Pac-12 teams facing tough opponents

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:04 PM

John Marshall

PHOENIX— The Pac-12 had a long opening week, stretching from four games Thursday night to Arizona’s frenetic game with Toledo that went into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

There were a couple of surprising losses, some tougher-than-expected wins, but mostly the week was filled with lopsided victories against overmatched opponents.

This week figures to get a lot tougher for the conference with ranked teams like Wisconsin, Nebraska and Oklahoma State on the schedule.

The most daunting game would go to Washington. Coming off a win against San Diego State, the Huskies get a huge test in the bayou when they face No. 3 LSU on Saturday.

"They are a very good football team," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Oregon State is facing a pretty good one, too.

The Beavers had their game against Nicholls State postponed due to Hurricane Isaac, giving them extra time to prepare for No. 13 Wisconsin.

They may need it.

Oregon State was overrun 35-0 in Madison last year and this season the Badgers are the favorites to win a third straight Big Ten title behind Heisman hopeful Montee Ball and quarterback Danny O’Brien, a transfer from Maryland.

The Beavers do get to face Wisconsin at home this time and are hoping the fans in Corvallis will give them a boost.

"It’s as big a non-conference game as Oregon State has hosted," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think it’s awesome. It’s going to be a great atmosphere here."

UCLA faces a big jump in competition from one week to the next.

The Bruins started their inaugural season under coach Jim Mora impressively, rolling over Rice 49-24 after Johnathan Franklin ran for 214 yards and three touchdowns.

Week 2 gets a whole lot tougher for UCLA: No. 16 Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers appear to be back among the nation’s elite and are coming off a 49-20 rout over Southern Mississippi. Nebraska had 632 yards of total offense, most since coach Bo Pelini took over in 2008, and Taylor Martinez threw for a 354 yards with five touchdowns against the Golden Eagles, giving UCLA plenty to think about before its second game.

"They’re a nationally ranked team that comes off an impressive win, they’ve got a lot depth, they’re very talented and very well-coached," Mora said. "We’re going to have to play our best to beat them."

Arizona also is facing a big step up in competition after barely getting past a smaller-conference program in coach Rich Rodriguez’s debut.

In a game that appeared to be stuck on fast-forward, the Wildcats and Rockets combined for an astounding 182 plays while playing well into Sunday morning. Arizona won it 24-17 in overtime when quarterback Matt Scott threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Miller and its defense held.

The Wildcats had plenty of mistakes and breakdowns in that game and will need to get better quick; up next is No. 18 Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys have beaten Arizona each of the past two seasons and didn’t give the Wildcats much game film to look at from their opener, pulling most of their starters after the first period of an 84-0 win over Savannah State.

Oklahoma State showed some mercy with the overmatched Tigers and still had their most lopsided victory since 1916.

Yeah, that will get your attention.

"Their last game, they could have scored 184 by halftime if they had left their starters in, and their backups are pretty good, too," Rodriguez said. "It’s a big challenge and we’re going to have to play well to have a chance in this game, but it’s also an opportunity to see where we’re at."

Washington was already going to have a tough time playing the Tigers on the road. It will be even more difficult after running back Jesse Callier tore the ACL in his right knee against San Diego State and right tackle Ben Riva broke his forearm.

The good news for the Huskies is that they’ve played LSU close before.

In 2009, Sarkisian took over a team that had lost its previous 14 games and was facing the nation’s 11th-ranked team. Despite some pre-game jitters, the Huskies held their ground at home against the Tigers and came away with a respectable 31-23 loss.

"Hopefully, we look a little better in pregame warm-ups," Sarkisian said. "I was a little kind of looking at their side and looking at our side and it didn’t feel like this was a great matchup in pregame warm-ups. I thought our kids played hard that first time around."

They’ll need to do it again to have a chance this time — just like many of the other Pac-12 teams.

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