PAC10 Mid Season

 

October 20, 2006

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 prediction: 2nd)

 

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. Washington and Washington State 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 Oregon, #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 Carrollís team.

 

2. California (1st)

 

Calís 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 concern.

 

Calís 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. Jacksonís 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.

 

Calís 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 two score 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 Cal where Dixonís weaknesses, and Oregonís, were on display. Cal shut down Stewart (incredibly limiting him to 25 yards on 18 carries) and the Oregon running game, and put the spotlight on Dixon, who failed to deliver.

 

Dixonís 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.

 

Oregonís 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 Portland State 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 Los Angeles and close the year with a trip to Corvallis 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. Washington State (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 career.

 

UW went as Stanback went this season, and now a reeling Husky squad travels to Strawberry Canyon 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 Stanbackís season.

 

6. Oregon State (5th)

 

Matt Moore has shown that he is a poor manís Derek ďAnderceptionĒ Anderson. Anderson 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 Riley).

 

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 Arizona, 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.Arizona State (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 Arizonaís 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.

 

10. Stanford (7th)

 

Oy veh. SoÖhow about that Directors Cup?


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