Upsets open gates to Pac-12 North
Notebook: UCLA quickly, quietly becomes best team in South
The final week of the Pac-12 season could not come with any more drama than we'll see this Saturday. The script is one even Hollywood couldn’t write, despite much of the excitement coming from Los Angeles.
Although UCLA claimed the Pac-12 South Saturday with a 38-28 victory against Southern Cal, the Pac-12 North is up in the air after Stanford’s 17-14 upset of Oregon.
The Bruins are locked in the Pac-12 championship game Nov. 30, but their opponent is yet to be determined. Oregon and Stanford both remain in the hunt for the final spot.
Oregon put itself in position to run away with the division title and yet Stanford had other plans. Now comes a series of scenarios that could put the Ducks, Bruins or Cardinal in the Rose Bowl to end the season.
It’s safe to say it wasn’t expected there would be a three-horse race in the last week of the season. Each team has such a large stake in each other team’s destiny.
Stanford plays UCLA. Oregon plays Oregon State.
Oregon earns a spot in the Pac-12 championship game with a win and a Stanford loss.
“Our guys understand what’s on the line, and what’s on the line every day and every practice,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “We’ll get back to work on Monday.”
Stanford wins the division simply with a win. If the Cardinal lose, the Ducks must lose as well for Stanford to win the North.
The question then looms large for UCLA, which is a better matchup for the Bruins: Oregon or Stanford? Coach Jim Mora is set on winning this weekend before having to figure that out.
“We are going to have to get over [the victory against USC] quick though,” he said. “We have 24 hours and then we have to get on to Stanford.”
Oregon clearly has more offensive firepower than Stanford, but the Cardinal defense ranks with Notre Dame near the top of the list for the nation’s best.
Notre Dame could have an effect on the Pac-12 as well. Southern Cal welcomes the Irish to the Coliseum next week with a chance to spoil their freshly minted No. 1 ranking.
If the Trojans defeat the Irish, Oregon is playing for even more, perhaps paradise regained. If Oregon manages to win the Pac-12 and Notre Dame loses, the national championship picture becomes a muddled four-team mess – with potentially Kansas State and definitely the Alabama-Georgia winner in the picture.
The bottom line for all teams, save the Trojans, is that they all control their own destinies -- for the most part. It is essentially win-and-you’re-in at this point.
The question that remains unanswered is who takes the final bow when the curtain is closed on the Pac-12 season.
Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12)
• The Wilcats earned a hard-fought victory in quarterback Matt Scott’s first game back from injury. Although Scott’s performance left much to be desired – 160 passing yards and one touchdown – Ka’Deem Carey picked up the slack, racking up 204 yards on the ground. Carey has 1,381 yards this season with a good shot at 1,500, although it will have to go through the teeth of Arizona State’s Will Sutton on the defensive line.
• Plenty is at stake for Arizona and Arizona State in the Territorial Cup. Arizona and Arizona State have seven and six wins, respectively, and are both fighting for bowl spots. Scott struggled in his first game back, but is proven capable of ripping apart defenses. He’ll need to be at peak performance to dismantle the Sun Devils in what should be a memorable matchup.
Next Game: at Arizona State Nov. 23
Arizona State (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12)
• The Sun Devils earned a much-needed victory after four consecutive losses essentially derailed their season. Now a six-win team, the Sun Devils could land a nice bowl game in head coach Todd Graham’s first season at the helm.
• Taylor Kelly turned in a comforting performance for Arizona State fans. After back-to-back weeks with less than 200 yards passing, two touchdowns and four interceptions, Kelly had a healthy four-touchdown game.
• The Sun Devils finish with a formidable opponent in Arizona. Obviously, squelching the Wildcats’ talented offense will be object No. 1 on the agenda. Highly touted defensive tackle Will Sutton and Co. have the tall task of limiting one of the nation’s leading rushers in Ka’Deem Carey.
“We know this is the most important game of the year, bar none,” Graham said. “This game isn’t about Todd Graham or any other coach. It’s far bigger than that. It’s about Arizona State versus Arizona and that’s all it needs to be.”
Next Game: vs. Arizona Nov. 23
California (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
• The Golden Bears reached the finish line and it couldn’t have come soon enough for head coach Jeff Tedford. This season was a far cry from what Golden Bears fans wanted it to be. “It’s not something we’re used to,” Tedford said. “It’s obvious we have work to do.” With just two league wins and three overall, 2012 will go down as Cal’s worst season since 2001 when the Bears won only one game.
• Quarterback Allan Bridgford should return next year with an edge on the depth chart as season-long starter Zach Maynard graduates. Bridgford, paired with what Tedford hopes is a better, healthier offensive line, could make for a better season next fall.
• One blow Cal must take is the loss of running backs C.J. Anderson and Isi Sofele. Anderson and Sofele teamed with sophomore Brendan Bigelow for 1,978 rushing yards this season.
Next Game: Season complete
Colorado (1-10, 1-7 Pac-12)
• It’s no mystery why Colorado continues to struggle. The Buffaloes are young, inexperienced and banged up with a relatively new head coach. This summer will be important for Colorado’s future.
• One positive from this season: freshman running back Christian Powell has 625 yards. He’s not exactly threatening the nation’s or even the conference’s best, but he has the potential to be a stronghold in the Buffs’ offense for years to come.
• Colorado’s final game is at home against Utah. The least the Buss could do to exit the season on a high note is compete, win or lose.
“They have played with a sense of urgency,” head coach Jon Embree said. “You can’t say that this team has not played with urgency. We just have not executed or played both sides of the football.”
Next Game: vs. Utah Nov. 23
No. 5 Oregon (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12)
• Oregon can -- maybe? -- take solace in that it was not the only team to take a plunge Saturday. Kansas State lost its contest with Baylor and its No. 1 ranking. The problem for the Ducks comes in the now large obstacle that lies ahead: leapfrogging Alabama. They had their shot to ride out the season tops in the country when Kansas State lost, but to Stanford’s credit, it didn’t happen.
• Oregon, to make it to the Pac-12 championship game, must first take care of business in Corvallis, Ore., against Oregon State. If the Ducks win the Civil War and the Cardinal lose, all is right again in Oregon’s world. If Oregon loses, Stanford takes the head-to-head, no matter the result of Stanford's game Saturday. If Oregon and Stanford both win, Stanford again takes the head-to-head. The Ducks just became the biggest UCLA fans outside the state of California.
Next Game: at Oregon State Nov. 24
No. 16 Oregon State (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12)
• Sean Mannion made a valiant return to his starting role at the quarterback position. He aired out for 325 yards and four touchdowns in his first start since Week 8. Mannion will be important against an opportunistic Oregon pass defense second in the FBS with 20 interceptions.
“[Mannion] had a great week of practice prepared hard and studied a lot,” head coach Mike Riley said. “He came out very aggressively. He played with confidence, was fast and went after it. Good tings happened.”
• Oregon State running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods paired for 192 yards and three touchdowns. The Beavers’ offense clicked on all cylinders against Cal, which will be important in what could be a shootout with their in-state rival Ducks.
Next Game: vs. Oregon Nov. 24
Southern Cal (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12)
• Southern Cal underperformed all season. The BCS is miles in the rearview mirror and USC now faces a possible fifth loss to undefeated Notre Dame. To start the season, it was a question if the Trojans would lose a game, if just by looking at the team on paper. But that's why you play the game, right?
• Notre Dame brings arguably college football’s toughest defense and Southern Cal will likely have to attack it without starting quarterback Matt Barkley, who walked out of the Rose Bowl with his arm in a sling. Barkley didn’t perform well before going out with the injury to his throwing shoulder, throwing a pair of interceptions – one on his first pass of the game and the second in a tight fourth quarter.
Next Game: vs. Notre Dame Nov. 24
No. 11 Stanford (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12)
• Stanford achieved what was believed to be impossible by stopping Oregon’s offense. The Ducks are barely held to 14 points in one quarter, let alone an entire regulation game -- and overtime. The Cardinal defense was as good as ever and the offense was just good enough. That’s all head coach David Shaw could ask for.
• Stanford has a tall task in shutting down UCLA. However, it’s hard to believe that a defense that can hold down Oregon’s offense can’t do the same to the Bruins. Then again, the Pac-12 has been all but predictable this season.
Next Game: at UCLA Nov. 24
No. 15 UCLA (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12)
• UCLA accomplished a huge goal this past Saturday, legitimizing its season with a Pac-12 South title by way of a 38-28 victory against Southern Cal. The interesting thing is how quietly the Bruins were able to sneak under the radar to earn their title. With so many focused on USC’s struggles, the Bruins silently became one of the best teams in the nation.
• UCLA certainly doesn’t have an easy opponent next week in Stanford. Head coach Jim Mora’s squad must focus on taking care of business against the Cardinal before moving onto the Pac-12 championship game. The Bruins’ spot is sealed, but multiple scenarios could play out, the results determining if UCLA faces Oregon or Stanford.
“[The division title] means a lot,” Mora said. “Number one, to our kids, who are in there celebrating right now. Number two, I think it means a lot to our university, our student body, and our alumni. Other than that, it means we are 9-2 and playing Stanford next week.”
Next Game: vs. Stanford Nov. 24
Utah (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12)
• Utah’s loss to Arizona must be disappointing to head coach Kyle Whittingham. His new-look offense featuring freshman quarterback Travis Wilson and a revived running back in John White III had perhaps its best performance. Wilson finished with 311 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. White racked up 112 yards on the ground and yet the defense was not up to task.
• The Utes have lost bowl eligibility, though they were fighting tooth and nail to hold onto it in the first place. What has been a difficult season with quarterback troubles aplenty has a chance, however, to end on a high note. Utah finishes the season at Colorado, which will be a chance for Wilson to end his first year at the quarterback position for Utah with a great deal of success.
Next Game: at Colorado Nov. 24
Washington (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12)
• Quarterback Keith Price had his third consecutive field day, picking apart Colorado’s weak secondary. In three games, Price has 762 yards and eight touchdowns. When Price plays poorly, Washington plays poorly. The Huskies have lost each game in which Price threw multiple interceptions.
“We came in at halftime and challenged him,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “There was a little bit of tough love there in the locker room, but we challenged the guys about the standard and expectation level that they have to set.”
• Washington faces in-state rival Washington State, another weak opponent, to finish the season. A win would likely place the Huskies in a more prominent bowl game against an equally successful opponent.
Next Game: at Washington State Nov. 23
Washington State (2-9, 0-8 Pac-12)
• Washington State’s problems may run deeper than Colorado’s. A team in the Buffs’ situation can be expected to struggle, but the Cougars have tenured players and a high-caliber coach. Wazzu’s best offensive player, Marquess Wilson, quit the team due to alleged divisions with head coach Mike Leach. The running game may not even earn 400 yards this season. Colorado is rebuilding. Washington State is just bad.
• Even though it’s hard to imagine a victory to finish the season against a talented Washington team, Leach needs to look for positives and the team needs to compete for the Cougars to end on a high note.
“As the flood gates opened,” Leach said of the game, “we didn’t become less frantic and stay within our technique. We tried to make too much happen, which happens in situations like that.”
Next Game: vs. Washington Nov. 23