The long-running soap opera between Colorado Coach Gary Barnett and Washington Coach Rick Neuheisel reaches its flashpoint Saturday when the Huskies host the Buffaloes.

The drama began Jan. 9, when Neuheisel announced he was leaving Colorado for Washington, and heightened two days later, when he read a departure speech to his players. When Neuheisel asked his silent former players if they had anything to say to him, linebacker Ty Gregorak replied, "We'll see you on the 25th," referring to Saturday's game.

Neuheisel also didn't help his relationship with Barnett, who has accused Neuheisel of lying about his alleged tampering with current and prospective Colorado players. Neuheisel denied this and was upset that Barnett aired his grievances in a nationally televised interview before spring practice.

Neuheisel, who is being paid nearly $1 million a year, has no regrets about his actions, saying this week: "I can't afford to dwell in the past, although as I have said numerous times, I cherish my past and the memories I had at the University of Colorado.

"Given the same set of circumstances and information that I had, I would do it again. I am loving the University of Washington more and more every day."

Both coaches have tried to play down the controversy recently, but the game will be heated. Washington is looking for its first win after losses to Brigham Young and Air Force. Colorado, which started the season ranked 14th, lost its opener to Colorado State, 41-14, but has defeated San Jose State and Kansas by a combined 114-52.

Desert Drought

Strange things are happening in the desert southwest, and they aren't helping the image of the Pacific-10 Conference, whose teams are 13-10 in nonconference games.

Arizona, which had been expected to compete for the national title, fell to 2-2 Saturday after a 50-22 shellacking by Stanford. Things aren't much better at Arizona State, which has a 1-1 record after a 35-7 home loss to New Mexico State -- a team that had never beaten a ranked opponent (the Sun Devils were 22nd).

Arizona State quarterback Ryan Kealy, a two-year starter, has been bothered by torn cartilage in his right knee, and the offense hasn't gotten moving. With backup quarterbacks John Leonard and Griffin Goodman completing just 13 of 34 passes, Arizona State ranks 90th out of 114 Division I-A teams in passing.

Arizona's problems are more befuddling, because they have 16 starters returning from a team that finished 12-1 last season. The defense is giving up 35 points and 416 yards per game, including 207 rushing. With a combined four interceptions, quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins have not produced like they did a season ago, and running back Trung Canidate has yet to score despite averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Making a Statement

Last Saturday, three teams from the lightly regarded Big West Conference beat teams from the nation's powerhouse conferences. New Mexico State's stunner over Arizona State moved the Aggies to 3-0 for the second time since 1975. North Texas, which hadn't scored a touchdown in its first two games, pulled off a 21-14 victory over Texas Tech (Big 12), which was ranked at the start of the season. And Idaho beat Washington State (Pac-10), 28-17. . . .

Four Conference USA teams face highly ranked teams Saturday. Southern Mississippi travels to No. 5 Texas A&M, Memphis visits No. 7 Tennessee, East Carolina plays No. 9 Miami in Raleigh, N.C., and Cincinnati, after its upset of then-No. 9 Wisconsin, is at No. 12 Ohio State. . . .

Oklahoma is second in the nation in passing at 385 yards per game; before this season, it had never passed for more than 357 in any game. With new coach Bob Stoops (although this is more about offensive coordinator Mike Leach, who came from Kentucky, and wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., who came from Florida) the Sooners have completed 70 of 99 passes in two games.

The quarterback is Josh Heupel (pronounced HYPE-pull), a native of Aberdeen, S.D., who began at Weber State but came to Oklahoma from Snow Junior College in Utah.

Saturday, they face Louisville and Chris Redman; the Cardinals are eighth in the nation in passing at 344 yards per game. Last week, Redman was 39 of 60 for 450 yards, Heupel 37 of 54 for 420 yards.