PACIFIC 10 FOOTBALL / DAN HAFNER : Reports of Demise Greatly Exaggerated

Just a few days ago, Pacific 10 Conference football was given up for dead. Its teams couldn't even beat Western Athletic Conference opponents.

On Sept. 17, Pac-10 teams played six nonconference opponents. Only one, Nebraska, was considered a national power. The Cornhuskers humiliated UCLA, but the other Pac-10 teams lost, too, except Stanford, which romped over weak San Jose State.

The sorry start of the season, which included losses to Hawaii by California and Oregon, prompted one writer to suggest that the Pac-10, not the Southwest Conference, is the conference that should be disbanding.

But now? Suddenly, the Pac-10 is being noticed again nationwide--especially the Washington Huskies, who ended college football's longest home winning streak at 58 games with a convincing 38-20 victory at Miami's Orange Bowl.

That was the big story, but there were other performances to encourage Pac-10 followers. USC, which has beaten Washington, was an impressive winner over Baylor. Oregon, beaten by two WAC rivals, crushed Iowa of the Big Ten, 40-18.

And the league's two unbeaten teams, defensive powers Arizona and Washington State, scored one-sided victories.

It was Washington's week, though. Hurricane fans had the 59th "tombstone" ready when the Huskies arrived. And, after Miami built a 14-3 halftime lead, there was no indication the streak would end.

But Coach Jim Lambright had with him a dedicated group, egged on by about 3,000 fans who had traveled more than 3,000 miles for their day in the sun. It turned out to be as big as the Rose Bowl, which the Huskies had a firm grip on until struck down by penalties last year.

The Huskies, beginning with a 75-yard scoring pass play to fullback Richard Thomas early in the third quarter, defied the odds and took charge. The heat and humidity were supposed to wear down the Northwest team. Instead, the Huskies kept getting stronger and took control of the line of scrimmage.

And quarterback Damon Huard, who lost his poise late in the USC loss, came of age as a top Pac-10 quarterback. He was superb in the last 30 minutes.

"In all my career, I never saw anything like this," said Lambright, who has spent a quarter of a century with the Huskies, the last two as head coach. "It was a wild celebration, for sure."

Miami fans have a reputation for being a bit nasty, but when the Huskies went by the Hurricane rooting section on the way to the dressing room, they received nothing but cheers.

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Bill Walsh is gaining a reputation as a coach who puts his foot in his mouth, and often. Almost every opponent the Cardinal plays these days is stirred by some remark Walsh has made.

Although Coach Dick Tomey said his Arizona players never even discussed Walsh's comments about them in his book "Rough Magic," the Wildcats played like a team with a grudge to settle Saturday.

Walsh was riding high after posting a 10-3 record when he returned to Stanford in 1992, then he had one of the best recruiting years in the nation for his second season.

"The Genius" apparently got a bit carried away. He said that in two years, which would be this season, Stanford would be in the running for the Rose Bowl. He also predicted that the Cardinal would be in some bowl almost every year and might be in the top five in the nation.

Last year was supposed to be a building year. First, though, he antagonized the Washington Huskies and they smashed Stanford, 31-14, maybe a big reason for a dismal 4-7 season.

As recently as last Friday night, Walsh thought Stanford was on the move. He said his team had a great chance to beat Arizona.

"Nobody will run away from this team," Walsh said. "We will be in every game."

The genius was wrong. The score was 34-10 and the game wasn't that close.

"We aren't as close to them as we thought we were," Walsh said. "This is a really good Arizona team. We're not as smart as we thought we were."

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Tomey says he doesn't know how good his defense is. Although the Wildcats sacked Steve Stenstrom seven times and forced him into a fumble and two interceptions, Tomey is still wondering.

"Stanford could only throw," he said. "So for the third time, we didn't face much of an offense.

"This week we won't find out either. Oregon State's offense is one of the toughest to defend. But it's the opposite of Stanford. The Beavers run the ball and don't pass. With an extra week to prepare, they will come up with some new option wrinkles.

"We are so concerned with Jerry Pettibone's offense that we spent more time working against the Beavers in the week we had off than we did against Stanford. We had a pretty good idea what Walsh was going to do."

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At the Pac-10 media day last summer, Washington State Coach Mike Price was accompanied by his defensive star, end DeWayne Patterson. As they prepared to face reporters, Patterson turned to the coach and said, "Should we tell them that we expect to come back here for the Rose Bowl game?"

It was decided to keep it a secret, so the Cougars, although they had seven starters back from the eighth-best defense in the nation a year ago, were picked to finish last.

"That was kind of easy to figure," Price said. "The whole day was spent talking about all the great quarterbacks in the Pac-10. We were the only team without a veteran quarterback returning.

"But we knew we had a very good team. We knew that Chad Davis, our sophomore quarterback from San Diego, was a good one.

"Although the defense has been there from the start, we think the offense is coming along, too. Davis has shown a lot of poise."

Although the 21-0 victory over UCLA was one of the most satisfying in his six seasons at Washington State, Price says it's too early to know what kind of a season it's going to be.

The Cougars (3-0) go into Tennessee on Saturday, favored over the once-vaunted Volunteers, whose top two quarterbacks are sidelined.

An early showdown figures to be unveiled Oct. 15, when Arizona and the Cougars play at Pullman. Wash. Now, that should be a real defensive battle.

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It is quite likely that Stanford's Stenstrom will become an NFL star. As Walsh points out, he has abundant talent and could probably help several teams right now.

Whatever the future, though, Stenstrom is ecstatic about one thing. He never has to face Arizona's "Desert Swarm" again.

The Wildcats cause him nightmares. Two years ago, they beat him up, finally sending him out with a concussion and a 21-6 defeat. Last year, he had his best effort, but his fumble in the last minute cost Stanford a probable tie and a possible victory. Arizona won, 27-24.

He completed 26 of 43 passes for 295 yards last week and that looks good on paper. But his seven sacks, fumble and interceptions tell a different story.

Stenstrom still leads the Pac-10 in total offense and passing efficiency but the big thing is, he doesn't have to face the Wildcats again.

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