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November 29, 2007

Breakdown: Plenty of big games left to play

HUGUENIN'S PICKS
Thursday's game
Saturday's games

Overview: A light week, yes, but that doesn't mean there aren't some vital games and we're not even talking about the three big league championship games. The annual "Backyard Brawl" this is the 100th meeting between Pittsburgh and West Virginia has added meaning this season because WVU is almost assuredly bound for the national-title game should it win at home. A BCS bid is on the line when Hawaii plays host to Washington in the final regular-season game of the season. The Warriors (11-0) are 12th in this week's BCS standings, and a top-12 spot in the final standings guarantees them a BCS bid. USC clinches a spot in the Rose Bowl with a victory over rival UCLA. There also are conference title games in Conference USA - where UCF plays host to Tulsa - and in the Mid-American Conference, where Miami University squares off against Central Michigan in Detroit. The C-USA title game is a rematch of the 2005 affair, won by Tulsa in Orlando, Fla. Finally, there's also Army-Navy. The Midshipmen are looking for a record sixth consecutive victory in the rivalry.

Best matchup: Arizona QB Willie Tuitama vs. Arizona State's secondary. Tuitama has been on fire of late, and the Sun Devils' secondary was torched last week by USC's John David Booty. But the Sun Devils won't have to worry about Arizona's rushing game, so their emphasis can be on slowing the Wildcats' passing offense. Senior CB Justin Tryon has been consistent all season, so look for Tuitama to target freshman CB Omar Bolden. Arizona State needs end Dexter Davis (8.5 sacks) to make Tuitama uncomfortable in the pocket.

The pressure is on: Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly. The Ducks have scored one touchdown in the past seven quarters. The reason, of course, is the season-ending injury to QB Dennis Dixon in the first quarter of the game against Arizona on Nov. 15. Kelly's job Saturday is to get some production out of an offense that will be led by a guy who was the fourth-string quarterback just a few weeks ago, Cody Kempt. While Kempt did a nice job running the scout team, going against a Pac-10 defense for real can be a tough job. Kempt got practice snaps with the first-team offense this week, and coaches think he'll be ready for Oregon State on Saturday.

Who's hot: The three teams with the longest winning streaks are in action Saturday. Hawaii has won 12 in a row, BYU eight in a row and West Virginia six in a row. Arizona has won three in a row, averaging 38.7 points per game during the streak. In those three games, Tuitama has thrown for 1,117 yards, 10 TDs and just two picks. Pitt LB Scott McKillop leads the nation in tackles (12.9 per game). Oregon SS Patrick Chung has led the Ducks in tackles in each of the past four games; he has 42 tackles in those four games. Rutgers has won its past seven games played on weekdays, going 4-0 this season and 3-0 in 2006. WVU has rushed for at least 250 yards in five of its past six games. In the one game where it didn't reach the mark, WVU rushed for 216 yards. The home team has won each of the past 10 Oregon-Oregon State games.

Who's not: Rutgers has thrown for 150 yards total in its past two games. Of the 117 second-half points Army has allowed this season, 86 have come in the past four games. Arizona State has given up 21 sacks in the past three games. The Sun Devils have surrendered at least six sacks in a game five times this season, including three games in a row. California QB Nate Longshore has thrown nine interceptions in the past five games, and as a team Cal has committed 15 turnovers in that span. Stanford has gone four consecutive games without a TD pass. Arizona has rushed for 370 yards total in its past six games (that's 60.7 yards per game). Washington, which plays at Hawaii this week, gave up 399 passing yards to Washington State last week.

Keep your eye on: USC QB John David Booty. He was magnificent in guiding the Trojans to a rout of Arizona State on Thanksgiving night. If he plays that well again, the Trojans will roll over UCLA. Given UCLA's issues at quarterback and on offense, the only way the Bruins win the game is if the Trojans' offense becomes charitable. But as long as Booty plays well, USC wins.

Numbers game: There are two longtime rivalry games on tap in the Pac-10. The Oregon-Oregon State "Civil War" is the longest West Coast rivalry in terms of number of games played. The Ducks and Beavers have met 110 times dating to 1894. The California-Stanford "Big Game" is the oldest rivalry in terms of years. The teams first met in 1892 and have played 109 times. Louisville QB Brian Brohm has 18 career 300-yard games, including six this season. West Virginia has forced 23 turnovers in its past seven games ands has forced at least three in eight games this season. Arizona State has outscored foes 75-12 in the fourth quarter this season. California WR Robert Jordan has a reception in 40 consecutive games. Pitt TB LeSean McCoy needs 80 yards to tie the Big East's single-season freshman rushing record of 1,261 yards, set by Rutgers' Terrell Willis in 1993. West Virginia TB Steve Slaton is the active Division I-A career leader with 55 touchdowns. Rutgers senior K Jeremy Ito has 78 field goals, good for sixth on the NCAA's career list. He is nine shy of the NCAA record.

Freshmen to watch: Redshirt freshman QB Cody Kempt is the guy Oregon is counting on to end its losing streak. As long as Kempt doesn't make too many mistakes, the Ducks could squeeze out a victory. If Kempt struggles, Oregon likely will turn to fellow redshirt freshman QB Justin Roper to get something going. Pitt needs a monster game from true freshman TB LeSean McCoy if the Panthers are to beat West Virginia and derail the Mountaineers' national-title hopes. But WVU has held four of its past six opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

Injury update: Oregon will be without QB Brady Leaf (sprained ankles) for the game with Oregon State. But Ducks TB Jonathan Stewart, who has been bothered by a sore toe, is expected to be close to 100 percent. Oregon State TB Yvenson Bernard (knee) has missed a lot of practice time this week, and it looks to be a game-day decision on whether he will play against Oregon. Beavers LB Derrick Doggett (wrist) is questionable. UCLA QB Patrick Cowan (concussion) who hasn't played since Nov. 3 is expected to start Saturday against USC. Ben Olson (knee) and Osaar Rasshan also could play. Rutgers QB Mike Teel (thumb) is expected to be near 100 percent against Louisville. OT Pedro Sosa (knee) is questionable. California WR DeSean Jackson (thigh) is questionable for the Stanford game. Golden Bears backup TB Jahvid Best (hip) will miss the rest of the season, meaning redshirt freshman James Montgomery now is the No. 2 guy behind Justin Forsett. Navy QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (knee), who didn't play in the Middies' last game, is expected to start against Army. ... USC LB Keith Rivers (ankle) is questionable for the game against UCLA.

They said it:
"I think he is the best football player in the country. When plays aren't there, he makes plays. When plays are there, he makes them even better. He was the Big East player of the year last year and he is better this season."
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez on QB Pat White

"I'm not scared about somebody saying something or anything like that. I'm beyond that. Once (the game starts), it doesn't make any difference anyway."
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson, who at first made his players off-limits to the media this week, then changed his mind

"It's never come up with the team. And it's been the same situation every year, and we're still here. The kids know that if something were really going on, I would tell them."
Navy coach Paul Johnson, responding to a question about how he keeps his team from being distracted when his name pops up for other coaching jobs

"It's almost like training camp again. It's back to the start, to square one, and we'll go from there."
California FS Thomas DeCoud on the Golden Bears' practice regimen of late

"You don't have to worry about the run. You can think pass and go play. This one is just pretty much going to be pass."
Washington coach Tyrone Willingham on playing defense against Hawaii

"There's no other place that I'd rather be than Memphis."
Tulsa coach Todd Graham, when asked about playing in the Liberty or Hawaii bowls. The C-USA champ goes to the Liberty Bowl, in Memphis

Bowl implications.: The Oregon-Oregon State game looks to be a showdown to determine the Pac-10's representative in the Holiday Bowl. Arizona will get a bowl bid if it beats Arizona State; the Sun Devils, meanwhile, must win to stay in the hunt for a BCS bid (likely the Fiesta Bowl). Regardless of the outcome of the MAC title game, Central Michigan is bound for a bowl. But Miami University must win the league crown to get a bid.

Etc.: The UCLA-USC rivalry has been a series of streaks of late. UCLA won last season to snap USC's seven-game winning streak. Before that USC run, the Bruins had won eight in a row. It's the same deal in the Cal-Stanford rivalry. California has won five in a row, and that streak comes on the heels of a seven-game winning streak by Stanford in the series. This year's Cal-Stanford game marks the 25th anniversary of perhaps the most famous ending in college football history: "The Play," Cal's five-lateral kickoff return through the Stanford band for a victory. Navy has won a combined 10 games in a row over its biggest rivals, Air Force and Army. Tulsa officials filed a formal complaint with the C-USA office after the Rice band performed a halftime show that Tulsa thought was derogatory toward Golden Hurricane coach Todd Graham. Graham is in his first season with Tulsa; he coached Rice last season, then agreed to a contract extension a few days before bolting for Tulsa. The Rice band's show at halftime of last week's Rice-Tulsa game was based on Dante's Divine Comedy. The performance was called "Todd Graham's Inferno," which had band members search for Graham through various circles of hell.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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