Pac-12 teams are cannibals, robbing each other of a chance at a playoff appearance each week. One team does seem to be separating itself from the pack, and the conference is deep enough that anything can happen on any given week. Yet, while growing the middle class is a good thing for the US economy, it is not so good for a football conference, which benefits more from having 2 or 3 elite teams rather than parity across the board. If there is going to be a changing of the guard in the Pac-12, UCLA needs to make sure that it rises above and becomes one of those elite teams.
Player of the Week: Marcus Rios, UCLA - this one is automatic. If you go from a life threatening condition to making a game-winning play, you earn this accolade. So, sorry Marcus and Cody, you had no chance though you did great.
Stat of the Week: 7 - Cody Kessler threw 7 TDs in the Trogans' win over Colorado, a record for a Southern Cal QB.
Game of the Week: Southern Cal at Utah, 7:00pm PST, Fox Sports 1 - not sure how a game featuring two ranked teams for control of their division gets this time slot on that station, but this is a big game, one that also presents a dilemma for Bruins fans...root against your rival, or root for the best outcome so that UCLA still has a chance to win the division.
1. Oregon (6-1, 3-1): line wins games. And in the case of Oregon, line wins games big. The Ducks are starting to get some starters back from injury, which will only make Marcus Mariota better, which will only make the Ducks scarier. Oregon beat the Huskies at home with ease and is slowly separating itself from the rest of its division, if not the rest of the conference. Of course, they have not solved Stanford the last couple of years and there are still games to play, but it looks more and more like they are solidifying their spot in the Pac-12 championship game. Next week they should get little challenge when they travel to play Cal.
2. Stanford (4-3, 2-2): the Cardinal looked quite pedestrian in its loss to Arizona State, clearly showing that they are nowhere close to the team that demolished the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 championship game last year. More worrisome for them is that they were unable to rush the ball well (only 76 yards, 3.5 yards/rush) or to protect it (2 fumbles lost). The defense is still quite good, but can't do enough when the offense only scores 10 points. Perhaps the visiting Beavers will give Stanford a chance to get back to its steamrolling ways, but we have rarely seen that Stanford team this year.
3. Washington (5-2, 1-2): the Huskies traveled to Autzen but simply did not have the firepower to keep up with the Ducks, who scored 28 straight points in essentially one quarter to put the game away early. I don't think Chris Petersen has his QB quite yet and it is only his first year, but it's clear that Washington is still no closer to Oregon than under Sark. Although they're 1-2 in the conference, those two losses are to Stanford and Oregon. I expect that to change over time, but for now the Huskies must brace themselves for a visit from a resurgent Arizona State team.
4. Cal (4-3, 2-3): UCLA tried and tried to give the game away to UC Berkeley, setting them up with short fields, giving turnovers and not finishing drives with TDs. But the Bears wanted none of it, and instead of patiently marching down the field, which our DC will allow any team to do, they took a shot at a TD too early and lost the game on an interception. Too bad, because that win would have greatly improved the Bears' chance at a bowl game, not a bad result after a 1-11 season. Instead, winning 2 more games will be a much taller task with the remaining schedule, which starts with a Friday night visit from Oregon. The Cal defense has a long way to go, but any improvement could have significant results if this offense keeps improving.
5. Oregon State (4-2, 1-2): the Beavers really tried to do themselves and the Bruins a favor by beating Utah at home. Their offense came to play, with Mannion returning somewhat to his 2013 form, though the rushing game was not very efficient. But even though Utah has been essentially a one trick pony, that pony is more of a thoroughbred named Devontae Booker and the Beavers could not find a way to stop him. It may actually have been Oregon State's best game of the season so far, so perhaps they can get something positive out of this painful outcome. A similar performance could net them a win when they travel to play a struggling Stanford.
6. Washington State (2-5, 1-3): Wazzu was off this past week and hopefully spent that time figuring out its defense, with Arizona set to visit Pullman.
1 (tie). Arizona State (5-1, 3-1): the Sun Devils looked quite impressive as they dominated Stanford at home and avenged their two losses from last year. This time they did it with their defense, although Mike Bercovici had quite a nice game, passing for 245 yards and 1 TD. But now, Taylor Kelly may also be able to play on Saturday after returning to practice this week, which may or may not be a good move for the Sun Devils. Husky Stadium is not a very easy place to play and it may not be the best environment for Kelly's return, as good as he is.
1 (tie). Southern Cal (5-2, 4-1): The Trogans abused poor Colorado at the mausoleum, behind Cody Kessler's record-setting 7 TDs. Without much pressure on their defense, Southern Cal can be quite dangerous as their lack of depth does not come into play. There is no denying the talent on this team though, with some really good receivers who make great catches. But the next game at Utah should be tougher on the Trogans, who are only favored by 1. The Utes have a good defense, and the altitude could play a role in getting the Trogan defense tired, not to mention having to stop Devontae Booker.
3. Utah (5-1, 2-1): the Utes once again put the ball in Devontae Booker's hands and he did not disappoint. Although Travis Wilson started the second half against Oregon State, Utah continued to rely on Booker who is likely the conference's best running back at this point. The formula of solid defense and tough running has been working for them, but now Utah has to host a much more dangerous team at home when Southern Cal visits. If Wilson can return to form and if Utah's offense can stay sustain drives, the Utes have a solid chance at beating Southern Cal to stay at the top of the division.
4. UCLA (5-2, 2-2): the Bruins' lackluster win against Cal did have some positive aspects: it broke the streak of losses at Cal, the defense actually played reasonably well, and Marcus Rios was rewarded for his perseverance. But UCLA also had too many turnovers, some lame playcalling on offense, and lacked a killer instinct. A win is a win, but the eyes don't deceive, this team is just far from complete and some of the coaches' decisions, particularly with regards to playing walk-ons over talented scholarship players, are highly questionable. UCLA now has to travel to Boulder to play a feisty Colorado team that, despite its record, has a lot of fight in it and a pretty good offense. Will UCLA finally play a complete game, or once again play at its opponent's level?
5. Arizona (5-1, 2-1): the Wildcats had the week off and will travel to Pullman to take on Washington State. This will likely be another high-scoring Pac-12 affair and the Wildcats must win to keep pace in the division.
6. Colorado (2-5, 0-4): the Buffaloes got swamped right at the outset, falling behind 28-0 after just the first quarter against Southern Cal and never having a chance after that. They fought back in the second half but could not stop the Trogan offense. It continues to be a tough foray into the new conference for Colorado, but so far the players have not given up on MacIntyre. I expect a hard fought game in Boulder, with a much closer game than the line suggests (UCLA is favored by 13.5 points...it's like Vegas hasn't been watching our team).
As is becoming increasingly evident, there are no "comfortable" games in this conference. Records are very misleading. Have a great week, and let's hope for another W for UCLA on Saturday.