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October 16, 2008

Pac-10: Road wins prove tough to come by

MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

The price of traveling just keeps going up, and not just in dollars and cents. It's costly in wins and losses, too.

That's especially true in the Pac-10, where the road has been bumpier than an Arkansas highway and finding a victorious visitor is harder than finding a healthy quarterback.

Just a little more than half the Pac-10 teams have endured quarterback injuries. All of them have lost on the road.

In fact, Pac-10 teams are a combined 6-20 away from home and half are winless on the road. Oregon, which is 2-1 outside of Eugene, is the only team with a winning road record. And one of those victories was over lowly Washington State. The other was an overtime win over Purdue.

USC was ranked No. 1 in the nation until it visited Oregon State. The Beavers are 3-3 with all their losses coming outside of Corvallis.

No. 25 California is 4-1, but might be in the top 10 if it hadn't been a 35-27 upset victim at Maryland, which had lost to Middle Tennessee State the previous week.

"I always think it's challenging to win on the road because the environment is loud and hostile, that kind of thing," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "I don't know what the stats are as far as winning games on the road. I'm not caught up on that."

Saturday, the Bears hit the road again to face Arizona. Arizona coach Mike Stoops is aware of the trend.

"I think everybody plays a little better at home," he said. "Look at the Pac-10. Does anybody have a good road win this year? We probably have the best one going to UCLA.

"That's just kind of how it is. That's college football. You have to use all the advantages you can at home. You have the crowd and noise factor and comfort zone of being at home. It's just better. Offensively, we've put up big numbers at home. Hopefully, that trend will continue."

Maybe it will. But the trend of traveling travails may be coming to an end. UCLA, Washington and Washington State are the bottom three teams in the league and each is at home Saturday.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    USC at Washington State, 3:30 p.m.
    Stanford at UCLA, 4 p.m.
    Oregon State at Washington, 7 p.m.
    California at Arizona, 10 p.m.

    Cal QB Nate Longshore vs. Arizona's pass defense. Longshore threw for 198 yards and three touchdowns in last week's win over Arizona State. Longshore, who was beaten out for the starting job by Kevin Riley in August before getting it back, has thrown five touchdown passes and just one pick in the past two games. He'll need to be sharp against Arizona, which leads the nation in pass defense. Wildcats opponents have completed 55.3 percent of their passes and average just 124.3 passing yards per game. The Wildcats have given up four touchdown passes and have eight interceptions. CB Devin Ross is having a solid season, with an interception and seven pass breakups.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • Stanford RB Toby Gerhart. Gerhart has rushed for 641 yards, and the Cardinal is 3-1 when he has exceeded 100 yards in a game. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and figures to have another strong outing against UCLA, which has struggled in run defense. Three players have rushed for more than 100 yards against the Bruins, who allowed 323 rushing yards to Oregon last week.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Stanford WR Ryan Whalen has 20 of his 27 receptions in the past three games. USC WR Damian Williams has at least one touchdown catch in each of the past four games. Oregon State freshman RB Jacquizz Rodgers has rushed for at least 99 yards and scored at least one touchdown in five consecutive games. Oregon DE Nick Reed has notched at least one sack in six consecutive games. Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski had 10 catches and five touchdowns in the past three games. UCLA's past two opponents were just 4-of-27 on third-down conversions.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter has passed for fewer than 200 yards in each of the past two games. In those games, he's also thrown three interceptions with just one touchdown. One interception was returned for a touchdown by USC. Cohesiveness is vital for an offensive line, but Washington State has used five different starting lineups in its seven games. The Cougars rank 111th in the nation in rushing and 116th with 24 sacks allowed. Stanford quarterbacks have thrown seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. Washington State has allowed a nation's-worst 29 rushing touchdowns. Arizona State is converting just 27.3 percent of its third-down opportunities. The state of Washington is having a tough time. Not only are Washington and Washington State a combined 1-11, but also Eastern Washington a traditional Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse is an uncharacteristic 2-4. Well, there's always the NFL's Seahawks. Oops. Sorry.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "I can honestly say I don't remember being this inefficient offensively in my too-long career."
    Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson after the Sun Devils' 28-0 loss to USC.

    "We are not going to burn any redshirt at this point, and we have some very capable players we are redshirting who could help us right now. We are too far into the season to hurt the future of the program."
    Washington State coach Paul Wulff discussing the dire injury situation at quarterback.

    "We take Washington State like it's (No. 1) Texas. If we don't, we're vulnerable. We can't overlook anybody. We've got a target on our chest. Everybody is gunning for us."
    USC RB Stafon Johnson

  • ETC.
  • Arizona RB Nicolas Grigsby has scored at least one touchdown in every game this season. The Wildcats have not had a turnover in the past two games and lead the Pac-10 with just seven thus far. Oregon WR Jaison Williams has 162 career catches and is closing in on the school record. Samie Parker (2000-2003) set the standard with 178 career receptions. Last week's victory over Washington State was Mike Riley's 50th win as Oregon State's coach. Stanford's Gerhart and Anthony Kimble both exceeded 100 yards rushing in last week's victory over Arizona. It marked the first time the Cardinal had two players rush for more than 100 yards in the same game since 2001. USC sophomore RB Joe McKnight posted a career-best 143 rushing yards on just 11 attempts a week ago against Arizona State. California has 10 interceptions, matching its total from last season.

  • PAC-10 MIDSEASON REPORT
  • BEST GAME: Utah 31, Oregon State 28, Oct. 2. The Beavers were on the brink of their second consecutive Thursday night upset of a ranked team after a Lyle Moevao touchdown pass gave them a 28-20 lead with just 2:18 to play. But Utah rallied for 11 points in the final two minutes.

    BEST REMAINING GAME: California at USC, Nov. 8. USC bounced back from a 27-21 upset to Oregon State with a 44-10 blowout of Oregon. Despite the early loss, the Trojans appear the favorite to win the Pac-10 championship. Their greatest remaining test may be against Cal.

    BEST PLAYER: Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Rodgers, a true freshman, has rushed for at least 99 yards in five consecutive games and had a 186-yard outburst in the upset of USC. He leads the Pac-10 and is 10th in the nation in rushing with 718 yards.

    BEST FRESHMAN: See above.

    BEST COACHING JOB: Stanford's Jim Harbaugh. Stanford hasn't made a postseason appearance since 2001, but under Harbaugh, the Cardinal are two wins away after upsetting Arizona last week. Stanford still isn't a championship contender, but Harbaugh built a team that must be taken seriously.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter. There was thought in some circles that Carpenter could get into the Heisman Trophy discussion. Last season, he passed for more than 3,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. But so far, he's thrown for just over 1,400 yards with eight touchdowns and five picks.

    MOST SURPRISING UNIT: Arizona's secondary. Who knew these guys would play so well? A year ago, the Wildcats ranked 71st in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 234.2 yards and giving up 17 touchdown passes. And that was with NFL first-round pick Antoine Cason at cornerback. This season, the Wildcats rank No. 1 in the country in pass defense, are allowing an average of 124.3 yards and have given up just three touchdown passes.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING UNIT: Oregon's secondary. The anti-Arizona is Oregon, which has been dismal against the pass despite returning three starters from one of the country's better secondaries a year ago. The Ducks allow an average of 265.5 yards per game and have given up 11 touchdown passes. Oregon gave up more than 300 passing yards and seven touchdown passes in its two losses.

    COACH ON THE HOTTEST SEAT: Washington's Tyrone Willingham. He was thought to be on the hot seat when the season started. Now with an 0-5 record and QB Jake Locker hurt, that seat is a raging inferno.

    MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | SEC

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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