By Scottie Bricker
Everything looks rosy in state of Washington - PAC-10 Notes
In the past, the strength of the Pacific 10 Conference has been centered in the state of California, balanced between UCLA and USC. But things have changed and this year's conference power lies in the hands, or rather the paws, of the Washington State Cougars and the Washington Huskies.
At the midway point of the conference schedule, the two teams from the Pacific Northwest are atop the Pac-10 standings and are on a collision course for the contest in Seattle on Nov. 22. The Apple Cup, the trophy given to the winner of the annual in-state rivalry, could have conference title and Rose Bowl implications.
The two schools have never finished one-two in the conference, since it's creation in 1978.
The success of the two schools is due in large part to two of the country's most outstanding quarterbacks.
The Cougars' Ryan Leaf and the Huskies' Brock Huard are the two highest rated passers in the conference and their teams are first and third in the Pac-10 in total offense, a feat the players say is due to the influence of their respective head coaches.
"Coach Lambright has been here so long he knows how this program is supposed to be run," Huard said. "He's kept this thing pretty glued together."
Washington State's Mike Price put it best when asked how his teams success had made him feel.
"I feel so much smarter, so much better looking," Price said.
Oregon deals with QB duo
The Oregon Ducks are in the midst of an interesting quarterback controversy, but as has been customary across the nation this season, they are choosing to split time between their two starters instead of designating one.
Junior Jason Maas had a career game Saturday versus Utah, passing for 369 yards, completing 20 of 36 attempts. His numbers were outstanding but could have ended up even more impressive.
"Statistically he did a great job, and it could have been better," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "He had several passes dropped that would have put him well over 400 yards."
The performance was more impressive considering his previous two games, in which he completed 8 of 27 attempts and threw four interceptions. He seemed to be losing the battle for the starting spot with junior Akili Smith, who was sidelined with a bruised shoulder.
Bellotti said both players will continue to see equal time in the game, although he has yet to chose his starter.
"We have to look to who gives us the best chance to win," Bellotti said. "I don't know who that is at this point. The game plan will indicate who gets the majority of snaps and who starts."
UCLA sees similarities to '93 Rose Bowl year
The Bruins have won five games in a row and their 3-1 record in the Pac-10 is their best since the 1993 season when they went to the Rose Bowl.
The Bruins continue to light up the scoreboard behind the trusty arm of quarterback Cade McNown, who is third in the conference in passing efficiency and total offense. He has thrown just two interceptions in his last 147 passes.
Tailback Skip Hicks is just off the pace of both the conference single-season and career record for rushing touchdowns of 23 and 53. The former was set in 1981 by USC's Marcus Allen and in 1996 by Washington's Corey Dillon, and the latter by USC's Charles White, from 1976-79. White won the Heisman Trophy Award his senior season.
With four games left on the schedule, Hicks has 16 touchdowns this season and 45 for his career.
UCLA continues to lead the conference in scoring offense, averaging 43.3 points per game after Saturday's 34-10 trouncing of Oregon State.
Forgotten amongst all this talk of offense is the Bruins' formidable defense.
UCLA is third in the conference in pass defense thanks mostly to its new crazed but controlled style of attack.
"We blitz six, seven, eight players," head coach Bob Toledo said. "So, we're vulnerable. But it's fun right?"