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September 25, 2008

Pac-10: Conference is rough on quarterbacks

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

Some teams have quarterback controversies. Oregon and Washington State have quarterback quandaries.

The Ducks and Cougars square off in Pullman, Wash., on Saturday. But no matter what the scoreboard ultimately reads, both teams might feel euphoric if their starting quarterbacks are able to walk off the field without a crutch.

Oregon might be down to its fifth-string quarterback. Washington State definitely is down to its third-stringer.

Dating to last season, Oregon has seen its starting quarterback injured in five of its past eight games. The most recent was Jeremiah Masoli, who suffered a mild concussion in last week's 37-32 loss to Boise State.

The Ducks, who already have lost Nate Costa and Justin Roper this season, went to freshman Chris Harper to replace Masoli. But Harper was ineffective and was replaced by freshman Darron Thomas, who had been a prime redshirt candidate. Instead, he threw three touchdown passes and might draw the starting assignment against Washington State.

"The reality is he's very good," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "That's why we had hoped to redshirt him. But the future is now, so he'll have a shot and we'll find out how much of the playbook we can open for him."

Even if he gets the nod, Thomas probably won't be a starter long. It's likely Roper will be back in the lineup when the Ducks play at USC on Oct. 4.

Washington State can't even hope for that. Gary Rogers, who opened the season as the Cougars' starter, suffered a cervical spine fracture and is gone for the season. His backup, Kevin Lopina, is out indefinitely with a fractured vertebra. That means the Cougars are down to redshirt freshman Marshall Lobbestael, who threw two touchdown passes a week ago as a reserve.

"The opportunity presented itself and he seemed to do things in the game that seemed to come naturally for him and that was very enticing to us as coaches," Washington State coach Paul Wulff said. "I do like this kid. He has a chance to be a good player if he keeps developing."

And if he stays healthy, which isn't assured in the Pac-10. Just ask UCLA, which lost its top two quarterbacks Patrick Cowan and Ben Olson before the season started.

That's just another reason to resent USC. The Trojans have so much. Take Mitch Mustain, for example. Three years ago, every college in America would have. Yet after Garrett Green was elevated to Mark Sanchez's backup this week, Mustain appears to be the Trojans' fourth-stringer now. He's also behind Aaron Corp.

  • PLAYER TO WATCH
  • THE SCHEDULE
    Thursday
    Saturday
    Fresno State at UCLA, 3:30 p.m.
    Colorado State at California, 6 p.m.
    Oregon at Washington State, 6:15 p.m.
    Stanford at Washington, 10 p.m.

    Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount. He is fourth in the Pac-10 in rushing with 383 yards. Blount has rushed for at least 99 yards in each of the past three games, and figures to have his most productive game to date against Washington State. The Cougars are No. 117 against the run. Oregon's quarterback issues would seem to ensure that Blount will get a lot of carries.

  • WHO'S HOT
  • Tight end Ed Dickson has become a key player in Oregon's offense. He's had at least six catches in each of the past three games and has 266 receiving yards in that span. USC's defense has allowed just 103 rushing yards, forced seven turnovers and posted seven sacks. Stanford had eight sacks in last week's victory over San Jose State.

  • WHO'S NOT
  • Well, for starters, the Pac-10. Three weeks ago, it was being praised for its strength. But every team in the Pac-10 except USC has lost to a non-conference opponent. Arizona State's running game has produced just 135 yards and no touchdowns in its past two games. Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard completed just 46.6 percent (13-of-28) of his attempts last week against San Jose State. Pritchard has thrown no touchdown passes and four interceptions in the past three games. UCLA has been outscored 90-10 in the past two games.

  • WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
  • "I think we're good. Guys don't seem down at all (after losing to Maryland). Enthusiasm doesn't seem down. Camaraderie is still there. I don't think morale is down at all. I think we're going to bounce back in a strong way." Cal linebacker Worrell Williams to the Contra Costa Times

    "I don't even know what Coach (Mike Bellotti) is going to do. But I hope now that I've burned my redshirt that I'll be able to play and help the team out." Oregon freshman quarterback Darron Thomas to The Oregonian newspaper of Portland.

    "We can score on anybody in the country. We feel we can score every time we get the ball. I like that mentality." Arizona coach Mike Stoops

  • ETC.
  • Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski is back after missing the first three games with mononucleosis. But the Wildcats have lost center Blake Kerley to an ACL injury in his left knee. He'll likely miss the rest of the season. Guard Colin Baxter will move to center and junior Mike Diaz goes to guard. Washington already has played 10 true freshmen and that number could rise. That's thought to be the most freshmen to play for the Huskies since first-year players became eligible in 1972. Stanford junior running back Toby Gerhart is coming off a career-high 148-yard game last week against San Jose State. UCLA will face its third ranked non-conference opponent when it takes on Fresno State. The Bruins previously faced Tennessee and BYU. Washington State senior tight end Devin Frischknecht notched his first career 100-yard receiving game last week with five catches for 110 yards against Portland State.

    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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