Wednesday, November 21, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 13
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this weekend:
1. All eyes on the North, via the South: Stanford and Oregon both have a shot to still win the North Division, though it's Stanford that is in the advantageous position of controlling its own destiny. The Cardinal can lock up the division with a win or an Oregon loss. Stanford will host the Pac-12 championship game against the Bruins if they win. Oregon will win the division and host the championship game if they win and Stanford loses. UCLA will host Stanford if it wins and Oregon loses.
2. Civil War: Plenty at stake in this game -- including Oregon's chances of playing for a national championship. The Ducks need some help to get back into one of two spots that could get them in the BCS Championship Game. But winning is a priority. The same can be said for the Beavers, who aren't out of the hunt for an at-large berth in a BCS game. If they are able to beat the Ducks, then they'd be in the top 14 and would be BCS eligible -- should a BCS game find them attractive. No promises, but it's better to be in the conversation than on the outside looking in.
3. About them Bruins: They are riding a five-game winning streak and are 3-0 against Top 25 teams. The offense continues to improve behind the play of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin -- recently named a Doak Walker Award finalist for the nation's top running back. Interestingly enough, this will be the second straight week Stanford has faced a Doak finalist, after going head-to-head with Oregon's Kenjon Barner last week. When asked about his first impressions of Stanford's defensive front, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said: "The '81 Bears. Or the '85 Bears. Whichever Bears team was really, really good."
4. About them Bruins II: I get what fans are saying about UCLA maybe playing conservative against Stanford -- not trying to lose -- but maybe keeping it closer to the vest anticipating a rematch with the Cardinal rather than having to face the Ducks in the conference title game. Even Ted made a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge at the idea in his prediction this morning. I'll say this -- it's bollocks. (I'd prefer to use stronger language, but decorum prohibits me. And yes, that was a nod to "Animal House.") Jim Mora won't coach his team to play less than 100 percent. He won't even hint at it. Anyone who has spent five minutes with the man (and I can assure you I've spent more than that) will tell you that's not how he operates. I think he wants to play Oregon. I think he wants to go through Autzen to win the conference championship and the Rose Bowl and cast an icy stare at everyone who questioned his hiring. I think he wants to tell recruits on the fence between Oregon, USC and UCLA that he stomped the Trojans and went into Autzen and took away the conference title from the Ducks. That's not to say UCLA can or will, but I expect the Bruins to come out with guns blazing in trying to win this game. Anything less would be cowardice. And you don't get to 9-2 and win your division by being cowardly. Any UCLA fan hoping for less than their team's total effort Saturday should be embarrassed.
5. Conference rivalries: The Cups, Apple and Territorial, have two very different feels this year. In Pullman, Wash., the Huskies, trending up and looking to end the regular season with eight wins, are in a much better place than the host Cougars. Washington State is still looking for its first conference win under new coach Mike Leach. In the desert, two new head coaches are getting their first tastes of the rivalry, and both already have their teams headed to the postseason in their first years. There are obviously bragging rights and recruiting implications that go along with this game. They have matching conference records (4-4), while Arizona is 7-4 overall to ASU's 6-5. You can nit-pick about who got the better hire. But I'd like to think we can agree on the fact that both teams got the best coaches for their schools and both have so far turned out to be great hires.
6. Nonconference: Say this for Max Wittek, the kid has got confidence. Nothing wrong with a little moxie before your first start. USC head coach Lane Kiffin said he expects quarterback Matt Barkley to return in time for a bowl game. Until then, it will be Wittek leading the Trojans against No. 1 Notre Dame. Six times the Trojans have knocked off an undefeated Notre Dame team -- twice when they were ranked No. 1. So there is a precedent. Oregon fans, now might be a good time to learn the words to "Fight On."
7. Budding rivalry? During the Pac-12 media day back in August -- which seemed like a lifetime ago -- media types were asking Utah and Colorado players about their rivalry. The players all sort of shrugged. One game, a rivalry does not make. It takes years of passion, glorious victories and gut-wrenching defeats. Ask the Utes how good that win over BYU felt this year. That doesn't mean one can't develop between these two teams over time. Colorado fired the first shot in the battle of conference newcomers last season. Neither team is headed to a bowl game, but a win in the finale would ease some of the pain -- even slightly -- of what has been a bummer of a season for both squads.
8. Post-Tedford, Day 1: California athletic director Sandy Barbour said the school has hired a search firm to help with selecting a new coach. She added that they have already received a great deal of interest since the news broke Monday morning. She also said they received a great deal of interest before Jeff Tedford was officially fired -- which she said they did not entertain. Obviously, making the right hire is critical. With the improved facilities (courtesy of the departed Tedford) Cal is a fairly attractive spot in one of the best conferences in college football. They'll get a jump on the hiring with the Bears' season already over, so I wouldn't expect a long, drawn-out search process.