By late Saturday evening, every Pac-10 school will have at least one conference game under its belt. From this point forward, the run for the Pac-10 title is on in earnest.
The way the schedule has begun, there are a number of teams with reason to believe they will be the ones wearing championship rings in December. Realistically, there are three or four teams who look to wrestle the top spot away from USC.
That said, the Trojans still appear to be the team to beat.
Arizona will be regrouping this week and ready to make their run after a bye week. The rest of the conference teams will be in action this weekend.
With the improved play by both Washington and Washington State, it’s back to the good ol' days in the Pac-10. There are no easy games on the schedule, and winning on the road will be very, very tough.
My rather forgettable skills as a college football handicapper were on display in full regalia once again last week. Yes, my picks were right on a modest three out of five games.
There are some outstanding games this week, including one non-conference clash with the team from South Bend, IN.
Let’s take a look at the schedule.
UCLA vs. Stanford (-5)
This will be the first conference game for the Bruins. Unfortunately for them, it’s at Stanford, where fans are returning to watch Cardinal football. Or are they there for the marching band?
Back to UCLA...the Bruins have a balanced offensive attack that has scored enough points to win each of their first three games. Their defense has been the key to victory, holding the opposition to around 250 yards a game.
A couple of defensive stats jump off the page at you. No one has rushed for 100 yards against the UCLA defense, and if you don’t score on them in the first quarter, you might not get another chance.
Stanford will challenge the strength of the Bruin defense with the power and speed of Toby Gerhart. But if they key on him, Andrew Luck has been sensational throwing the football and can gain plenty of yards when he tucks the ball and runs. Luck has an outstanding receiving corps. Together the Stanford offense is averaging over 400 yards a game.
The Cardinal defense gives up yardage outside the red zone. They are good at shutting the opposition down when they get near the 20-yard line.
Washington vs. Notre Dame (-13)
This is an important game for both teams. Notre Dame could easily be 4-0 on the season barred a last second meltdown against Michigan. Washington fans spent an entire week strutting their stuff after a huge upset at home over USC. They were back to simply wearing purple and gold gear after being run over by Stanford.
But harken Husky faithful, your team is going in the right direction—unless that direction is east to South Bend. The Fighting Irish are beyond the stages of building the program up. They are there and ready for all comers. Jimmy Clausen is throwing the football well, while Armando Allen is averaging 108 yards per game.
If Jake Locker is patient, the Irish secondary can struggle at times. Problem for the Husky fans is their need for patience. Their 0-12 team last season was not loaded with talent, and it will take time for the new faces to consistently play as they did against the Trojans.
When the UW was ranked No. 24 in the polls, a legitimate cry of overrated echoed across the college football landscape. But when the Huskies board the team charter back to Seattle, they will have UW chanting that very same thing about Notre Dame.
Oregon State vs. Arizona State (-5)
Arizona State finally played a good football team last weekend, while at the same time, Oregon State was busy making a Pac-10 football team look good.
The Sun Devils managed to give themselves a chance to win a game back in Athens, GA against a Bulldog team that embarrassed them last season in Tempe. But with a complete lack of offense, it didn’t happen for ASU.
Oregon State literally threw Arizona a bone in the form of two interceptions. That was the difference in their game.
OSU has been playing completely out of character early in their schedule. They were off to a good start with a couple of wins and then lost two at home, albeit to very good football teams. Their offensive attack has been rolling up yardage through the air at the rate of 2-to-1 on the ground. The Beavers are also yielding over 360 yards a game. Just who are those guys in the orange and black?
When it comes to not knowing a team, there just isn’t much to glean from either of the Sun Devil wins and their close defeat to Georgia. A game in the Valley of the Sun should provide answers about both teams.
PICK: Oregon State
USC vs. Cal (+4.5)
The Trojans had their hands full with Washington State last weekend. It was a game that showed USC coming back to the Pac and WSU improving their play. Matt Barkley had a nice game and should be even better this week as his sore shoulder continues to heal.
Cal, well, what can I say? They rolled into Eugene a national powerhouse and were powered off the field by a bunch of Ducks. The Bears reinforced the truism that it’s tough to win on the road, especially at Autzen.
Are the Trojans no longer in a league of their own? Could the Bears really be bad news? This should be one heckuva game going down to the final possession.
Washington State vs. Oregon (-33)
The Ducks looked like the class of the conference as they completely dismantled Cal last week. Most were surprised by the Ducks' total domination. They looked like the team that was nationally ranked preseason.
WSU gave up too many points in the first quarter for the fourth game in a row. After yet another slow start, the Cougs played toe-to-toe with the Trojans the rest of the way.
Oregon has a renewed confidence. WSU has a new quarterback. Typically there would be application of a comment on just how tough it is to win in Eugene. Not the case this time around. WSU played solid football in front of 90,000-plus fans last week who would never be described as typical Angelenos...laid-back and easy going.
If you’re like many thinking this won’t be much of a game, may I quote ESPN’s Lee Corso? “Not so fast my friend.”
PICK: Washington State Cougars
Here's a look at the current Pac-10 standings:
One thing remains certain, which is as close as I’ll get to an accurate prediction.
It’s going to be a great weekend of Pac-10 football.
DISCLAIMER: College football is all about the spectacle and event. Wagering on games taints the experience. Have some fun and enjoy family and friends this weekend.
Originally published in Lew Wright's column on Examiner.com.