The Pac-12 race is starting to take shape, with 7 teams already with 6 wins and and 8th in position to become bowl eligible this week. Four teams are lumped together in the South at either 4-1 or 3-2. The North is a two team race between Stanford and Oregon, with the winner potentially being decided on Thursday night. The Bruins technically control their own destiny as they play each of the contenders in the South to close out the year and that starts on Saturday on the road against Arizona.
Player of the Week: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State. Tough to go against a player that put up 6 touchdowns in one half on the road and 7 overall. Arizona State ran Washington State out of their own stadium and won 55-21 (42-14 at the half). He threw for 275 yards and rushed for 66.
Stat of the Week: 35% That is roughly the percentage (34.8% for UCLA, 35.9% for Arizona) of third downs coverted against the defenses in UCLA's upcoming game in Tucson. Whichever unit executes better on third down will be in the best position to win the game.
Game of the Week: #3 Oregon @ #5 Stanford 6 PM, ESPN (Thursday, November 7) This is the game of the year in the Pac-12 and one of the most anticipated games of the entire year in college football. This is the only visible speed-bump in Oregon's way to a shot at the BCS National Title (Pac-12 Conference Championship withstanding) and a shot for the Cardinal to put themselves in the driver's seat for another Rose Bowl bid. Stanford took down the Ducks 17-14 in overtime last season, Oregon's sole loss in 2012, by totally shutting down Oregon outside of the tackles on defense and leaning heavily on Stepfan Taylor and Zach Ertz
1. Oregon (8-0, 5-0): Another week, another #1 ranking in the Power Poll for the Ducks. Marcus Mariota and crew had a bye week headed into their biggest game of the year against Stanford. The conference's #1 rushing offense in Oregon squares off against the conference's #1 rushing defense. That is what decided last year's upset and it would be surprising if that weren't the case on Thursday night. Pac-12 is on a national stage, we should all hope that Glasses Ref isn't there.
2. Stanford (7-1, 5-1): The Cardinal also had a bye headed into Thursday. I'm really a fan of the Larry Scott and the Pac-12 protecting teams from playing on short rest going into those games. It makes the level of competition much higher. Anyway, the Cardinal are at home against the Ducks and the spotlight is on the matchup between Trent Murphy and the defense versus the infamous Oregon offense. An angle that is getting undersold is how Stanford's offense is 11th in the conference in total yards and 7th in scoring offense (32.6), while the Ducks defense ranks 1st in scoring (16.9 per game) and 4th in total yards. The Cardinal aren't going to hold Oregon to 14 points this year, so where is their offense going to come from? Could get out of hand if they can't drive down the field.
3. Arizona State (6-2*, 4-1): I place the asterisk next to the Sun Devils' record because they lost to Wisconsin, but the Pac-12 referees decided differently. Nevertheless, Arizona State is quite the talented group and stayed in control of the Pac-12 South division with their 55-21 win over Washington State, becoming bowl eligible in the process. They finally passed the Bruins in the Power Poll in a convincing manner, with 11 of 14 front pagers ranking ASU 3rd and ahead of UCLA. The Sun Devils head to Utah this week, a place that has produced Stanford's only loss of the season.
4. UCLA (6-2, 3-2): Almost every front pager had UCLA either 3rd or 4th (one 5th place vote), so the disparity between the Sun Devils and Bruins is not great. I'd imagine that a win on Saturday against Arizona would propel UCLA right back into 3rd. The Bruins had an unimpressive 45-23 win over Colorado last week, with Brett Hundley and Devin Fuller providing the vast majority of the offense and the defense playing flat early on. The rushing game will need to step it up against an average Wildcats group, giving up over 160 yards per game despite only facing one team in the top half of the conference in rushing offense. Jim Mora and the Bruins need this win to stay on pace to repeat as Pac-12 South champions and restore some confidence in the fanbase.
5. Southern Cal (6-3, 3-2): The Trojans won another game in the post-Lane era, embarrassing Oregon State 31-14 in Corvallis. They took a tough loss this week as Morgan Breslin was announced to miss the remainder of the season Depth issues continue to challenge Southern Cal and the defense continues to impress. Outside of an atrocious two game stretch against the Arizona schools, their defense hasn't allowed more than 14 points to a single team. They head to Berkeley to take on the Bears this Saturday, looking to match last season's win total.
6. Washington (5-3, 2-3): The Huskies ended their 3 game skid with a 41-17 win over Cal. Those three losses to Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State dampened the mood on what Washington was capable of in conference. However, the Huskies have a very balanced offensive team (even including that brutal midseason stretch) ranking in the top 25 in rushing and passing offense behind Bishop Sankey and Keith Price. They play Colorado on Saturday and head to Pasadena to play UCLA the week after. In my opinion, that is the toughest game remaining on the Bruins' schedule. Keep an eye on that team the rest of the season.
7. Oregon State (6-3, 4-2): The Beavers are off this week, having a chance to lick their wounds after a 31-14 beatdown at the hands of Southern Cal. There is a good chance that the Beavers won't win another game this season after a 6-1 start. They finish on the road against ASU, at home against Washington and at Oregon. They'll be underdogs in all 3. Sean Mannion has come back to earth and the rushing offense is the second worst in the conference and nation, ahead of only Washington State (who does not have Storm Woods on their roster). Brandin Cooks continues to be one of the most prolific receivers in the country with 91 catches for 1344 yards and 14 touchdowns already.
8. Arizona (6-2, 3-2): The Wildcats pulled out a narrow 33-28 point win over UC Berkeley. Kadeem Carey continues to look like the best running back in the country, having already put up 1072 rushing yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. Arizona also possesses once of the top passing defenses in the country, having allowed just 212 yards per game through the air. That's a solid matchup for Brett Hundley and will be a nice test on both sides.
9. Utah (4-4, 1-4): After a tough loss to the Bruins and a big win over Stanford, things were really looking up for the Utes. Losses to Southern Cal and Arizona have changed that quickly. For whatever reason, Utah has looked like an extraordinarily average team away from Rice-Eccles Stadium. They take on the Sun Devils at home in a game that could show whether or not the Utes just had a fluke game against the Cardinal or if Rice-Eccles is as tough a venue as it seems. An edge in the Utes favor is having a bye week, while ASU played Washington State last Thursday.
10. Washington State (4-5, 2-4): Mike Leach and crew had a tough day against the Sun Devils last Thursday in a game that wasn't as close as the 55-21 score would indicate, and they have a bye week to review what went wrong. It is tough to see another win on the Cougars' schedule as they play at Arizona and Washington with a home game against Utah in between. The Cougs are certainly trending in the right direction but aren't quite talented enough to hang around with the better teams in the conference. There is a big step up from them to the bottom two teams.
11. Colorado (3-5, 0-5): The Buffaloes travel up to Washington to take on the Huskies on Saturday. Colorado seems to be getting more competitive in conference as the season goes on, but are yet to come within 20 points of any team in conference. Sefo Liufau looks like the real deal at quarterback and there is a lot of young talent at the skill positions as well, look for the Buffs to improve a lot next season.
12. UC Berkeley (1-8, 0-6): Poor Cal. They just cannot catch a break, having given Arizona a scare in a 33-28 loss. Freshman Kenny Lawler emerged with a three touchdown effort including arguably the catch of the year. With Lawler, Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper, the Bears are genuinely one of the better passing offenses in the conference. There is literally zero chance that Cal will have as serious an injury problem next year as they did this season. They take on the Trojans on Saturday in northern California, so everyone will be rooting for the Bears to pull out their first conference win over Coach Ogre.
There is the Power Poll and I hope we all get a great week of football to start the stretch run of the season.