Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Pac-12 is a really good football league. And while Arizona State and Cal barely missed huge upset wins on the road in the SEC and Big Ten respectively, the league is still nipping at the heels of the SEC for national supremacy.
But things are about to get real out West. Conference play is only one game old and it was an instant classic (unless you live in L.A.) and the rest of the Pac-12 opens up conference play across the board this weekend. It is a small slate of action as two teams are off this week (Washington, Stanford), but teams like Oregon State, Utah and Arizona will be thrown into the league fire this weekend.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 4:
1. Is Arizona ready for big time college football?
The Wildcats are 3-0 and have been humming on offense under the leadership of Matt Scott and Rich Rodriguez. Even the defense has played improved football the last two weeks, slowing Oklahoma State enough to win and shutting out an FCS opponent last week. But this trip to Eugene is a totally different monster. Arizona hasn't come close to proving that it belongs with the league's elite, despite two quality wins over Toledo and the Pokes, and this weekend is a great chance to do that, even if it's simply a moral victory. It's difficult to see a scenario where Arizona walks in Autzen Stadium and hands the Ducks only their second home conference loss since 2007.
2. Utah's quarterback play will be the difference this weekend
The Utes will face their third straight tough game and they better get used to it as the schedule doesn't appear to get any easier. Arizona State is markedly improved under Todd Graham, but home wins over Illinois and Northern Arizona leave much to be desired. Utah played extremely well last weekend against BYU and will have to get another huge performance from Star Lotulelei if it expects to stop the deep and versatile ASU backfield. That said, a key road win in the Pac-12 South race will likely fall to the Utah quarterback. Travis Wilson should get some reps under center as a change of pace, but Jon Hays played efficient against the Cougars and it led to an upset win. He tossed two scores and no interceptions and will have to continue his quality play to beat the Sun Devils. Of course, a better performance on the ground would help to — Utah rushed for 49 yards on 35 carries against BYU.
3. Beavers weird schedule heads to SoCal
Oregon State got its first game suspended in Week 1. Then the Beavers defeated No. 12 Wisconsin at home in what many believe to be the biggest non-conference home-win in program history (well, as long as UW doesn't implode). And then Mike Riley's squad road the pine again during a bye week last Saturday. So while UCLA will be playing its fourth game this weekend, the Beavers will only be playing their second game. Will the lack of field time negatively impact Riley's chances of going into Los Angeles and pulling off the upset? Only time will tell. This OSU defense could be the best UCLA has faced all season — it held Wisconsin to 207 total yards — and Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley has to have a rough game at some point. The bottom line in this game? If Oregon State can control the nation's leading rusher Johnathan Franklin like it did to Montee Ball, and force Hundley to beat them (and star covercorner Jordan Poyer), then this game will be much closer than Vegas believes. If not, it could be a long night for the Beavs.
4. Former Fresno State quarterbacks battle in The Coliseum
Cal is a tough-luck 1-2, but a losing record is a losing record — especially, for a embattled coach. USC is coming off the biggest loss of the year nationally through three weeks of play. Thus, the stakes could not be higher for either team or coach — two guys who both played quarterback at Fresno State. Jeff Tedford was under center for the Bulldogs from 1981-1982 and eventually took his first coaching job in 1992 at Fresno. Lane Kiffin was a quarterback at FSU from 1994-1996 and took his first job at his alma mater immediately following graduation. The Bears have expended a lot of energy in the first three weeks of the year and one can bet USC will be out for blood.
5. How do you handicap the Offensive Player of the Year race?
De'Anthony Thomas, Stepfan Taylor or Johnathan Franklin? How about Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Matt Scott or Matt Barkley? Robert Woods, Keenan Allen, Marquess Wilson or Marqise Lee? Oh, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be the best tight end in the nation. It is virtually impossible to peg who will be the top finalists for the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year by the end of the season. It's a testament to the level of athlete out west and indicator of the depth of the league this fall. Kick back and enjoy the show folks.
6. What would a 3-1 start mean for Washington State?
Mike Leach's team looked horrible on opening night against BYU, but has bounced back with two "solid" wins. But after starting 3-1 a year ago only to finish 1-7, a home game against the worst AQ team in the country is a must-win. This program hasn't had a winning program since 2003, hasn't even been .500 since 2006 and won a total five games in previous regime's first three seasons. The schedule gets much tougher, but if this team can win against Colorado and pull a couple of upsets along the way (Cal, UCLA, Washington at home, let's say), a five-win season is within reach. Leach is the reason fans in Pullman are excited about football again, and rightly so, he will win games. But if it to be a quick turn around, there is no space for error this weekend.
7. Eugene's race to 100
This week's highest total is Arizona-Oregon at 77.5 — give or take a half of a point. These are the top two scoring offenses in the Pac-12 and sit at No. 5 (Oregon) and No. 12 (Arizona) nationally. Through three games, they have combined to score 301 points — or more than 100 points per game (100.3 ppg). Temple-Penn State, in stark contrast, is the week's lowest total at 43. This should be quite an explosive way to wrap-up the fourth Saturday of the season.
Week 4 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 4 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Oregon St (+9.5) at UCLA||UCLA, 27-20||UCLA, 34-21||UCLA, 38-23||UCLA, 28-21|
|Colorado (+19) at Washington St||Wazzu, 34-14||Wazzu, 41-10||Wazzu, 55-20||Wazzu, 35-10|
|Cal (+15.5) at USC||USC, 31-17||USC, 30-20||USC, 38-20||USC, 38-14|
|Utah (+7) at Arizona St||Utah, 24-21||Arizona St, 24-17||Arizona St, 31-24||Arizona St, 31-21|
|Arizona (+23.5) at Oregon||Oregon, 49-31||Oregon, 48-23||Oregon, 56-30||Oregon, 56-38|
Bye: Stanford, Washington
by Braden Gall
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