We have reached the halfway point of Pac10 play, and
once again the story of the season is quarterback play. Many of the
storylines of the season so far can be traced back to the men under center
(or in the shotgun). Here is a look at the Pac10 picture as we head into
the second half of the season, with an extra focus on each teamís
quarterback situation and what it portends for the teamís finishing drive.
1. USC (preseason
USCís new starting quarterback, John David Booty, has
epitomized the Trojansí season. Some ups and downs, tons of talent but low
on experience and occasionally performance, and always doing at least just
enough to get the job done. Booty and the Trojans started the season
strong, with a blowout of current SEC leader Arkansas
and a three touchdown takedown of Big12 North leader Nebraska.
Neither of those two has lost another game.
However, the Trojans have struggled in conference play.
both took the Trojans to the wire, with UW doing so in LA. A mentally (and
some would say physically) feeble ASU managed to come back from a three
touchdown deficit on the road against USC, and a bad Arizona
team hung with USC into the fourth quarter. Clearly, the Trojans are
vulnerable, but, as the last remaining undefeated in the conference and the
reigning champions, the top spot is theirs until they lose.
USC faces a brutal closing schedule after the next two
games at Stanford and OSU. The Trojansí last four games are against #16
#11 Cal, #10 Notre Dame, and
at rival UCLA. It seems likely that USC will lose at least one of these
games, and possibly slip against OSU if they look ahead, but they know how
to win and someone will have to rip out USCís heart and stomp on it until
it beats no more to finally take victory out of the clutches of Pete
2. California (1st)
fortunes have swung with those of blueshirt sophomore quarterback Nate
Longshore. Longshore struggled in the opener at Tennessee,
always just a little off in timing and execution; not as bad as the
eventual result looked but unable to get the job done. Since then Longshore
has lit up almost every opponent, throwing for 17 touchdowns in his next 5
games (and zero in a retro-bad performance at WSU last week).
With the development of Longshore, the Bears have been
on fire since the no-show in Knoxville.
The offensive line has gelled and allowed less than a sack per game, while
improving on its run blocking. Marshawn Lynch has struggled to overcome an
ankle injury, but even a gimpy Lynch is leading the conference in rushing
yards, rushing yards per game, and yards per carry. Lynch is also tied for
seventh in receiving touchdowns and is second in rushing touchdowns. Desean
Jackson has emerged as arguably the top receiver in the conference and is
one of the most explosive players in the nation. Jackson
is complemented nicely by a much improved Lavelle Hawkins and the steady
Robert Jordan. Cal doesnít
have much accomplished depth behind their big three, so health has to be a
defense has rounded into form in recent weeks, shutting down Oregonís
high octane attack and giving WSU their first game without a touchdown
since 2000. Dante Hughes is among the national leaders with 6
interceptions. Perhaps just as important to Calís
season, the special teams have become an asset instead of an eyesore.
punt returning skills add spice to a very good all around performance.
Newcomer Andrew Larson is booming punts, Tom Schneider has made all his
field goal and extra point attempts on the season, and coverage teams have
been good most of the time.
remaining schedule sets up nicely for a showdown on Figueroa. The Bears get
a wounded and outclassed Washington
team, reeling from a home loss to OSU and the loss of Stanback late in that
game. Cal is a three
touchdown favorite. Following the UW game, Cal
gets a bye week to prepare for UCLA and a shot at avenging last yearís loss
where the Bears coughed up a
lead late in the game. Then comes a trap game at UA, which is currently
down to its third string quarterback. A loss by Cal
in any of these games would be a huge upset. That is followed with the
Pac10 game of the year, Cal
at USC, for the conference championship, the Rose Bowl, and perhaps a spot in
the BCS title game. Then Cal
plays to keep the Axe at home against currently winless Stanford.
3. Oregon (3rd)
Mike Bellotti scrapped his musical quarterback system of
a year ago and handed the keys to Dennis Dixon. Dixon
has responded well, leading the Ducks to a 6-1 record, 3-1 in conference
play. The problem lies with the one loss, a demolition at the hands of
where Dixonís weaknesses, and
were on display. Cal shut
down Stewart (incredibly limiting him to 25 yards on 18 carries) and the
running game, and put the spotlight on Dixon,
who failed to deliver.
problems as a quarterback mirror those of the team. Very talented, a little
too young and inexperienced, exciting and productive on the ground but unable
to make the big play through the air, athletic but still somewhat raw, and
ultimately just not at an elite level at this point. The Ducks are a part
of the three team group that appears to have pulled away from the rest of
the Pac, but look like they are a year away.
schedule sets up favorably for a 3rd place finish and 9 or 10 regular
season wins, which would be an accomplishment in something of a rebuilding
year for the Ducks. They have ooc cupcake PortlandState and in conference cupcake
Arizona coming to Autzen.
Without Stanback, Washington
doesnít have the firepower to hang with Oregon
on the road. The Ducks face a vulnerable to still elite USC team in
Angeles and close the year with a trip to
for the Civil War, which has been won by the home team annually for about a
decade. A trip to Pullman this
week is the only other potential landmine. Losing to USC and splitting the
other two road games gets the Ducks to 9-3 and looking for double digit
wins in the Holiday (if Cal and USC both go to the BCS) or Sun.
4. WashingtonState (8th)
Iím putting WSU here, but thereís a whole muddle of
mediocrity that could go anywhere from fourth to eighth right now. The
Cougs land the coveted crown of King Mediocrity by staying close to USC and
slowing Calís aerial attack,
along with road wins over doormat Stanford and fellow mediocrity OSU.
How does quarterback Alex Brink fit into this? He, like
the Cougs, has been mediocre, churning out ugly games with some positive
outcomes, and, with the recent rash of quarterback injuries, is closing in
on last starter standing status among the bottom 7. Heís becoming arguably
the best of the rest by default, much like the Cougs.
WSU will need to secure home wins over UA and UW to get
to six wins and bowl pseudo-eligibility, and will need to upset either UCLA
or ASU to get to seven and an all expenses paid X-Mas Vegas Vacation.
5. Washington (10th)
UW has been the conferenceís biggest positive surprise.
Led by senior quarterback Isaiah Stanback, UW was 4-2 a week ago with
respectable losses at Oklahoma
and USC. Then disaster struck at home against OSU. UW mailed in a loss to a
very beatable opponent, damaging their bowl chances. Worse yet, Stanback
was injured late in the game and is out for the remainder of his collegiate
UW went as Stanback went this season, and now a reeling
Husky squad travels to StrawberryCanyon to face possibly the
best team in the conference. A blowout loss to the Bears and UW will be
4-4, losers of two straight, without their star and leader, and with three
potential bowl teams still on their schedule (along with powder puff
Stanford, who will be looking to avoid humiliation by getting their first
win). UW is 5th based on accomplishment, and wouldíve been an easy choice
for 4th a week ago, but the Husky resurgence seems to have ended with
6. OregonState (5th)
Matt Moore has shown that he is a poor manís Derek
at least had the physical talent and a solid senior season. Moore
is not as talented as he thinks he is, has made little progress as a
quarterback, and his mediocrity appears to be infecting his team (the real
source of OSUís mediocrity, for good or bad, is most likely coach Mike
OSUís thirteen game season necessitates winning at least
seven games to reach a bowl. The Beavers are at three wins, with seven
games to go. They will need road wins over cellar dwellers Stanford and
along with at least two upsets. Their chances hinge on almost solid Matt
Moore showing up much more often than Matt Moore Interceptions.
7. UCLA (6th)
Until his recent injury, Ben Olson was a model Bruin.
Overhyped, talented, underachieving, padding his stats against inferior
competition, and folding when facing a challenge. Now Patrick Cowan takes
the reigns, promising more of the same performance with less talent and
hype. The Bruins have built up a 4-2 record, but the four wins have come at
home against juggernauts Rice, Utah,
Arizona, and Stanford. Those
four are a combined 9-20 on the season. The two times UCLA left home, they
were handed double digit defeats.
UCLAís remaining schedule gets much tougher. The face
road games against Notre Dame and Cal, along with a home rivalry game
against USC. A trip to ASU and visits from WSU and OSU could also prove
tricky. UCLA will likely back into a bowl, but their fans will wonder why
their highly touted recruits keep yielding mediocre results.
8.† ArizonaState (4th)
ASUís annual collapse has happened earlier than usual. The
collapse has been led by Dirk Koetterís second first choice for starting
quarterback, Rudy Carpenter. Carpenterís sleazy rise to starter has been
well chronicled and wonít be rehashed here. Carpenterís implosion has been
swift, public, and severe.
Like most years, ASUís collapse coincides with the
tougher part of their schedule. Under Dirk Koetter, ASU typically piles up
huge offensive numbers against also-rans, and then folds against highly
ranked teams and in games played in the state of California
(where Koetter is winless in). The pattern has held up this season as ASU
feasted on cupcakes out of conference and then got plastered by Cal
and Oregon, followed by a
loss to USC.
ASUís remaining schedule gets much easier and it seems
likely that the Sun Devils will rebound to make a bowl game. If they follow
form, Carpenter will put up some big numbers against suspect opponents,
raising expectations for next year when they can once again get killed by
good teams and finish in the middle of the conference. Itís possible,
however, that Koetterís inept handling of the quarterback situation (and
some game situations this seasonÖhow can you punt down 7 with a minute
left?) will have undermined his leadership to the point that ASU canít
recover this year and ends up home for the holidays.
9. Arizona (9th)
Willie Tuitama is a Hesiman darkhorse! This is
year to break out! UA will beat USC! Bob Stoops is a great coach and will
dominate the weak Pac10!
Hereís hoping that UA fans enjoy the second Chris
Heavner era as much as the first.