Say what you want about last week’s walk-over football openers against inferior opponents, but this week Arizona and Arizona State are sticking their chins out against ranked opponents.
Which is more than we can say for the other ‘West Coast’ teams in the Pac-12.
UCLA will coast through another soft one as they take on San Jose State, which last week lost to Stanford, 3-57. The Golden Bears of California will play Colorado, which they beat last year, 52-7. And Stanford will lace ’em up against a basketball school named Duke.
USC is the only one of the beach-bronzed bunch that will get much of a challenge, as they welcome Utah into the Coliseum. The Trojans were picked by many to finish atop the South Division in the Pac-12’s inaugural season, while Utah is expected to finish in one of the top three spots. Should be a good game.
The University of Arizona has arguably the toughest match-up in week two against No. 7 Oklahoma State, although ASU has to find a way to deal with No. 19 Missouri.
It’s quite possible that the Wildcats may also have to scale a psychological hurdle in taking on the Cowboys because Oklahoma State, ranked No. 14 at the time, overwhelmed Arizona in their last game of the 2010 season. Arizona ran up 312 yards and 17 first downs in that game, but just couldn’t climb out of the 14-0 hole they dug early in the game and suffered a 36-10 end to a season that closed with five straight losses.
The ground game was practically non-existent and quarterback Nick Foles had to throw the ball 50 times in an effort to compensate.
Foles is back for his senior year, but will not have his No. 1 receiver by his side in tonight’s game at Oklahoma State. Criner did not travel with the team for the game and indications are that it’s a medical issue that will keep him from playing.
However, the Cowboys will be at full strength in that area. All-Big 12 quarterback, Brandon Weeden, will have his No. 1 target on the field, Justin Blackmon.
It was Blackmon that turned in a 71-yard pass play for the touchdown that put the Cowboys ahead 14-0 in last year’s game, and then had eight more catches to complete a 117-yard performance. In the process, the All-American set two new collegiate records, an NCAA single-season record for receiving yards by a sophomore and another record for his 12th game in which he scored at least one touchdown and 100 yards or more in receptions.
Foles and Criner connected for the Cats’ only score in that game, a five-yard completion in the first quarter.
Arizona rolled to a 41-10 opening win against Northern Arizona University, but is not ranked. The Cats did receive 28 points in the latest USA Today/Coaches poll, but it was well short of the 140 that TCU received to earn the 25th spot.
Arizona State, on the other hand, is ranked No. 23 in the same poll.
And the Sun Devils are working on a psychological edge of their own, as the team debuts its new all-black, Nike-designed uniforms and is encouraging the fans to don black as well in the first “black-out” game.
Unlike Arizona, ASU’s junior quarterback, Brock Osweiler, will have his go-to receiver at the ready. The 6’8″ signal-caller passed for 262 yards in last week’s season-opener against UC-Davis, hitting redshirt senior Aaron Pflugard for two scores enroute to a 48-14 blow-out.
But Osweiler found another prime target last week in his backfield, as Cameron Marshall, the prolific junior running back, pulled in four passes for 86 yards. The offense put up a total of 517 yards against the Aggies.
On the other side of the ball, Missouri is struggling at the QB position. They lost last year’s starter Blaine Gabbert to the NFL draft and have inserted a sophomore into that slot. James Franklin, who backed up Gabbert last season, posted respectable numbers in his debut last week in a 17-6 win against Miami of Ohio. He threw for a TD and rushed for another, putting up 201 yards of offense.
ASU will need to play a good game against Mizzou, avoiding both injuries and penalties. They are 1-1 at home against the Tigers, but lost their last meeting in 1990.
But Arizona has to play an inspired game. Their entire season could hinge on the outcome of this one, which is being televised to the nation on ESPN. The Cats face Stanford, Oregon, and USC after this one – and they can’t afford to roll into those games with their heads down.
And a close game might also be a problem.
They missed a field goal try and an extra-point attempt last week.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)