There are two non-conference games left on the Pac-12 schedule. Notre Dame will face Arizona State next week and Stanford in the season finale. But otherwise, starting this weekend, every game out West will carry major Pac-12 championship implication.
The North Division will host four of the five Pac-12 contests this weekend while a massive South Division game in Tempe could eliminate one team from the race before the calendar even flips to October.
Pac-12 Week 5 Game Power Rankings
1. USC (+6) at Arizona State (10:30 p.m., ESPN2)
Win or go home. That is what is at stake in Sun Devil Stadium this weekend when USC comes to town as neither team can afford to start the season in an 0-2 conference hole. The Trojans boast one of the nation’s elite defenses as it leads the Pac-12 in total defense (230.5 ypg), rushing defense (59.3 ypg), red zone defense (40.0 percent), sacks (16.0) and tackles for a loss (38.0). This means Taylor Kelly, who was sacked three times last week, has to get his offense into quality situations before the snap. His offense has struggled to run the ball, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry on the season (110 att., 324 yards), and it will have to prove it can control the line of scrimmage to get the win. USC has won 12 of the last 13 meetings with ASU’s lone win coming the last time these two played in the desert in 2011. Being at home should be a huge help but the Devils have to play much better on offense to avoid the upset.
2. Arizona (+10) at Washington (7 p.m., FOX)
A sneaky good matchup of undefeateds will give one team a perfect slate in September with the other starting league play with a loss. The offensive skill talent should be on full display as the Huskies' Bishop Sankey and Wildcats' Ka’Deem Carey should star in the backfield for each team. Washington gets a huge advantage under center as Keith Price finally appears to be delivering on his big-time upside while B.J. Denker makes just his fifth career start. A key battle to watch will come on third down. Washington’s offense is third nationally on the critical down while Arizona is allowing opponents to convert a paltry 32 percent (16-of-50). Washington is at home and is looking for revenge after the 52-17 drubbing it took at the hands of Rich Rodriguez last season.
3. Stanford (+10) at Washington State (10 p.m., ESPN, Seattle)
The Cardinal made a big statement at home last weekend against Arizona State and a letdown alert may be in effect for the trip North to Seattle. Despite rushing for minus-18 yards and being sacked 10 times against Stanford last year, the Cougars managed to keep the game tight until the end. The Cardinal allowed 403 yards through the air in that game and will be without All-American safety Ed Reynolds for the first half after being ejected for a targeting penalty last weekend. Kevin Hogan, who entered the starting lineup the week after the WSU game last year, needs to have his team prepared from the opening kickoff or Mike Leach’s squad will put a scare into the No. 5-ranked team in the nation.
4. Colorado (+10.5) at Oregon State (3 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
This should be one of the more entertaining games of the weekend. With star power at wide receiver and two very capable quarterbacks running two prolific offensive systems, defense will be an afterthought in Corvallis. Sean Mannion and Connor Wood are two of the top four passers in the nation as both average more than 370 yards per game and each has an elite target in Brandin Cooks and Paul Richardson. The Beavers' defense has been putrid but has played some solid competition while the Buffaloes unit has been surprisingly stingy — against Colorado State and Central Arkansas. Someone has to make a stop in the fourth quarter, right?
5. Cal (+36.5) at Oregon (10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
In 2010, the closest game the Ducks played en route to the BCS National Championship game was a 15-13 nail-biter in Berkeley. Three years later, 28 points could be the over/under for each quarter between these two up-tempo offenses. Sonny Dykes’ offense is running 94.6 plays per game (No. 2 nationally) while the Ducks are running a measly 72.0 per game. Cal isn’t ready to compete at this level but fans in Eugene should get a long look at Cal’s budding star quarterback Jared Goff.
Pac-12 Week 5 Pivotal Players:
1. Arizona State’s offensive line
As Todd Graham well knows, the ASU offensive line hasn’t gotten much of a push this season. The Devils are averaging less than three yards per carry and have allowed six sacks in three games. Now they face Morgan Breslin, George Uko and Leonard Williams among others along a defensive line that is tops in the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for a loss. This unit must play solid football for Arizona State to avoid the upset.
2. B.J. Denker, QB, Arizona
There is tons of star power on both offenses but Arizona’s chances at an upset in Husky Stadium hinges on Denker’s play. He has yet to throw an interception and has been excellent in the running game (39 att., 221 yards, 5 TD) in RichRod’s zone-read option attack. He has plenty of backfield support in the form of Ka’Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins, however, his ability to make plays in the air will be critical on the road. He has yet to reach 200 yards passing in a game and is completing just 56.4 percent of his passes on the year.
3. Tre Madden, RB, USC
The best way to help out a struggling passing attack is with a quality running game. And Madden has been just that for Lane Kiffin over the first four weeks. He has topped 100 yards in all but one game and has scored in each of the last two contests. His 90 carries are second only to Iowa’s Mark Weisman nationally and his 455 yards are eighth in the nation. Cody Kessler needs No. 23 to come up big on the road.
4. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Since the Beavers' defense doesn’t appear capable of stopping air, it once again will fall to Mannion and the offense to keep pace. Arguably the most underrated passer in the nation, no one in the country has completed as many passes (133) for as many yards (1,604) or touchdowns (15) as OSU's signal-caller. With the defense allowing 432 yards and more than 35 points per game, Mannion probably feels the need to score every time he steps on the field.
5. Devon Carrington, S, Stanford
Star safety Ed Reynolds will have to sit out the first half after being ejected from last weekend’s contest due a targeting penalty. So it falls to the senior reserve to step in and provide stability against one of the better passing attacks in the nation. Mike Leach’s team torched this group for 403 yards last year and is averaging 328.8 yards per game through air this season.
Pac-12 Week 5 Predictions:
USC (+6) at Arizona St
Arizona St, 21-17
Arizona St, 27-20
Arizona St, 27-20
Arizona St, 21-14
Arizona (+10) at Washington
Stanford (-10) at Washington St
Colorado (+10.5) at Oregon St
Ore. St, 41-35
Ore. St, 37-21
Ore. St, 41-27
Ore. St, 41-35
Cal (+36.5) at Oregon