Pac-12 and the Next Best 3, Week 10
Another week, another bowl eligible team. Washington became eligible with their victory over Arizona, making them the Pac-12's fourth eligible team. With three teams sitting at 4-4, with four games to play, at least two more teams should qualify. Let's consider the permutations:
Utah: at Arizona, UCLA, at Washington State, Colorado
UCLA: Arizona State, at Utah, Colorado, at Southern California
California: Washington State, Oregon State, at Stanford, at Arizona State
Which of these teams has the best shot at going at least 2-2? I'd say Utah, although none of them are out of it. California's margin for error has become razor thin, given that they finish the season on the road at the current leaders of the North and South divisions. UCLA doesn't have it easy either. They need to show up for the games they're expected to win, which makes their showdown with Utah next week huge. The Bruins technically still have a shot at the South division title, pending the outcome of this week's game with Arizona State. That fact alone would qualify that contest for the Game of the Week--were it not for a little contest taking place in Seattle.
Pac-12 Game of the Week
#6 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) at Washington (6-2, 4-1)
The week's only matchup of two bowl eligible conference teams renews the nastiest rivalry in the Pac-12. UCLA and Southern California fans would argue this point but they would be wrong. The Huskies and Ducks hate each other with a passion. Some people say it dates back to the days of the Pacific Coast Conference, when, in 1948, Washington successfully conspired to prevent Oregon from going to the Rose Bowl. In more recent times Oregon fans were outraged when then Washington head coach (and current UCLA head coach) Rick Neuheisel celebrated a victory in Autzen Stadium by dancing on the "O" at midfield and taking pictures of himself. The thousand injuries of the Huskies the Ducks had borne as best they could; but when they ventured upon insult, they vowed revenge. And there's no better revenge than winning in humiliating fashion, which Oregon has done for the past seven years running.
Washington is coming off a solid win over Arizona that saw Keith Price have perhaps his worst game of the season. Price threw three interceptions and was a dismal (for him) 16 of 30. Fortunately the Huskies have Chris Polk, who put in his usual workhorse-like effort. Polk rushed 34 times for 144 yards and 4 TDs. The defense allowed Arizona to score 31 points, but that's not truly indicative of how well they played. They did record three interceptions of their own. Arizona hasn't had much of a running game all season. Facing Oregon they won't have that luxury.
Oregon on the other hand had a bit of a struggle last week. Part of that might be due to the return from injury of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James, both of whom showed a bit of rust. In fact, Thomas was pulled from the game in the second half after throwing his second interception. Still, this is a rivalry game and both should get the start. James in particular has to be drooling after seeing how Stanford ran all over Washington two weeks ago. Oregon will do what they always do, or at least they'll try to do what they always do. Washington represents the best opponent they've seen since Arizona State. But they won't have the luxury of playing this game at home.
The Bottom Line
This is a very emotional week for Washington. Friday marks the 150th anniversary of the university, with celebrations scheduled throughout the weekend. Former Husky greats are in town (I saw Steve Emtman today) and they will all be at the game. This will also be the final game at Husky Stadium before it closes for two years for renovations. Washington would very much like to celebrate with a victory that would also keep their slim hopes for winning the North division alive. Plus, it's Oregon. With the possible exception of Washington State there's no opponent they hate more. The Huskies have to be hoping they'll catch Oregon looking ahead to their big showdown with Stanford next week. For Oregon's part, they have to get their starters in a rhythm early. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner will be itching to test Washington's run defense. With rain forecast for the game this will likely come down to whether Oregon's starting tandem can outdo Chris Polk. The answer is, yes they can. Oregon 42, Washington 31
The Rest of the Conference
#20 Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) at UCLA (4-4, 3-2)
UCLA still has a dream of winning the Pac-12 South and saving Rick Neuheisel's job. Some would say delusion. It seems we've all forgotten that at the start of the season Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson was on the hot seat as well. The fact that the Sun Devils are having a great season removes that pressure. But that fear remains, and they won't be complacent. The Bruins have been schizophrenic, getting blown out one week and blowing out their opponent the next. Playing at home will give them a boost, but it all comes down to Kevin Prince. He's been somewhat fragile over the years, and the Sun Devil defense has a way of hurting people. If he can stay in the game UCLA has a chance at the upset. In this case, fear will win out. Arizona State 35, UCLA 24
Utah (4-4, 1-4) at Arizona (2-6, 1-5)
As I mentioned above, Utah is looking at going to a bowl game in its first year as a member of the Pac-12. To do that they'll have to win games like this one, in which they'll likely be favored. Arizona isn't a pushover but they are one dimensional. They can't run the ball. Utah's defense simply has to take away the Foles to Criner connection, and be competent enough on offense not to turn the ball over. Do that, run the ball well, and the Utes might overcome Arizona's home field advantage and steal this one. I'm going to take the upset. Utah 30, Arizona 27
Washington State (3-5, 1-4) at California (4-4, 1-4)
The head coaching death watch moves to San Francisco this week. Cougar coach Paul Wulff has the team moving in the right direction, even though they're still losing overall. The same can't be said for California. The Berkeley fans are definitely becoming restless with Jeff Tedford's insistence on sticking with erratic quarterback Zach Maynard. Maynard will be the key to this game. If he plays like he did last week, turning the ball over multiple times, Washington State will win going away. But if he's the Maynard of two weeks ago, against Utah, it will be the Bears' game. Sadly, I think it will be an off week for Zach. Washington State 28, California 24
#4 Stanford (8-0, 6-0) at Oregon State (2-6, 2-3)
This game has "trap" written all over it. Stanford is coming off an emotional triple overtime win over Southern California; a win that left them without the services of a couple of key players. The loss of tight end Zach Ertz for two weeks will really hurt, and nearly cost them the game in Los Angeles. Oregon State had the honor of being the first conference team to lose to Utah. Corvallis isn't the easiest place to play, and if Stanford comes out flat they could find themselves in a hole. Coach Shaw will not let them look ahead to their showdown with Oregon next week. They may trail early, but when all is said and done the Cardinal should prevail. Stanford 44, Oregon State 20
#21 Southern California (6-2, 3-2) at Colorado (1-8, 0-5)
Southern California might also suffer a letdown after their epic game last week. However against Colorado it probably won't matter. The Buffaloes aren't completely hapless, just injury depleted and outmanned. They may get running back Rodney Stewert back this week, which will help some, as well as a few formerly suspended defensive backs. But the Colorado defense will be no match for Matt Barkley and Robert Woods. Neither of whom will see much playing time in the second half. Southern California 52, Colorado 17
The Next Best 3
#1 Louisiana State at #2 Alabama
There's this little game taking place in Tuscaloosa this Saturday, perhaps you've heard about it? Both teams are well balanced juggernauts worthy of playing for the national championship. Unfortunately only one of them can. I'm going to take the advice of former Secretary of State (and Stanford professor) Condoleeza Rice--who will be at the game--and roll with the Crimson Tide. Alabama 27, Louisiana State 20
#17 Kansas State at #3 Oklahoma State
Another stern test for the Cowboys. Kansas State is coming off its first loss of the season. Oklahoma State, with a win, will become one of the top two teams in the BCS witha shot at playing for the national championship. How ironic that Oklahoma has provided the blueprint for beating the Wildcats. Oklahoma State 35, Kansas State 24
#10 South Carolina at #8 Arkansas
This game could be the equalizer in the SEC East. South Carolina without their star running back and a less than outstanding quarterback, playing in Fayetteville and hoping to keep pace with Georgia. Even though the Gamecocks have beaten Georgia, the schedule favors the Bulldogs going forward. South Carolina needs this. Unfortunately the SEC East doesn't hold a candle to the SEC West. Arkansas is every bit as good as Alabama and Louisiana State. As South Carolina will discover. Arkansas 38, South Carolina 14