Pac-12 and the Next Best 3, Week 5
I missed my friend OM's Pac-10 blog from last year, so I thought I'd take a swing at it. If there's sufficient positive feedback I may keep it up for the rest of the season.
Pac-12 Game of the Week
Washington at Utah
Welcome to the Pac, Utes! I trust your initial introduction to the conference at the hands of USC wasn't too traumatic? Hopefully not, as this week you will be facing perhaps the most surprising team in the conference. Washington is sitting at 3-1 and is currently tied with Oregon for second in the North division. Given that the one loss was to #8 Nebraska, in a game in which the Huskies' offense played extremely well, fans of Utah might be getting a bit nervous. They have reason to be. Washington quarterback Keith Price is currently ranked 9th in the nation in passing efficiency. In a number of ways he's exceeded the output of his predecessor (and the 8th pick in last year's NFL draft) Jake Locker. Running back Chris Polk has been a beast and ranks 4th in the conference. Washington's problem is its porous defense. The Huskies were torched by Nebraska, and Cal threw for 349 yards and rushed for an additional 109 against them last week. The talk in Seattle is that, after three years of mediocre defensive progress, Coach Sarkisian will be forced let his friend, fellow USC coach and defensive coordinator Nick Holt go.
Given Washington's defensive challenges Utah's offensive leaders have to be salivating a bit. Quarterback Jordan Wynn has been working his way back from off-season shoulder surgery and has been more of a game manager than a gunslinger thus far. Washington's defense should give him some opportunities to cut loose--should it be necessary. Utah also has a decent running game thanks to junior college transfer John White. White currently ranks second in the Pac-12 with 380 yards. On the other side of the ball, Utah's defense has been passibly stout. They lead the conference in turnover margin at +9, as well as passing efficiency defense at 114.8 yards per game. Utah's run defense has been very good and currently ranks third in conference. If they can contain Polk and the secondary continue its good work the Utes have a decent shot at their first conference win.
Utah is playing its first conference game at home, following a bye week. They want this game badly. Washington still believes they can win the North division if their defense shapes up. They do not want to carry the stigma of being the first team to lose to one of the new schools. They won't be. Washington 34, Utah 24
The Rest of the Conference
Washington State at Colorado
If you were asked before the start of the season which team would lead the conference in offense, how many of you would have picked WSU? And yet here we are in week 5 and the Cougars are averaging 380 passing yards a game and almost 160 rushing yards per game. After the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Tuel in week 1, backup Marshall Lobbestael is either first or second in every passing category. Of course, the one "good" team the Cougs have played (SDSU) blew them out. Colorado is better than people believe. However, Colorado has shown little propensity for defense. Jon Embree and the Buffs coaching staff have them starting to believe. Colorado will be playing their first conference game at home, and while they are starting to figure things out it just won't be enough. Washington State 40, Colorado 17
Arizona at Southern California
The Trojans are smarting after last week's beatdown at the hands of Arizona State. Matt Barkley was reprimanded by the conference for calling Vontaze Burfict a dirty player. But that was last week. Arizona is no Arizona State, and the Trojans have too much pride to lose two in a row to the lowly Wildcats. For Arizona, it will be a repeat of last week's abuse at the hands of Oregon. The calls for Coach Stoops' head will only grow louder after this one. Southern California 55, Arizona 27
Oregon State at #25 Arizona State
Injuries have pretty much derailed the Beavers season. Losing to Sacramento State in week 1 has to rank as one of the most humiliating losses for the program in some time. Things have not gotten any better of late, with OSU losing to lowly UCLA last week. The good news for this week is that tailback Malcolm Agnew and safety Josh LaGrone should return from injury. The bad news is that it still won't be enough. South Division-leading Arizona State is coming off a big win against Southern California and they appear to be hitting their stride. With the game in Tempe, OSU can only hope that ASU is looking ahead to their big showdown with Utah next week. It's not happening. Arizona State 40, Oregon State 17
UCLA at #5 Stanford
UCLA is coming off a big win over Oregon State--big in the sense that any win for UCLA is a big win. The Bruins appear to have settled on Richard Brehaut at quarterback, and he played well enough to get the victory. Stanford needed last week's bye after a hard fought victory over Arizona that cost them linebacker Shane Skov for the rest of the season. The Cardinal lead the conference and the nation in rushing defense, and the conference in points allowed per game in large part due to Skov's efforts. We'll see if his replacement committee of A.J. Tarpley and Jarek Lancaster can fill his considerble cleats. Brehaut is a competent quarterback and Stanford's pass defense is a bit suspect. Still, UCLA shouldn't be much of a test. The Rick Neuheisel death watch continues. Stanford 52, UCLA 13
Bye: Oregon, CaliforniaThe Next Best 3
#8 Nebraska at #7 Wisconsin
The Big Ten showdown of the season? Almost certainly. At least until the conference championship game, which very likely could feature these same two teams. Wisconsin hasn't played any significant competition yet but they are still a scary, scary team. The defense is for real. Quarterback Russell Wilson is for real. Montee Ball and James White are for real. Nebraska has played better competition and even though they are undefeated they've had a few weaknesses exposed. Washington showed that the defense is a bit suspect. And while quarterback Taylor Martinez has been an effective runner he's been a less efficient passer. If Wisconsin takes away the run the game will hinge solely on Martinez' arm. I don't think he'll get it done. Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 17
#3 Alabama at #12 Florida
"SEC son, SEC. We better den you!" Yeah, whatever. Granted, the best teams in the SEC are better than most. This year that would include Alabama but sadly, not Florida. In my opinion the Gators are overrated. There will be no letdown for Alabama following their big win over Arkansas last week. Florida has yet to play anyone of note. The Swamp will be drained by the third quarter. Alabama 38, Florida 22
#13 Clemson at #11 Virginia Tech
The most surprising team in college football? Possibly. Clemson is riding high following convincing wins over Auburn and Florida State. Next up, a trip to Blacksburg to face defending ACC champ Virginia Tech. The Hokies are their usual defensive selves, but they have yet to play significant competition. I think they're in for a surprise. Clemson 35, Virginia Tech 28