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College Football Weekend Preview: Pac-12 Enjoying Success at Big Ten's Expense

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College Football Weekend Preview: Pac-12 Enjoying Success at Big Ten's Expense

Cal cornerback Marc Anthony by Michael Pimentel/GoldenBearSports.com

The long time Rose Bowl partners had their member institutions meet in three games last weekend with the West Coast conference getting the better of their cohorts in the Midwest. All in all, it was a banner day for the Pac-12 while the Big Ten has labored to maintain relevance on a national scale.

The high-profile, nationally televised matchup between UCLA and Nebraska aired in primetime for all to see, and it was the Bruins and new head coach Jim Mora coming out on top 36-30. Mora is already winning over fans in Westwood following the disappointing Rick Neuheisel era.

Even as a former quarterback himself, Neuheisel struggled to develop players at the position during his four-year stint at UCLA, and in just one season, Mora is experiencing success with redshirt freshman Brett Hundley under center.

In Nebraska, quarterback Taylor Martinez has made big strides with his mechanics since last season, but he's still far behind his peers at the position, and it showed when he faced UCLA. But it was the Blackshirts that really had a difficult time last weekend by giving up 653 yards to the Bruins.

Oregon State's 10-7 upset of Wisconsin was one of the biggest of the college season so far, and was especially surprising considering the Badgers won 35-0 just last year.

Beavers head coach Mike Riley has typically exceeded expectations in Corvallis, but after two consecutive losing seasons, he was starting the year on the hot seat coming into 2012. Credit Riley once again for once again doing more than anticipated, especially his defense that stopped both the Wisconsin running game and passing game cold.

Out in the desert, Arizona State throttled Illinois to the tune of 45-14, getting new head coach Todd Graham off to a 2-0 start. Former coach Dennis Erickson was also able to get off to early-season success before falling off once conference play began, so Graham must try to avoid suffering the same fate.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Arizona's upset over Oklahoma State was impressive, and expected wins by USC, Oregon and Stanford kept the ball rolling.

Right now there's a definite divide between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, and we're not talking about the Rocky Mountains.

Player Q&A

This week's exclusive player Q&A is with California cornerback Marc Anthony who's the 10th-rated cornerback in his class by NFLDraftScout.com and is taking part in another Pac-12-Big Ten matchup this weekend as Cal travels to Ohio State. Anthony had a 61-yard interception return for a touchdown last week in the Golden Bears' win over Southern Utah.

How is the team feeling about itself after a loss in Week 1 to Nevada but getting back on track in Week 2 with a win over Southern Utah?

Anthony: "We're feeling pretty good about ourselves. We feel that we can compete with anybody in the nation, and we're going to bring it to Columbus on Saturday and hopefully get out of there with a win."

What are your impressions of Ohio State. What makes them good?

Anthony: "Their ability to make plays. They have a great quarterback (Braxton Miller), and then they have very skilled guys around him. When he's able to scramble out of the pocket, he's able to make plays, so we just have to try to limit the big plays and try to contain the quarterback as best as possible."

How can you contain the quarterback from your position in the secondary?

Anthony: "As a player in the secondary, we have to limit the big plays by plastering our guys and making sure that when he does scramble, he doesn't have any options to throw. Just trying to limit his options and forcing him to throw the ball instead of being a runner."

What's your reaction to all the Pac-12's upsets and big wins last weekend?

Anthony: "We see that, and it motivates us to go into Columbus and fight for a 'W' as we see all the other upsets going on in the Pac 12, so we use that as fuel."

Will these good performances from other Pac-12 teams make it tough on Cal to win once you get into the conference schedule?

Anthony: "We don't focus on what other teams do. We just try to focus on ourselves and how we can get better as a team and just win ballgames for our school."

What are Cal's team goals this season?

Anthony: "We start out with the same goal as every other team in the nation. We want to be national champions. It starts from Day 1, and we're going to continue to work hard, and we're going to continue to fight and work our way to winning a bowl game or whatever championship we can get to."

What are your individual goals for yourself?

Anthony: "I want to become a better player on the ball when the ball is in the air. I just want to make sure I get my hands on a few more balls than I did last year. Another one of my goals is to stay healthy and become one of the top performers in the secondary throughout the Pac-12 conference."

What is your greatest strength as an individual, the one thing you do best on the football field?

Anthony: "One thing I do well is being physical. I like to play bump and run, so I like to get my hands on guys and just making them work for everything they get. I pride myself on being a big, tall, physical guy."

Where College Gameday Is At

This week ESPN's College Gameday crew is in Knoxville for the annual third Saturday in September showdown between Tennessee and Florida.

The last time Gameday was in Knoxville was in 2004, which shows how long it's been since Tennessee has hosted a game of such significance. It's certainly been a long time since Chad Clifton helped the Vols win a national championship and even longer since Peyton Manning was leading the team.

This year head coach Derek Dooley has Tennessee off to a 2-0 start, including a notable win over North Carolina State in Week 1. Quarterback Tyler Bray is the catalyst of an offense that has some firepower around him in receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Even the loss of NFL-caliber receiver Da'Rick Rogers––who transferred after being suspended––hasn't hurt the Tennessee offense.

The Florida defense will be a worthy adversary, a group that's led by a terrific duo of linebackers in Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic. The Florida defense hasn't been perfect in wins over Bowling Green and Texas A&M to begin the season, but it's a unit that's going to get better as the season goes on and its players become more experienced.

The winner of Saturday's game keeps pace with Georgia and South Carolina in the SEC East while the loser will have to dig itself out of an early hole. Prediction: Florida wins 24-21.

The Wisconsin Connection

Following Oregon State's upset of Wisconsin, the Badgers and head coach Bret Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson.

Currently, the Badgers are 103rd in the nation in rushing. Even though they lost three offensive linemen that signed NFL contracts in the offseason, this is still a team that has two NFL-caliber starters returning on the line, others with experience and Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball at running back.

Sure, Northern Iowa and Oregon State stacked the box with eight and even nine players, but that's nothing Wisconsin isn't used to seeing. Something was clearly wrong, and Wisconsin went about trying to rectify the situation.

Some will argue that it's a move that reeks of desperation. All that the move can be based upon is the less-than-stellar performance from Wisconsin's line so far. And without being around the day-to-day operations of the team, it's difficult to know whether Markuson was truly deserving of such a dishonorable discharge.

Wisconsin looks to turn their fortunes around this week as Utah State visits Madison, an opponent that is probably much better than expected from the time the game was scheduled. The Aggies are hardly a football powerhouse, but following their first bowl game appearance in more than a decade last season and a 2-0 start this year––including an upset of Utah––this is a team that's better than it will get credit for.

The Badgers will have to watch out for Aggies dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton who's been compared to a young Russell Wilson at CollegeFootballNews.com. Keeton isn't Wilson, but he's a threat to make plays with both his arm and his legs and is complemented by 5-9 running back Kerwynn Williams who can also make plays on kick returns.

Prediction: Wisconsin gets back to their winning ways once again, but it won't be dominant. It will be a game that's closer than the final score indicates before faring even better next week against UTEP. Badgers win 31-17.

What Happened Before Saturday

Greg Schiano, now head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, didn't have far to travel to see his former team on Thursday evening as Rutgers visited South Florida, which plays on the same field as the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium.

What Schiano got to see was Rutgers get a key 23-13 victory on the road that showed they're one of the favorites to win the Big East Conference race.

Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison might get the headlines behind a 151-yard rushing effort, but new head coach Kyle Flood is getting it done in New Jersey behind the strength of his defense, which currently ranks eighth in the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of only eight points per game.

That unit is led by 2011 co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Khaseem Greene who already has 34 tackles, four for a loss and two sacks on this young season and is a legit NFL Draft prospect.

***To see which NFL teams are represented at college football games this weekend, check out the website of NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber.***

Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America" and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Bearmeat's picture

I'm a BIG fan, but we suck. Every year we suck.

Of the four major CFB conferences, we are the worst. (SEC, BIG 12, Pac 12, BIG, ACC, Big East).

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