There’s no question that the road to the Pac-12 North title goes through the state of Washington this season. While Washington is the popular favorite to claim the divisional crown, Washington State has played its way into the picture with a hot start in Pac-12 play.
The Cougars (5-2, 4-0 Pac-12) are on a roll since opening the season with back-to-back losses. Washington State is averaging 39.3 points per game in Pac-12 play while yielding 25.5 points per contest. It is growing more and more likely each week that the Pac-12 North will be decided by the Apple Cup at the end of November.
Oregon State (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12) is not expected to offer much resistance to the Cougars. Injuries have battered the Beavers at key positions and have made an already tough rebuilding season that much more difficult.
Washington State has a 50-47-3 edge in the all-time series. The Cougars are seeking their third consecutive win over Oregon State.
Washington State at Oregon State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 10:45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Washington State -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Oregon State’s offense survive the injury bug?
Injuries have hit Oregon State hard on offense during the month of October. Starting quarterback Darell Garretson broke an ankle against Utah two weeks ago. Starting running back Ryan Nall injured a foot against California three weeks ago and then re-aggravated the injury after a single carry against the Utes a week later.
Oregon State will need those players' replacements to step up to have a realistic chance of beating Washington State. Marcus McMaryion had a mediocre outing in his first start of the season at quarterback. McMaryion threw for 148 yards on 12-of-26 passing against Washington and tossed a pair of interceptions. Tim Cook did well in place of Nall in the backfield, with 108 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Getting Victor Bolden more involved should alleviate some of the pressure on McMaryion and Cook. Bolden totaled 133 all-purpose yards against the Huskies, highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown run.
2. Can Luke Falk become the Pac-12’s leading passer?
One of the best individual statistical battles in the Pac-12 has been waged between a pair of quarterbacks – Washington State’s Falk and California’s Davis Webb. The duo is neck-and-neck for the top spot in the league for passing yardage and total offense.
Webb currently has a slight edge over Falk in both categories. He leads the Pac-12 in passing yards (2,581) and total offense (2,495). Falk has churned out 2,511 passing yards and 2,452 total yards for the Cougars so far this season.
His chances of overtaking Webb this week are decent. Falk is coming off his best week in Pac-12 play yet. He threw for 398 yards and three touchdowns on 42-of-53 passing in Washington State’s 37-32 win over Arizona State.
3. Joining the 200 club
Washington State's River Cracraft reached an impressive milestone against Arizona State. Cracraft caught his 200th career pass in the win over the Sun Devils, finishing with seven catches for 79 yards.
Cracraft and fellow receiver Gabe Marks are the only pair of teammates in Pac-12 history to total at least 200 catches during their playing careers. Marks has 271 career receptions, while Cracraft has 203.
Marks has deservedly drawn tons of attention for his skills and stands out as a surefire NFL Draft pick after this season. Still, Cracraft is equally dangerous in the Cougar offense. He leads Washington State in receiving yards (470) and receiving yards per game (67.1). If Oregon State focuses too much defensive attention on stopping Marks, Cracraft can make the Beavers pay.
No one could have predicted Washington State would turn things around so quickly in conference play after such a dismal start to the season. The Cougars have a legitimate shot at reaching the Pac-12 title game if they take care of business down the stretch. Oregon State has made progress from last season, but the Beavers should not pose much of a challenge on Saturday.
Prediction: Washington State 38, Oregon State 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.