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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
The desert will be a busy place this weekend out West as both Arizona and Arizona State host huge showdowns. The Wildcats welcome Washington to Tucson in what should be a tremendous Xs and Os contest, while fans all over the nation will finally learn if Todd Graham's Sun Devils are a legit contender in the Pac-12 on national TV against Oregon on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, USC should roll, Oregon State has to hold serve and The Big Game takes over the Bay Area.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 8:
1. Will Arizona State get exposed or make a statement on national televsion?
The schedule for both the unbeaten Oregon Ducks and surprise Arizona State Sun Devils gets nasty in the second half. Oregon plays four tough road games, starting with a nationally televised visit to Tempe on Thursday night. The Sun Devils, led by Taylor Kelly, the league's top rated passer, is looking to make a major statement to the nation. Yet, ASU's record is inflated after facing backup quarterbacks (Mizzou, Illinois, Utah) and three of the four easiest conference opponents in the league. This game should feature a boatload of elite skill players on both sides, but it will come down to Todd Graham's No. 1-rated Pac-12 defense staying strong for all four quarters. Otherwise, the Ducks will roll right through town en route to another dominating league win.
2. Justin Wilcox vs. Rich Rodriguez
The most intriguing game this weekend out West will likely take place in Tucson when Washington visits Arizona. Rich Rodriguez has his offense, led by Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey, clicking on all cylinders. It leads the league in total offense at over 550 yards per game and in passing offense at nearly 370 yards per game. Meanwhile, Justin Wilcox has completely reinvented the Huskies defense. Washington is 12th in the nation in passing defense and just held Matt Barkley to 167 yards and 24 total points. Look for these two Xs and Os gurus to get creative in the desert Saturday night.
3. Keith Price vs. Jake Fischer
On the other side of things, Washington quarterback Keith Price has been a shell of his former self. He was lighting up defenses and throwing touchdowns in droves last fall and simply hasn't gotten going this fall. Certainly, his offensive line has been crushed by injuries and that has led to many of the issues in Seattle on offense. But Arizona hasn't been much better on defense. Jake Fischer's squad is 11th in the Pac-12 in total defense and scoring defense, but has allowed 49, 38 and 54 points during its 0-3 conference start. In the battle of ineptitude, someone has to make a play, right?
4. Matt Barkley's Heisman train gets back on track in a big way
Barkley has a chance to quiet many of his Heisman detractors with a huge game this weekend against lowly Colorado. His numbers haven't been great — 187 yards against Syracuse, 192 against Cal and 167 against Washington — but he still leads the league in touchdown passes and has his team poised to face Oregon for the Pac-12 title. Defenses have been backloading their secondaries to contain the talented big-play wide receivers, so Barkley has turned to the ground game and Silas Redd (who has been excellent). Look for all aspects of the offense to roll this weekend and for Barkley to return to many Heisman ballots.
5. The Big Game features two bruised football teams
Jeff Tedford and Cal were reeling a couple of weeks ago but has since won two straight league games to reach 3-4. This team is in must-win mode every week from here on out and needs a quality showing against crosstown rival Stanford. Cal has allowed 79 points in two straight losses to the Cardinal. Meanwhile, Stanford likely spent a lot of time in the training room after that physical battle in South Bend. Stanford is the better team, but has to regroup after the tough, nail-biting loss to the Irish. There is plenty on the line in this edition of The Big Game.
6. Can Oregon State continue to win without Sean Mannion?
One of the most impressive showings nationally last week was the Beavers' road win over BYU. Backup quarterback Cody Vaz picked-up where Sean Mannion left off, throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns while leading Oregon State to 42 points and an unbeaten 5-0 record. While a win over the Cougars is nice, it doesn't help Mike Riley's bunch in the Pac-12 standings. This weekend will be the first league game without Mannion and Riley needs another quality showing from Vaz to stay in the Pac-12 North race. Against Utah, that shouldn't be an issue.
Week 8 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 8 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Oregon (-8) at Arizona St||Oregon, 41-24||Oregon, 42-28||Oregon, 45-30||Oregon, 42-27|
|Stanford (-2) at Cal||Stanford, 27-20||Stanford, 24-21||Stanford, 27-24||Stanford, 35-31|
|Colorado (-40.5) at USC||USC, 42-14||USC, 47-13||USC, 48-10||USC, 56-7|
|Washington (+7.5) at Arizona||Arizona, 30-27||Arizona, 27-21||Washington, 34-31||Arizona, 35-21|
|Utah (+10.5) at Oregon St||Oregon St, 27-13||Oregon St, 30-13||Oregon St, 34-20||Oregon St, 27-10|
Bye: Washington State, UCLA
by Braden Gall
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