September 3, 2009

Weekend breakdown of the Pac-10

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THE SCHEDULE
Thursday
Oregon at Boise State, 10:15 p.m.
Saturday
Portland State at Oregon State, 2:40 p.m.
San Jose State at USC, 3:30 p.m.
Stanford at Washington State, 6 p.m.
San Diego State at UCLA, 7:45 p.m.
Central Michigan at Arizona, 9 p.m.
Idaho State at Arizona State, 9 p.m.
Maryland at California, 10 p.m.
LSU at Washington, 10:30 p.m.
The Pac-10 is quick to point out it produced a record six 1,000-yard rushers last season and that five of them are back this season.

That is a noteworthy statistic that should be trumpeted loudly. And maybe it will draw attention away from the league's quarterback quandary.

Check out this line: 27 completions in 62 attempts for 292 yards and two touchdowns. That would be a solid, though inconsistent game-day performance. Trouble is, that's the combined college career passing stats of the projected quarterback starters at USC (true freshman Matt Barkley), UCLA (redshirt freshman Kevin Prince), Stanford (redshirt freshman Andrew Luck), Arizona State (senior Danny Sullivan) and Arizona (sophomores Matt Scott or Nick Foles).

At mid-week, Arizona coach Mike Stoops still hadn't decided on a starter for the season-opener against Central Michigan, which by the way has a fourth-year starter in quarterback Dan LeFevour.

"To me, earning the right to play is important, and I believe both players have done that," Stoops said. "Now how that plays out, I can't answer that. I really can't. I'm being as honest as I can."

Stoops said both would play against Central Michigan and maybe all season.

But the Pac-10's quarterback issues extend beyond those five teams with new quarterbacks.

Last season, 25 FBS quarterbacks passed for more than 3,000 yards. None of the Pac-10's projected starting quarterbacks this week have passed for 3,000 yards in their careers.

But USC coach Pete Carroll said that while quarterback experience is lacking in the Pac-10, there is plenty of talent.

"I don't think you can ever underestimate the talent level of quarterbacks in this conference," he said. "The best come here. What you see at the start of the season is often not what you see at the end."

That's something to hope for if you're a Pac-10 fan. And if it doesn't turn out that way ... well, there are a lot of good running backs.

Best matchup: Oregon's run offense vs. Boise State's run defense. Last season the Ducks won the battle but lost the war. They rushed for 227 yards against the Broncos, but fell 37-32. QB Jeremiah Masoli's passing improved in the last month of last season, but Oregon, which was second in the nation in rushing last season, still will depend on its running game to reverse the outcome. LeGarrette Blount will provide power and freshman LaMichael James will provide speed, but can a rebuilt line supply sufficient blocking? Overall, Boise State was solid against the run in '08.

Player on the spot: Washington QB Jake Locker. How's this for an unenviable situation? An oft-injured quarterback in a new system is coming off an injury. On top of that, he's working behind a line that allowed 31 sacks for a winless team. This week, he's facing a traditionally strong defense with a chip on its shoulder. That's the scenario facing Locker. He's a marvelous runner, but his passing has been questioned and he figures to be asked to throw more in new coach Steve Sarkisian's system. The Huskies floundered when Locker suffered a season-ending thumb injury last season. They need him to be competitive again. But he's up against an LSU defense seeking redemption for a sub-par showing in '08, and the unit now is led by coordinator John Chavis.

Numbers game: Arizona State DE Dexter Davis is the only player in the nation to have recorded double-digit sacks totals in each of the past two seasons. Davis notched 10.5 in '07 and 11 in '08. He figures to get a big jump on making it three years in a row when the Sun Devils open against FCS member Idaho State, which allowed 34 sacks a year ago.

What they're saying:

"We're in the gym, so [a free-throw shooting contest] was the first thing that came to mind. Bowling. We'll let them bowl a game or two, and whoever wins will start this week." - Arizona G Conan Amituanai on how to determine whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles will start at quarterback for the Wildcats, to The Associated Press

"We're going to be able to run the ball or die trying." - UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel in a recent news conference on his team's running game, which ranked 116th in the nation last season

"Our guys don't quit. They never give up. You cannot kill them. You can't demoralize them. They won't go away. Now we have to be relentless. We must be the hunter. Eventually we want to kill you. We need to make that the next step to get up there with teams like USC." - Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, to the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee

"Last year's game was a culmination of things. Some guys were tired and not used to the humidity and it was hard to breathe, so having them at home is definitely an advantage for us. Also, it's more of a redemption thing, so we have a lot to prove." - California safety Brett Johnson, to BearTerritory.net on avenging last season's 35-27 loss to Maryland

Etc.: Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson announced "five or six" players, including starting WR Kerry Taylor, are suspended for the first game. The Sun Devils also won't have highly regarded freshman LB Vontaze Burfict, who has yet to be certified by the NCAA Clearinghouse. ... California RB Jahvid Best, a Heisman contender, will return kicks this season. ... Redshirt freshman QB Kevin Prince will start in UCLA's opener against San Diego State, marking only the second time the Bruins have started the season with a freshman quarterback. Bret Johnson started all 11 games in 1989, when the Bruins finished 3-7-1. ... All-Pac 10 TE Rob Gronkowski is likely out for Arizona's game against Central Michigan. ... Oregon State TE Howard Croom isn't expected to play against Portland State because of effects from a concussion. ... Kevin Lopina has been named Washington State's starting quarterback, though Marshall Lobbestael also is expected to see action, perhaps as early as the first quarter.

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




 

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