22 of 24 trips inside the red zone. Stanford OL Chris Marinelli is expected to miss at least the next two games and possibly the rest of the season because of an injury to his left shoulder. UCLA QB Kevin Craft followed up a career-best 288 passing yards performance against Oregon two weeks ago with 285 yards against Stanford last week. USC QB Mark Sanchez has thrown at least three touchdown passes in five of the Trojans' six games. Trojans TB Joe McKnight has missed some practice time with turf toe but said he expects to play on Saturday against Arizona. Last week's 69-0 loss to USC marked the first time Washington State had been held scoreless in 280 games. That broke the nation's second-longest current streak and the fourth-longest all-time. Washington State was last blanked by Ohio State in 1984.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

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



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