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PACIFIC 10 FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : The Pretenders Have Become the Contenders

September 25, 1993|DAN HAFNER

When Pacific 10 Conference penalties deprived Washington of an opportunity to play in a fourth consecutive Rose Bowl, it seemed certain there would be a wide-open race for the New Year's Day invitation.

Experts figured there were six teams with chances of replacing the Huskies on New Year's Day.

California and Washington State were not generally considered among the contenders. The Bears, beset by injuries and internal problems, finished 4-7 in their first season under Keith Gilbertson last year and even their more ardent rooters were not expecting a complete turnaround.

The Cougars, who were unable to make it to the Rose Bowl on the arm of Drew Bledsoe, weren't expected to do nearly as well without the NFL's No. 1 draft pick.

Yet, these are the teams atop the Pac-10, and both appear to be legitimate contenders. The Cougars, with fifth-year senior Mike Pattinson nicely replacing Bledsoe, have recovered from a crushing opening defeat at Michigan to win their last two.

They were especially impressive in routing Oregon State, 51-6, in their conference opener. Not only did Pattinson pass for 324 yards and two touchdowns, but the Cougar defense stifled the Beavers' running game, which had accounted for an average of 334 yards in the Beavers' first two games.

California has been even more spectacular. After holding off UCLA in the opener at the Rose Bowl, 27-25, the Bears held Heisman Trophy candidate Marshall Faulk to 66 yards in a 45-25 rout of San Diego State. And last Saturday, they defeated outmanned Temple, 58-0, at Philadelphia.

Two of Cal's first four touchdowns--all scored in 4 minutes 38 seconds of the first quarter--were scored on runbacks. Matt Clizbe returned a punt 66 yards and Ricky Spears ran an interception back 35 yards.

It was all so easy. Running back Lindsey Chapman, nursing a shoulder injury, ran the ball only two more times after running 20 yards for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball. Dave Barr threw only 10 passes and went to the bench with 20 minutes to play.

Despite the romp, the Bears are still ranked only 20th in the Associated Press rankings.

As he prepared his team to play San Jose State, which barely missed upsetting Stanford two weeks ago, Gilbertson wasn't worried about rankings.

"It doesn't really make any difference where you're rated now," he said. "It only counts where you are in the last poll. What I do know is we're 3-0, and I couldn't feel better about this team."

The Bears were 3-1 a year ago before losing six of their last seven, but the victories were not impressive and the defeat was a 41-14 thumping at Purdue.

"We remembered what happened at Purdue last year and made up our minds there would be no repeat," said wide receiver Damien Semien, who scored on a 66-yard pass play against Temple.

In the Bay Area, it was generally assumed the Bears would open with two defeats.

"I thought we were better than people thought," Gilbertson said. "But we still have some things to prove."

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Stanford Coach Bill Walsh has been saying that he thought his young, inexperienced team would be pretty good after five games. Shocked Colorado can attest to the Cardinal reaching that position in three games.

By making talented quarterback Steve Stenstrom more mobile, Walsh cut down on the sacks and the Stanford offense produced 560 yards against the Big Eight Conference power.

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It was expected that the defense would be the strong suit for Arizona this season, but what happened at Illinois seemed to be carrying things to an extreme. The defense scored all the points in a 16-14 victory.

With Illinois driving, linebacker Sean Harris stripped the ball from quarterback Scott Weaver, scooped it up and ran 76 yards for a touchdown in the opening minutes.

In the second quarter, 283-pound junior tackle Jim Hoffman of La Mesa picked up a fumble and ran 46 yards for the other touchdown.

The defense also tackled Weaver in the end zone for a safety and blocked two field goals. Hoffman had one of those.

Now it turns out maybe the defense didn't earn those two touchdowns. Big Ten Conference officials agreed with Illinois that neither touchdown should have been allowed. Harris, according to films, was on the ground when he recovered his fumble, and Hoffman scored his in the aftermath of an illegal slap to the head against quarterback Scott Weaver.

The only touchdown the Arizona defense gave up was at the end of a 43-yard Illinois drive. It appeared to be stopped, but a personal foul on a punt gave the ball back to Illinois at the Arizona 28. Illinois scored on a two-yard pass. The Illini had minus 27 yards on 34 running plays.

Although the Wildcat offense flopped again, Coach Dick Tomey believes that things are looking up because the players have regained their enthusiasm.

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