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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
This could be one of the truly great season finales in Pac-12 history. And this comes from a league that consistently plays its best rivalries on the final weekend of the year. The Civil War. The Apple Cup. The Duel in the Desert. Notre Dame and USC. And, oh by the way, Stanford visits UCLA with a trip to the Pac-12 championship game on the line.
Additionally, it's worth nothing that Colorado will play Utah.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 13:
1. Will USC upset the national landscape?
Max Wittek has already gone on radio in Los Angeles and all but guaranteed victory. That's a pretty bold statement for someone making their first career start against the first No. 1-rated Notre Dame Fighting Irish team in the history of the BCS. The funny thing is? The Trojans have the weapons on the edge and in the vertical passing game to attack an area of vulnerability. If the 6-foot-4, 235-pound four-star prep All-American can simply get the football out of his hands quickly, USC has a chance to keep it close. Considering how No. 1 teams have fared in big games thus far in 2012, a win would allow Oregon, Florida State, Georgia, Florida or even Kansas State back into the National Championship mix. If the USC offensive line fails to hold up and Wittek cannot get rid of the football, then Notre Dame will play for its first BCS title. Either way, history will likely be made in The Coliseum.
2. This is the most important Civil War showdown since...
Ever? These two teams enter the regular season finale both ranked in the top 15 of the BCS and have a combined three losses (two of which came against Stanford, I might add). Oregon has to win to keep its Pac-12 and national title chances alive. Oregon State still has its sights set on a 10- or 11-win season. The Beavers have played great defense this fall and are coming off a dominating performance against Cal. Sean Mannion finally looked 100-percent healthy, and the ground game was effective. But it will be the Beavers defense that will have to play well at home if it expects to get a win in the Civil War for the first time in five years.
3. The rushing defense will be on display in Corvallis
The Beavers used to own the Civil War at home, winning five straight from 1998-2006. Oregon, obviously, has since dominated the rivalry no matter where the game has been played. This is due in large part to Chip Kelly's vaunted rushing attack. After topping the 400-yard mark rushing in three straight games, the Ducks have failed to reach the 200-yard plateau in each of the last two games leading into this weekend. It didn't matter against Cal, but against Stanford, and more importantly Oregon State, it most certainly will. The Beavers have faced elite runners all season and won't be phased by Kenjon Barner. Montee Ball (61 yards), Johnathan Franklin (45), Ka'Deem Carey (115), John White (68), Bishop Sankey (92) and Stepfan Taylor (114) have all been held in (relative) check for Mike Riley's 14th-rated rushing defense. Fans on both sides are expecting this one to live up to the hype.
4. Should UCLA intentionally lose?
The Bruins essentially get to pick who they want to play in the Pac-12 championship. UCLA clinched the South with its win over USC last weekend and now plays a meaningless game — as it pertains to the standings in the South — against the Cardinal. So Jim Mora has to ask his coaching staff: Do we want to face Stanford for the second time in six days or try to stop Oregon? While David Shaw's bunch defeated Oregon last weekend, the conventional wisdom would lean away from having to face Oregon. But can a coach actually ask their players to lay down against a top 10 team at home? Hardly. Momentum is fleeting in college football and there is no way Mora can NOT try to win this game. Even if it means the Ducks hang 50 on them in the title game.
5. The not-so-much Duel in the Desert
Arizona has won four out of five games, has its star quarterback back under center healthy, the nation's leading rusher behind him in the backfield and is playing at home. Arizona State, prior to last week's win over lowly Washington State, had lost four straight games with little-to-no defense to speak of. Ka'Deem Carey might be the nation's most underrated player and has been on an absolute tear of late, rushing for 570 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games — yes, that is 285 yards and 3 TD per game. There is nothing on paper that indicates the Sun Devils will be able to slow an offense that averages over 520 yards and 37 points per game. It's a good thing for Todd Graham that games aren't played on paper, so should ASU pull the upset, it will be because of coaching.
6. Statement time for the Washington Huskies
Mike Leach isn't this bad of a coach. His team won't always be this bad. But if Steve Sarkisian wants to continue feeding his budding Pacific Northwestern powerhouse, he needs to keep his foot on his arch-rival's neck. Coach Sark completely renovated his defense, has re-established the running game in a big way and has his team poised for a shot at nine wins. But a loss to a team with locker room turmoil and nine losses would be absolutely devastating to the overall growth of his program. The weather could be bad and strange things happen in rivalry games on the road, so Washington must take nothing for granted and dominate Leach's first Apple Cup.
7. There is one reason to watch the Utes and Buffs
And his name is Travis Wilson. The young freshman quarterback played poorly against Washington on the road two weeks ago — a place where most have struggled, admittedly. However, he rebounded last weekend against Arizona with the best performance of his young career. The touted passer set career highs in completions (28), attempts (40), yards (311) and touchdowns (2) despite the loss to the Wildcats. If he is the future of the Utah's quarterback position, then No. 7 in red will be unstoppable against the dreadful Colorado Buffaloes.
Week 13 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 13 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Utah at Colorado||Utah, 35-7||Utah, 41-7||Utah, 34-10||Utah, 35-10|
|Washington at Washington St||Washington, 31-10||Washington, 37-10||Washington, 34-17||Washington, 38-14|
|Arizona St at Arizona||Arizona, 41-28||Arizona, 41-27||Arizona, 38-34||Arizona, 38-31|
|Oregon at Oregon St||Oregon, 31-24||Oregon, 44-37||Oregon, 34-31||Oregon, 35-17|
|Stanford at UCLA||UCLA, 23-20||UCLA, 28-20||UCLA, 27-24||Stanford, 24-20|
|Notre Dame at USC||Notre Dame, 30-17||Notre Dame, 24-17||Notre Dame, 31-13||Notre Dame, 28-14|
Bye Week: Cal
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