The coaching, level of athlete, commitment from athletic departments and, frankly, Larry Scott, have turned the Pac-12 into must-see TV every weekend and Week 9 is no different.
In fact, the two most important games in college football will likely take place in the Pac-12. And the North Division to be exact.
Arizona State and Washington State are on bye this weekend.
Pac-12 Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. UCLA (+22.5) at Oregon (8 pm. ET, ESPN)
The Bruins are trying to avoid finding out what Washington has just learned the hard way — that Stanford and Oregon are really, really good. The Bruins posted their worst offensive output of the season by a wide margin with just 266 yards and 10 points in the physical loss to the Cardinal last weekend. What was worse was the season-high 419 yards allowed by the UCLA defense. This unit now has to face the best offense in college football, one that is averaging 643.1 yards per game, 8.3 yards per play and 57.6 points per game. If stopping the Heisman Trophy frontrunner isn’t already enough, Oregon is welcoming back all-purpose dynamo De’Anthony Thomas, who has missed the last three games with an ankle issue. A loss could send the Bruins from unbeaten top-10 team to second place in the Pac-12 South in just two weeks, so the stakes are painfully obvious for Jim Mora.
2. Stanford (-4.5) at Oregon State (10:30 p.m., ESPN)
Oregon and Stanford still control their own destiny in the Pac-12 (and maybe more) but so does Oregon State after winning six straight games (4-0 Pac-12) since a bizarre opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington. Hosting the Cardinal will be the toughest test to date for Mike Riley’s bunch, however, after Stanford posted its most complete game of the year by shutting down UCLA’s star quarterback Brett Hundley. Shayne Skov and company now set their sights on another record-setting quarterback in Sean Mannion. The Beavers starter threw only one pass in the emotional 27-23 loss to Stanford in Palo Alto last year and will look to find Brandin Cooks, the nation’s leading receiver, early and often on Saturday. The ability to get pressure on Mannion and limit the big plays from Cooks will be paramount for David Shaw’s team. On defense, Oregon State should expect a similar game plan for the second straight week from Stanford — a smash-mouth, ground and pound approach that netted Tyler Gaffney his best game of the year (171 yards, 2 TD). It’s just the second home game since Sept. 7 for the Beavers, so the crowd at Reser Stadium should play a factor.
3. Utah (+7) at USC (4 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
These new Pac-12 South rivals have met just seven times total with USC winning all but one meeting — the Utes’ Las Vegas Bowl victory in 2001. As divisional foes, the Trojans have won both contests over the last two years by at least two scores. Both offenses are coming off brutal performances in painful defeats last week as USC totaled 10 points and 330 yards of offense against Notre Dame while Utah posted its lowest yardage output of the year (329) against Arizona. Utah’s developing star quarterback Travis Wilson injured his throwing hand in the loss but has vowed to be on the field for this critical game. The coaching battle between former head coaches Ed Orgeron and Dennis Erickson should be fun to watch.
4. Arizona (-14.5) at Colorado (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Both teams enter this contest riding high after a win last weekend and both have an outside chance at a bowl game. However, this game is critical for both if either expects to reach the postseason. Rich Rodriguez’ offense ran for 300 yards last week, including Ka’Deem Carey’s ninth straight 100-yard game (172 yards, 3 TD). The Buffaloes, behind the running of freshman tailback Michael Adkins II (137 yards, 4 TD), posted its best rushing game of the season (218 yards, 5 TD). More importantly for Mike MacIntyre, his defense posted its best effort of the year as well. Yes, it was against Charleston Southern, but the Buffs will need all the confidence they can get in a legitimate upset opportunity against Zona.
5. Cal (-24) at Washington (11 p.m., FS1)
Someone has to win this game, right? Two teams with very different expectations and talent levels are both experiencing the perils of playing in what could be the nation’s top conference. Washington has lost three straight in brutal fashion against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State and has a quarterback who has taken a beating during that span. Cal has lost five straight by allowing nearly 50 points per game (47.4) since a win over Portland State in Week 2. Keith Price should play but he is banged up and Bishop Sankey, formerly the nation’s leading rusher, should get back on track after being totally stuffed last weekend (22 yards). Look for the Huskies to get healthy against the 123rd-rated total defense in the nation.
Pac-12 Week 9 Pivotal Players:
Listen to Athlon Sports writers Braden Gall and David Fox talk Miami sanctions, the BCS standings and preview Week 9 in this week's Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast.
Tony Washington, LB, Oregon
The junior hybrid defensive end has picked up right where former first-round pick Dion Jordan has left off. He has registered at least half of a sack in four straight games and is coming off one of his best career games against Washington State (6.0 tackles. 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks). He will be charged with tracking down UCLA star quarterback Brett Hundley this weekend.
2. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
David Shaw turned to his power running game last weekend to outlast UCLA and Tyler Gaffney rewarded him. However, on the road against one of the highest scoring and most productive passing offense in the nation, Hogan will likely have to make more plays. Hogan has topped 200 yards in each of the last two games and completed 72 percent (18-of-25) of his passes last week against the Bruins. He will need to continue his strong play in Corvallis.
3. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
“Wow” is all Stanford coach David Shaw had to say about Cooks’ play this season. The Beavers wide receiver has been uncoverable all season and is leading the nation in receptions (76), yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12). He has a comfort level with quarterback Sean Mannion and will be called upon to play his best this weekend against a front seven that will likely shut down the Oregon State rushing attack.
4. Cody Kessler, QB, USC
The USC passer showed signs of life after setting back-to-back career highs in passing and beating Arizona two weeks ago. However, he returned to mediocrity last weekend against Notre Dame by throwing for just 201 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. The Trojans need the redshirt freshman to return to form quickly at home this weekend against Utah.
5. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
The nation’s leading rusher for the second straight season has posted nine consecutive 100-yard efforts dating back to 2012. He went for 171 yards and three touchdowns in the big win over Utah last weekend and his streak is back on the line this weekend against Colorada. He should have another big day in what should be an easy win — if he is slowed, give the Buffs a chance at the upset.
Pac-12 Week 9 Predictions:
UCLA (+22.5) at Oregon
Stanford (-4.5) at Oregon St
Ore. St, 31-28
Utah (+7) at USC
Arizona (-14.5) at Colorado
Cal (-24) at Washington