Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
A huge injury to a player of the year candidate. A marquee top 25 showdown in a historic college town. A Thursday night primetime affair. And the former No. 1 team in the nation going on the road. The weekend of action out West has a little something for everybody, there is no doubt, so let's hope it lives up to the hype. On to Week 7...
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 7:
1. Which quarterback makes the fewest mistakes in South Bend?
Josh Nunes played the best game of his career last week in the win over Arizona but had three horrible games prior to that. Everett Golson has loads of upside and raw talent but still makes freshman mistakes — on and off the field. And now each will have to face one of the great defensive front sevens in the nation. Notre Dame has allowed 12 total points in its last three games, while Stanford is fourth in the nation in tackles for loss and averages almost three sacks per game. There will be plenty of NFL talent on the field for both defenses, so best of luck to both inexperienced signal callers in this one.
2. Therefore, the ground game will be key for both
Both Stanford and Notre Dame have big, powerful offensive lines and the aforementioned quarterback issues. Therefore, Stepfan Taylor will have to be the key cog for the Cardinal against Heisman contender Manti Te'o and that nasty Irish frontline. Cierre Wood had his best game of the season last weekend against Miami (118 yards, 2 TD) as the ND rushing attack continues to be the focal point of Brian Kelly's offense. The magic number on rushing yards should be around that 100-yard mark. If either team can crack the century mark on the ground, they will have a great chance at winning the game. Notre Dame has allowed two teams to top the 100-yard mark, but Navy runs the triple option and Denard Robinson contributes to the ground game in a unique way. Stanford allowed 124 yards rushing total in its first three games, before both Washington and Arizona topped that mark with 136 and 126 respectively. First team to 100 yards on the ground wins?
3. Can Oregon State win without Sean Mannion?
The bad news? Mannion is going to be out for a few weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The good news? Mannion's prognosis is generally 2-4 weeks and the Beavers, at 3-0 in league play already, can survive without him for the time being. This weekend's game will be a test, but a win or loss against BYU has no impact on the greater goal of a Pac-12 championship. Utah, who visits Corvallis next weekend, hasn't yet shown it is capable of going on the road and scoring against the mighty Beavers defense. The road trip to Washington will be tricky, but ideally, backup Cody Vaz will be settled in by the time that game rolls around. A road trip to face the Cougars is a great (or brutal) way to break in the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who hasn't thrown a pass in a game since Dec. 4, 2010.
4. The Huskies defense has to get off the mat one more time
After a tremendous performance on national TV in a win over Stanford, the Huskies defense came plummeting back to earth last weekend. Certainly, the Ducks make most defenses look silly, but Washington cannot hope to upset USC this weekend if it allows another 500 yards of offense and 52 more points this Saturday. Matt Barkley's offense scored 40 points and rushed for 252 yards in the blowout home win over the Huskies last season. If Justin Wilcox and company expect to keep this game close, his front seven must stop the developing USC rushing attack while his talented secondary locks down arguably the top pass-catching tandem in the nation. If not, the Barkley Heisman train will continue to roll along.
5. Brett Hundley can't turn the ball over this week
After a rock-star beginning to his UCLA career, redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley experienced what big-time college football can feel like last weekend. He threw four interceptions, fumbled twice (losing one) and got sacked six times in the ugly blowout loss to Cal. He entered the game averaging 327 yards of total offense per game with 15 total touchdowns before the Golden Bears silenced the Bruins quarterback. Hundley returns home to face a Utah team that has struggled all season. This was a demoralizing 31-6 beatdown in Salt Lake City by the Utes last year and UCLA will be aiming for revenge this time around. Much like last weekend, if Jim Mora's team wants to be taken seriously on the national stage, it has to win these types of games. And it starts with the star signal caller protecting the football against a normally savvy defensive front.
6. Letdown Alert: Cal heads to Washington State
Jeff Tedford posted one of the more surprising box scores last weekend — at just the right time. The embattled coach kept the critics at bay for one more week with the impressive defensive showing against UCLA. But there is no rest for this weary head coach as his team needs to be on full "Letdown Alert" this weekend against Washington State. Mike Leach's tenure has been anything but successful thus far, but one has to believe he will pull an upset somewhere along the way. A touchdown underdog at home against a 2-4 conference opponent who is riding high after an big win the week before feels like the perfect storm for just that.
7. Athlon Sports challenges the Colorado Buffaloes to...
NOT make this Thursday's meeting with Arizona State the worst Thursday night college football game of the season. The Sun Devils are heavily favored and are crushing people on offense while Colorado has been worthless other than one night in Pullman. Please make this one at least watchable Buffs!
Week 7 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 7 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Arizona St (-23) at Colorado||Arizona St, 31-20||Arizona St, 34-10||Arizona St, 45-17||Arizona St, 45-17|
|Utah (+8) at UCLA||UCLA, 27-20||UCLA, 30-17||UCLA, 31-20||Utah, 21-14|
|Oregon St (+2.5) at BYU||Ore. St, 17-14||Oregon St, 24-14||BYU, 20-17||BYU, 17-7|
|Stanford (+8) at Notre Dame||Notre Dame, 20-7||Notre Dame, 24-13||Notre Dame, 27-27||Notre Dame, 28-10|
|USC (-11.5) at Washington||USC, 34-21||USC, 30-23||USC, 34-24||USC, 35-17|
|Cal (-7) at Washington St||Cal, 31-24||Cal, 37-13||Cal, 31-27||Wazzu, 21-14|
Bye: Arizona, Oregon
by Braden Gall
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