Pac-10 Adds Intrigue To Title Chase

Oct 8, 2001

Let Florida and Miami flip-flop at No. 1.

Let the defending national champion Oklahoma Sooners hang tough at No. 3,waiting for the Gators or Hurricanes to slip up.

This week it's about the Pacific-10 Conference, where half the league isundefeated going into the second weekend of October.

It's a state of affairs that won't last long, but still, count 'em for now:No. 5 Oregon is 5-0, No. 7 UCLA is 4-0, No. 10 Washington is 4-0, No. 23Stanford is 3-0 and unranked Washington State is 5-0.

Yes, the Gators are more deserving of the No. 1 ranking at this point, butthe Sooners wouldn't be a bad choice, either. A 14-3 victory over previouslyNo. 5 Texas - in Dallas - is a pretty strong case in their favor, especiallyafter a 38-37 win over then No. 11 Kansas State a week earlier.

Since it's still early, let's not quibble. The first Bowl ChampionshipSeries standings will be released a week from Monday and then the caterwaulingwill commence. And when the real run for the Rose Bowl fun begins.

Speaking of the Rose Bowl, these five Pac-10 teams know the way to Pasadena.But unless the Pac-10 champion finishes No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCSstandings Dec. 9, the league champ plays elsewhere.

The way the season is going, though, don't be quick to eliminate Oregon,UCLA or Washington from playing in Pasadena on Jan. 3.

Start in the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon - the preseason choice here towin the national title - is fresh from a 63-28 victory at Arizona. The Duckscalled it a statement game after unimpressive wins against Wisconsin, Utah, USCand Utah State.

'We've heard a lot of people talking that we don't deserve to be ranked sohigh, and we wanted to show them that we do,' Ducks quarterback JoeyHarrington said after throwing for three touchdowns and running for three moreagainst the Wildcats.

Oregon is for real, all right, and if the Pac-10 keeps up the pace, theDucks' strength-of-schedule will be a plus at BCS standings time.

If the Ducks head south - road games at Washington State and UCLA arepotential pitfalls - then the winner of Saturday's Huskies-Bruins game is thenext likely Pac-10 candidate for the title game.

UCLA, off last weekend, not only has a potent offense led by running backDeShaun Foster, but a topnotch defense as well. That combination has coach BobToledo more enthused about this team than his teams that won 20 in row a fewyears back.

Washington, under coach Rick Neuheisel, pulled out another nailbiter as JohnAnderson's last-play, 32-yard field goal lifted the Huskies to a 27-24 win overUSC. Washington brings a 12-game winning streak into Saturday's game againstthe Bruins.

Cody Pickett may have separated his right shoulder in the second quarter,but Taylor Barton stepped in and threw two TD passes before leading his team onits winning drive.

'I didn't come up here to be a backup,' Barton said, an indication of howcompetitive these Huskies are.

And then there's Stanford and Washington State, the surprise teams of theleague who meet Saturday at Stanford.

The Cardinal are off to their best start since 1986, while the Cougars areamong the top-scoring teams in the nation.

On Saturday, Washington State jumped to a 31-0 lead over Oregon State andheld on for a 34-27 win as 27-year-old, ex-Marine David Minnich ran for 195yards and threw a TD pass.

The Cougars are off to their best start since quarterback Ryan Leaf led themto the Rose Bowl after the '97 season.

Oregon visits UCLA on Nov. 10, and Washington and Oregon do not play,meaning the Ducks and Huskies can both go undefeated.

What's more, a peek at the schedules for Florida, Miami and Oklahoma showsformidable challenges ahead.

Miami is at No. 14 Florida State on Saturday, plays Washington on Nov. 24and then travels to No. 6 Virginia Tech on Dec. 1.

Florida has games left against No. 19 Georgia, No. 9 South Carolina, FloridaState and No. 13 Tennessee before a possible SEC title game.

Oklahoma is at No. 4 Nebraska on Oct. 27 and then a possible Big 12 titlegame.

Play on, argue later.

AP Football Writer

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