The Pac-12 football season is in full swing. Let’s take a look at this week’s slate of conference tilts, shall we?
Arizona (3-1) at USC (2-2)
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. PDT
Last season, the Arizona Wildcats handed USC a loss that would begin the Trojans’ tailspin into their current state of irrelevance. With the Trojans still ranked in the top-10 in various polls, many figured that the Trojans would win this game and set up a heavyweight fight against Oregon in the Coliseum, with just one loss to USC’s name.
Instead, the Wildcats crushed USC’s premature Pac-12 championship hopes and dealt a blow to their season.
That was back in Tucson, though, and this time, the teams take this contest to Los Angeles. In 2012, the location might’ve been enough to make the difference.
This year, Arizona’s worse, but so is USC. The Wildcats were previously blown out by Washington in Arizona’s first real test of the season. For the Wildcats, this game is a must-win if it wants a shot at vying for the Pac-12 South title.
The same goes for the Trojans, though the stakes have been lowered significantly given that the head coach is no longer on the hot seat. By firing Lane Kiffin, USC has essentially given up on the season, though Ed Orgeron is fighting to remove the interim label.
This might not be the Pac-12′s marquee game, but it’s still intriguing and worth watching.
Oregon (5-0) at Washington (4-1)
This game, a tilt between two top-25 squads, is the Pac-12′s marquee matchup, and though the Ducks are heavy favorites, the way Washington took Stanford to the brink of a loss was far more impressive than most anticipated.
Although most pundits and fans have Oregon winning the game rather comfortably, it’s important to remember that these teams are playing in Husky Stadium, perhaps the only venue more hostile than Autzen on the West Coast. Washington has yet to lose this year in Seattle, though Washington has yet to play Oregon in Seattle.
This game should be a shoot-out, with both teams’ offenses running on all cylinders. Keith Price will be difficult to contain, especially since he proved to be a massive pain for the Stanford defense last week. Similarly, Marcus Mariota should go off against a Washington defense that allowed 31 points to Stanford (albeit only off 284 total yards).
We shouldn’t have to convince you to watch this game; if you don’t, we’ll question your commitment to West Coast football.
Stanford (5-0) at Utah (3-2)
Most pundits put Stanford as a heavy favorite against the Utes, and for good reason. The Cardinal have looked like a top-five team for much of the season and have only been reasonably challenged by Washington last week, a game in which Stanford led wire-to-wire (and where UW had only one real shot to take a lead, that being their final drive).
But the Utes have improved dramatically, with Travis Wilson emerging into the top-tier of Pac-12 quarterbacks. A six-interception game against UCLA hinders the perception, but note that Wilson consistently put the Utes in a position to win the game, at one point throwing a perfectly-thrown pass to the endzone that slipped out of his receiver’s hands. Had his man come down with the ball, we’re talking about Utah as the Pac-12 South favorites and likely candidates to upset the Cardinal.
Of course, this Utah team is really good at coming up just short as a Pac-12 team. “If” has become the Ute fan-base’s favorite word, primarily to vitalize just how close they are to being 5-0. (Yes, they’re that close.)
Meaning Stanford can’t sleep on the Utes, and even if they do, we’re sure Utah’s going to put up a fight. The Utes haven’t looked better since they joined the conference, and with the Cardinal having to deal with the raucous crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium, don’t be damned if Utah doesn’t take Stanford to the final second the same way it did with UCLA.
Colorado (2-3) at Arizona State (3-2)
The Arizona State Sun Devils look rather mediocre to start their season, and in all honesty, should be 2-3 heading into this match-up. (As much as we’d all hate to admit it, Wisconsin was jobbed a couple of weeks back against these Devils.) Aside from a 62-point explosion against USC, which ended Lane Kiffin’s tenure, the Sun Devils have been rather underwhelming, especially considering that they were once touted as the Pac-12 South favorites.
Meanwhile, Colorado’s trajectory is headed upwards. While this team is far from competing on a week-to-week basis in the conference, it’s clear that head coach Mike McIntyre has his Buffs in the right direction. Colorado already has more wins through five games than they did all last season, and though they were destroyed by Oregon last week, some early, gutsy playcalling from the coaching staff gave the Ducks fits for about an entire quarter.
Of course, Colorado’s still pretty far off from “middling,” and may still be at the bottom of the conference. All that is to say Arizona State should win this one, and if the Sun Devils pull out a tight victory over the Buffs, it’ll be hard to interpret whether that’s due to ASU underachieving or Colorado improving.
California (1-4) at UCLA (4-0)
We’ll cover this game at GJB rather extensively, so we won’t bore you with previews of this. Just note that the Bruins are 24-point favorites over the Bears of Berkeley, and that’s likely due to Cal’s aimless defense.
Oregon State (4-1) at Washington State (4-2)
Don’t look now, but the Washington State
Pirates Cougars are two wins away from bowl eligibility, which would be their first time since Bill Doba took the Cougs to the Holiday Bowl back in 2003 (ten years ago!). Behind the arm of Connor Halliday and Mike Leach’s famed Air Raid offense, the Cougs are 2-1 in the Pac-12 with a monumental win over struggling USC and a blowout over the Cal Bears. All this signifies that WSU may be out of the cellar of the conference in just the second year under Mike Leach’s tutelage.
Meanwhile, down south, Oregon State has been quietly brilliant, rattling off four straight wins after dropping their opener to FCS squad Eastern Washington. Sean Mannion is one of the nation’s leaders in pass yards, with a ridiculous 21 touchdowns to just two interceptions. The OSU offense as a whole has been nothing but brilliant, and Mannion is carrying much of the load.
These Cougars should be a test for the Beavs, and vice-versa. We’ll learn a ton about both squads, but if recent history is any indication, this game could produce more than 100 total points.