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Thursday, September 25, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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College Football

Pac-10 notebook: Crossroads game for Beavers, Devils

Seattle Times college football reporter

More than a month ago, Richard Seigler spoke boldly about the Pac-10 title chances of his Oregon State football team.

"Everybody talks about USC and Washington," Seigler said after an August practice. "We have the most weapons."

Seigler, an All-Pac-10 linebacker, is known for his bombast as well as his big hits, but not all precincts took offense. This one, in fact, saw the Beavers as second-best in the Pac-10, behind Arizona State.

It's a little too early to dismiss anybody from the Pac-10 race (although Arizona certainly seems disinterested). But Saturday night's meeting of ASU and OSU in Corvallis will have a magnifying effect on two teams that have struggled through September, giving one some sustenance and the other additional reasons to grope for aspirin.

Both teams have struggled, looking for playmakers. Oregon State has the league's best running back in Steven Jackson and a spectacular receiver in James Newson, but quarterback Derek Anderson listed badly until a 408-yard performance against Boise State.

"That's the best ballgame I've seen him play," said OSU coach Mike Riley. Nonetheless, Anderson needs to prove it against Pac-10 teams, and some complements to Newson would help him.

The game continues a testy part of the schedule for the Sun Devils, who host USC and Oregon the next two weeks. A loss — something that's happened to ASU only once in the last 23 meetings with the Beavers — and the Sun Devils are under .500 in three seasons of Dirk Koetter and in danger of becoming an also-ran despite having a putative Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Andrew Walter.

Last week, Iowa drew up the blueprint for Pac-10 teams. The Hawkeyes got so much pressure from their front four, they played deep zone against Walter and made him throw short stuff. He seemed uncomfortable doing it, and his longest completion was just 12 yards.

"If you'd told me our defense and special teams would hold Iowa to 21 points," Koetter lamented, "I'd have said we win the game."

Assuming the ASU offense is worth at least three touchdowns may be risky. With Shaun McDonald having left for the NFL, the Sun Devils lack speed at receiver when Daryl Lightfoot is out with back and hamstring problems. He should return, in some form, against OSU.

A committee at tailback — Mike Williams, Loren Wade, Randy Hill, Hakim Hill — means ASU doesn't have anybody who has emerged.

Some around Koetter believe he has matured this year, less apt to go off and better able to glimpse the big picture. That patience may be tested the next couple of weeks.

Rabbit's-foot scheduling

Think scheduling might play a part in the ability of Washington and Washington State to contend for the Pac-10 title? The Cougars' road games are at USC (No. 3-ranked), Oregon (15th), Washington (18th) and Arizona State (24th).

According to Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings, the opponents Washington meets on the road are No. 20 (UCLA, somehow), No. 43 (Oregon State), No. 50 (California) and No. 83 (Arizona).

Advice to Bruins: Duck

Not that Oregon is lacking at running back, but its judgment on Lynell Hamilton has proven accurate. Hamilton is the running back from Stockton, Calif., who visited the Ducks last winter and was hosted by Onterrio Smith.

Which is another way of saying they partied hard, and Hamilton's father wasn't especially pleased, preventing his son from attending Oregon even though that was Lynell's wish.

Hamilton ended up at San Diego State where, as a freshman, he has rushed for 509 yards. He's UCLA's problem this week.

Going south

Best receiver in the Division III Cascade Conference is one Andrae Thurman, who, after leaving Arizona as a result of grade problems, ended up at Southern Oregon. In his first game against Linfield, he caught a touchdown pass on SOU's first drive, and after Linfield came back to tie on the ensuing possession, he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, it's a changing rotation of guys at Arizona who would have been throwing to Thurman. After Ryan O'Hara and Nic Costa were given shots earlier, coach John Mackovic sprung freshman Kris Heavner on Purdue last week and seemed happy enough to give him the ball against TCU on Saturday.

Costa had been a stand-up spokesman for the program, but he was nonplussed at the decision, saying last week, "I just want an explanation. The coaches all gave me the cold shoulder all week long. It was like I did something terrible. I'm confused, the guys are confused."

In addition to the probable change in quarterbacks, Mackovic says sophomore Beau Carr will start at tailback with true freshman Chris Henry backing him.

Of the 1-3 Wildcats, Mackovic said this week, "We're trying to show them how close they really are to being successful."

That will be news to LSU, Oregon and Purdue, which outscored Arizona 166-30.

In Westwood, growing pains

UCLA's first-year coach, Karl Dorrell, is getting raked in Los Angeles for the Bruins' offensive problems. The adaptation to his offense — next to last in Division I-A — has been slow and has been marked by conservatism and confusion. The coordinator is Steve Axman, previously quarterbacks coach for Rick Neuheisel at Washington.

Making Dorrell's task steeper is the contrasting success across town. In midseason two years ago, USC was 2-5, UCLA 6-0 and ranked No. 4 in the country. Wrote Kevin Modesti in the Los Angeles Daily News, "This week there's such a gap, you need an astronomer's telescope to see one from the other."

UCLA hopes to have Matt Moore at quarterback for Washington next week after a lower-leg problem.

The end around

• Pac-10 officials supervisor Verle Sorgen says a key whistle that negated a fumble by OSU's Anderson late in the Boise State game was too quick. "Incorrect call," Sorgen told the Oregonian regarding a play on which BSU recovered the ball, needing only a field goal to win.

Stephanie Sartz, a Cal student, has a choice to make this week. She's a recruiting guide for the Bears, but her brother Dallas is a safety for USC. "She'll root for us," Dallas told the L.A. Daily News. "She'll have to."

Trent Bray, the Pullman High grad who committed to WSU, then switched to OSU when his father Craig joined Dennis Erickson's staff there, got his first start last week because of an injury to LB Seth Lacey.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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