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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 8, 2011 at 1:12 PM

Week Two: Crank it up, guys

Enough of this slow-dancing. A lot of Pac-12 coaches are looking to have their teams let their hair down and speed up the pace this week.

Jon Embree, the first-year coach at Colorado, talked about a Buffs team that last week at Hawaii “kind of came out and felt their way around, rather than just coming out and playing.”

Mike Riley of Oregon State had a lot of things to lament after losing to Sacramento State. This week, he said, “I sensed a fear. You’ve got to have the freedom to play the game and make plays.”

Rick Neuheisel of UCLA, reviewing the opening loss at Houston, said, “For whatever reason, we didn’t play fast on defense. These kids are fast and athletic. We did not play that way.”

So, OK, fellas, pick it up this week.

Arizona (plus 13.5) at Oklahoma State, Thursday night – The Wildcats begin a deathly stretch that takes them, in the next four games, to OSU (No. 7 in the coaches poll), through Stanford and Oregon and USC. An anticipated faceoff between OSU’s prolific wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Arizona’s Juron Criner apparently won’t happen, as Criner hasn’t practiced all week with an unspecified illness. This is a rematch of the 2010 Alamo Bowl, in which the ‘Cats actually held OSU to 312 yards but killed themselves with four turnovers. Pick: OSU, 31-27.

Missouri (plus 7.5) at Arizona State, Friday night – As the Arizona Republic points out, ASU wins over a ranked non-conference team in September (Mizzou is No. 19 by the coaches) are usually the harbinger of a big season in Tempe. Mizzou didn’t show much in an opening win over Miami of Ohio, which may mean nothing. Tigers lost their starting tailback, Kendial Lawrence, to a broken fibula. With the Sun Devils’ new black uniforms, ought to be a rousing night in the desert. Pick: ASU, 33-17.

Stanford (minus 21) at Duke – Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe has tutored quarterbacks like Heath Shuler and Peyton and Eli Manning, and he’s about to see another good one in Andrew Luck. “He’s an extremely fast, strong athlete, with exceptionally quick hands and quick feet,” Cutcliffe says. “I love his poise, his ability to keep his eyes downfield. You never see him lose control of what he’s trying to accomplish on each play.” Pick: Stanford, 38-21.

Cal (minus 6.5) at Colorado – The conference game that isn’t a conference game (it was part of a series before the Pac-12 expansion, so it’s not a league game). Cal’s road miseries have been well documented, and the Bears, playing and sometimes practicing away from campus since the spring, hope that has broadened them. Buffs are likely without their best offensive lineman, tackle David Bakhtiari. In Berkeley last year, Bears breezed 52-7, something Buffs undoubtedly remember. Pick: Cal, 24-20.
Nevada (plus 26.5) at Oregon – The Ducks’ LaMichael James says he wants to get back to running more aggressively. Oregon, coming off consecutive losses to SEC teams covering two seasons, will want to get back a good vibe. Pick: Oregon, 48-17.
Oregon State (plus 21) at Wisconsin – Beavers have added quarterback issues to their injury problems, but they do get defensive tackle Kevin Frahm back this week. OSU coach Mike Riley says redshirt freshman QB Sean Mannion will see action, along with incumbent Ryan Katz, who was pulled from the Sac State loss and said this week he found it “a little surprising.” Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst worked for Riley in both tenures at OSU. Pick: Wisconsin, 42-13.
UNLV (plus 14) at Washington State – Vegas is trying to win its first road game in nine tries under former Neuheisel assistant Bobby Hauck. The Cougars tied for high among Pac-12 teams with Arizona for most freshmen (true and redshirt) played last week at 19. The big question is how veteran Marshall Lobbestael handles things as a starter in Jeff Tuel’s absence. Pick: WSU, 30-24.
Hawaii (plus 6.5) at Washington – Warriors weren’t impressive in their opener against Colorado, just as the Huskies weren’t against Eastern Washington. We’ll see whether Steve Sarkisian’s edgy attitude after week one resonated with his team. Pick: Washington, 34-23.
Utah (plus 9) at USC – Trojans are trying to resuscitate their running game, reinstating suspended back Marc Tyler, after coach Lane Kiffin met with touted sophomore Dillon Baxter to explain his lack of playing time last week. Off the field, reported that a July 30 concert at the LA Coliseum called LA Rising – featuring Rage Against the Machine, Muse and Rise Against – has resulted in a playing field with dirt and dead spots that are being hidden with green paint. A school official says USC “did not find the condition of the turf to be acceptable” and the Trojans have met with the LA Coliseum Commission. Nothing can be done about it until after the end of the season. Welcome to the Pac-12, Utes. Pick: USC, 26-21.
San Jose State (plus 21) at UCLA – Bruins QB Kevin Prince is still not at full strength with a shoulder strain and Neuheisel is saying his availability is in question, so it may be Richard Brehaut’s show. Might touted freshman Brett Hundley get some action? Center Kai Maiava is suspended for a game after reports of a positive test for marijuana. After a mistake-prone finish to Wednesday’s practice, Neuheisel unleashed a tirade at his players, barking, “I can’t be the only one who cares!” Pick: UCLA, 34-9.
Last week: 8-4 (1-5 vs. spread).



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