UCLA climbing back on the map
Notebook: Washington silently creeping up Pac-12 standings
The last time UCLA finished the regular season with a winning record was 2006. The Bruins went 7-5 with no wins against AP top 25 competition. Since then, the Bruins’ best regular-season record was 6-6 and they went a combined 1-3 in subsequent bowl games.
Yet, this season with a new head coach and a freshman quarterback, UCLA is having its best season in recent memory. The Bruins lead the Pac-12 South and will capture the South’s spot in the conference championship game with a win against Southern Cal.
It isn’t without reason, however, the Bruins have snuck under the radar. UCLA had the benefit of scheduling on its side, arguably its toughest games coming in the final two weeks of the season.
UCLA defeated No. 16 Nebraska in Week 2 to get on the map, but struggled in the following weeks going 2-2 with losses to Oregon State and Cal.
But it’s been in the past four weeks that UCLA has rattled off four consecutive wins, including a 56-point trouncing of a quizzical Arizona team.
Now, the Bruins march mightily into the final two weeks of the season with Southern Cal and Stanford on the bill – easily UCLA’s toughest two-game stretch this fall. With an offense ranked in the top 25 in the country featuring a Heisman hopeful at running back, the Bruins have a shot at becoming the best team in Southern California for the first time in a long time.
UCLA last won eight games or more in 2005 when the Bruins finished 10-2. This year’s Bruins have a shot to do the same, but with more than a Sun Bowl on the line. A Pac-12 championship would send UCLA back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1998.
Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12)
• Running back Ka’Deem Carey ran for a mind-blowing 366 yards and five touchdowns. It came a week after Oregon’s Kenjon Barner exploded for a 321-yard performance of his own.
“When you go from long run to long run and your linemen are really happy you know you must be doing something right,” Cary said. Utah brings the 18th-ranked run defense to this week’s matchup with the Wildcats.
• Arizona’s defense, on the other hand, has not performed well as of late, allowing 66 points to UCLA and 31 to Colorado (115th in the FBS in scoring offense). Although the Utes only average 25 points per game, don’t put it past them to keep the game tight.
Next Game: at Utah Nov. 17
Arizona State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12)
• Arizona State has taken a long and hard fall, losing four consecutive games to drop to .500 after starting 5-1. But what’s to expect with a four-game stretch of Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State and Southern Cal? The Sun Devils still have a shot to bounce back for a winning record to end the year with Washington State and Arizona the last two teams on the bill.
• The Sun Devils rank in the upper third of FBS teams in rushing yards and passing yards and are in the top 35 in scoring. Schedulers didn’t do them any favors with the past four weeks’ lineup, but Arizona State is not a terrible team. Strong performances against weak defenses to round out the year could put Todd Graham’s Sun Devils in a bowl game.
Next Game: vs. Washington State Nov. 17
California (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12)
• Cal reversed the Oregonian method of triumph, forcing the Ducks to put their opponent down in the second half, which is a sort of victory for the Golden Bears’ defense in and of itself. Oregon State’s offense is not as powerful as Oregon’s, so if the Bears are able to continue with what they did last week, they could end the season with a surprising upset victory.
• Cal had the unfortunate scheduling draw that gave them a bye week on the last week of the season. That left the Golden Bears with no chance to regroup, regain focus, but instead deal with the onslaught of 12 consecutive games. No bye week could have a lot to do with Cal’s struggles this season.
Next Game: at Oregon State Nov. 17
Colorado (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12)
• The Buffaloes had their second-highest scoring output of the season with 31 points, but even that success could not hide head coach John Embree’s frustration. His postgame remarks were short and to the point. “I thought the offense did do well,” Embree said. “We were patient and I thought our quarterbacks handled the pressure well, for the most part.”
• The Buffs have two difficult but winnable games remaining against Washington and Utah. Both are at home and Embree wants nothing more than a complete game from his team.
“We haven’t played well,” he said. “It’s been different factors and different reasons. We’ve got two games left to put together a complete game.”
Next Game: vs. Washington Nov. 17
No. 1 Oregon (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon showed yet another dynamic to its multifaceted offensive attack against Cal. For the first time this season the Ducks were held under 200 yards rushing, but quarterback Marcus Mariota more than made up for that with 377 passing yards and six touchdowns. Mariota’s performance is encouraging going into a game with the nation’s leading run defense in Stanford.
“You have to pick your poison with them,” said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. “If you get in there and stop the run, you are covering really fast guys down the field.”
• Alabama lost to Texas A&M last weekend, making the impossible possible. It’s hard to see Oregon jumping Kansas State without a Wildcats’ loss, but now the Ducks are in control of their own desitny. It would seem that winning out would put the Ducks in the BCS national championship game. But having been leapfrogged by Kansas State and Notre Dame this season without losing a game, Oregon should not get too comfortable.
Next Game: vs. Stanford Nov. 17
No. 15 Oregon State (7-2, 5-2 Pac-12)
• The Beavers’ quick stumble is turning into a full-fledged fall. They’re still in contention for the Pac-12 North, but need help from Stanford this week when the Cardinal face Oregon. If Oregon State beats Cal and Oregon and Stanford beats Oregon, the Ducks and Beavers would both have two conference losses with the Beavers winning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
• First, though, the Beavers must make it past Cal which held down Oregon on the ground as much as one team can. Oregon State, with a much less mighty offense, may have difficulty if Cal puts up a similar defensive effort. It’s also important to note that QB Cody Vaz left the game Saturday with an apparent leg injury, which could put Sean Mannion back into his starting role against the Golden Bears.
Next Game: vs. California Nov. 17
No. 12 Southern Cal (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12)
• Curtis McNeal made a comeback Saturday against Arizona State, filling in for an injured Silas Redd. McNeal ran for 100 or more yards for just the second time this season. Having McNeal and Redd both running well will be important for USC in its final two games against UCLA and Notre Dame.
• Matt Barkley broke Carson Palmer’s record for most passing touchdowns in Pac-12 history. Aside from that, however, Barkley is playing more like a rookie quarterback in the NFL, piling up plenty of yards, many touchdowns but a lot of interceptions. He was picked off three times Saturday, making it 13 on the season. Other than the picks, Barkley has played fairly well, but the passing game is far from where it should be.
“We’re not overreacting to one game,” head coach Lane Kiffin said. “The sky is not falling. Matt can still throw. We still have a lot to do.”
Next Game: at UCLA Nov. 17
No. 14 Stanford (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12)
• Stanford has found its new “it boy” in freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan. As Josh Nunes struggled in victories through the first half of the season, Cardinal fans waited patiently to see if Nunes would recover. But head coach David Shaw put Hogan in two weeks ago and was impressed enough with his performance to give him his first start.
“He’s earned our trust,” Shaw said. “When you start a new guy at quarterback early in the week, we knew he could handle quite a bit, but we didn’t know how much.”
Now, the Cardinal know they can trust their team with Hogan.
• Stanford is a conference killer and silent assassin. The Cardinal win in probably the least flashy way, but they are 8-2 heading into games with Oregon and UCLA with an outside chance at the Pac-12 North title.
Next Game: at Oregon Nov. 17
No. 17 UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12)
• UCLA continued to do everything it needs to earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, although barely. The Bruins cracked open a 30-point lead only to have Washington State come back to end the game eight points shy of a victory. Shoring up late-game defense should be a point of emphasis for head coach Jim Mora.
• The Bruins round out the season with Southern Cal and Stanford, two difficult opponents. Those two games will prove whether UCLA belongs in the BCS conversation.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Nov. 17
Utah (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12)
• John White III had his best game of the season for the Utes against Washington, rushing for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Utah plays two poor rushing defenses in Arizona and Colorado in the weeks to come and White’s performance will be key in the Utes’ effort to remain bowl eligible.
• Utah had been making strides, playing tough against USC, UCLA and Oregon State and with convincing victories over Cal and Washington State. Taylor Kelly appeared to be getting better by the start.
“This week, major step backwards,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said, “so we’ve got to get back to the drawing boards, but we’ll find some things to build on and get ready for Arizona.”
Next Game: vs.Arizona Nov. 17
Washington (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12)
• The Huskies have strung together a nice stretch of three games to put them in a good position come bowl season. Steve Sarkisian’s squad has won those three games heading into what should be easy victories against Colorado and Washington State.
“We are happy to be bowl eligible, but there’s plenty of work still left to be done for this football team,” Sarkisian said, “We realize that, we understand that, and we’ll get back to work here and try to get another one at Colorado.”
• Bishop Sankey eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing this season for the first time in his young Washington career. Sankey has the opportunity to add a whole lot more against the Pac-12’s worst rushing defense in Colorado.
Next Game: at Colorado Nov. 17
Washington State (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12)
• The Cougars have just three rushing touchdowns on just 329 yards this season. Washington State ranks last in the FBS in rushing offense. Think opponents know what’s coming?
• Head coach Mike Leach appreciated the effort his team gave against UCLA – much more than the previous week when the Cougars were manhandled by Utah.
“This is the hardest I’ve seen this team play, and harder than really most teams I’ve coached,” Leach said. If there’s any takeaway from this loss, it’s that the Cougars have the ability to stage a comeback against a formidable opponent.
Next Game: at Arizona State Nov. 17