Thursday, October 18, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:
1. Judgment night: ASU fans have been clamoring for respect. Thursday night is as good of a chance as any to get some. The Sun Devils have the No. 3 team in the country coming to their backyard for one of the biggest games in the conference this year. On paper, this looks like a vintage Pac-12 matchup of two high-scoring offenses. But wasn't that the case the last time Oregon played a team from the state of Arizona? Time to see if Arizona State is as good as their record suggests. Worth noting, also, that this is likely Oregon's biggest test to date as well. Let's give some credit to the 5-1 team from Tempe.
2. Efficiency experts: The game within the game features the two most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. ASU's Taylor Kelly checks in as the conference's No. 1-rated quarterback in passing efficiency and Oregon's Marcus Mariota isn't too far behind at No. 2. Mariota hasn't been as protective of the ball over the past three games throwing seven touchdowns, but also four interceptions. Conversely, Kelly has 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that span. You have to think ball security was a huge point of emphasis for Oregon during improvement week.
Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 with a rating of 175.98.
3. Big Game for Cal: With a victory over their most bitter rival, the Bears can get back to .500 and have a shot at the postseason. Their remaining four games are at Utah, home to Washington, home to Oregon and at Oregon State to close out the season. The odds of them winning three of those four are awfully tiny. But a win over the Cardinal gives them a fighting chance. Which Zach Maynard is going to show up? Seems to be the Cal question of the week, every week.
4. Big Game for Stanford: Make no mistake about it -- this is a road game for Stanford even though it's just a hop and a skip over the Bay Bridge (actually, probably easier to take the Dumbarton Bridge to the 880). Either way, it's less than 50 miles, but it's a road game. And we all know Stanford has been a different team on the road. No need to rehash all of the ugly offensive stats. The only one that matters is the Cardinal are 0-2 away from home. That has to change considering four of their final six games are on the road.
5. The Vaz effect:Cody Vaz wasn't just a pleasant surprise -- he was sensational making his first start on the road for the injured Sean Mannion. It helps when you have a pair of outstanding receivers to throw to, and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks certainly didn't let him down. With the way the defense is playing, there is little reason to expect a drop off.
6. More White: Utah ranks 116th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging exactly 100 per game. Not what you'd expect with a back like John White IV -- once touted as a possible preseason Heisman contender. Head coach Kyle Whittingham went out of his way to state this week that they need to get White the ball more often. He had 14 carries against ASU, 13 against USC and a season-low 11 at UCLA.
7. Back to basics: Will be interesting to see if Matt Barkley gets USC's passing game back on track this week. Nothing wrong with winning via defense and the running game, but the inconsistencies from Barkley and his receivers has been one of the biggest surprises in the season to date.
8. Swing game: Don't underestimate how important of a game Washington at Arizona is. The Wildcats should be daisy fresh after the bye week. You have to wonder if the Huskies (1) have enough defense to prevent it from becoming a shootout-- as Arizona games tend to become -- and (2) if Washington can keep up if it does turn into a high-scoring affair. This is a crucial game for Arizona, which would have to win two more games to be bowl eligible. And the schedule looks like USC, UCLA, Colorado and Utah the rest of the way. A loss means the Wildcats have to win three of those four.