USC goes to Ohio State, UCLA travels to Tennessee

Last week, Pac-10 football was mostly about playing in the cozy confines. Saturday marks the league’s biggest nonleague travel challenges of the season.

USC has its long-awaited game at Ohio State, UCLA travels to Tennessee and Stanford ventures to Wake Forest, all three visitors hopeful of going 2-0.

If you’ve followed the Seahawks’ frequent misadventures going three time zones, you know some of the perils involved.

A year ago, Pac-10 teams went 2-2 in the Eastern time zone, but it was a little deceiving. USC did what USC does, throttling Virginia, and Oregon went overtime to beat a weak Purdue team. Oregon State and California had bad losses at Penn State and Maryland.

While most eyes will be on Ohio State-USC, Stanford and UCLA will have different challenges.

Taking wry note of his team’s noon-Eastern kickoff, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday, “Seems like that’s the new trend in college football: If you’re playing a team from the opposite coast, let’s see if we can screw them on the time of kickoff.

“If it’s a West Coast team playing on the East Coast, you play as early as possible and if it’s an East Coast team playing on the West Coast, you play as late as possible.”

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, meanwhile, knows what’s in store in Knoxville: Renditions of “Rocky Top,” early and often.

“They’re going to play it an inordinate amount of times anyway,” Neuheisel said, laughing. “But we’d like to keep it down if at all possible.”

In Pac-10 camps outside Washington:

Arizona: Tight end Rob Gronkowski, a key part of the Wildcats’ offense, is still trying to return from a back problem. Arizona, which hosts Northern Arizona, would like to have him for its trip to Iowa next week.

Arizona State: Coach Dennis Erickson said he liked the play of veteran-turned-starter Danny Sullivan at quarterback in a blowout over Idaho State, saying, “If there was a negative, we dropped three touchdowns.”

California: Bears host Eastern Washington, which probably doesn’t see the weakness in the Cal linebackers that many projected in the offseason. Coach Jeff Tedford said that corps played well in the Maryland win, including sophomores D.J. Holt and Mychal Kendricks.

Oregon: Oregon coach Chip Kelly said the UO hooked up former NBA forward Kermit Washington with LeGarrette Blount for counsel in the aftermath of the incident at Boise State. Washington’s 1977 punch of Rudy Tomjanovich is the most extreme example of on-court violence in NBA history.

The Ducks will now lean heavily on redshirt freshman LaMichael James and senior Andre Crenshaw to replace the suspended Blount, whom Kelly said was at practice Tuesday.

Oregon State: OSU’s visit to UNLV pits coach Mike Riley against Vegas’ Mike Sanford, a USC assistant-coaching colleague from the mid-1990s under John Robinson and later, a staffer under Riley with the Chargers. Said Riley, “I think he’s the greatest guy in the world.”

Stanford: The Cardinal unleashed 6-foot-2 receiver Chris Owusu on WSU in the opener, and he had a 63-yard touchdown catch and an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. Says coach Jim Harbaugh, “He’s playing tougher and more physical. He caught almost 10,000 balls this summer.”

UCLA: The Bruins go to Knoxville with three new offensive-line starters, plus a newbie at quarterback in Kevin Prince. Says Neuheisel, “As Bill Walsh said, ‘How do you win on the road? You take a good team.’ Hopefully our team is ready to play well.”

USC: Asked how the Trojans manage to recruit tailbacks when there’s a whole storehouse of them on campus, coach Pete Carroll said, “The guys questioning whether they’re going to get in a game or how many carries they’re gonna get, those guys don’t come here.”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com