Washington Statehas rebounded from an embarrassing loss at home to Portland State. The Cougars have risen to second place in the Pac-12's North Division. Very quietly, Wazzu has positioned itself to pounce and seize first place in the division.
Stanford is snowballing toward the Pac-12 Championship Game. However, the Cardinal need some style points to elevate themselves above the other teams with one loss. The College Football Playoff committee will be watching. The members are set to release their initial rankings next week.
Stanford leads the series between these two founding members of what is now the Pac-12 Conference. The total stands at 39-25-1. Their first contest against each other dates back to 1936. In Pullman, the Cardinal hold a 15-7 advantage. Stanford has won the seven most recent matches and nine of the last 11.
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Stanford at Washington State
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Stanford +12
Three Things to Watch
1. Cougar quarterback attacking the Cardinal secondary
Luke Falk, the man taking the snaps from center for Washington State, has thrown for an average of 412.1 yards per game. His lowest passing yardage in a game was 303. He has completed 26 touchdown passes. He leads the conference in both categories; his totals are also in the top four nationally.
Stanford's defense against the pass has been stout. Of its seven opponents, only three have racked up more than 200 yards through the air. Just one has managed to exceed 300 yards in passing.
The Cougars must be able to reach the 300-yard mark in passing in order to have a chance to compete.
2. Washington State defense against the run vs. Cardinal churning ground attack
The Cougars have allowed opponents 222.4 yards on average per game. Five opponents have gained more than 150 yards on the ground.
The Cardinal have averaged 221 yards per game in rushing. The men from Palo Alto have gained at least 130 yards on the ground in every game except one. That exception occurred at Northwestern, Stanford's sole loss this season.
If the Cardinal continue to pound out 200 yards or so, they will be very tough to defeat. The Cougars must find a way to slow down the Cardinal's running game and keep the yards allowed to 100 or less. If Stanford is allowed to play its preferred style of "ground and pound," the Cougars will not be able to stay close into the fourth quarter.
3. Scare up an upset?
How rowdy will the atmosphere be in Pullman for a late kickoff on Halloween? Considering Mike Leach's affinity for pirates, will this turn into a world record for the number of screamers with eye-patches, bandanas and peg legs in the same place? Could the home crowd serve as the deciding factor if the Cougars can hang close with the favored visitors?
If Stanford wins, that will almost completely wrap up the Pac-12 North title. The Cardinal would have a two-game lead or greater over the rest of the division. They would be undefeated in conference games while everyone else in the division would have at least two losses.
If Washington State wins, the Cougars will immediately leap into the driver's seat in the division. They would only need to win their games in November to clinch the division. No help from anyone else would be required.
Washington State will test the Cardinal secondary. The Cougars will be able to move the ball and put some points on the board. However, they will not be able to put the ball in the end zone often enough to match Stanford's possessions. The Cardinal will slice and slash through the Cougars' defense in the style of an R-rated horror film. The Cougars will show some respectable effort but will fall in the end.
Prediction: Stanford 42, Washington State 27
Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.