Athlon Sports previews every contest, identifies the most pivotal players and picks every Pac-12 game.
USC is still very much in the Pac-12 South race after the upset of Stanford last weekend, but for all intents and purposes, Arizona State visiting UCLA will determine the division champion this weekend. But the Rose Bowl isn’t the only point of interest out West as Washington State tries to get bowl eligible, the North's bowl pecking order will be sorted out in Corvallis and both Oregon and USC try to avoid critical upsets.
Pac-12 Week 13 Game Power Rankings
1. Arizona State (-2) at UCLA (7 p.m. ET, FOX)
The Pac-12 South Championship and a date with (likely) Oregon hangs in the balance in the Rose Bowl Saturday night. And it has all the makings of an instant classic: two great quarterbacks, a history of close games, two quality coaches and defensive star power. The last two meetings have been decided by a total of three points and the loser has averaged 35.0 points per game over the last three. Taylor Kelly (315 yards, 4 TD) and Brett Hundley (274 yards, 4 TD) were fantastic in this meeting last season in the Bruins' 45-43 win in Tempe. Arizona State has the significant edge on the defensive side of the ball as it leads the Pac-12 in total defense (338.4 ypg) and has allowed just 58.4 yards rushing during the five-game winning streak. Contrast that to UCLA, which has given up 442.4 yards per game over its last five. The X-factor will be two-way star freshman Myles Jack and his ability to pick up tough yards on the ground as a running back.
2. Oregon (-20.5) at Arizona (3:30 p.m., ABC)
The last time Oregon lost to Arizona was in November 2007 when it brought a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback with a bum knee to the desert. The Ducks left Tuscon on the losing end of a 34-24 game and Oregon fans are praying an ugly re-injury like they saw with Dennis Dixon six years ago doesn’t happen again to their star signal-caller. Otherwise, the Ducks have rolled up big numbers in this series since that last loss to the Wildcats, scoring 50.4 points per game during the five-game winning streak. Marcus Mariota didn’t run much last week but proved he can win with his right arm, throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns against Utah. The only chance Arizona has at another upset is to lean heavily on Ka’Deem Carey, who puts his 13-game, 100-yard rushing streak on the line. The Ducks held him to 79 yards on 21 carries in the 49-0 drubbing in Eugene last season.
3. Washington (+7) at Oregon State (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
In the preseason, the “other” debate in the Pac-12 North was which team was the third-best in the division. This game will decide it once and for all, as both teams enter with 6-4 records. Bowl pecking order and pride is all that is on the line for these two programs and that should be enough for a great showing. Oregon State has lost three straight games and Sean Mannion hasn’t taken care of the football — seven interceptions in the last two games. Meanwhile, Keith Price’s status is uncertain after missing most of the UCLA game last Friday due to an injured throwing shoulder. If Price can’t go, expect highly touted redshirt freshman Cyler Miles to get the nod. Miles was solid in spot duty, throwing for two touchdowns and 149 yards against UCLA. The home team has won each of the last four meetings but the series has been dominated by the Beavers since 2003 with Oregon State winning seven of the last nine overall.
4. Utah (+1.5) at Washington State (3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
The second straight trip on the road against a North Division team for Utah has quickly become a critical game for both coaching staffs. Both programs have eyes on the postseason as Utah needs to win each of its remaining games to reach a bowl and Washington State is just one victory away from a postseason trip. The Utes have lost four straight games and six overall in the league but have been competitive in all but one (Oregon). Kyle Whittingham will be without quarterback Travis Wilson and sophomore Adam Schulz is listed atop the depth chart. All of Wazzu’s Pac-12 wins have come away from home and its only home wins have come over Southern Utah and Idaho this season. Utah has won two straight in Pullman and the Cougars' last win at home over the Utes came in 1984.
5. USC (-22.5) at Colorado (9:30 p.m., CBS Sports)
The letdown factor is certainly in full effect for the surging Trojans and cult hero head man Ed Orgeron. After topping Stanford at home in a physical heavyweight bout, USC must go into the Rockies and stay focused with the Pac-12 South title still within reach. Mike MacIntrye has the Buffs showing signs of life with freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau playing well. However, Colorado is going up against history as the Buffaloes have never beaten USC in seven tries. In fact, USC has outscored CU 190-47 all-time and has won the two conference meetings 92-23 since the Buffs joined the league.
6. Cal (+31.5) at Stanford (4 p.m., FS1)
It is a testament to the depth and quality of the Pac-12 that The Big Game is the least appealing contest in the league this weekend. It’s also an indictment of the current state of the Golden Bears' program. Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coaching mind but this rebuilding project is much worse than he anticipated. The Cardinal still have much to play for should Oregon slip up so don’t expect David Shaw’s bunch to take it easy on their cross-town rival.
Pac-12 Week 13 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox preview discuss Coach O's job status and preview ASU-UCLA on this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
Arguably the top defensive prospect in the nation, Barr has quickly become the second-most popular Bruins linebacker. Myles Jack is getting all of the headlines (rightly so) for his play on both sides of the ball, however, Barr will be charged with stopping Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Last season, the Sun Devils' trio combined for 164 yards rushing and were responsible for all five ASU touchdowns (Kelly had four TD passes) in the 45-43 loss to the Bruins. Barr posted five total tackles and a sack in the win. Grice and Foster combine for 238.7 all-purpose yards per game in 2013 and it falls to the talented Bruins backer to make big plays in both the running and passing game.
2. Arizona State’s linebackers
Just as UCLA’s backers will be key for the Bruins, so too will the Sun Devils' corps. Senior Chris Young leads ASU in tackles (7.1 pg) and has posted 23 stops in the last two games. Freshman Salamo Fiso is third on the team in tackles and is coming off a career-best eight-tackle performance against Oregon State. Stopping a versatile quarterback like Brett Hundley and a physical specimen like Myles Jack falls to Todd Graham’s linebackers.
3. Oregon’s running backs
The best way to keep Marcus Mariota healthy is to get the ball out of his hands quickly. This means De’Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall will need to shoulder the offensive load in Tucson. These two only carried a total of 15 times last weekend for 77 yards and will need to be a bigger part of the offense this weekend if Oregon wants to escape a tricky upset situation. Thomas Tyner, Ayele Forde and Lane Roseberry should also get carries as well to help take pressure off Mariota. Should this group be successful, the Ducks will maintain their position atop the Pac-12 North.
4. Connor Halliday, QB, Washington
Mike Leach and the Cougars are trying to get bowl eligible for the first time since 2006. Should Halliday play like he did last week against Arizona, Washington State will be celebrating on Saturday night. Halliday was the Offensive Player of the Week in the Pac-12 after throwing for 319 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the road upset of the Wildcats. He only threw nine passes last year in the 49-6 loss to the Utes in Salt Lake City, but it's a safe bet that number will increase dramatically this time around.
5. Washington’s quarterbacks
If Keith Price starts, he won’t be fully healthy after leaving last week’s game with a injured throwing shoulder. If he can't play, redshirt freshman Cyler Miles will make his first career start in a hostile environment against a team that leads the Pac-12 in interceptions with 17. Price and/or Miles will have to play efficient football to top Oregon State on the road. In two career bouts against the Beavers, Price is 1-1 with 270 yards passing, one TD and two INTs.
Pac-12 Week 13 Predictions:
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Arizona St (-2) at UCLA||UCLA, 38-31||UCLA, 34-30||Arizona St, 38-34||UCLA, 28-17|
|Oregon (-20.5) at Arizona||Oregon, 42-21||Oregon, 44-17||Oregon, 45-24||Oregon, 38-21|
|Washington (+7) at Oregon St||Wash., 34-31||Wash., 34-23||Ore. St, 34-31||Ore. St, 31-27|
|Utah (+1.5) at Washington St||Wazzu, 33-24||Wazzu, 27-24||Wazzu, 31-24||Wazzu, 35-21|
|USC (-22.5) at Colorado||USC, 31-17||USC, 38-6||USC, 34-13||USC, 38-14|
|Cal (+31.5) at Stanford||Stanford, 38-3||Stanford, 34-6||Stanford, 45-13||Stanford, 42-10|