Thearon W. Henderson
Big weekend ahead for Pac-12 contenders
Well, here we are just three days away from Pac-12 Semifinal Saturday. Nearly everything of note - divisional championships, BCS chances, and bowl eligibility - is on the line this weekend.
Here are this week's rankings:
HAPPY FAN BASES
1. Oregon (10-0, 7-0 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Ducks pull away after initial struggles
Why they're not lower: For the first time all year, Oregon appeared to be in trouble against Cal. The Ducks didn't look in danger of losing, but a 24-17 lead halfway through the third quarter is an epic disaster for Oregon compared to the rest of the season, and several players went down to injury throughout the game. Of course, the Ducks responded with five straight touchdown passes to win going away, so maybe the worry was a little premature. Now Oregon heads into the toughest part of its schedule, finishing its regular season against Stanford and Oregon State.
First thing on fans' minds: Marcus Mariota. Last week, Kenjon Barner was a Heisman frontrunner. Now, there's some question as to whether he's the best candidate in his own backfield. Mariota, just a redshirt freshman, has played out of his mind. He leads the nation in passing efficiency while rushing for over 50 yards per game. Against Cal, Mariota had his best collegiate game, throwing for 377 yards and a school record-tying six touchdown passes. If he keeps playing this way, Oregon's offense could be unstoppable.
Last week: 59-17 win over Cal
Up next: vs. Stanford on Saturday at 5 p.m.
2. Stanford (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cardinal finds a way to beat Beavers
Why they're not lower: It was far from pretty, and it was in doubt for much of the game, but Stanford came out on top Saturday against Oregon State. The Cardinal lost the turnover battle 4-1 and trailed by two scores in the second half, but Stanford took its opportunities well and buckled down on defense to come away with the win. Now, the road gets even tougher for the Cardinal, as Stanford must travel up to Eugene to take on the best team in the country.
First thing on fans' minds: Oregon's speed. Most fans would probably prefer to think about something else, but during Oregon week, it's hard to pay attention to anything else. Each of the last two years, the Cardinal has entered its huge matchup with the Ducks feeling pretty good about its chances, and each time Oregon has run circles around Stanford and left no doubt about who was the better squad. Can the Cardinal have any more luck this year, against what appears to be the best Oregon team of all?
Last week: 27-23 win over Oregon State
Up next: at Oregon on Saturday at 5 p.m.
3. UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Bruins avoid huge collapse
Why they're not higher/lower: UCLA can win the Pac-12 South this weekend against USC, but Bruin fans can't feel good about the team's performance in the second half against Washington State. UCLA gave up four touchdown passes after halftime, as Wazzu cut the 30-point lead to eight. The Bruins still came out on top, but it was far from a convincing win. Of course, all that means little now, as momentum goes out the window when it comes to rivalries.
First thing on fans' minds: Beating USC. UCLA has been unable to knock off its crosstown rival, losing five straight and 12 of 13 to the Trojans. This year, the rivalry takes on an extra level of importance, as the winner of this game wins the Pac-12 South and is just one win away from the Rose Bowl.
Last week: 44-36 win over Washington State
Up next: vs. USC on Saturday at 12 p.m.
4. Washington (6-4, 4-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Huskies gain bowl eligibility
Why they're not lower: In its final game of the year, home Washington wrapped up an impressive season with a big win over Utah. At 5-1, home Washington proved itself to be one of the best teams in the conference. This has made up for road Washington's 1-3 record, and that is why the Huskies are bowl eligible. With two more road games left, Washington has a chance to improve its bowl position, and its two opponents' 3-17 combined record gives the Huskies some hope at improving that road record.
First thing on fans' minds: Offense. There it is! It took until the ninth FBS game of the year, but Washington finally scored more than 21 points, putting up 34 against a good Utah defense. Bishop Sankey had another strong game on the ground, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, and Keith Price had three total touchdowns and 277 passing yards to spur the previously inept Husky offense.
Last week: 34-15 win over Utah
Up next: at Colorado on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.
SO-SO FAN BASES
5. Oregon State (7-2, 5-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Beavers let big one slip away
Why they're not higher/lower: Oregon State exceeded all expectations for this season weeks ago, and a seven-win season is already a success compared to last year's 3-9 campaign. That said, the Beavers had a golden opportunity to notch a signature win that would put Oregon State in good position for a Rose Bowl berth. OSU forced four Stanford turnovers, but the Beavers could only score a total of three points off those turnovers. This proved to be the difference, as Oregon State let a nine-point lead evaporate in the second half. The Beavers are still poised for a nine-win season, but this loss was a tough pill to swallow.
First thing on fans' minds: Missed opportunities. Oregon State went just 3-13 on third downs, settled for three field goals, and scored just three points on four Stanford turnovers. Improve any of these numbers, and the outcome of the game likely changes drastically. The whole game felt like a missed opportunity for the Beavers, who now have to make due with a strong finish to the season and a high-tier non-BCS game.
Last week: 27-23 loss to Stanford
Up next: vs. Cal on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
6. USC (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Trojan defense leads team to win
Why they're not higher/lower: USC was in danger of another disappointment, trailing Arizona State 17-14 in the second half. This time, though, the Trojans responded, scoring the final 24 points of the game to win easily. Offensively, the running game put up 225 yards to help make up for Matt Barkley's three interceptions. However, it was the team's defense, which held the Sun Devils to 250 yards and forced four turnovers, that was the star of the game.
First thing on fans' minds: Rose Bowl. For as disappointing as this season has been, USC is just two wins from the Rose Bowl, which would still be a reasonable success of a season. To get there, though, the Trojans need to take care of their biggest rival in Pasadena. This appears to be a much taller task than it has been in the past few years, so USC will need to show the form that led voters to pick the Trojans as the No. 1 team in the nation before the season.
Last week: 38-17 win over Arizona State
Up next: at UCLA on Saturday at 12 p.m.
7. Arizona (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Wildcats get back in win column
Why they're not higher/lower: Arizona has had several ups and downs already this season, but last week's 66-10 loss to UCLA had to be the most demoralizing result of the season. Luckily for the Wildcats, Colorado came to town to cure all their problems. At least for a week. The win over the Buffaloes gives Arizona bowl eligibility, so the Wildcats can now focus on finishing strong and improving their bowl position.
First thing on fans' minds: Ka'Deem Carey. It is easy to pooh-pooh anything a team or player does against Colorado, but Carey's performance was impressive regardless of the opponent. On just 27 touches, Carey gained 400 total yards, including a conference-record 366 rushing yards, and he ran for five touchdowns. These absurd numbers finally gave some overdue national exposure to Carey, who is tied for second in the nation in rushing yards.
Last week: 56-31 win over Colorado
Up next: at Utah on Saturday at 7 p.m.
MISERABLE FAN BASES
8. Utah (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Utes continue road struggles
Why they're not lower: All the momentum from two straight blowout wins went out the door as Utah continued its poor play on the road. The Utes drop to 0-5 away from home, having scored just 63 points on the road. The 34-15 loss to Washington was particularly tough because it puts Utah on the brink of missing out on a bowl game. Now there is no margin for error, as the Utes must beat Arizona and Colorado to make a bowl game.
First thing on fans' minds: Offense. When Utah scores 21 or more points, the Utes are 4-1. The problem is, it's mid-November, and Utah has only scored 21 or more five times. The 109th-ranked offense in football was even more inept than usual last weekend, managing only 188 total yards. When the offense struggles so much, there is almost no chance for the defense to keep its team in the game.
Last week: 34-15 loss to Washington
Up next: vs. Arizona on Saturday at 7 p.m.
9. Arizona State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Sun Devils lose fourth straight
Why they're not higher/lower: Arizona State's downward spiral continued with a 38-17 loss to USC. The Sun Devils were right in it for most of the game, but their offense was stifled in the second half, and the defense could not keep the team close. Now ASU just has to regroup to try to at least clinch bowl eligibility, because if the Sun Devils slip up Saturday against Washington State, they could be looking at a 5-7 season.
First thing on fans' minds: Defense. In Arizona State's 5-1 start, the Sun Devils gave up just 85 points, an average of 14 per game. In their four game skid, the Sun Devils have given up more than 35 in every game. The Arizona State offense has been decently good, but this team is not built to score over 40 points per game. For ASU to get things on the right track, the defense has to step up.
Last week: 38-17 loss to USC
Up next: vs. Washington State on Saturday at 12 p.m.
10. Cal (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Golden Bears stay close to Oregon... for a while
Why they're not higher/lower: It's tough to know how to judge Cal for its game against Oregon. The Bears were within a touchdown part of the way through the third quarter, which is astounding for a team that was a four-touchdown underdog. On the other hand, Cal fell apart down the stretch, and the Bears failed even to cover the spread. At this point, Cal can take some positives away from the game, because the Bears desperately need something to be happy about.
First thing on fans' minds: End of the season. Cal fans have been waiting for the season to end since the Bears got blown away by Stanford almost a month ago. Luckily, that end will come soon, as Cal is the only team in the nation whose season will end on Saturday.
Last week: 59-17 loss to Oregon
Up next: at Oregon State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
11. Washington State (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cougars can't come back from huge deficit
Why they're not higher/lower: Washington State finally showed some life, going on a 29-7 run. Unfortunately, the Cougars waited until they trailed by 30 to show that life, and by that time it was too late. With the Marquess Wilson allegations of abuse, this team just wants the season to end as soon as possible.
First thing on fans' minds: Wilson's allegations. It's not uncommon for a player to bad-mouth a team after leaving. It is uncommon for a player to allege that coaches are abusing their players. These allegations look even worse considering Mike Leach's unceremonious exit from Texas Tech. The claims will be investigated over the offseason, but even the possibility of abuse problems is exactly what Washington State didn't want when hiring Leach to turn the program around, something he has been unable to do this year.
Last week: 44-36 loss to UCLA
Up next: at Arizona State on Saturday at 12 p.m.
12. Colorado (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Buffaloes make bad kind of history again
Why they're not higher: Colorado actually played a decent game by its very low standards. The Buffaloes were within four just before halftime, but Arizona scored four straight touchdowns to pull away. A big part of this was Ka'Deem Carey's Pac-12-record 366 rushing yards. Still, Colorado's 116th-ranked offense put up 437 yards on the road, including 224 on the ground, which is more than double the team's rushing average. It's hard to be too positive about a 25-point loss, but that's where Colorado is at this point.
First thing on fans' minds: Baby steps. For a 1-9 team, you need to look hard for positives. Along with the increased offense, Colorado covered the spread for just the second time all season. And hey, the Buffaloes are only 21-point underdogs this week...
Last week: 56-31 loss to Arizona
Up next: vs. Washington on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.