Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
Things are starting to fall into place out West. Washington was humbled the last two weeks but has no chance to rest. Stanford found out first-hand how deep the South Division might be, but also has to regroup quickly. And Sean Mannion continues his assault on the record books.
Week 8 is a deep and intriguing weekend of action for the Pac-12. A rematch of last season's Pac-12 Championship game, a historic rivalry, a critical crossover elimination game and a big South Division showdown highlight what will be yet another exciting weekend of action West of the Rockies.
Pac-12 Week 8 Game Power Rankings
1. UCLA (+4.5) at Stanford (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
The unbeaten Bruins get the unenviable task of facing Stanford for the third time in less than a year. The Cardinal topped UCLA 35-17 in the season finale last year before beating them again a week later in the Pac-12 title game 27-24. The Bruins have lost five straight in the series and Stanford hasn’t lost at home in 12 straight or in back-to-back weeks since October 2009. Utah toppled Stanford last week in Salt Lake City and that should have David Shaw’s bunch fired up and focused. And they will need to be to stop Brett Hundley, who threw for a career-high 410 yards last week, the third-highest total in UCLA history. Hundley’s worst career game came in the first loss to Stanford last year (177 yards, INT) but he showed marked improvement the next weekend (329 yards, 3 TD). With a young and banged-up offensive line on the road against a nasty front seven, Jim Mora’s bunch will only stay unbeaten if Hundley has a special afternoon.
2. Washington (+3) at Arizona State (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Sun Devils have owned this series and the Huskies are teetering in Pac-12 play. Arizona State has won seven straight over Washington and U of W is coming off emotional and physical losses to Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils played their most complete game last week against Colorado by scoring 54 points, rolling up 532 yards and holding Colorado to just 268 yards. Despite out-gaining Stanford by a significant margin, Keith Price’s Huskies moved to 3-9 in true road games over the last three seasons when they lost their only true road game of the year thus far two weeks ago in Palo Alto. This showdown will feature the nation’s leading rusher in Bishop Sankey (149.8 ypg) and the nation’s leading scorer in Marion Grice (15.0 ppg). It falls to the bruised Huskies defense to stop quarterback Taylor Kelly (327.5 ypg) on the road.
3. USC (+3) at Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC)
One of college football’s most heated and historic rivalries will be on display in South Bend for the 85th time in history. After USC won eight straight from 2002-09, Notre Dame has won two of the last three. Both teams enter this game surging to some degree after Ed Orgeron won his coaching debut against Arizona last week and the Irish topped Arizona State in Dallas in impressive fashion. Both teams will have extra rest after neither played on Saturday last weekend and that is good news for two inconsistent quarterbacks. Tommy Rees and Cody Kessler have both turned the ball over too much, but both have shown signs of life in the last few weeks. Kessler has set career highs in yards in each of his last two games with four touchdowns while Rees tossed three touchdowns against ASU. Whichever quarterback plays the best against two very stingy defenses will likely win the the historic rivalry game — one that is taking place nearly eight years to the day from the famed “Bush Push” (Oct. 15, 2005).
4. Utah (+5) at Arizona (10 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The first couple of seasons in the Pac-12 were rough for Utah, going 7-11 in the league. And while the Utes already have two losses, they are clearly improved and heading in the right direction, culminating in a huge upset over Stanford last weekend. Arizona never really challenged USC last Thursday night despite 508 yards of offense and a flurry of late scoring. Dual-threat quarterbacks will be on display as Travis Wilson (283 yards, 5 TD) and B.J. Denker (273 yards, 6 TD) are the league’s No. 2 and No. 3 most productive rushing quarterbacks. Both teams have eyes on a bowl game and whoever losses will leave Week 8 with three Pac-12 losses. The road team has won both Pac-12 meetings between these two.
5. Oregon State (-10.5) at Cal (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Any game with Sean Mannion and Sonny Dykes should be extremely entertaining. The football won’t be handed off too much in this one as Cal is No. 3 nationally with 318 pass attempts and Oregon State is No. 4 with 301 attempts. The Beavers have won 11 of the last 14 meetings, including a 62-14 drubbing in Corvallis last season. Mannion threw for 325 yards and four scores in that game as he returned to the lineup after a major knee injury. Look for him to air it out again against a Golden Bears defense that is 123rd nationally at 518 yards allowed per game. In fact, don’t be surprised if the Oregon State quarterback sets the Pac-12 single-game passing record.
6. Washington State (+38) at Oregon (10 p.m., FS1)
The Cougars are much improved and have a chance to pull a few upsets this year in the Pac-12 — like, say, against USC. But defeating Oregon in Eugene won’t be one of them. The Ducks are favored by more than five touchdowns for a reason. Quarterback Marcus Mariota might be the best player in the nation and Wazzu hasn’t allowed fewer than 43 points to Oregon since 2006.
7. Charleston Southern at Colorado (2 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Buffaloes don’t have too many more chances at wins this season so a win against a FCS opponent is a must. However, the Buccaneers are 7-0 and are looking for an opportunity to make a statement. This game wasn’t scheduled until Sept. 30 and Southern was the only team willing to come to Boulder on this weekend. Colorado’s game against Fresno State was canceled last month due to weather-related circumstances. The once high-flying CU offense needs to get on track after struggling mightily in Pac-12 play this year.
Pac-12 Week 8 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox break down the big questions for each conference for the second half of the season in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
There may be no more important player in the nation this weekend than Hundley. He struggled against the Cardinal in his first meeting last year but learned from the experience and played well in the Pac-12 title game. With a developing supporting cast and electric dual-threat ability, he has the talent to take over a game at any point (ask Bo Pelini). Against a Stanford front seven that is among the nation's best, he will have to play with great toughness to pull the upset.
2. Osahon Irabor, CB, Arizona State
The senior defensive back is no ordinary cornerback. Certainly, he is excellent in coverage as his two interceptions and return touchdown have shown. But he also plays well around the line of scrimmage and is disruptive in the backfield as his 4.5 tackles for a loss and one sack indicate. Against the Huskies' balanced and talented backfield duo, Irabor's ability to wreak havoc in the box on defense could be huge for Arizona State.
3. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
The USC quarterback might be finally rounding into form after setting a career high in passing yards each of the last two games. He threw for 297 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the big Thursday night win over Arizona but completed only 50 percent of his passes. On the road against a developing Irish defense, Kessler needs to be efficient and distribute the ball to his deep supporting cast.
4. Arizona's linebackers
This is a critical game for Rich Rodriguez and he has to be concerned with the trend in his defensive statistics. His team defense has allowed more yards every week than the week before for five straight games, culminating in 546 yards allowed to USC. Veterans Marquis Flowers and Jake Fischer as well as freshman Scooby Wright will be under pressure to contain Utah star dual-threat Travis Wilson and his 6-foot-6, 245-pound frame.
5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
He may deserve mention every week for the rest of the year as long as his assault on the Pac-12 record books continues. Cal has been downright atrocious on defense this year and the Beavers quarterback is lapping the field nationally in terms of passing production, while also leading the nation in yards and touchdowns by wide margins. There is a chance, after throwing for 493 yards last week, that he could threaten Andrew Walter's Pac-12 single-game passing record of 536 yards from 2002 this weekend.
Pac-12 Week 8 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|UCLA (+4.5) at Stanford||Stanford, 24-20||UCLA, 28-24||Stanford, 31-27||UCLA, 28-27|
|Washington (+3) at Arizona St||Ariz. St, 38-35||Wash., 31-30||Ariz. St, 38-34||Ariz. St, 28-24|
|USC (+3) at Notre Dame||N. Dame, 24-21||USC, 20-17||N. Dame, 27-24||N. Dame, 27-21|
|Utah (+5) at Arizona||Arizona, 30-27||Arizona, 30-20||Arizona, 30-27||Utah, 31-14|
|Oregon St (-10.5) at Cal||Ore. St, 49-28||Ore. St, 41-14||Ore. St, 51-24||Ore. St, 49-28|
|Washington St (+38) at Oregon||Oregon, 51-13||Oregon, 51-14||Oregon, 58-20||Oregon, 56-10|
|Charleston So. at Colorado||Colo., 38-31||Colo., 34-10||Colo., 45-17||Colo., 31-27|