By Patrick Klein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
If we were under the Chinese calendar, this Pacific 10 Conference season would be called the "Year of the Quarterback". No less than six conference quartebacks (Stanford's Steve Stenstrom, USC's Rob Johnson, Cal's Dave Barr, Oregon's Danny O'Neill, ASU's Jake Plummer and Wayne Cook of UCLA) made The Sporting News' list of the top 20 signal callers in the nation this year ִ and Stenstrom, Johnson and Barr are rated as the top three.
With Stenstrom, Johnson and O'Neill each passing for over 3,000 yards last season (Barr certainly would have been the fourth, but he was injured for four games), and each Pac-10 team returning its primary quarterback from last year, it could be a long season for opposing secondaries.
Speaking of secondaries, pre-season Playboy All-America cornerback Craig Newsome of ASU was declared ineligible until he completes some classes, ASU coach Bruce Snyder said. Snyder said Newsome, who has been projected to go high in the first-round of next year's NFL draft, will miss at least the Sun Devils' first three games.
"Craig will not play in the Oregon State, Miami or Louisville games because he's completing some course work," Snyder said. "We will have a clearer understanding of his situation between the Miami and Louisville games."
Taking Newsome's place will be Traivon Johnson, a 6-foot sophomore. Because Saturday's game is against Oregon State, which has yet to develop a potent passing game, Snyder is not worried about the untested Johnson.
"Oregon State is working on their passing game," Snyder said. "This is a good game for him to break in against. They'll throw the ball against us, but they aren't Miami."
Johnson better grow up in a hurry, because it will be Miami next week.
Besides being a crucial matchup in the race for the roses, the USC-Washington battle in the Coliseum on Saturday will feature a couple of legitimate Heisman Trophy contenders in Southern Cal's Johnson and Husky running back Napoleon Kaufman.
Kaufman, who last year picked up a school-record 1,299 yards, said he decided to return for his senior year because he is in no hurry to get to the pro ranks.
"I just enjoy playing college football, being with my buddies," Kaufman said. "There's no rush to go pro, getting a Heisman didn't affect whether I would stay in school."
Husky coach Jim Lambright said that having Kaufman back will allow them to find more ways to get him the ball, which can only help his Heisman chances.
Said Lambright: "Actually, we tied together a little campaign when we convinced him to stay, that we would give him the ball more as wide receiver and punt returner, we will use him more as an all-purpose back. We want to get him the ball 30 to 35 times a game in many different ways."
All this talk about his quarterback being a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy caused Trojan coach John Robinson, who enters his second season in his return to Troy, to plead with the media to let the award be won on the field.
"The award is screwed up a bit," said Robinson, "in terms of being won before the fact. Let them play, then see who played better than anyone else, then give him the award.
"It denigrates us all if the Heisman Trophy is given to whoever has the most hype."
With the Huskies, who are again ineligible for a Rose Bowl bid, meeting USC, it marks the fourth straight season that Washington has opened against a Pac-10 school. While Lambright said Washington is used to the pressure of opening against a conference team, Robinson has mixed feelings about the game.
"Anybody that opens their season with a conference game against a really good opponent has mixed feelings," Robinson said. "It will probably be the best game in the country this weekend, and games like this are what you play the game for, but there is no opportunity to get out the first-game jitters.
"I consider this a championship game."
Does Lambright feel any trepidation about venturing into the tradition-rich Coliseum?
"The USC fight song and that horse annoy our fans a lot more than the players," Lambright said.
If it were not for the work of about 1,000 construction workers, the Coliseum might not be playing host to this game. The stadium, which was damaged in the Northridge earthquake, underwent $60 million in repairs during the offseason.
Each of the men and women who worked on the makeover process will receive two tickets to this weekend's game. However, several of the workers, six in fact, had to turn the tickets down because of prior committments. Those six will be on the field. They are Trojans Johnson, Tony Boselli, Kris Pollack, Edward Hervey, Brian Williams and Phalen Pounds, who spent part of their summer helping to rebuild their home.
UCLA kicks off their brutal non-conference schedule by hosting Tennesse on Saturday. After the Volunteers, the Bruins play SMU before tackling Nebraska in Lincoln.
When Oregon State meets ASU in Tempe on Saturday, Beaver quarterback Don Shanklin will be making only his second start. His first came last year in Corvallis against the Sun Devils. He led them to a 30-14 victory over ASU but injured his foot in the fourth quarter and missed the rest of the season.
Saturday's Oregon-Portland State (Division II) "matchup" could better be called a sacrifice.Oregon has said it is "doing its part to foster in-state football relations with a nationally ranked Division II counterpart."
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