Monday, October 22, 2007

The Week of Reconing

In so many ways this is the week where the "real" PAC-10 schedule begins.

ASU, UCLA, and USC really haven't had to play the top teams in the conference up until now. That all changes this Saturday as USC heads to Oregon and California visits undefeated ASU. The following week, Oregon plays the Sun Devils and USC plays a pesky Oregon State squad. UCLA, in the meantime, heads to cellar dwellers WSU and Arizona. Of course, with the inconsistency of this team, no game is a gimme.

I have to say, I think USC is starting to come back around. They demolished Notre Dame, but more importantly, they are starting to get back some key injured players. Next week they should see some offensive lineman return including guard Chilo Rachal. Sam Baker and Kris O'Dowd are still questionable but could practice and play. Their running game is also starting to solidify with Staffon Johnson back. They still don't look like a dominant program but the next two weeks will tell us for sure. I think they will beat Oregon and Oregon State, because Carroll always seems to have his troops prepared for the big games. That leaves them 5-1 in conference play.

Arizona State might be in some trouble. They lost leading running back Ryan Torrain for the season and they have a brutal stretch of games coming up. They've been playing very well, however, and I think the Sun Devils will be a hard-win for anyone playing them. At the same time, I also believe the Bears will rebound and give ASU's defense their first real test of the season. I think a Cal victory is in the making. Likewise, the Sun Devils will lose on the road to the Ducks. That leaves them at 4-2 in conference play.

That leaves the Bruins. Who knows what to expect from this squad. Beat a good team, lose to a bad. It makes watching games a lot of fun but also maddeningly frustrating at the same time. If the defense keeps playing well and the offense can continue to gel under Pat Cowan, then UCLA should take care of business. Call me a skeptic, but I think the Bruins will drop one of these road games. If they can manage to defy the historical evidence and actually beat these two teams on the road then they could be sitting alone atop the conference rankings.

For fun, let's just say UCLA wins both games. I think the standings would shake out like so:

UCLA 6-0
USC 5-1
ASU 4-2
Ore 4-2
Cal 4-2
OSU 3-3
Stan 2-5
AU 2-5
UW 1-5
WSU 0-6

That would set UCLA for a run at the conference crown with ASU and Oregon at home (with a bye before Oregon) and a big show down with the Trojans at the Coliseum. A lot of pieces still need to fall into place, but at least UCLA owns its own destiny at this point. All of those games are winnable and I don't think the Bruins are a prohibitive underdog in any of them. Of course, all of that is predicated on this team actually playing to it's potential each week. Can they do it? Stranger things have happened.