Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
This is what we have all been waiting for. Oregon at Stanford has been targeted all year as arguably the most important game of the season regardless of conference and now it is upon us with all the fanfare and excitement of two top-five teams. And it’s on primetime TV on a Thursday night. Buckle up, folks.
Certainly, Ducks-Cardinal will be electric, but that isn’t the only game to keep an eye on out West this weekend. Both UCLA and Arizona State have tough road tests while Arizona and USC are looking to toss their hats into the Pac-12 South title ring.
Week 11 might be the most important weekend of action in the Pac-12 all season. Oregon State and Washington State are off this weekend.
Pac-12 Week 11 Game Power Rankings
1. Oregon (-10.5) at Stanford (Thurs., 9 p.m. ET, ESPN)
This is the rematch the nation has been waiting for all season long and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota likely feels the same way. Mariota is 20-1 as a starter and hasn’t thrown an interception since the loss to Stanford last season. In fact, he has only gotten better with time, scoring 29 total touchdowns without an interception this season — and he’s leading the Heisman Trophy voting because of it. But he isn’t the only weapon the surging Cardinal defense — one that has 12 sacks in the last two games — will have to contend with on Thursday. De’Anthony Thomas appears to be healthy and Byron Marshall has been electric as the primary ball-carrier (8 TD in last three games). On the flip side, the Ducks defense is once again nationally underrated. It ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense (16.9 ppg) and sixth in takeaways (23) — both of which lead the Pac-12. Each team will run the football but will do so in a totally different fashion so it falls to Mariota and Kevin Hogan, who completed 70 percent of his passes in the road upset win last year, to make big plays down the field. This contest features the last four Pac-12 champs and will likely determine the winner again this season — and possibly much more. Oregon has won four of the last five in Palo Alto.
2. UCLA (-1.5) at Arizona (10 p.m., ESPN)
Once Saturday rolls around, the focus will shift from the North Division to the state of Arizona. The Wildcats and Bruins enter this game with identical records and identical expectations, making this a Pac-12 title elimination game. Rich Rodriguez’ team is surging after three straight wins on the legs of its elite backfield duo. B.J. Denker has posted 762 yards of total offense and five scores from under center in the last two games while Ka’Deem Carey is leading the nation in rushing (153.1 ypg) after 11 straight 100-yard games. Brett Hundley got his Bruins back on track against Colorado after two physical losses to the Ducks and Cardinal. He scored four times and racked up 345 yards of total offense last week. This was a 66-10 UCLA rout in L.A. last season but these two are much more evenly matched in Tucson this weekend.
3. Arizona State (-7) at Utah (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The Utes play well at home and are in desperate need of another Pac-12 victory. But Arizona State is playing at another level on offense in the conference since losing to Stanford in Week 4. The Sun Devils have scored at least 53 points in four straight Pac-12 games and quarterback Taylor Kelly is playing the best football of his career after scoring seven times last week in Pullman. If Todd Graham's team wants to be considered the Pac-12 front-runner, this needs to be a workman-like, thorough victory for ASU. Especially, against a team that hasn’t beaten Sparky since 1976 (nine games).
4. USC (-16.5) at Cal (3 p.m., FOX)
Shockingly, the depleted Trojans are still very much in the Pac-12 South race after an unexpected road win over Oregon State and games with UCLA and Arizona looming. It means that Ed Orgeron’s squad can’t afford to slip up against teams like Cal. The Bears and their 124th-ranked defense (529.8 ypg) are reeling after losing their seventh straight game last week. Despite the injuries and offensive struggles, this should be an easy win for the Men of Troy. So, naturally, expect Sonny Dykes' team to play its best game of the year.
5. Colorado (+28) at Washington (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
After three straight losses, the Huskies bounced back with an easy 41-17 win over Cal at home. Keith Price (271.1 ypg passing) and Bishop Sankey (145.3 ypg rushing) were off last weekend and should have no issue rolling through the porous Buffaloes defense at home. Steve Sarkisian needs to put Colorado away early and get his team prepared for back-to-back road trips to UCLA and Oregon State. Staying healthy this Saturday is critical for a team that needs to win three of its last four to improve on three straight seasons of 7-6 football.
Pac-12 Week 11 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox preview the showdown between Oregon and Stanford as well as a solid undercard in the Pac-12 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
There is no doubt the best player in the nation will be on full display against Stanford. Mariota’s Heisman and BCS national title hopes hang in the balance as he seeks revenge for the only loss in his career. His offense was held to regular-season lows in yards (405) and points (14) in last season's home loss to Stanford while he was held to a career-low one total touchdown. He must be better than 21-of-37 passing (207 yards, TD, INT) to win on The Farm. The Ducks will go as far as Mariota carries them.
2. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Charged with stopping the Ducks' complex and diverse offense is the leader of the Cardinal defense. The team’s leading tackler (7.8 per game) posted 10 tackles and 1.0 TFL in the upset win in Eugene last year but means so much more to this team than just stats. His recognition skills will be tested the most by the zone-read-pass-run option Mariota brings to the table. One bad read and Oregon will make you pay in a big way. The pressure is on the Cardinal linebackers and Skov in particular this week.
3. Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford
Offensively, David Shaw wants to run the football and keep Oregon’s offense off the field. Everyone including Mark Helfrich knows this. Fans can bet that Nick Aliotti will scheme to stop Tyler Gaffney and the Cardinal O-line, forcing Kevin Hogan to make plays down the field. It falls to star wideout and big-play specialist Montgomery to stretch the defense. He has posted at least one catch of 30 yards or more in six of eight games and has two kickoff return touchdowns of at least 99 yards.
4. Ricky Havili-Heimuli and Wade Keliikipi, DT, Oregon
Tony Washington is having an excellent season rushing the passer off the edge, but it’s the heart of the Oregon defensive line that will be under fire this week. Stanford likes to line up with multiple tight ends and multiple fullbacks and run between the tackles, putting pressure on the heart of the defense. This means the 315-pound Havili-Heimuli, who is filling in for the injured Arik Armstead, and the 300-pound Keliikipi will need to play big up front. The duo played excellent football against UCLA, combining for 10.0 tackles in the win two weeks ago.
5. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
If Mariota and the rest of his electric backfield mates can make it past Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, it falls to Reynolds to act as the last line of defense for Stanford. The All-American safety knows that being one foot out of place against Oregon can mean six points for the Ducks on any play, so his ability to fill against the run while piloting the secondary against an underrated passer like Mariota will be critical. He had six tackles against the Ducks last year.
Pac-12 Week 11 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Oregon (-10.5) at Stanford||Oregon, 27-21||Oregon, 34-21||Oregon, 27-24||Oregon, 35-28|
|UCLA (-1.5) at Arizona||UCLA, 38-34||UCLA, 34-20||UCLA, 34-30||Arizona, 28-24|
|Arizona St (-7) at Utah||Arizona St, 45-21||Arizona St, 28-10||Arizona St, 45-24||Arizona St, 38-28|
|USC (-16.5) at Cal||USC, 24-13||USC, 38-10||USC, 38-17||USC, 31-13|
|Colorado (+28) at Washington||Wash., 52-17||Wash., 41-7||Wash., 48-20||Wash., 42-21|