Eight issues to consider heading into the third week of games.
1. Power vs. Speed in Autzen Stadium: Oregon might be the fastest team in the nation. Stanford is one of the most physical. The Ducks spread you out and try to find space and beat open-field tackles. Stanford goes double-tight and adds an H-back -- a converted tackle -- for a little more power. And it's not much different on defense. Oregon is a bunch of swarming fast guys; Stanford likes to punch folks in the mouth. Of course, we're overstating things. The Ducks can hit and Stanford can run (hello, Chris Owusu), but the Big Show in Autzen clearly features contrasting styles.
2. Will the real Jake Locker please step up: Locker never asked to he hyped for a Heisman Trophy or announced as the top quarterback on the NFL radar, but we media folks put him on that pedestal and he's fallen short of our predictions. So far. People who ask, "What has Locker done?" haven't been paying attention. He's done a lot while surrounded by a little (no college QB in the nation can produce as spectacular a highlight tape as Locker). But previous suggestions of tremendous upside need to be realized in tremendous performances delivered on a consistent basis. And so we have a visit to USC.
3. Oregon State on third down: Is there anything more infuriating than third-down failures on both sides of the ball? Can we, just for a moment, toss aside our team allegiances and sympathize with Beavers fans who have consistently seen two things this season: 1. Opponents converting on third down; 2. The Beavers failing on third down. Arizona State's defense is every bit the talent match of TCU and Boise State, and the Sun Devils offense has put up solid numbers against two good defenses (Wisconsin and Oregon). The Beavers need to step up their game on third down.
4. UCLA hangover? Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Or so they say. By that line of thinking, the action -- UCLA's stunning domination of No. 7 Texas -- could be matched by an equal and opposite reaction -- Washington State posting an upset victory in the Rose Bowl. Far fetched? Well, how did you see the game last weekend in Austin going? This is a classic trap game. How do the Bruins avoid that? By showing up angry that anyone suspects they'd be so stupid to not take the Cougars seriously.
5. Luck or LaMichael? Two of the most dynamic players in the nation will be on opposite sides in Autzen Stadium. Will one of these redshirt sophomores walk away after the game as a leading Heisman Trophy candidate? Stanford QB Andrew Luck has uncanny accuracy and can also beat a defense with his legs. His downfield passing was probably more important to Stanford's upset of Oregon last year than the running of Toby Gerhart. Oregon running back LaMichael James is simply the most dangerous home-run threat in college football. He's got legit track speed and instincts to find open spaces. And he runs hard, too. If one or the other puts up big numbers in a winning effort, it's likely he immediately becomes a leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
6. Trojans make a stand: USC has been kicked around (irrationally) in the polls. The Trojans might be the most maligned team that has won three road games on their way to a 4-0 start in the history of the... universe. Of course, polls in September aren't remembered in December. What might happen if USC suddenly finds consistency on both sides of the ball and delivers a butt-whipping to a Washington team that is superior at... what position, other than QB? Of course, there's the opposite take: USC isn't mentally tough and will yield under adversity.
7. Burfict vs. Jacquizz: Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the nation's most talented linebackers, but you have to wonder if he's getting bad advice from someone -- other than his coaches -- about his tendency to punish his team with personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties (see Oregon's final drive of the first half last week). Vontaze, if you have a buddy who says that's working for you, it's not. It's going to be used as a wedge against you when you start talking NFL contract. We post that editorial here because Burfict is so much fun to watch when he just plays the game. He has been a dynamic force containing two of the best running backs in college football: Wisconsin's John Clay and Oregon's LaFast James. His next assignment is Jacquizz Rodgers, who's going to be eager for his first breakout game of the season.
8. Washington State in the fourth quarter: Cougars coach Paul Wulff is fighting for a fourth year. He needs his team to be competitive. It hasn't been in two of four games this year, and one game was a fourth-quarter comeback win against an FCS foe, Montana State. If UCLA and Washington State play to their potential, the Bruins should win. But the key for Wulff is this: Is his team fighting in the fourth? And is the final count respectable? If the Cougs get blitzed again by four or five or six TDs, well, things will continue to get darker in Pullman.