Pac-10 Weekend Preview

Pac-10 Weekend Preview

Now the fun really begins for those still in the Rose Bowl chase and national title hunt. The string of head-to-head match ups of the conference elite began last weekend with UCLA beating Cal, but this weekend's games mark the official start of what should be a special final five week run to close the season. While USC versus Oregon is the headliner, the game in Tempe might be the day's best.

Arizona (2-6, 1-4 Pac-10) @ Washington (2-5, 0-4 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 12:00 PM Television: FSN – Direct TV Channels 652, 660, Tape Delay FSA Stadium: Husky Stadium (72,500)

If I was a betting man – and I'm not – I wouldn't touch this game with a 10-foot pole. I don't even know what the spread is because it doesn't matter. Each of these teams has played so erratically this season that to try and predict how they'll perform on Saturday is impossible. Arizona has had a bad habit of coming out flat in all three of their conference road games, having been outscored 62-3 in the first quarter. The Wildcats are coming off their worst offensive game of the season while Washington was just plain throttled by Oregon last week. The good news for the Huskies is they've won six of the last eight against Arizona, including the last two played in Tucson. The good news for Arizona is head coach Stoops' lone win against Washington came in Seattle back in 2004. That Huskies team finished the season winless in Pac-10 play and was not coached by Ty Willingham. UW is drinking chocolate milk after workouts nowadays and although their record does not reflect it, they are a program that is moving in the right direction. Arizona's defense has looked much better in their last two games. They'll need to continue to play well, but will be challenged by UW's QB Locker who can run and throw. Arizona has always struggled against mobile QB's and in fact, have only beaten one (Oregon's Dixon) during Stoops' tenure. Even then, the ‘Cats did not neutralize Dixon. Instead, they won because the Ducks had six turnovers that put them in impossible situations. Look for Locker to tuck the ball and run the way UW's Stanback did against the ‘Cats in victories the past two years. For Arizona, how well they run the football will determine whether or not they're even in the game in the fourth quarter. Last year Arizona rushed for minus seven (-7) yards. Tuitama was sacked six times. Somehow, he managed to throw for 308 yards and at the time, set a career high with 41 passing attempts and 24 completions. Arizona will again be able to throw the ball against UW but they have to establish a running game with Grigsby in order to silence the crowd, control the clock and keep this game from becoming a shootout. The real key to the rushing attack though is to help out their defense that has tired during the fourth quarter of back-to-back losses to USC and Stanford. If Arizona's offense can take some pressure off their defense and give them some time to rest by improving upon their woeful 40-116 (34%) third down conversions rate, then I like their chances this weekend.

USC (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) @ Oregon (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 12:00 PM Television: FSN – Direct TV Channels 649, 651, 653 Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000)

Coach Carroll has yet to name a starter at QB for USC and in polling the Trojans fans I know, they're split 50/50 as to which QB they prefer. While Booty has the big game experience, Sanchez has the moxy of recent Trojans greats such as Palmer and Leinart. The problem with playing Sanchez is although he played extremely well against Notre Dame, Oregon is no Notre Dame. The Ducks are faster, much more aggressive, and have the DB's who can cover USC's WR's one-on-one, allowing their front seven to blitz to their hears content. Many think USC has to score in the 30's for them to win. I think if they score in the 30's they'll not only win, they'll win comfortably. USC's defense gets a little deeper this week from the handful of players returning from the injured list. That'll certainly help their chances. What will also help is the fact that during the last two seasons, USC has flat out destroyed the Ducks and have done so by not outscoring them but by shutting their high flying offense down. In 2005, the Trojans won 45-13 and in 2006, the surrendered only 10 points in a 35-10 victory. This year, in Oregon's lone loss, the Ducks fell to Cal at home 31-24. Two things of concern for Oregon. One, if Booty plays then USC's rushing attack will produce a lot more than just the 115 yards Cal was able to produce because the Ducks won't be able to load up eight in the box. Second, USC's defense is a lot better than the Bears' so the 24 points the Ducks put on the board will take every ounce of innovation Bellotti & Co. can muster to produce the same results. Of course, all this is contingent on USC bringing their "A" Game. And of course, that's not something they've done often in 2007. If Oregon can force USC into turnovers, then they're talented enough to win going away. If they can't and USC is in this game at halftime, we're going to see another Cal/Oregon type of finish that could again spell heartbreak hotel for the Ducks.

UCLA (5-2, 4-1 Pac-10) @ Washington State (2-5, 0-4 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 3:30 PM Television: FSN – Direct TV Channels 651, 652, 653 Stadium: Martin Stadium (37,600)

Why do I get the funny feeling that UCLA will lay an egg this weekend in Pullman? Is it because of the cold weather that surely will rear its ugly head on Saturday? Is it because UCLA under Dorrell always finds a way to lose games they shouldn't? Or is it because Wazzu, despite being winless in conference, is a decent football team who plays a whole heckuvah lot better at home? The truth is the Bruins are the better team and should win easily. WSU runs a predominately passing offense and the strength of the Bruins rests in the hands of their secondary. Assuming UCLA doesn't give up any broken plays for touchdowns, the Cougars will struggle to sustain long drives. The fear is that the Cougars have nothing to lose and this weekend officially begin their lets win one for Doba tour. That means that double reverses, fake punts and field goals and any other trick play is fair game. When properly executed, these are the kinds of plays that could propel a lesser team to the big upset. The interesting thing is that UCLA is prone to running the same types of plays and if they are successful this weekend in doing so as they were against Cal last weekend, this could be blowout city. Assuming QB Cowan stays healthy and the Bruins can keep the Cougars one-dimensional on offense, I like UCLA big on Saturday as they redeem last season's 37-15 loss in Pasadena.

Stanford (3-4, 2-3 Pac-10) @ Oregon State (4-3, 2-2 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 3:35 PM Television: None Stadium: Reser Stadium (46,000)

All one has to do is watch the end of the Stanford win over Arizona last weekend to realize that the Cardinal are behind their first year head coach Harbaugh 110%. Stanford is a team on the rise and although their final record may not appear to be that of a successful team, this is a squad of football players who is willing to scratch and claw for 60 minutes in honor of their coach. Harbaugh is a winner and he's brought that winning attitude back to The Farm. He's also instilled his never say die philosophy into the mindset of QB Pritchard who replaced season starter Ostrander prior to the USC game. All Pritchard's done since is take a one-win team (beating only San Jose State) and help turn them into the Cardinal they are today that's won two straight conference road games (USC and Arizona). More impressively, the Cardinal are doing it with second and third stringers as the injury bug has spread like wild fire throughout the program. Oregon State is another team that's overachieving this season, which makes this an intriguing match up. OSU's two conference losses came to ASU and UCLA. In both games, the Beavers had a chance to win heading into the fourth quarter but completely fell apart late. On Saturday, Pritchard will see the most aggressive defense he's faced this season. In their wins, the Beavers have been able to get to the QB. If they can pressure Pritchard, then they can win this game on defense alone. They may need to actually, considering their own offense is as mistake prone as they come. No matter the outcome one thing's for certain. This game won't be pretty. If I had to pick a winner, I'd go with OSU 27-14. I say this knowing full well that nothing this Harbaugh-led Stanford team does will surprise me anymore.

California (5-2, 2-2 Pac-10) @ Arizona State (7-0, 4-0 Pac-10)

Kickoff: 7:15 PM Television: FSA and FSNW – Direct TV Channels 649 and 651 Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706)

You ever heard of the phrase, "save the best for last." Well, it applies here. Even though USC/Oregon will be the game most talk about heading into Saturday, this game will be the one everyone is talking about come Sunday morning. I will be absolutely stunned if ASU does not win. It won't be easy though as I expect this to be a true wild west shootout. I'm not saying the score will be 45-44, but it just might be. I expect something more like ASU 31-28 with Cal missing a field goal late. While Cal might appear to be the better team on paper, the truth is the Sun Devils have the intangibles this season that have made them a winner. Not only that, but all the Sun Devils have heard this week is that they haven't played anyone yet. That their seven wins against no losses is a façade and that once they begin this upcoming stretch of games (Cal, at Oregon, at UCLA, USC) they'll begin to lose and their lofty record will begin to naturally correct itself. Two things are at work here. One, that state of mind is ex-coach Koetter talk. This is a Dennis Erickson led team and I guarantee you he's reminded his Sun Devils all week that no one respects them and everyone expect them to lose on Saturday. Second, while some losses may be in the cards for the Sun Devils, they won't begin until at least Nov. 3 when they travel to Autzen to play the Ducks. QB Carpenter has really developed under Erickson and should play well against a Cal secondary that has been torched at times this season. For Cal, their QB situation remains tenuous and the only way they stand a chance in Tempe is if Longshore starts and finishes the game. They'll need his experience in what will be a hostile stadium. The game's played late at night and the fans will be nice and toasty come kick off. With Longshore at the helm, all that might not matter. Without him, suddenly the crowd becomes the 12th man and who knows what will happen. Also in ASU's favor is the improved play of their linebackers this season and the support they're receiving from what's evolving into a strong secondary that's led by their safeties. Add it all up and Cal's athleticism and playmaking ability may lead to some easy scores that keep them in the game. When push comes to shove, though, I like ASU's offensive line and ground game to together control the fourth quarter and pull out the win.

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