By Mitch Light
If it were a political race, the networks would already have declared Arizona State the winner of the Pac-12 South. Yes, we are barely into October, but it’s quite clear that the Sun Devils will be playing in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 — likely in Palo Alto or Eugene.
Dennis Erickson’s club is already 3–0 in the league, with wins over USC, Oregon State and Utah. UCLA is the only eligible team — USC can’t play in the league title game — in the South with fewer than two losses, but does anyone really consider the Bruins, who have wins over Washington State and Oregon State, to be a legitimate threat? Didn’t think so.
The other three teams in the division — Colorado, Utah and Arizona — are a combined 0–9 in the Pac-12.
So there you have it: Arizona State will win the Pac-12 South. It’s over.
Now, let’s move on to the next issue: Can this team win the entire league and play in a BCS bowl for the first time? The key is hosting the Pac-12 title game. Here’s how that can happen:
• Arizona State somehow beats the LaMichael James-less Oregon Ducks this weekend in Eugene.
• Arizona State wins the rest of its league games — quite manageable, with Colorado, Arizona and Cal at home and UCLA and Washington State on the road. Note: No Stanford!
• Oregon beats Stanford in Palo Alto on Nov. 12. This is the big component, because even if ASU wins the Pac-12 South with a 9–0 record, an undefeated Stanford team out of the North would be ranked higher and earn the right to host. However, an undefeated ASU team would host over a one-loss Stanford or a one-loss Oregon.
So if you thought that this week’s game at Oregon was big — and it is, ESPN College GameDay will be on hand — it’s even bigger when you take a look at the long-term ramifications.
Erickson, however, isn’t really concerned with any big-picture talk. He’s far more concerned with the task at hand — beating a very good Oregon team on foreign soil.
“We have to learn how to go at warp speed,” he said earlier this week. “They are what they are. They do it week-in and week-out, year-in and year-out since Chip (Kelly) has been there. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team as fast offensively. It’s unbelievable watching.”
Erickson believes his team is in the right frame of mind for what figures to be the biggest game for the program since its trip to Eugene in November 2007, when ASU, 8–0 at the time, lost to 7–1 Oregon, 35–23.
We’re a confident football team,” said the veteran coach. “They believe in each other. I don’t know if you even call it confidence — they have a strong belief in each other and a strong belief that their teammate is going to do the job he’s supposed to do and give the effort he’s supposed to. In the first six football games we’ve done that extremely well.”
Arizona State will have to do everything extremely well to win Saturday night.
Around the Pac-12
• Cal’s Zach Maynard has completed only 51.4 percent of his passes, the lowest among any of the top 50 quarterbacks in the nation in yards passing per game. All but eight of the top 50 passers have completed at least 60.0 percent of their attempts.
• Oregon has 14 plays from scrimmage of at least 40 yards. No other team in the league has more than eight.
• Utah leads the Pac-12 in turnovers committed (13) and ranks second in turnovers forced (13).
• Washington’s Keith Price has thrown at least three touchdowns in each game this season.
• Andrew Luck has only thrown more than one interception in a game only twice in his two-plus years as the starter at Stanford. He was picked off twice against Notre Dame and Oregon last season.
• UCLA is over .500 in league play after three games for the first time since 2007, when Karl Dorrell’s final Bruin team opened with a 4–0 Pac-10 record.
• Arizona has averaged 33 points in its last three losses.
• LaMichael James has four carries of at least 40 yards. Only one other player in the league has more than one — USC’s Curtis McNeal has two.