Leaders of the Pac
At Pac-10 media day in Los Angeles last August, each school was represented by its coach and one player. It became a veritable BYOQB party. Cal, Oregon, Southern Cal and Stanford all brought a quarterback—Dave Barr, Danny O'Neil, Rob Johnson and Steve Stenstrom, respectively—and each was touted as a Heisman candidate. Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington also came with players from their offenses. Only two schools, Arizona and Washington State, brought defensive players. So after four weeks of the season, guess which two Pac-10 schools are undefeated? The Wildcats and the Cougars are a combined 6-0, while the schools with those hotshot quarterbacks are 6-6-1.
The traditionally offensive Pac-10 is being ruled by defense. Arizona was expected to be strong on that side of the ball, and it has been. Last Saturday the Wildcats defeated Stanford 34-10, and the Desert Swarm was abuzz, sacking Stenstrom seven times and allowing only six yards on the ground. Arizona is second in the country in rushing defense, giving up an average of just 36.3 yards per game. The team that leads the country in that category (36.0 yards per game) is Washington State. Through three games, including Saturday's 21-0 pasting of UCLA at the Rose Bowl, the Cougars have yet to surrender a touchdown, and they are holding their opponents to 4.0 points per game.
Washington State is second only to Stanford in the Pac-10 when it comes to developing quarterbacks. Future NFL players Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach and Drew Bledsoe all called signals in Pullman. But it is on defense where the future pros reside this year. The Cougars' ends may be the best pair in the conference. On the strong side is Dwayne Sanders, who was widely considered the best defensive line prospect in the West when he graduated from Dorsey High in Los Angeles in 1992. After two years at Snow Junior College in Ephraim, Utah, he is living up to that promise.
On the other side is senior DeWayne Patterson, who had 17 sacks last fall and was named all-conference. On the morning of the Pac-10 media day, he and Cougar coach Mike Price went out to breakfast in L.A. Patterson asked Price, "Hey, Coach, should we tell the reporters we're going to the Rose Bowl, or should we let them figure it out for themselves?"
In a preseason poll the media picked Washington State to finish last in the Pac-10. It will come as a surprise, then, to those same reporters that the battle for the Rose Bowl may be decided in Pullman on Oct. 15, when Arizona visits the Cougars. Says Washington State offensive coordinator John McDonell, "Some people might have underestimated us."
Hand him the Heisman? Gingerly, please. Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair, who was presented on SI's cover last week as the nation's most deserving Heisman Trophy candidate, suffered a slightly separated right shoulder in the Braves' 48-23 loss to Sam Houston State on Saturday. McNair may not miss any starts, but if he does, he'll join Michigan tailback Tyrone Wheatley and UCLA wideout J.J. Stokes as former front-runners for the Heisman whose stock dropped after missing some playing time due to injuries.
The injury to McNair, who is still tossing for 441 yards and four touchdowns per game, could move three players to the fore: Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman (147.6 yards per game) and quarterbacks Terry Dean of Florida (13 touchdown passes) and Eric Zeier of Georgia (334.2 yards per game in total offense). All are seniors, and all, especially Kaufman and Zeier, who have never missed a game, have proved to be resilient. If McNair's injury sidelines him for a while, this year's Heisman may come to resemble a perfect attendance award.
Fight, Team, Fight