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Jump right in to Pac-10 pressure cooker

PULLMAN – Well, that was a short non-conference season.

For Stanford and UCLA, it lasted all of one week.

The Rose Bowl race gets under way Saturday night in, appropriately enough, the Rose Bowl.

UCLA, still reeling a little from a hard-fought 31-22 defeat at Kansas State opening the season, hosts the Cardinal, who had a 52-17 rout of Sacramento State to work out the kinks.

“It’s not the preference, but it is what it is,” said Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel on the Pac-10 conference call Tuesday. “Both of us have played one game now, so there isn’t an advantage one way or the other.

“Certainly you would like to know more about your football team before you get into those games that are going to matter when you are deciding a conference champion.”

Stanford actually knows more than usual, however. The Cardinal opened last season in Pullman, the fourth consecutive season they had opened with a Pac-10 game. One of those, in 2004, was a 45-17 loss to UCLA, but that was before Neuheisel rode into Westwood.

“It’s the way it’s always been for us,” said Harbaugh, who watched his team ride Andrew Luck’s arm (17 of 23 for 316 yards and four touchdowns) in Harbaugh’s third season opener. “We’ve always opened with a conference game, until this year.

“Having UCLA, a tough road game, will be a huge challenge, of course.”

Yes, the Bruins will offer a better test, especially defensively, though Neuheisel was disappointed in the run-stopping against Kansas State.

“Of the guys who played in the front seven, six had never started a game there,” he said, “(Linebacker) Akeem Ayers being the only one who had the experience. And all of them played more than 50 plays, and that’s probably too many plays in a hot Kansas environment.”

Stanford has replaced Toby Gerhart with a trio of running backs, but the offense will go as far as Luck takes it.

“They came out throwing and Andrew Luck showed all kinds of greatness early in the game,” Neuheisel said. “They showcased their guy there. But we know we’re going to be playing a team that’s going to run the ball.”

A non-conference opener against an overmatched opponent, as Cal had against UC Davis, doesn’t put much on film for the rest of the conference to see. “We played pretty base (defense),” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford, adding the Bears didn’t need to. “Davis was a little bit outmanned up front with our defensive front.” … Washington coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t believe his team played all that bad in the loss at BYU. “I still feel very optimistic,” he said. “When you step back and really look at the ballgame and the way BYU played … they played a perfect ballgame.” … With a 72-0 rout of New Mexico behind them, the Oregon Ducks are now getting ready to play in one of the more hostile places in the nation: Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. “I’ve never seen the stadium, so I can’t talk about it,” said coach Chip Kelly, professing not to care about such things. But he does care about the weather. Oregon has moved inside its warm indoor facility to try to approximate the Tennessee humidity. … Dennis Erickson isn’t one of those who believes practice makes perfect. At least on the offensive side of the ledger. “I don’t think you get any better offensively until you go against other people,” he said. His Sun Devils had 553 yards of total offense in blowing out Portland State. … Marc Tyler came to USC as one of the more highly touted running backs in the country. But he hasn’t really had a shot to carry the ball. He got one against Hawaii, gained 154 yards on 17 carries and leads the Pac-10 with a 9.1 average. But nothing’s guaranteed. With Dillon Baxter coming off his one-game suspension, Tyler is “going to need to continue to play well to just keep that job,” coach Lane Kiffin said. … Oregon State has a tendency to play high-caliber nonconference foes. That probably won’t change despite the 30-21 loss to TCU and an upcoming game at Boise State. “When we get to the Pac-10, we will have played some tremendous competition,” coach Mike Riley said. “You learn a lot about your team against top-notch opponents.”

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