Pac-12 and the Next Best 3, Week 6
Welcome to a special early edition of the blog this week. Are you ready for some Thursday night football? Before we get to that I'd just like to say thank you, Kirk Herbstreit and ESPN for a bit of controversy this week. So, the Pac-12 is "Out of sight, out of mind"? Just a little reminder, Herbie, that the world does not revolve around the opinions spouted by talking heads in Bristol, CT. I liked Herbie better when he was a Volkswagen...
On to this week's games. For the first time there will be two Games of the Week.
Game of the Week : California (3-1, 0-1) at #9 Oregon (3-1, 1-0)
Thursday's game features the team that almost derailed Oregon's run to last year's National Championship Game. California managed to hold Oregon to its lowest offensive output of the year before finally losing on a late score 15-13. The game was not without controversy. A California defensive lineman was instructed by his line coach to fake an injury in order to slow the frenetic pace of Oregon's offense. (You can see the play here: http://youtu.be/7KzThMLSB44 )
This year's California squad hasn't fared too badly. Statistically they are one of the top teams in the conference. Junior quarterback Zach Maynard has decent numbers, as does junior running back Isi Sofele. However they've played fairly weak competition. (Presbyterian College? Really? Nothing against the Big South, but you'd think the Golden Bears could find a sacrificial lamb a little closer to home.) Due to a quirk in scheduling their game against Colorado had to be treated as a non-conference win. Their game with Washington though was a straight up conference loss. And unfortunately for the Golden Bears, the Washington game foreshadows this one.
Oregon on the other hand is, well, Oregon. There's no need to bring up the LSU loss; everyone watched the game and we all know the Ducks had trouble finding a rhythm. But since then they've been the Oregon of old. They're averaging 52 points per game, which leads the nation. LaMichael James hasn't been getting the press of last year but he has not slowed down in the least. James is averaging more than 153 yards per game, and as a team Oregon are sixth in the nation, averaging 299.5 yards per game. That's a lot of offense, and we haven't even talked about the passing game. Darron Thomas has been efficient and effective. Truthfully, he hasn't needed to pass all that much. In a conference full of great quarterbacks and high powered offenses, Oregon's is arguably still the best. Defensively, the Ducks have been in the middle of the conference statistically. But, other than the loss to LSU they haven't really played anyone of note. Which is not a good sign, as those unheralded opponents have managed to score on them. And like LSU, a team with a good defense could cause the Ducks problems.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly doesn't say much to the media, but you can tell a lot by what he doesn't say. Last year's game irked him. The fake injury annoyed him. He would love nothing more than to rub California's nose in it. The question is, does he have the defense to make it happen? Against the Golden Bears the answer is yes. California can score points, but as Washington showed they can't always score enough of them. With the game being played in that wretched hive of scum and villainy known as Autzen Stadium, I don't give California much of a chance. Oregon 55, California 27
Game of the Week : #22 Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) at Utah (2-2, 0-2)
Even though we're only in the second week of conference play, this game could very well decide who the South division champion will be. It also marks the restart of an old rivaly that stretches back decades, to the time when these two programs were both members of the old Western Athletic Conference. The Sun Devils have suffered through a number of injuries, notably on the offensive line. Left tackle Evan Finkenberg is out indefinitely and is undergoing knee surgery this week. Center Garth Gerhart is questionable this week with a high ankle sprain. If quarterback Brock Osweiler seems a bit rushed, this is likely the reason. Defensively they've also lost players on the line and in the secondary to injury. So Arizona State will be depth-challenged this week. But no less effective. Osweiler is fourth in the conference in passing efficiency and total offense. Which is good, because they've been erratic defensively. The same squad that was able to stop Matt Barkley and Southern California's high powered offense struggled with injury-riddled Oregon State last week. Circumstances should work in their favor this week--once again, due to injuries.
As bad as Arizona State's injury problems are, Utah's are potentially worse. Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn is out for at least two weeks with another injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Wynn had surgery on this shoulder in the offseason. His replacement, Jon Hays, transferred from the University of Nebraska-Omaha when that school dropped its football program. Prior to last week he'd had no FBS football experience. But Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow is pretty high on him. With a full week of game preparation we'll see how he handles the pressure the Sun Devils are sure to throw at him. Utah still plays solid defense, and ranks near the top of the conference in almost all categories. They're second to Stanford in points allowed, are good against the run and decent against the pass. They'll simply need to keep doing what they have been doing.
As last week showed, Arizona State has a habit of playing down to its competition. The road loss to Illinois probably shouldn't have happened, even though the Illini are a solid team. Injuries aside, Utah is a solid team as well. If the Utes can get quality play out of Jon Hays they'll have a shot. Rice-Eccles Stadium does give them a bit of an advantage. But I don't think this is the week the Utes get their first conference win. Arizona State 27, Utah 14
The Rest of the Conference
Arizona (1-4, 0-3) at Oregon State (0-4, 0-2)
I had no idea the Wildcats would push Southern California to the brink last week. Or that Oregon State would fight as hard as they did against Arizona State. The Beavers haven't given up. Quarterback Sean Mannion played well last week. With a few players returning from injury this week Oregon State should be even better. There's one thing they're certainly better at than Arizona, and that's playing defense. The Wildcats have become too one dimensional, relying on Nick Foles to pass them into contention in each game. It's not going to work this time. The Beavers home field will be just enough to get them their first conference win of the season. Oregon State 27, Arizona 24
Colorado (1-4, 0-1) at #7 Stanford (4-0, 2-0)
Stanford is still on a roll. They have the most balanced offense in the conference and, overall, the strongest defense. Andrew Luck has shown he can play almost any position on the field. That one handed catch last week was a thing of beauty. Last year he leveled a Southern California defender looking to advance a fumble recovery. Oh, and he's also pretty good throwing the ball. He just hasn't had to do that very much, as Stanford has also run the ball well. Colorado is still playing well offensively but defensive lapses have killed them. They had Washington State on the ropes last week before allowing two late scores. Buffaloes coach Jon Embree has suspended five defensive players for rules violations. Only one of them was a starter, but losing defensive depth is the last thing Colorado needs for this game. Stanford has the nation's longest winning streak at 12 games. It will be 13 after this week. Stanford 52, Colorado 17
Washington State (3-1, 1-0) at UCLA (2-3, 1-1)
This could potentially be the most competitive game of the week. The Cougars have to be confident following their comeback win over Colorado last week. UCLA is playing much better. Coach Rick Neuheisel feels that his team is plenty talented but they've failed to execute. You might say the opposite is true of Washington State--they're not the most talented squad but they've executed very well. Cougar quarterback Marshall Lobbestael gets the start, even though original starter Jeff Tuel is ready and will be available. Cougars coach Paul Wulff is smart to stick with the hot hand. But as noted last week the Bruins have a decent running game, and the Cougars will need to tighten up their run defense to make a go of it. Even though UCLA is playing better expect to hear a lot of boos in the Rose Bowl. We may look back on this game as the final nail in Coach Neuheisel's coffin. Washington State 30, UCLA 27
Bye: Southern California, Washington
The Next Best 3
#3 Oklahoma at #11 Texas
This year's edition of the Red River Shootout comes amid the off-field turmoil surrounding the Big XII Conference. Not that any of that will have any bearing on what happens on the field. The question to ask here is, do you believe that Texas is back from their disasterous 5-7 season last year? I don't think they are. Former starting quarterback Gale Gilbert announced his intention to transfer. True, he's injured and wouldn't have been available anyway. But team psychology is a fragile thing. Still, why even go into all of that? Oklahoma is simply better. Oklahoma 38, Texas 17
#12 Michigan at Northwestern
I know, why pick this game as one of the Next Best 3? For one thing it's the Big Ten and I have a great deal of respect for that conference. And for another, I think Michigan is seriously overrated. This game has "trap" written all over it. Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is very good, Michigan's defense is still suspect, and the Wolverines just might be looking ahead to next week's showdown with Michigan State. Northwestern 34, Michigan 31
#17 Florida at #1 Louisiana State
Florida is in a world of trouble. A three quarterback rotation? Are they serious? Sadly, they are. What choice do they really have, after losing John Brantley in the game against Alabama last week? But, even with Brantley Florida had little chance this week. LSU's defense rivals that of Alabama, and against most teams they have just enough offense to get the job done. Louisiana State 35, Florida 10