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October 9, 2008

Pac-10: Unusual battle for bowl position

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

All kinds of bizarre and unforeseen events have occurred in college football over the past two seasons, but perhaps one of the most unlikely happens this week: Arizona and Stanford meet Saturday in a game that could have significant bowl implications.

How bizarre.

Well, maybe not. Arizona coach Mike Stoops said the 4-1 Wildcats, who haven't made a bowl appearance since 1998, have been building up to this point in his five seasons in Tucson.

"We've been inconsistent here," Stoops said. "We've been up and down, but I always saw signs of getting closer to becoming a good football team, and that's really what we concentrated on.

"This group of players is committed to total team success. When you get that from players, your chances of winning are enhanced greatly."

Stanford (3-3), which hasn't been to a bowl since 2001, also is making significant strides. The Cardinal need one more victory to equal last season's victory total.

So, the winner of the Arizona-Stanford game has to be reasonably confident of reaching a bowl.

The loser? Maybe not.

Stanford still has games remaining against struggling UCLA and woeful Washington State, but closes against Oregon, USC and California, which are a combined 11-4. That looks like a 5-7 finish just waiting to happen.

A loss to Arizona would require at least one more upset for the Cardinal to become bowl-eligible.

Arizona's finish should be considerably easier. A victory would put the Wildcats one victory away from bowl eligibility, and a Nov. 8 trip to Washington State remains.

But a loss to Stanford would require the Wildcats to at least beat either California, USC, Oregon, Oregon State or Arizona State later in the season.

  • BEST MATCHUP
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Saturday
    Arizona State at USC, 3:30 p.m.
    Arizona at Stanford, 5 p.m.
    Washington State at Oregon State, 6:30 p.m.
    UCLA at Oregon, 10:15 p.m.

    Stanford RBs Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble vs. Arizona run defense. Gerhart and Kimble combine to average 139 yards per game, and the running game unquestionably is the strength of the Cardinal offense. Stanford has exceeded 200 rushing yards in each of its three victories. On the other hand, Arizona allows an average of just 107.4 rushing yards per game and has given up just three rushing touchdowns. Stanford could be in trouble if the running game fails because Arizona leads the nation in pass defense.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • USC QB Mitch Mustain. He once was among the most highly sought quarterback prospects in the nation. He went to Arkansas and well, you know how that turned out. But he's risen from No. 4 to No. 2 on the USC depth chart in the past two weeks, and could be in the starting lineup if Mark Sanchez's knee problems prevents him from playing Saturday against Arizona State. Mustain played in a reserve role last week against Oregon and was 5-for-8 for 111 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter also is listed as questionable. He would be replaced by Danny Sullivan.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • USC's defense has held three of its four opponents to 10 or fewer points. Furthermore, the Trojans have held three opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards and have allowed just two TD passes this season. Oregon State freshman RB Jacquizz Rodgers has exceeded the 100-yard mark in each of the past three games and has scored at least one touchdown in every game during that span. Before his 100-yard streak started, Rodgers rushed for 99 yards against Penn State. Arizona TE Rob Gronkowski, who missed the first three games with mononucleosis, tied a school record last week with three touchdown catches. He has five catches in two games. Oregon State SS Greg Laybourn has 20 tackles in his past two games. Arizona State's run defense has been solid. The Sun Devils have allowed just four rushing TDs in five games. Arizona QB Willie Tuitama has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions in the past two games.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard had three interceptions in last week's 28-21 loss to Notre Dame. Two were inside the Irish 35. He has more interceptions (seven) than touchdown passes (six) this season. Arizona State's running game has produced just 75 total yards in the past two games. The Sun Devils have averaged 1.5 yards per carry in those games and are last in the Pac-10 in rushing. The defenses at both Washington schools have serious problems. Washington State is allowing an average of 41.7 points per game. Washington allows 42. Washington State already has allowed 24 rushing TDs, while Washington has allowed 17 TD passes and has just two interceptions. Washington State has a minus-14 turnover margin. UCLA is last in the league in first downs and is averaging only 16.2 per game

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "He's still in a boot. It's a day-by-day thing with him." Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson on whether Carpenter will play Saturday.

    "Nobody wants to just watch. I really care for my teammates and everything we've been through together. For me to bring them down because of my personal situation would be silly. Any way I can help my teammates out, I try to." California quarterback Nate Longshore to the Contra Costa Times on regaining his starting job.

    "There were still too many three-and-outs. We've got to improve there. We can't just go out there and go three-and-out as often as is taking place right now." UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel on the Bruins' offense. UCLA is converting 35.6 of its third-down opportunities.

  • ETC.
  • Arizona is the Pac-10's least-penalized team. The Wildcats, who have been penalized just 18 times, are only losing an average of 30 yards in penalties per game, which ranks ninth in the nation. Having lost two quarterbacks to injuries, Washington State held an on-campus tryout for a scout-team quarterback. Peter Roberts, a former quarterback at Woodinville (Wash.) High, won the job over 28 others. Oregon sophomore QB Justin Roper returned to practice this week after being out since Sept. 13 with a partially torn MCL. UCLA WR Marcus Everett may return to the lineup this week. He's been out since the season-opening victory over Tennessee with a dislocated toe. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was reprimanded by the Pac-10 for criticizing the officiating in last week's 28-21 loss at Notre Dame. Cal punter Bryan Anger averaged 47.4 yards on seven punts and had three killed inside the 10 in last week's win over Arizona State. Washington DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim registered three sacks last week. Cal already has 10 interceptions, equaling its total from last season. Oregon State's Mike Riley is going for his 50th win as the Beavers' coach this week.

    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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