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October 8, 2008The storm that has been ravaging the Pac-10 the past few weeks is settling, and the conference hierarchy is starting to take form.
Some words you probably haven't heard in quite some time: It is October and Arizona is tied for first place in the Pac-10. Arizona looked simply incredible in its 48-14 home win over Washington. Rob Gronkowski has scored five touchdowns in the two games he has played and Mike Thomas has proven he is as dangerous a punt returner as he is receiver. The Arizona defense has been nothing short of terrific and for now it looks like the UA is a top team in the Pac-10.
This team has some serious problems, starting with the offensive line. Rudy Carpenter has played phenomenal this season and has had to do it with defenders constantly in his face. He has been sacked 12 times this season, which ties for 1st in the conference and 11th in the country. Losing 24-14 in Berkeley to a California team whose most dangerous weapon sat on the sidelines tells me that the Sun Devils aren't ready to win big games, especially on the road.
Cal certainly answered a lot of questions this week. Despite star Jahvid Best sitting out, the Golden Bears managed a 24-14 victory over Arizona State. Last week, I mentioned how the Cal receivers had yet to establish themselves as threats, but that has since changed. Cal has scored six touchdowns in the air in its past two games. Tight end Cameron Morrah has found patches in the defense and receivers LaReylle Cunningham and Florida transfer Nyan Boateng have become dangers to opposing defenses.
Poor Oregon. Better yet, poor anyone who has to face USC fresh after a loss. Oregon was outgained 598-239 in total yards and outscored 44-10 against the Trojans. No strong second-half effort from the Ducks this time, scoring just three points after their opening touchdown drive. That Oregon ground game that averages over 300 yards per game? Held to just 60 yards.
Credit the Beavers for playing tough in Salt Lake City against ranked Utah, but the 31-28 loss should safely remove Oregon State from the Pac-10 champion discussion. I understand that this was a last second finish on the road against a ranked non-conference opponent but the Beavers have established themselves as a football team that frequently loses and I don't see them coming out of conference play with two or fewer losses. Oregon State will be a pesky opponent for whoever it faces in what I imagine will be a bottom tier bowl game.
Stanford's 28-21 loss at Notre Dame spells out the classification of its team in 2008: "Almost there". This team shows brilliance at times, but mostly demonstrates an inconsistency that will keep it out of the upper half of the conference. Toby Gerhart is the leader of the running game, which certainly appears to be Stanford's most dangerous threat. There are big concerns at offensive line and defensive secondary. Quarterback Tavita Pritchard has been sacked 12 times this season and the secondary allowed Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen to throw for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
UCLA is not a good football team and beating Washington State 28-3 at home doesn't prove much otherwise. While I am sure the always optimistic Rick Neuheisel will take each win he can get, even he must realize that the season does not look good. UCLA has played five games, four of which at home, and have its only wins at home against the laughing stocks of the Pac-10 and SEC. UCLA plays four of its next six on the road, including trips to Eugene, Berkeley and Tempe. Good luck.
The loss to Oregon State brought USC back to Earth, and in its first game back USC looked like the best team on the planet. In what was perhaps the most impressive defensive feat of the season, USC held Oregon's elite running game to just 60 yards. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez certainly has a number of critics but he is the top rated quarterback in the Pac-10 and USC has a deep-threat passing game that is one of the most dangerous in the nation. Watch the highlights throughout the year and say to yourself: "How are these guys so wide open?"
Washington was simply outplayed in every aspect of the game during its 48-14 loss to Arizona. Its offense couldn't move, defense scored on at will, and special teams looked simply pathetic. Bold Prediction: Washington wins at least one of its home games against Oregon State and Notre Dame the next two weeks.
How bad is this team? Every week it looks worse and worse, including this past week. The one statistic that really illustrates the reality of Washington State's football program is badly losing the time of possession battle against UCLA. Which is worse? Allowing UCLA's powerless offense to be on the field for over 34 minutes, or having your offense on the field for only 25 minutes against a UCLA defense that gives up nastier runs than a three entr?meal from Panda Express?
The Week Ahead
Is nothing particularly enticing. Arizona State visits USC, seeing as the Sun Devils can't seem to win on the road (or at home for that matter) I think it's safe to say this game won't be as hyped as it was in the pre-season. Arizona should watch out, as its trip to Stanford is the kind of game that the Wildcats have stumbled on in the past. If Arizona wins this weekend, it faces idle Cal in week eight for sole possession of first place in the Pac-10.