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September 9, 2005

Pac-10 Conference

SCS.comThe Pac-10 conference got off to a good start to ring in the 2005 football season over the weekend. Prevailing with a 7-2 record, including road victories by USC at Hawaii, UCLA at SDSU, and Oregon at Houston, the level of play in the conference overall looks better than last season. Only Stanford didn't play, and the two teams that fell lost on the road. Washington played in Seattle amongst most of its own fans but was considered the road team against Air Force.

Defending conference and national champion USC started this season where they left off the last. After blowing out Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, the Trojans were at it again over the weekend, dispatching the Hawaii Warriors by a score of 63-17. Heisman QB Matt Leinart broke former USC QB Carson Palmer's career TD mark with a total of three on the day, setting the new mark at 74 with almost an entire season left to play. Leinart did so while still putting up solid numbers with 332 yards through the air on 18 of 24 passing.

USC's Heisman hopeful RB Reggie Bush wouldn't be outdone by his QB and rushed for two TD's while racking up a total of 158 all-purpose yards on the day. The biggest beneficiary of Leinarts' efficiency however was sophomore receiver Dwayne Jarrett who had three of his seven receptions end up as touchdowns. USC's other deep threat, Steve Smith, caught seven passes as well for 188 yards, but only scored once. The young defense only surrendered 17 points but looks like it has much to improve as the Trojans take the bye week to patch things up.

Elsewhere in the Pac-10, Arizona State took care of business against former Big East team Temple in a 63-16 route in Tempe. Sun Devil QB's Sam Keller and Rudy Carpenter combined to throw for 260 yards with four TD's and connected with 10 different receivers over the course of the game. The biggest surprise of all was freshman RB Keegan Herring, turning 12 carries into 134 yards of ground offense for the Sun Devils. Even though all-conference receiver Derek Hagan only managed three receptions in the game, two of them went for 12 big points in this desert storm.

The only other team in the conference ranked in a major poll going into the weekend was Cal, and they took on the Sacramento State Hornets. The Bears' offense was sharp and crisp while under the command of redshirt freshman Nate Longshore. However, late in the first half, Longshore would be taken out after injuring his leg. The injury, a broken bone later found to be more serious, will keep Longshore out for at least three months and effectively out of the entire season. Even though backup QB Joseph Ayoob came in and threw ten straight incomplete passes, the Golden Bears finished with a 41-3 victory, led by RB Marshawn Lynch and his 147 yards on the ground.

The UCLA Bruins and the San Diego State Aztecs locked up in the late game on Saturday. Although the Bruins surrendered more yards than they gained, they took advantage of two turnovers and solid special teams play to put the Aztecs away in a 44-21 result. This is the first time that a Karl Dorrell-led UCLA team has begun the season with a win since his arrival in 2003. Tight end Marcedes Lewis led the team with 7 receptions for 131 yards. Maurice Drew led the ground attack with 114 yards on only 11 carries. Although Drew would leave the game with cramps, his backup Chris Markey held up well on 15 carries for 43 yards. Both running backs cashed in with two touchdowns each.

Oregon went into Houston and emerged from a shaky first half trailing by 4 points. The Ducks' QB Kellen Clemens led the second half charge straight to a 38-24 victory over the Cougars on the road. Clemens' 348 yards passing and two touchdowns combined with an incredible 72 yards on the ground earned him the Pac-10 offensive player of the week honors. The Ducks have two more non-conference foes to go through in preparation for their home conference opening matchup with USC at Autzen Stadium. From the looks of things, the Ducks will make the Trojans trip to Eugene as difficult as possible with Gary Crowton's new wide-open offense and a fired up Haloti Ngata, who finished with a sack over the weekend.

In the northwest, Washington State beat the Idaho Vandals by a score of 38-26 and led by QB Matt Moore, the Oregon State Beavers took out Portland State going away 41-14. Moore hooked up with WR Mike Hass 9 times for 155 yards and RB Yvenson Bernard another 9 times for 109 yards. Moore, a transfer from UCLA, racked up 367 yards through the air and connected with his receivers for 4 TD's. The Washington State Cougars depended heavily on the rushing of RB Jerome Harrison who ran for 165 yards and two scores. Cougar QB Alex Brink put up solid numbers under center with WR Michael Bumpus handling 8 receptions for 88 yards through the air.

The only two teams unable to put up wins over the weekend were the Arizona Wildcats, who faced a still strong Utah team on the road, and the Washington Huskies, who fell to the Air Force Falcons at Qwest Stadium in Seattle. Wildcats coach Mike Stoops went for a punt with 3:28 left in the game but the defense wasn't able to get the ball back until it was too late to put together a last-ditch effort to score on the Utes, who extended their winning streak to 17, second only to USC's 23 game winning streak. The Huskies went into the 4th quarter with an 11-point lead but surrendered 14 to the Falcons to lose by a field goal. The final Falcon score came with only 0:34 left in the game.

With a 7-2 record, and each of the winning team victorious by at least 12 points each, the Pac-10 is poised for a much stronger season than the last. The Huskies certainly have some work to do up in the northwest and the real tests will come in the next few weeks as the conference takes on tougher out of conference opponents and as the regular season conference schedule unfolds.

The Wildcat defense in Arizona is much improved under coach Mike Stoops, but the team still looks a little lost on offense and special teams, giving up 50 yards on 7 penalties and turning the ball over four times. Without those turnovers and penalties, there is no doubt that the Wildcats would have fared better against the Utes in their season opener.

With USC ranked #1 in both major polls, and California and Arizona State moving up in the ranks over the weekend, the Pac-10 now has three teams in the top seventeen. Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA also received votes in each of the polls. Oregon is only a few more votes from breaking the top 25 should they emerge victorious against Montana over the weekend.

Mountain West Conference

Every team in the Mountain West took the field on opening weekend, and although only four out of the nine teams claimed victory, TCU's upset of #7 Oklahoma in Norman was of particular note. Air Force squeaked by the Washington Huskies and Utah beat Arizona, while the New Mexico Lobos held off a late run by the UNLV Rebels to win 24-22.

BYU's Cougars fell to the Boston College Eagles at home 20-3. The Aztecs lost to UCLA, and Colorado State lost a heartbreaking game to the Colorado Buffaloes, who roared back from an 11-point deficit to beat the Rams in Boulder.

Of course, the most noteworthy game in the MWC over the weekend had to be TCU's win over the Oklahoma Sooners. The Horned Frogs took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime and came back out to a surprisingly beleaguered Oklahoma offense that turned the ball over four times and only managed to score one touchdown on an Adrian Peterson carry. TCU RB Robert Merrill took the ball in from two yards out to seal the deal and bring home a 17-10 victory for the newest member of the Mountain West conference.

After the first weekend, it looks as though Utah is poised for another undefeated season if it can get past the Horned Frogs on September 15. Other than the Utes and the Horned Frogs, the conference looks like it may be heading for a down year.

Western Athletic Conference

Only five teams saw action in the WAC over the weekend. However, only one of them came away from the field with a win. San Jose State defeated Eastern Washington at home to claim the only WAC victory. Idaho, Hawaii, New Mexico State, and Boise State each lost their openers.

The Boise State Broncos had to go into extremely hostile territory to face the Georgia Bulldogs in a matchup of two top 20 teams. Bulldog QB D.J. Shockley threw for 289 yards and 5 TD's in his debut as David Greene's replacement. Bronco QB Jared Zabransky didn't fare quite so well, pitching 8 for 17 and connecting for 4 interceptions and no scores. The Bronco team left Georgia with a sour taste in their mouths after being pasted for a 48-13 defeat.

Hawaii had success against USC's defense in the first quarter, keeping the Trojan offense off the field for nearly 14 minutes. However, when the Trojan offense took the field, it blew up for 42 points over only two quarters, ending any hopes of a major upset.

Every WAC team will play this weekend with Louisiana Tech taking on the Florida Gators and Fresno State opening the season against Weber State, with a keen eye on Boise State's game against the Oregon State Beavers.

Four Games to Watch

Boise State @ Oregon State - Reser Stadium - Corvallis, OR
A couple weeks ago, I might have picked the Broncos to roll in this game, but they'll be limping in from a beating the week before and have to play on the road against an OSU team that is quickly gaining confidence behind their QB Matt Moore and senior WR Mike Hass. The Beavers will win by a field goal.

Louisiana State @ Arizona State - Sundevil Stadium - Tempe, AZ
This game was moved from Baton Rouge because of the recent Hurricane. Like the game above, I might have picked LSU a couple weeks ago, but after seeing the ASU offense in action and having my own reservations about the Tigers, I think the Sun Devils will win by a touchdown.

California @ Washington - Husky Stadium - Seattle, WA
This is the first conference game in the Pac-10. It will be interesting to see how Cal does with Ayoob now under center. The Huskies will have had a week to review some real life mistakes, and Willingham will have a chance to impress some of the Husky faithful with a victory against the favored Bears. Cal will still roll by at least 17 points.

Hawaii @ Michigan State - Spartan Stadium - East Lansing, MI
There aren't many great matchups in the Pac-10, MWC, and WAC this week so this big ole' green game should be worth checking out. With the Big 10 winning every game on its schedule last week, Hawaii will have upset on their minds heading into this one. Warriors by one point.

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