The Oregon-USC rematch Pac-12 championship game has felt like a foregone conclusion for much of the 2012 calendar year. However, it's very possible both teams could lose this weekend — and that would essentially put Stanford and UCLA into the championship game. What a twist that would be in Week 12, right? Those are two of the best games of the year in the Pac-12 and are two of the marquee showdowns nationally this weekend. Sit back and enjoy.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 12:
1. Can Kevin Hogan score enough to keep up with Oregon?
The Ducks' defense has allowed some yards this year — 377.7 per game — and some points — 22.3 per game. Now, most of those yards and points have come in the second half with reserves getting a majority of the snaps. However, the Ducks' defense makes big plays. It has forced 29 turnovers, one away from the national lead, and has scored half a dozen defensive and special teams touchdowns. Stanford’s sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan is making just his second career start after throwing two interceptions in his first start last weekend. Needless to say, he will have to play flawless football against the swarming Ducks defense if the Cardinal expect to keep it close, much less win.
2. Will nagging injuries in Oregon’s backfield be a factor?
Both Marcus Mariota (shoulder) and Kenjon Barner (hand/wrist) left the game last weekend with what appeared to be minor injuries. They both returned to the game and, Mariota in particular, finished with a huge performance. There isn’t a more physical defensive front west of the Mississippi and Chip Kelly can bet that David Shaw has instructed his law firm of Murphy, Thomas and Shov to be extra physical with those diminutive Duck ball-handlers. Because if they are fully healthy, there isn't a defense in America than can actually stop Oregon.
3. Has UCLA's offense closed the 50-point gap?
USC crushed the Bruins in the most demoralizing way possible last fall: 50-0. But this UCLA team isn’t the same group that mailed in the last two months of the 2011 season. The Bruins have a new coach, the elite talent in the defensive front is finally developing and redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has supercharged the offense — an offense that ranked 10th in scoring and 11th in passing in the Pac-12 last year. This fall, Hundley trails only Johnny Manziel nationally for total offense by a freshman (301.1 ypg) and has accounted for 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions during UCLA’s four-game winning streak. This offense, which is scoring 15 more points per game and ranks 3rd overall in the league, will have to be balanced and efficient to keep pace with USC.
4. Can the UCLA front seven get enough pressure on Matt Barkley?
UCLA was 112th nationally and 11th in the Pac-12 in sacks in 2011. It was 11th in rushing defense at 190.7 yards per game. This season, UCLA ranks fourth nationally in sacks at nearly four per game and is fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (144.6 ypg). This is due in large part to Jim Mora’s new staff instilling toughness and physicality in a group of former four- and five-star recruits. Anthony Barr has developed into a premiere pass rusher, Eric Kendricks is playing like his older brother Mychal who won Pac-12 defensive player of the year last fall at Cal and names like Datone Jones and Cassius Marsh are beginning to live up to their lofty recruiting status. This front seven must slow the USC rushing attack and must pressure Matt Barkley to keep the Bruins in the game.
5. The mystery of Matt Scott and what it could mean
The Wildcats' offense scored 56 points and rolled up 574 yards last week without Matt Scott under center. However, that was Colorado. And while Utah has had its struggles at times, it is still a proud team fighting for bowl eligibility at home. The Utes had bounced back to win two straight but were totally stymied last week on offense in Seattle. Moving the football shouldn’t be a problem against the Cats, so Arizona backup B.J. Denker — should Scott not be able to play — will have to be as efficient as he was last weekend (12-14, 136 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT). It would help if record-setting star tailback Ka’Deem Carey gets more than the five total offensive touches he got in last year’s 31-24 home loss to Utah.
6. QB controversy in Corvallis?
It appears that Mike Riley brought Sean Mannion back too quickly two weeks ago when he threw four interceptions in the season’s first loss to Washington. Cody Vaz had proven to be more than capable, and last week, nearly pulled off the win over Stanford. But a late injury at an inopportune time forced Mannion back into action, and now, fans have no clue who will be under center against Cal. Now, it shouldn’t matter who starts this weekend as Cal has all but given up on 2012. But for a top 20 team who still has to play its undefeated archrival, quarterback issues is the worst thing Riley could be dealing with at this stage of the season.
7. Arizona State eyes bowl eligibility
Four weeks ago, the Sun Devils were 5-1 and boasted the league’s No. 1 total defense. After allowing 162 points and 452.8 yards per game (and no fewer than 424), this team is 5-5 and could end up home for the holidays if it cannot win this weekend. A road win at Arizona in the season-ending rivalry game seems unlikely, so allowing a Washington State team entrenched in locker room turmoil win in Sun Devil Stadium would be completely unacceptable. Look for Taylor Kelly and the defense to get back on track against the teetering Cougars.
8. What the hell is happening in Pullman?
Seriously? What is going on? Is Marquess Wilson simply a disgruntled over-pampered baby with an axe to grind after quitting on his team? Or is Mike Leach a hard-nosed, abrasive coach who has a track record of abusing his players in an unprofessional manner? My opinion? The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I have a tough time believing a wide receiver who has quit on his friends and teammates to publicly narc on his coaching staff and university. However, Leach has also dealt with strange doings at Texas Tech as well. Only time will tell about what is taking place in Pullman. One thing I do know, a 0-9 Pac-12 season will fray a lot of nerves.
Week 12 Pac-12 Predictions:
Week 12 Pac-12 Games
Washington at Colorado
Washington St at Arizona St
Arizona St, 31-20
Arizona St, 34-17
Arizona St, 44-17
Arizona St, 35-17
USC at UCLA
Stanford at Oregon
Arizona at Utah
Cal at Oregon St
Oregon St, 30-13
Oregon St, 31-17
Oregon St, 27-10
Oregon St, 35-14
by Braden Gall
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