Last weekend was an eventful one out West. Stanford made another big statement in the Pac-12 North, Sean Mannion has the Beavers turned around, Washington got a big home win and, oh by the way, USC fired Lane Kiffin.
The stories emanating from Heritage Hall has drowned out the rest of the news in the Pac-12 — which is plentiful. UCLA should be on upset alert, Arizona State is trying to do something no team in NCAA history has ever done and the Huskies-Cardinal game carries major championship import.
It’s just another weekend in the nation’s second-best league.
Pac-12 Week 6 Game Power Rankings
1. Washington (+7) at Stanford (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The last time these two hooked up, the Huskies pulled a physical and surprising upset at home on a Thursday night last season. However, the last time these two hooked up in Palo Alto, the Cardinal dropped 65 points on an extremely uncompetitive Washington squad. These two defenses have been two of the nation’s best thus far in 2013 and fans can bet this will be as physical a game as the Pac-12 sees all season. The onus of victory then falls to the offensive lines and quarterback play. Kevin Hogan and Keith Price aren’t posting the same monster numbers of others in the league, but they are leading offenses averaging roughly 40 points per game and have great running games to lean on. The loser will find it hard to win the North, so this showdown is a de facto divisional elimination game.
2. Arizona State (-5) vs. Notre Dame (7:30 p.m., NBC, Arlington)
No team in NCAA history has ever defeated USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. Eleven teams have tried and all 11 have failed. That said, the Sun Devils have a great shot at making history. After scoring 62 on the Trojans last week, Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice, the nation’s leading scorer, are riding a wave of renewed confidence against a defense lacking in killer instinct. The fast track in AT&T Stadium gives the Devils a speed edge on Saturday. The Irish were embarrassed at home by Oklahoma and quarterback Tommy Rees appears to be losing his grip on the starting job. He has five interceptions in losses to Michigan and Notre Dame and none in Notre Dame’s three wins. Rees has to take care of the ball if the Irish want to have a chance of pulling the upset.
3. UCLA (-4.5) at Utah (Thurs., 10 p.m., FS1)
The Utes have only beaten the Bruins twice in 11 tries but both came in the last two visits from UCLA. In fact, the Bruins haven’t even been competitive in SLC, losing by a combined 75-12. That said, last year’s meeting was a 21-14 victory for UCLA in Los Angeles. Look for both offenses to excel in this mid-week meeting as two of the best in the nation are spearheaded by elite signal-callers. Utah’s Travis Wilson is seventh nationally in total offense (342.3 ypg) while UCLA’s Brett Hundley is 11th (335.0 ypg). The difference will be Jim Mora’s defense. UCLA hasn’t allowed more than 353 yards in any game this year while Utah is giving up 473.7 yards per game against FBS opponents (three games). The Bruins need to be on serious upset alert but can prove themselves as the South Division front-runner with a convincing road win.
4. Washington State (pk) at Cal (4 p.m., FS1)
Cal is leading the league in plays at a ridiculous 95.0 snaps per game on offense. Washington State is third in the league with 349 offensive snaps in 2013. Yet, both offenses have struggled to score relative to the rest of the Pac-12 — they rank 10th and 11th in scoring offense. This might be in part to questions at quarterback. After an electric start to his career, Cal’s Jared Goff was benched last week after just seven attempts against Oregon. He split time with touted redshirt Zach Kline in practice this week and both will likely see snaps. Meanwhile, Connor Halliday was beaten and bruised by Stanford last weekend but is apparently ready to go against the Bears. Whichever offense has the ball last gets the win.
5. Oregon (-38) at Colorado (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network)
Mike MacIntrye is a well respected rising star in the coaching ranks but the Buffaloes are in over their heads in this one. The Ducks are clicking on all cylinders despite the loss of electric running back De’Anthony Thomas to an ankle injury. Thomas won’t play this weekend in an effort to be healthy for a large trip to Seattle next weekend. The Ducks haven’t scored fewer than 55 points this year and haven’t lost to Colorado since 1998. The Marcus Mariota Heisman freight train will roll through Boulder with little opposition this weekend.
Pac-12 Week 6 Pivotal Players:
1. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
Hogan’s ability to move around both inside and out of the pocket is what coach David Shaw thinks will be the difference. The Cardinal offense, led by Josh Nunes at the time, mustered just 13 points and 238 total yards — the lowest yardage output of the Shaw era — against UW last season. Hogan is coming off his best game of the year after 286 yards passing, 34 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Washington State. Against one of the nation’s nastiest defenses, the Stanford quarterback will have to make plays in all phases of the game. Hogan is 9-0 as the starter for Stanford.
2. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
On the other side of the ball, Steve Sarkisian’s balanced offensive attack will put major pressure on Stanford’s extremely talented linebacking corps, led by its senior anchor on the inside. The Washington offensive line was decimated last year and Stanford took advantage with three sacks and seven tackles for a loss. This unit is much healthier this time around and has been churning out yards on the ground and protecting Keith Price. Skov will literally go head-to-head with Bishop Sankey, who broke a game-changing 61-yard touchdown run last year on the final play of the third quarter, in what could be one of the most physical games of the year.
3. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Stopping a 6-foot-6, 240-pound quarterback is a daunting task — even for a freakish 6-foot-4, 245-pound outside linebacker like Barr. Wilson has been dynamic for Utah, rushing for 251 yards and five touchdowns to go with his 279.5 yards passing per game. Barr has the quickness, power and athletic ability to mirror Wilson everywhere he goes. This could be one of the best individual matchups of the entire weekend.
4.Arizona State’s offensive line
Running back Marion Grice is leading the nation in scoring with 12 touchdowns. Jaelen Strong is developing into one of the nation’s best wideouts. And Taylor Kelly has thrown for at least 300 yards in all four games. Against Notre Dame’s struggling but talented defensive line, the onus of paving the way, protecting and providing time for those ASU stars will be the Sun Devils' offensive line. The Irish have just four sacks in five games and Todd Graham needs that trend to continue this weekend if he wants to make history in Jerry's World.
5. UCLA’s offensive line
The Bruins have been average up front along the offensive line as two young tackles are learning by fire. This team is 62nd nationally in sacks allowed per game (1.67) and 86th in tackles for a loss allowed per game (6.3). Utah has been excellent at disrupting the line of scrimmage, ranking fifth nationally in sacks per game (3.8) and 14th in tackles for a loss (7.8 pg). If the Utes can control the line of scrimmage they will make life miserable for Brett Hundley in a hostile environment.
Pac-12 Week 6 Predictions:
Washington (+7) at Stanford
Arizona St (-5) at Notre Dame
Ariz. St, 31-24
Ariz. St, 28-20
Ariz. St, 31-24
Ariz. St, 31-21
UCLA (-4.5) at Utah
Washington St (pk) at Cal
Oregon (-38) at Colorado