It might not look like a marquee weekend in the Pac-12, as only one game will feature two ranked teams, but Week 9 could be one of the biggest of the season out West.
Contenders Oregon, USC, Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all on the road against teams more than capable of pulling an upset. Stanford and Washington are looking for home cooking to rebound after bad losses while Utah is hoping to continue its surge into the postseason.
Pac-12 Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. USC (-1) at Utah
10 p.m., FS1
Not only is this one of the most important games of the year in the Pac-12 South, it should also be one of the most intriguing matchups. According to Football Outsiders, USC’s offense is the 11th most efficient unit in the nation. One look at Cody Kessler’s numbers should help support that argument — he’s second nationally with an 18:1 TD:INT ratio. According to the same opponent-adjusted metric, Utah’s defense also is the 11th most efficient unit in the nation. One look at the Utes’ disruptive plays confirms this as well — Utah ranks No. 1 nationally in sacks (33.0) and No. 3 in tackles for a loss (61.0). But while strength-on-strength is always fun for observers, the outcome could hinge on the Trojans' ability to stop Devontae Booker. After giving up 452 yards rushing in a loss to Boston College, USC’s defense held Oregon State, Arizona State and Arizona to 166 total yards on the ground. Booker has been downright impossible to stop over the last few weeks and his success on the ground will be critical for Utah, a team still using two quarterbacks. Lastly, Utah’s near-perfect special teams could be a deciding factor in a game featuring two evenly matched opponents.
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2. Arizona St (pk) at Washington
10:45 p.m., ESPN
The offensive-minded Sun Devils are flying high after an unexpected upset over Stanford last weekend. The defensively oriented Huskies limp back home from Eugene after yet another lopsided defeat to Oregon. Chris Petersen’s bunch will face yet another high-powered offense, regardless of who is under center for Todd Graham. Taylor Kelly expects to return to the starting lineup to face one of the more disruptive front sevens in the nation. Part of the reason Washington has lost two of its last three has been the lack of balance on offense. Cyler Miles isn’t asked to post big numbers through the air but has been extremely efficient (66.2%, 10 TD, 1 INT). To beat ASU, however, Miles will need support from his ground game that has been largely non-existent in Pac-12 play, averaging 108.3 yards per game and 2.9 yards per carry in three league contests.
3. Oregon (-17.5) at Cal
Fri., 10 p.m., FS1
The Ducks have won five straight over the Bears, including three consecutive blowouts. But Cal is much improved and the last time Oregon visited Berkeley with a national title on the line, the Bears nearly ended the Ducks' BCS National Championship Game hopes (Oregon eked out a 15-13 win) in 2010. Marcus Mariota has been downright filthy all season and his offensive supporting cast appears to be getting healthy. Sonny Dykes' team is improved but his defense has major issues, giving up more than 600 yards per game in five Pac-12 games. Bears QB Jared Goff has done an excellent job taking care of the football but will need to play the best game of his career to keep his porous defense off the field.
4. Arizona (-3) at Washington St
5 p.m., P12 Net
Mike Leach’s hopes for making a bowl game are fading rapidly and his defense is flat out terrible. However, the Cougars can put up yards and points and three close losses indicate they can play with most anyone on their schedule. Arizona comes to town after two weeks of prep following the painful home loss to USC. Anu Solomon is fourth nationally in passing (356.0 ypg) and should have plenty of space to distribute the football to his talented collection of receivers and backs. If Rich Rodriguez’ 3-3-5 defense — which has been excellent against spread offenses — can get a few stops, Zona should return home with a key road win.
5. Oregon St (+13.5) at Stanford
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Both teams are coming off losses in which both head coaches were probably stunned. Oregon State lost in double overtime at home and has allowed over 200 yards rushing in two of its last three games. Stanford’s offense has been woeful all year (11th in Pac-12 in yards per game), but the defense struggled for the first time in the road loss to Arizona State, giving up a season-high 26 points. These are the two slowest teams in the Pac-12 on offense (seconds of possession per play, via ESPN) and both teams have struggled to put points on the board. The Cardinal have won four straight in the series and haven’t lost at home to the Beavers since 2006.
6. UCLA (-16.5) at Colorado
2 p.m., P12 Net
The Buffaloes have lost six straight Pac-12 games and 20 of their last 21. UCLA barely avoided a third consecutive loss against Cal last weekend in Berkeley. Both teams can move the ball, can score and have struggled mightily on defense. CU quarterback Sefo Luifau has been solid (290.0 ypg, 21 TD, 9 INT) but likely doesn’t have the supporting cast to knock off the more talented Bruins. As long as Brett Hundley doesn’t turn the ball over, UCLA should win easily.
USC (-1.5) at Utah
ASU (pk) at Wash.
Oregon (-17.5) at Cal
Zona (-3) at Wazzu
Ore. St (+13.5) at Stan.
UCLA (-16.5) at Colo.