The Mayor rules - Jeff Gross
The weekly state of the conference for football in the Pac-12 conference, where Southern Cal is an afterthought.
I think it is safe to say that Bruins are going to have the best Thanksgiving week they have had in a long, long time. The funny thing is, while most of us were nervous, it seems we all had a feeling that it would be so. Perhaps the positive energy flowed into our team in the stadium. Or perhaps we just have a bad ass coaching staff and some great kids who were just itching for the right leadership to bring glory back to UCLA. Be that as it may, you still have to thank Neuheisel for recruiting some great players and Bruins: you look at the playmakers on Saturday and nearly all of them were his boys. Perhaps he didn't coach them right but he sure picked them right. So, thank you Rick. And thank you to all those who put in an incredible effort, and to Coach Mora for finally instilling the right frame of mind in our players so that they could have a successful season and make us feel good along the way. Anyway, it was a potentially seismic weekend not just in our conference but in college football, so let's get right to it.
Player of the Week: Johnathan Franklin, UCLA - The Mayor ran for 171 yards and 2 TDs in a monumental game for his team, in his senior year, and had a key TD run late in the game to seal the Trogans' fate. You can't script it better than that and it was truly well deserved.
Stat of the Week: 3-9 - Cal's record in the 2012 season is simply shocking. I think we will all wonder how on earth we lost to that team, but it was just one of those strange days in college football, and perhaps it was a key learning moment for our coaching staff and our players. As for Cal and Tedford, I cannot understand what has happened to this program. Tedford is a better coach than that.
Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford, 3:30pm PST, FOX - the more you win, the bigger the stakes. A win for UCLA, who is already headed to the Pac 12 Championship game, increases their chances of actually hosting that game (if the Beavers can beat the Ducks). Stanford, on the other hand, has to win to secure its spot in the championship game which it would then host. The Trogans will also try to end Notre Dame's BCS championship hopes (which is a travesty in that ND does not have to play a conference championship game). But, it's just SC...
This week's power poll takes a conference-wide view as we approach the championship game.
1. Stanford (9-2, 7-1): the Cardinal notched possibly their most impressive win since Harbaugh came to head the program. Their early victory as a huge underdog against Southern Cal was big, but this win was far more meaningful. Oregon was the only team that Stanford had not beaten in the last few years. They couldn't do it even at home with Andrew Luck. But up in Autzen, they stepped up big time and their defense played at a championship level. Perhaps it was the return of Shane Skov that was the catalyst, but they were also led by a freshman QB who led a tying TD drive late in the game. The Cardinal still need one more win against UCLA next week to ensure their spot in the Pac 12 championship game.
2. Oregon (10-1, 7-1): with mounting pressure and a BCS championship game looming, the Ducks simply could not close the deal against Stanford at home. Their defense played well until Stanford's last drive where they allowed the Cardinal to convert a 4th down and eventually a close TD catch. All is not lost for the Ducks but the road to the BCS championship just got much tougher, with the clear bias for SEC schools (who played an embarrassing schedule this past weekend). We will see if they can rally and at least put themselves in a good position for that game, or at least the Rose Bowl. First up is the Civil War against the Beavers, a game that will likely be the most competitive it has been in recent years, and will be played in Corvallis. A win and the Ducks will eagerly watch the Stanford-UCLA game and will be the biggest Bruins fans outside of Westwood.
3. UCLA (9-2, 7-2): it's not surprising any more, is it? This team is for real. UCLA played perhaps its most complete game of the season because it included a big test of mental toughness, in inclement weather, with history gnawing at their backs. The Bruins came through in beautiful fashion, demoralizing the Trogans and their fans and dashing their hopes on a soggy Saturday. We all had hoped that Barkley taste a bit of karma and he did. I had hoped that he would cost them the game and that was partly true as well. But in the end this was more about an awesome performance by some great Bruins who stepped up and played with heart and determination and are buying into a coaching staff that has believed in them and put them in a position to win while learning and evolving throughout the season. Now, we get to see if this team is championship-caliber when Stanford comes to visit next week, with one of the best defenses in the country and huge linemen. Who else wants two more games at the Rose Bowl? Amazingly, UCLA could end up playing 9 games this season in its home stadium. Let's make it happen Bruins!
4. Oregon State (8-2, 6-2): the Beavers are the latest to put a nail into Cal's season coffin, demolishing the Bears 62-14 as QB Sean Mannion came back to play like he did early in the season. The Beaver defense shut down the Cal passing game and earned 4 turnovers, warming up for a huge game at home against the Ducks. If they beat Oregon, they could finish with the same record as them, something which absolutely no one in the world would have predicted before the season. The Coach of the Year award in the conference will be a tight contest between Mora, Shaw and Riley.
5. Southern Cal (7-4, 5-4): oh the hilarity! The Trogans are stacked with highly rated recruits, a [pretender] Heisman candidate and a loudmouth coach whose biggest attribute is how attractive his wife is. I can't think of a better example of eating crow, and of a better illustration of karmic justice. The truth is, this Southern Cal team is an average team with a few exceptional players. Likely because they are led by a somewhat incompetent coach who has been failing upwards for years. Oh but I do hope he stays in South Central for a while longer. The abyss is looming, the defections imminent. With their star golden boy Matt Barkley potentially out next week, the Trogans could have one of their worst seasons of the last decade, complete with losses to both of its rivals. How sweet it is.
6. Washington (7-4, 5-3): as the Huskies get to the soft part of their schedule, they get back closer to their 8-win ceiling that will likely be the norm for Sark's program. They have seemingly played better to date, with an improving offense, but the opposition has gotten notably weaker. The latest victim was Colorado, who fell 38-2. Still, it has been a season with some big wins against Stanford and Oregon State, thanks to a pretty good defense. The Huskies finish up in the Apple Cup as they travel to Pullman to take on Wazzu.
7. Arizona (7-4, 4-4): it was not a bad start for Rich Rodriguez, considering how the Wildcats finished last year. Traveling to Utah where it is always tough to play, the Wildcats were locked in a tight contest and were down by a TD in the 4th quarter before scoring 17 points and winning by 10. QB Matt Scott was back but he clearly has not been the same since suffering two consecutive concussions one week after another. The day belonged to RB Ka'Deem Carey who rushed for 204 yards and a TD. A win next week against Arizona State and Rodriguez will arguably have a season as successful as Mora's by Arizona's standards.
8. Arizona State (6-5, 4-4): the Sun Devils took care of business at home by destroying Washington State and earning themselves a spot in a bowl game. They needed this badly after 4 straight losses in the toughest part of their schedule. Still, the season has been eerily similar as previous ones for ASU, a fast start followed by a bit of a meltdown. We'll see if Graham can close the season strong when they travel to Tucson to take on rival Arizona.
9. Utah (4-7, 2-6): Utah's bowl hopes were dashed with a loss to Arizona, but the Utes are somewhat playing for next year with a freshman QB. Still, despite many thinking that Utah would consistently contend for the division title, they have failed to do so the last two years. Injuries have played a part, certainly, but the Pac-12 slate is proving more difficult than they initially thought for the Utes. Wittingham is a good coach and I expect him and the Utes to rebound next year. They can still finish on a decent note when they travel to play "rival" Colorado.
10. Cal (3-9, 2-7): the downward spiral continues for Tedford's team, in a shockingly disappointing season that put a serious dent in his legacy at Cal. It is still unclear to me how it all unraveled for him (and how on earth UCLA lost to them), but it likely all starts with the QB, with a system that is probably too complicated and with staff defections. I think Tedford can still right the ship, but they were not even competitive against Oregon State. Some changes will likely be made in the offseason, which started Sunday for the Bears and will be longer than your average...Bear's...
11. Washington State (2-9, 0-8): well this was not the start I had envisioned for Leach in the Pac-12, but he either found that the players he had were not quite what he expected, or he simply broke them down too much. Perhaps he really needed to weed out that program to rebuild it into his own image, but Leach has his work cut out for him. I still think he will be successful but he is walking a fine line that only winning will overcome. Another year like this and with similar controversies and the Cougars' patience will be worn thin. One thing is sure: their fans aren't as cocky as in the offseason. After being manhandled by Arizona State in Tempe, a game where they weren't competitive at all, the Apple Cup looms and beating the hated Huskies could launch Wazzu into a better offseason.
12. Colorado (1-10, 1-7): a brutal season is coming to an end for the Buffaloes. I really don't know at this point if Jon Embree can turn things around. He will likely get another chance next year, but seasons like this one are simply not good for recruiting and for morale. Credit to them, they still play hard but they are badly outmatched. In the "Neuheisel Bowl", the Huskies easily took care of them 38-3. Utah visits next week and perhaps the Buffaloes can gain a bit of redemption to kick off their long offseason.
What a glorious week to be a Bruin. I hope you all enjoy your turkeys even more, and get ready for another huge game on Saturday. Wear your gear proudly!