Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
Both Arizona State and Stanford are locked into the Pac-12 Championship Game, but there is still lots left to be accomplished out West in the final weekend of the regular season. Home-field advantage in the title game hangs in the balance in The Territorial Cup and in-state bragging rights are on the line in the Civil War, Apple Cup and the Battle for the Victory Bell.And, oh by the way, Stanford hosts Notre Dame in a potential at-large BCS situation for the Cardinal.
Enjoy the final slate of regular season action.
Pac-12 Week 14 Game Power Rankings
1. Arizona (+12) at Arizona State (9:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Duel in the Desert for The Territorial Cup carries more than just in-state bragging rights this season. For Arizona and Rich Rodriguez, it would mean a second-straight eight-win season and another quality bowl game. For Arizona State, a win would mean the Pac-12 Championship Game will be played in Sun Devil Stadium on Dec. 7. A loss for Todd Graham and company would not only give RichRod more in-state recruiting fodder and year-long bragging rights but it would force the Sun Devils to travel back to Palo Alto to face Stanford for the Pac-12 title. Stopping Arizona star tailback Ka’Deem Carey is the top priority for ASU’s defense. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four scores on 48 carries in last week’s upset over Oregon and rushed 25 times for 172 yards and a TD in the Sun Devils' 41-34 win last season. Graham knows if his defense — one that registered nine sacks last week against UCLA — can stop Carey, his team has a great shot at hosting the title game and will be one home win away from a trip to the Rose Bowl.
2. UCLA (+3.5) at USC (8 p.m., ABC)
Some are still trumpeting Ed Orgeron as the right fit at USC, and while that seems highly unlikely, the interim head man could make a strong case for himself with a win over crosstown rival UCLA. Brett Hundley was human in the 38-28 home win over USC last year (234 yards, TD passing) but got a huge game from tailback Johnathan Franklin (171 yards, 2 TD). With USC’s stingy defense raring to go, someone other than Hundley will have to step up and take the pressure off of the Bruins' quarterback. UCLA gave up nine sacks last week to Arizona State and the Trojans have been excellent at getting after opposing signal-callers during the five-game winning streak (12.0 sacks). A win for either team changes the complexion of the offseason as USC could finish with 11 wins while UCLA could reach 10.
3. Notre Dame (+14) at Stanford (7 p.m., FOX)
Stanford obviously has its sights set on a rematch with Arizona State in next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. But another rematch is standing in its way this Saturday. The infamous goal-line stand in South Bend last year gave the Cardinal one of just two losses on the season and propelled Notre Dame into the BCS title picture. With Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal offense coming off its best game of the year (yes, it was against Cal), Stanford should have revenge on the mind when Tommy Rees comes to town. Despite some injuries, the Irish defense played an excellent bend-but-don’t-break game against Taysom Hill and BYU. The 415 yards and 13 points were the second-lowest and lowest outputs respectively of the Cougars' season since Week 1. Rees has five interceptions over his last three games and will have to be better on the road to top Stanford.
4. Washington State (+7) at Washington (Fri., 3:30 p.m., FOX)
The 2012 version of The Apple Cup was loaded with dramatics and excitement but was short on implications or national storylines. These two had a combined 15 losses last season but an 18-point fourth quarter from Washington State salvaged Mike Leach’s first year and gave the Cougars an unlikely upset against their arch rival. This season, much more is at stake as both teams are already bowl-eligible and looking for a third-place finish in the North Division. Cyler Miles got the start for U of W last week and played well but, despite no word from the coaching staff, one has to think Keith Price will play on Senior Day. Bowl pecking order, a winning conference and overall record and in-state bragging rights are on the line between these two. Whichever senior quarterback — Wazzu’s surging Connor Halliday or UW’s injured Price — plays more efficient football will likely finish third in the North at 5-4.
5. Oregon State (+7) at Oregon (Fri., 7 p.m., FS1)
A month ago, The Civil War appeared to be must-see appointment television. After four straight losses for Oregon State and two losses in three games for the Ducks, this game has surprisingly lost most of its national luster. Mike Riley and Beavers everywhere are playing for pride having lost five straight to the Ducks by an average margin of three touchdowns (20 points). Oregon has scored 47.2 against OSU over that span but has recently struggled to score. The Ducks posted no fewer than six touchdowns in any game prior to scoring three times against Stanford and just twice last week against Arizona. Meanwhile, Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion has to figure out a way to protect the football. He has 10 interceptions in his last three games and only four touchdown passes. An interesting tidbit to consider, Oregon State is 4-1 on the road this year and only 2-4 at home.
6. Colorado (+17) at Utah (2 pm., Pac-12 Network)
The “Rumble in the Rockies” actually got started 110 years ago when Colorado topped Utah 22-0 in 1903. These two unusual rivals have played 59 times but rarely as conference foes (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and Pac-12). Since both joined the Pac-12 South, they have split the two meetings with the road team winning both. Both of these contests have been one-score affairs with just four total points (56-52) separating the two. Both teams are playing for pride and will look to young quarterbacks to gain experience — Adam Schulz for Utah and Sefo Liufau for Colorado.
Pac-12 Week 14 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox preview rivalry week out West and discuss the Pac-12 title game on this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
The Sun Devils' defense gave up some yards last week but the front seven saved the day by pressuring Brett Hundley all game. Young was the star with 13 tackles, 3.0 sacks and 3.0 tackles for a loss. Now, with a home field in the Pac-12 Championship Game on the line, Young and company are faced with stopping arguably the nation’s top running back in Ka’Deem Carey. Carey just carried 48 times for 206 yards and four scores in the upset win over Oregon. The Wildcats running back averaged 6.9 yards per carry (172 yards) and scored in The Territorial Cup last season.
2. Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
With “only” 95 yards rushing last weekend, Gaffney had his six-game, 100-yard streak snapped against lowly Cal. However, he reached paydirt on the ground for the seventh straight game this season. Look for a workload from Gaffney closer to his school-record 45 carries against Oregon rather than his 16 last week against the Bears. The Irish are strong against the run but have given up yards of late with the loss of defensive tackle Louis Nix.
3. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
It is difficult to get recognized at quarterback in a league as talented as the Pac-12. But Kessler needs to get some credit for his improved play over the final few months. He has just six interceptions all season and has thrown just one pick during the Trojans' five-game winning streak. He completed over 80 percent of his passes against both Oregon State and Cal and if he can distribute the ball to Nelson Agholor and company, USC could easily score enough to top rival UCLA.
4. Cyler Miles or Keith Price, QB, Washington
Miles got the start last week and played excellent football in place of Keith Price. He was 15-of-24 for 162 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in a road blowout win over Oregon State. Steve Sarkisian hasn’t announced who will start but one has to believe that Price will get significant time on senior day in The Apple Cup. Either way, the Huskies' quarterback will have to play well against the underrated Washington State secondary to get revenge on the Cougars for last season’s debacle in Pullman.
5. Oregon State’s front seven
This group was completely destroyed by a team with a freshman quarterback making his first career start. Washington rushed for 530 yards in the 69-27 drubbing in Corvallis last Saturday. If the Beavers have a chance at pulling an upset over a teetering Oregon squad, the front seven will have to play tougher and more disciplined football. The Beavers will have to match the Ducks' tempo, quickness, depth and explosiveness to have a chance in The Civil War.
Pac-12 Week 14 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Arizona (+12) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 44-31||Arizona St, 34-24||Arizona St, 34-27||Arizona St, 35-28|
|UCLA (+3.5) at USC||USC, 28-27||USC, 21-17||USC, 27-24||USC, 27-21|
|Notre Dame (+14) at Stanford||Stanford, 31-14||Stanford, 28-20||Stanford, 27-20||Stanford, 27-10|
|Washington St (+14) at Washington||Wash., 41-29||Wash., 44-27||Wash., 38-27||Wash., 41-27|
|Oregon St (+22) at Oregon||Oregon, 45-27||Oregon, 50-14||Oregon, 48-24||Oregon, 49-28|
|Colorado (+17) at Utah||Utah, 27-13||Utah, 27-21||Utah, 31-24||Colorado, 21-20|