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Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
Two unbeatens still remain out West and one will face a major road test this weekend. But a former Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate will return to help the Beavers attempt to stay unblemished against Washington. The Ducks-Buffaloes showdown, however, shouldn't be nearly as competitive.
Down in the South Division, both Los Angeles teams head into the desert where weird things tend to happen late in the season. Both USC and UCLA have major road tests this weekend. There is much to be determined before next weekend's Oregon-USC showdown.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 9:
1. The return of Sean Mannion in Seattle
It is amazing what an undefeated record can do for a busted up meniscus. Oregon State’s starting quarterback underwent knee surgery to repair his left meniscus less than three weeks ago and is now slated to start on the road against Washington. He was supposed to be miss nearly a month but will miss only two games. Cody Vaz was more than capable in his stead (506 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT), but Mannion was on track for Pac-12 Player of the Year honors before getting banged-up. And he will be needed this weekend in Seattle. The Huskies are allowing only 160.8 yards passing per game and three total touchdown passes at home in four games — which included games against San Diego State, Stanford and Matt Barkley.
2. Will the Washington offense ever wake up?
Steve Sarkisian’s offense averaged 409.8 yards and 33.4 points per game in 2011. Quarterback Keith Price was one of the best in the nation by accounting for 36 total touchdowns. One year later, this offense is 103rd in the nation in both scoring (20.7 ppg) and total offense (326.4 ypg). Certainly, U of W is one game away from wrapping up arguably the toughest five-game stretch in the nation (Stanford, at Oregon, USC, at Arizona, Oregon St). But other than 52 points against Portland State, the Huskies have scored 11 offensive touchdowns in six games against FBS opponents. Washington scored 55 offensive touchdowns last season. Good luck against the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense.
3. What will Monte Kiffin do to stop Matt Scott?
USC allowed 23.6 points per game, including 41 to Arizona, and 374.8 yards per game on defense last year, ranking them 45th and 54th nationally respectively. To date, Kiffin’s defense is allowing only 16.7 points per game and 334.3 yards per game behind improved defensive line play (thanks to Morgan Breslin) and a young linebacking corps that continues to develop. And his defense may be peaking at just the right time as Arizona and Oregon are USC’s next two opponents. The Trojans have allowed two total touchdowns and have intercepted five passes in the last two games. Against Matt Scott, the league’s top offensive force at over 400 yards of offense per game, Kiffin’s bunch will have to play disciplined football to win. USC better not be looking ahead to Oregon because strange things happen in the desert this time of year.
4. Arizona must limit USC's big plays in the passing game
Matt Barkley threw for a career-high 468 yards and four touchdowns in the 48-41 win over Arizona last fall. Last week, the senior signal caller chucked six touchdowns and 298 yards with one incompletion. Arizona’s ability to limit Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Barkley in the passing game will largely determine if the Wildcats can hang around in this one. Its close losses this season (Stanford, Oregon St) have come because the secondary and pass rush couldn’t contain opposing quarterbacks. My unwanted advice? Let Silas Redd and the backfield do whatever they want but make sure you have coverage over the top on Woods and Lee.
5. How does the league's No. 1-rated defense bounce back?
Arizona State is still the league’s No. 1-rated total defense, despite allowing 406 yards rushing and 43 points to Oregon last week. So how does Will Sutton (who apparently is Superman after a knee injury last Thursday) and Brandon Magee bounce back in what could be the biggest game of the year? (Especially considering UCLA should be well rested after the bye week and won this game last fall.) They bring to Tempe one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the nation as one of only two teams in the Pac-12 to average more than 200 yards rushing and passing. Stopping the UCLA backfield, which functions similarly to that of Oregon’s, will be another tall order for Todd Graham’s bunch.
6. A must-win situation for Jeff Tedford
Utah has lost four straight games and has struggled to score points of late. Jeff Tedford has his back up against the wall in Berkeley and likely has to win three of his last four to keep his job and get to bowl eligibility. The Golden Bears thrashed the Utes last fall 34-10 and the offensive talent is far too rich on this roster for them to lose this weekend — far too rich to total three yards rushing and 217 total yards like it did last weekend in the loss to Stanford. If Cal returns home at 3-6, Tedford is staring at a potential nine-loss season. Returning home at 4-5 give his team a shot at the postseason.
7. Will Colorado cover the spread in Eugene?
Colorado was a 41-point underdog last week against USC on the road and it didn’t cover the spread in a 50-6 loss. As the Buffaloes continue to take their medicine, Colorado enters this weekend as a 46-point underdog to Oregon. How many points are enough to start placing bets on Jon Embree’s squad? The bottom line in Boulder, if fans cannot even expect their team to cover six- and seven-touchdown spreads, is don’t they have a right to scream for a change?
8. Travis Long vs. Stepfan Taylor
There may not be much to watch in the Washington State-Stanford showdown in Palo Alto. The Cardinal front seven will terrorize the Cougars' offensive line and this game could get ugly quickly as Wazzu will find the sledding extremely tough. However, there could be one great individual match-up to watch: Cougars linebacker-defensive end Travis Long and Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor. Long has been a lone bright spot for Wazzu, ranking third in the league in sacks, while Taylor is coming off of his third straight game with at least 28 carries. Keep an eye how many times No. 89 in gray and No. 33 in red get together.
Week 9 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 9 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|UCLA (+6.5) at Arizona St||Arizona St, 31-30||UCLA, 27-24||UCLA, 34-31||UCLA, 21-14|
|Colorado (+46) at Oregon||Oregon, 50-10||Oregon, 58-6||Oregon, 62-7||Oregon, 72-7|
|USC (-6.5) at Arizona||USC, 42-35||USC, 28-24||USC, 34-27||Arizona, 35-28|
|Washington St (+25) at Stanford||Stanford, 35-17||Stanford, 44-10||Stanford, 40-14||Stanford, 42-17|
|Cal (+1) at Utah||Cal, 24-21||Cal, 28-17||Cal, 24-20||Utah, 17-13|
|Oregon St (-4.5) at Washington||Oregon St, 27-17||Oregon St, 37-21||Oregon St, 27-24||Oregon St, 28-21|
by Braden Gall
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