The 2012 season is turning into one of the best fans have seen out West in years and it has a chance to get even better. Oregon State and Arizona State made huge statements last week, but both have huge road tests this weekend that will prove if they belong in conference contention. Otherwise, all eyes across the college football world should be on the Pac-12 this Thursday evening.
Pac-12's Top Storylines to Watch in Week 5:
1. Who wants to challenge Oregon?
Stanford and Washington square-off Thursday evening in a game that will likely decide the No. 2 slot in the Pac-12 North. Both teams have had two weeks to prepare for this one and the winner will be the top challenger to the Oregon Ducks in the North. The Huskies, who have been outscored 106-21 in the last two meetings with the Cardinal, begin a four-week stretch that will determine their entire season. After Stanford, Washington visits Oregon, hosts USC and visits Arizona. Meanwhile, Stanford's run isn't much easier with a home game against 'Zona and a road trip to Notre Dame coming up. As if there wasn't enough already riding on this primetime national TV game.
2. Oregon State defense vs. Arizona offense
The 2-0 Beavers are likely asking, what about us in the North? Mike Riley's bunch boasts the No. 2 rushing defense in the nation and have allowed a total of 27 points thus far in 2012. Despite what fans saw last week from Arizona, the Matt Scott/Ka'Deem Cary-led Wildcats offense is still one of the nation's best. Scott is still leading the league in total offense and Carey has more than one big play up his sleeve for this weekend. If Oregon State wants to be taken seriously in the North, it will have to come up with its second straight road upset (Arizona is a three-point favorite). This is a classic Letdown Alert situation as the Beavers are coming off of an emotional road upset while 'Zona returns home after being shutout 49-0 against Oregon.
3. Arizona State to face first starting quarterback
Assuming nothing tragic happens to Cal starting quarterback Zach Maynard between now and Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils will actually have to play against someone else's first-string quarterback. Jordan Wynn was the starting quarterback at Utah but has retired from the game, giving way to Jon Hays. Missouri's James Franklin sat out two weeks ago against Arizona State. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase didn't play in Week 2 against ASU. And in Week 1, Todd Graham's guys knocked out Lumberjack starter Cary Grossart early in the game. As a result, the Sun Devils have surrendered more than 150 passing yards only once and have yet to allow a 200-yard passer. Opposing quarterbacks are averaging 139.8 yards per game with eight INTs and only three TD passes. Maynard and his talented trio of pass-catchers — Keenan Allen, Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs — will easily present the toughest test to date for the Sun Devils' secondary.
4. Cal's 1-3 record is very deceiving
All that may matter to Cal boosters and administrators is the win-loss record, but the 1-3 mark in Berkeley likely has no effect on Arizona State head coach Todd Graham. Cal lost in a nail-bitter at home to a very good Nevada team and has losses to USC and Ohio State on the road. This team is much better than its record indicates and brings a host of elite play-makers on offense into a must-win situation at home. And Graham knows his team will have to click on all cylinders to win a tough road test over the Bears.
5. How will injuries affect Arizona-Oregon State?
Matt Scott is dealing with a hip injury he sustained on the first drive against Oregon. He is starting for sure, but how will the bum hip impact his ability to run the zone-read option? The talented Oregon State backfield of Sean Mannion, Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew all missed practice on Monday. Mannion was back on the field after dealing with a sore throwing arm. Woods (ankle) and Agnew (calf) both returned to work on Tuesday as well. Will any of these key players experience any lingering effects? Only time will tell.
6. I wouldn't want to be a Buffalo this weekend
UCLA was flying high when the Oregon State Beavers grounded their 3-0 start last weekend in Los Angeles. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 431 yards in the Bruins first two games but has mustered only 155 yards on 37 carries in the last two. The inability to run the ball cost UCLA the win last week, but didn't slow down star quarterback Brett Hundley. The redshirt freshman has three 300-yard efforts in his first four career games and should have this offense back on track this weekend against the lowly Buffs. The three-touchdown underdog will have to get a huge game once again from Jordan Webb (345 yards passing, four total TD last week) to even have a chance to stay with the angry Bruins.
7. What can we learn from the Ducks visit to Seattle?
There is likely to be a heavy Duck contingent in the semi-road game against Washington State in Seattle this weekend. After Wazzu lost to Colorado at home in heart-breaking fashion, it's hard to see the Cougars keeping pace with Oregon. So what can we learn about the Ducks? Chip Kelly flashed a few wrinkles on offense last week against Arizona, namely a tight end turned power back named Colt Lyerla. He fills the only void on an already explosive unit as a short yardage and goal-line specialist. As usual, fans never know what they will see from the Oregon offense.
8. Athlon's Weekly Player of the Year Watch
One POY awards list this week had De'Anthony Thomas listed as the front-runner with Johnathan Franklin, Taylor Kelly and Matt Barkley listed as the top challengers. While those names are all deserving, others like Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey, Marcus Mariota, Kenjon Barner, Stepfan Taylor, Brett Hundley, Keith Price, Marqise Lee, Keenan Allen, Robert Woods, Marquess Wilson, Sean Mannion, Brandin Cooks and even Silas Redd aren't too far behind. The point being, it is impossible to narrow this POY race to three names and the depth of offensive play-making skill in the Pac-12 is second to none (not even the SEC).
Week 5 Pac-12 Predictions:
Week 5 Pac-12 Games
Stanford (-7) at Washington
Arizona St (+2.5) at Cal
Arizona St, 31-27
Arizona St, 28-21
UCLA (-20.5) at Colorado
Oregon St (+3) at Arizona
Oregon St, 23-17
Oregon St, 35-28
Oregon (-29) at Washington St
Bye: USC, Utah
by Braden Gall
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