The slate of action last weekend in the Pac-12 was seriously lacking but that didn’t stop the West Coast from entertaining the college football world thoroughly.
After a wild Hail Mary in Tucson and an intense back-and-forth affair in Pullman, both Oregon and Arizona deserve a week off. Cal and Washington State, however, must get off the mat and get back to work.
Conference play begins in earnest this weekend with a marquee showdown in both the South Division on Thursday night and the North on Saturday evening. In fact, they might be the two biggest games of the weekend nationally.
Week 5 Previews and Predictions:
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Pac-12 Game Power Rankings for Week 5
1. UCLA at Arizona St
Thurs., 10 p.m., FS1
First things first. Taylor Kelly isn’t going to play for Arizona State and, despite Jim Mora playing it coy, most would be shocked if Brett Hundley wasn’t on the field. The Sun Devils will start Mike Bercovici, who has spent three years in Todd Graham’s offense and has a powerful right arm, but has only attempted 24 career passes. While all eyes will focus on the quarterbacks (rightly so), the most critical matchups will take place in the trenches. UCLA will have to stop one of the nation’s most productive players in D.J. Foster, a guy who is averaging 216.3 yards from scrimmage per game. On the other side, Arizona State’s rebuilt defense will have a shot to get after one of the worst offensive lines in the league. If the Bruins can protect Hundley, UCLA should be able to move the ball against a defense that is still an unknown. If the most sacked QB in the nation the last three years has no time to throw, the Sun Devils have the offensive weapons to win at home. For what it’s worth, in two games between Mora and Graham, the home team is 0-2 and has scored at least 33 points in both games.
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2. Stanford at Washington
4:15 p.m., FOX
Few games in the Pac-12 will have as much importance attached or will be played with as much physicality as this one. Stanford lost the last time it visited Seattle in dramatic fashion on a Thursday night. While the names on the field and on the sideline have changed plenty since that game, the identity of each program has not. Stanford still plays nasty defense, allowing under five points per game this fall and will pressure quarterback Cyler Miles in a big way. The Huskies currently lead the nation in sacks and will make life miserable for Kevin Hogan while looking to pound the football on offense. Hogan has played in this game and has already battled USC’s front seven this fall but the very talented Miles is still largely unproven. He is completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown an interception, but he also hasn’t faced anything like what he will get from this Stanford defense on Saturday. David Shaw’s team is a proven commodity with a fairly distinct identity and it falls to the Huskies to stop them on both sides of the ball. Chris Petersen’s team has been schizophrenic but has the talent to win at home. Few games in this league will feature the talent in the trenches as this nationally televised North Division bout.
3. Oregon St at USC
10:30 p.m., ESPN
Was two weeks enough to fix the issues USC had on defense against Boston College? Trying to stop Sean Mannion, the Beavers' all-time leading passer, figures to be a good test to find out just how depleted that Trojans defense really is. The OSU quarterback has been excellent (301.0 ypg) but what Justin Wilcox and Steve Sarkisian have to be worried about is the Beavers' running game. Storm Woods and Terron Ward have combined for 424 yards and six scores in three games, as the duo has added balance to the Oregon State offense. Cody Kessler is playing excellent football but the Trojans' ground attack needs to be more consistent after just 20 yards on 29 carries against BC. This matchup has been a sneaky good rivalry as Mike Riley has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Men of Troy. A win in L.A. for Oregon State would be a crippling blow to USC’s title hopes.
4. Washington St at Utah
8 p.m., P12 Net
After a great win in Ann Arbor last weekend, Kyle Whittingham’s bunch has a great shot to continue that momentum into league play with Wazzu coming to town. Salt Lake City has been a tough place for league foes, as six of Utah's nine Pac-12 wins since joining the league in 2011 have come at home. Washington State got after Marcus Mariota last week (7.0 sacks) but both sides of the ball have been wildly inconsistent for Mike Leach. This is a huge chance for Whittingham to move one win closer to the postseason. Look for Utah’s excellent special teams to play a huge role again this weekend.
5. Colorado at Cal
4 p.m., P12 Net
The Buffs and Bears combined for one Pac-12 win and five total victories last year. Four weeks into the season, these two have already registered four wins. The one league win last year was Colorado’s 41-24 win over Cal when Mike MacIntrye’s team produced more yards (485) than in any other league game. Sefo Liuafau threw for 364 yards and will undoubtedly target the league’s top receiver Nelson Spruce in a big way this weekend. Cal will turn to Jared Goff (and some Luke Rubenzer) to match the Buffs on offense, as the Bears try to erase the awful taste in their mouth from the debacle in the desert last weekend. Sonny Dykes' team is clearly improved and is a two-touchdown favorite at home so Cal could give Dykes his first career Pac-12 win.
Off: Oregon, Arizona
UCLA (-3.5) at Ariz. St
Stanford (-8) at Wash.
Ore. St (+9.5) at USC
Wazzu (+13.5) at Utah
Colo. (+13.5) at Cal