Pac-12 and the Next Best 3, Week 11
As we approach this Veterans/Remembrance Day weekend, let's start this week's blog with a sincere thank you to everyone who has ever served in uniform. Your service, sacrifices, and the sacrifices of your families honors us all.
We're now at the point in the season where BCS rankings start to matter. Last week's showdown between Alabama and Louisiana State not only produced an unsatisfying game, it produced a poll and BCS result that is somewhat hard to take. When Oregon lost to Louisiana State in September they fell ten spots in the polls. Alabama fell two spots, and only one in the BCS standings. It seems grossly unfair at first glance. Still, let's see where things stand in two weeks.
Pac-12 Game of the Week
#6 Oregon (8-1, 6-0) at #3 Stanford (9-0, 7-0)
When the schedule was released last year everyone pointed to this weekend as the deciding one for the Pac-12 championship. Whoever the South division champion turns out to be will get to weigh in on that point, but there's no question this is a huge game. Not just for the Pac-12, but for other national championship aspirants. Everyone knows the score and the stakes: Oregon is riding an 18 game conference win streak, with their last conference loss coming two years ago at Stanford. Stanford has the nation's longest win streak--17 games--with their last loss coming at the hands of Oregon last year. Something's got to give.
Oregon seems to be peaking at just the right time. LaMichael James seemed to be back to his old speedy self last week against Washington, rushing for 156 yards. There was no sign of any lingering issues with the elbow he dislocated earlier in the season. Darron Thomas, on the other hand, isn't passing with his usual efficiency. Against the Huskies he completed just over 50% of his passes (13/25, 169 yards, 1 TD) and didn't appear to be particularly sharp. In truth, Oregon usually doesn't need him to be perfect because the Ducks ground game has been so good. Presumably Oregon will need to be very good in all phases of the game to beat Stanford. Thomas will need to play better this week.
Things haven't been going quite so well for the Cardinal. Injuries continue to pile up. Wide receiver Chris Owusu is out following a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit against Oregon State last week. It's Owusu's third concussion in two years, and you have to question whether or not he'll ever play football again. Tight End Zach Ertz is questionable following an injury against Southern California. And starting placekicker Jordan Williamson may miss another game due to an undisclosed injury. But there's good news as well, with safety Delano Howell returning from a hand injury. Stanford's open field tackling has been less than stellar since losing linebacker Shane Skov (for the season) and Howell earlier this year. Last week the Cardinal started slowly against Oregon State before putting things together and ultimately winning by 25 points. Andrew Luck played well, but not exceptionally so, passing-wise. However the running game was very productive, with the team rushing for almost 300 yards. They'll need that balanced attack to wear down Oregon's speedy defenders.
The Bottom Line
This game won't be a repeat of Louisiana State and Alabama. Touchdowns will be scored. Probably a lot of them. This also will not be a repeat of Oregon's come from behind victory last year. This year's Oregon squad isn't quite as dominant as last year's. And this year's Stanford team is much better defensively--at least when they're not dealing with key injuries. Oregon has greater speed across the board, but that speed comes at the expense of size on the offensive and defensive lines. Stanford wants to take advantage of their size and physicality to beat their opponents into submission. The key to the game will be the same for both teams. They will need to get to the opposing quarterback. In addition, Stanford will need to find a way to contain LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in the open field. Oregon will need to find a way to shut down Stanford's power running game. Stepfan Taylor is a much better back than people give him credit for being. Everyone and their brother is picking Oregon to win this game, and I'd be in good company to do the same. Which of course means I won't be doing that. The true difference in this game will be the coaches. David Shaw and his staff have been exceptional at making halftime adjustments all season long. Chip Kelly and his staff haven't lost in conference for two years for a reason. They're both excellent coaches, and Kelly has been here before. But Shaw has been here more recently, against Southern California. So, advantage Stanford. Stanford 42, Oregon 34
The Rest of the Conference
UCLA (5-4, 4-2) at Utah (5-4, 2-4)
UCLA's upset of Arizona State last week suddenly makes this an important game in the South division. Both teams are on the verge of becoming bowl eligible. Utah will get there regardless of the outcome of this game. UCLA still has a chance to win the division, but only if they can win in Salt Lake. If the game were at the Rose Bowl it would be an interesting toss-up. However Utah is tough at home. They're very good against the run. And it doesn't hurt that their offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, used to have the same role at UCLA last year. And he would like nothing more than to make Rick Neuheisel's life a bit more miserable. Utah 34, UCLA 24
Washington (6-3, 4-2) at #18 Southern California (7-2, 4-2)
Washington has had the Trojans' number the past two years, winning in both LA and Seattle. And while the Huskies are a fairly potent team offensively, defensively they're more than a little suspect. Stanford ran all over them. Oregon did the same. Southern California can do that, but with Matt Barkley coming off six touchdown passes last week I rather expect more of the same this week. The rest will be up to the resurgent Trojan defense. Southern California 48, Washington 20
Oregon State (2-7, 2-4) at California (5-4, 2-4)
California has been schizophrenic all season, playing like world beaters one week and complete patsies the next. Last week they seemingly learned that they should run the ball more to compensate for the erratic passing of quarterback Zach Maynard. That would be a good strategy against Oregon State, who had difficulty containing the Stanford run game last week but otherwise played the pass pretty well. The Beavers have had California's number in recent years, but with bowl eligibility on the line the Golden Bears should take care of business. California 35, Oregon State 24
Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) at Washington State (3-6, 1-5)
The Sun Devils let one they should have won get away last week at UCLA. If they want to make the championship game they have win in the Palouse. Washington State has been regressing since the start of the year and it's now all but certain that head coach Paul Wulff will be fired at season's end. Still, in the cold and snow of Pullman the Cougars will make this much closer than you would expect. Sun Devil fans will do plenty of cursing before this one is done. Arizona State 28, Washington State 27
Arizona (2-7, 1-6) at Colorado (1-9, 0-6)
With remaining games against UCLA and Utah, this is almost certainly Colorado's last chance for a conference win this year. Arizona has a competent offense but their defense is virtually non-existent. Colorado has scored against better teams and should score here. Unfortunately, Colorado's defense has been very porous. If they can run effectively they may finally give the home fans something to cheer about. Colorado 28, Arizona 24
The Next Best 3
#19 Nebraska (7-2, 3-2) at #12 Penn State (8-1, 5-0)
This is just about the football. Penn State is the last undefeated team in Big Ten conference play. Nebraska laid a huge egg at home last week against Northwestern. At this point the Cornhuskers are unlikely to catch Michigan State for the lead in their division. Penn State knows what's at stake for them and their program. They'll hold it together. Penn State 20, Nebraska 14
#24 Auburn (6-3, 4-2) at #14 Georgia
The SEC east could well come down to this game. By the time they kickoff South Carolina should have already put away Florida. But thus far teams from the SEC west have outplayed the teams from the east. That won't change this week. Sorry Boise State. Auburn 34, Georgia 27
#2 Oklahoma State (9-0, 6-0) at Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4)
Why pick this game? Well, if I had finished this earlier I would have chosen the battle of the fighting engineers that took place in Atlanta. Instead, we get to see if Texas Tech can have lightning strike twice. Looking at the shootout the Cowboys won last week against Kansas State I'd have to say no. But you never know...strange things happen when you enter the Bermuda Triangle of the Southwest. Oklahoma State 48, Texas Tech 30