Athlon previews the coming week of gridiron action in the Pac-12 Conference.
It's here! November 3 has been a day circled by many West coast football fans since the season ended last January. And had Arizona not gone and screwed everything up, this Oregon-USC showdown would still carry national title implications for both teams. Instead, there's a national title hanging in the balance for just one team. The Oregon Ducks. All eyes will be focused on The Coliseum, but Pac-12 fans have a full holiday menu this Saturday. There will be plenty of tricks and treats for some (Utah? Washington? Oregon State?) and freakish ghouls for others (Cal? Arizona State? Colorado?).
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 10:
1. Oregon’s National Championship is on the line
The SEC has its own Game of the Year in Baton Rouge, but the West Coast's version has just as much intrigue. And plenty more fireworks. While Alabama and LSU play for the right to represent the SEC West in Atlanta with what should be little to no offensive production, Chip Kelly and Lane Kiffin will duke it out in Los Angeles armed with two of the most explosive offenses in the nation. And a chance to host the Pac-12 title game is on the line for USC (or just play in the title game). The stakes are slightly higher for the Ducks as they sit (disrespectfully) at No. 4 in the polls. A road win over USC, as well as three more, should push Oregon to No. 2 regardless of what happens in Manhattan, Kan., or South Bend, Ind., from here on out. I wonder who Larry Scott is rooting for?
2. Matt Barkley could still play in the Rose Bowl
USC still has to be considered the favorite to win the South — but by a much slimmer margin now than last week. That said, three wins to end the year over Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA and the Trojans would land in the Pac-12 title game. In fact, even with a loss to Oregon this weekend, USC could still play for the league crown. All Barkley needs is a chance. If he can get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, his team will have a chance to play in the ever-elusive Rose Bowl. Barkley has played in one bowl game during his tenure at Heritage Hall — an Emerald Bowl win over Boston College — but a trip to Pasadena would likely justify his decision to return to college for his senior year.
3. Will Arizona-UCLA decide the Pac-12 South?
The Trojans likely hold a slight edge in the current race for the South Division title, but Arizona’s visit to UCLA could determine who USC’s chief rival will be down the stretch. Assume a USC loss to Oregon this weekend, Arizona then controls its own destiny. But a loss to UCLA gives the Wildcats a fourth conference loss and likely knocks them out of the race. A win and Rich Rodriguez could be playing for a championship in year one. Jim Mora could say the same thing this weekend with a win — and UCLA doesn’t need any help. A win over Arizona at home puts the Bruins in control of the South with a home date with USC still looming on Nov. 17. Should UCLA defeat Arizona this weekend, the crosstown City of Lights winner will claim the South.
4. Backfield duos will win the day in L.A.
Matt Scott and Ka’Deem Carey have been electric all season for RichRod. But so has Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin for Jim Mora. The UCLA combo is slightly more traditional but has been no less effective. Scott and Hundley are first and second in the league in total offense while Franklin and Carey are first and third in rushing. Both defenses will have their hands full with these two backfields come Saturday afternoon. Arizona must put an end to its road woes this weekend if it wants to stay in the South race. The Cats are 0-2 on the road this fall and have allowed at least 49 points in both games. The defense must step up this weekend or the Wildcats will limp home to the desert with a fourth conference loss.
5. Cody Vaz is back under center for Oregon State
The junior from Lodi, Calif., hadn’t started a game since high school when he took over for the injured Sean Mannion three weeks ago. He was more than effective, throwing for 332 yards in the relatively easy road win over BYU and 174 yards in the equally easy home win over Utah. However, Mike Riley went back to Mannion for last week’s visit to Washington and the sophomore might have been rushed back into action. Mannion threw four interceptions and the Beavers lost their first game of the year. With Arizona State coming to town this weekend, Riley has gone back to Vaz. The junior will get his third collegiate start as Mannion will watch from the sidelines. The best thing for Vaz? If Oregon State can turn to the ground game against an Arizona State defense that has allowed 618 yards rushing over the last two weekends. Speaking of…
6. Arizona State’s hot start will come crashing down
The ASU defense was ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 two weeks ago, but 88 points allowed and two losses later, the Sun Devils are staring at a second-half collapse. Okay, so “collapse” might be a bit harsh for a team that dramatically overachieved during the first half. But there is a good chance Arizona State finishes the year on a 1-5 losing streak as three of the four will be on the road against Oregon State, USC and Arizona. Washington State at home should be a win, but otherwise, there could be little to like about this squad over the final month.
7. Homecoming highlights Washington's road trip
The Huskies played arguably the toughest five-week stretch of any team in the nation. Road trips to Eugene and Tucson sandwiched between home games with Stanford, USC and Oregon State made Washington’s first-half slate virtually impossible (not to mention a visit to Death Valley). But the Huskies emerged with home wins over the Cardinal and Beavers. The next step for Steve Sarkisian’s improved defense is to take that tenacity on the road. To Berkeley, more specifically. There should be plenty of motivation on both sides as prized recruiter and defensive line dynamo Tosh Lupoi returns to his alma mater. He was lured from Cal to Seattle by Coach Sark this offseason and the move paid instant dividends on the recruiting trail and along the defensive front. The egos on both sides haven’t forgotten.
8. Does a loss end Jeff Tedford’s tenure at Cal
A loss to Washington at home would be painful enough. But the loss would come at the hands of a former assistant and would push the Bears’ record to 3-7. Needless to say, an amicable divorce is pending should the Bears fall at home to U of W.
9. Wait, Utah can still make it to a bowl game?
Yes, it is true. Somehow the Utes can still go bowling this fall. With a very favorable schedule left — Washington State, at Washington, Arizona at Colorado — Utah needs to finish 3-1 in its final four to get to bowl eligibility for the 10th consecutive season. That makes a win over Wazzu at home this weekend imperative. Take care of the Cougars and people around Salt Lake City will begin to believe.
Week 10 Pac-12 Predictions:
|Week 10 Pac-12 Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|Washington (+4.5) at Cal||Washington, 20-17||Cal, 24-20||Washington, 31-24||Washington, 24-17|
|Stanford (-28) at Colorado||Stanford, 38-10||Stanford, 38-10||Stanford, 41-10||Stanford, 42-10|
|Washington St (+11.5) at Utah||Utah, 30-24||Utah, 24-17||Utah, 31-17||Wazzu, 24-21|
|Oregon (-7.5) at USC||Oregon, 40-34||Oregon, 44-30||Oregon, 41-34||Oregon, 42-21|
|Arizona (+3.5) at UCLA||UCLA, 35-31||UCLA, 41-37||UCLA, 38-35||Arizona, 38-31|
|Arizona St (+4) at Oregon St||Oregon St, 30-20||Oregon St, 27-21||Oregon St, 30-27||Oregon St, 24-7|
by Braden Gall
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