Sunday, November 24, 2013
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 13
By Kevin Gemmell
Five things we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 13:
1. We have a champion (North): Just like Ted and I called it, right? Stanford is the North Division champion for the second straight year after stomping Cal with the Biggest Big Game offensive output (63 points), coupled with Oregon’s loss to Arizona. The Cardinal are done with their Pac-12 slate and finish with a conference record of 7-2. Even if Oregon beats Oregon State next week, the Ducks will also finish with a 7-2 conference record and would lose out to the Cardinal via the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Arizona State had reason to celebrate: It secured its first appearance in the Pac-12 title game.
2. We have a champion (South): For the first time since the creation of the two-division system, we have a new South Division champion. Arizona State went into Pasadena and blew up offensively for the first 30 minutes and then held on defensively in the final three minutes against UCLA. That sets the stage for Stanford and Arizona State with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. The venue is still to be determined. If the Sun Devils win next week in the Territorial Cup against Arizona, Tempe will be the site of the Pac-12 championship game because ASU would have the best conference record at 8-1. If ASU loses to the Wildcats, Stanford would host the title game for the second straight year because both teams would have a conference record of 7-2 and Stanford holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
3. Sensational South: Consider the biggest upsets in the Pac-12 this year, and the finger usually points to the South Division as the culprit. Utah’s win over Stanford in October set the stage for wackiness. Stanford’s win over Oregon was a North-on-North toppling, but since then USC changed the landscape with its win over Stanford. And then Arizona dealt the North another blow with its win over Oregon. It was the Wildcats' first win over an AP top-five team since beating No. 2 Oregon in 2007. And in the loss, Marcus Mariota threw an interception, bringing to an end his streak of 353 passes without a pick. Usually it’s the North asserting itself as the big brother division as the season presses on. Not this year.
4. Second-year coaches flourishing: Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars are bowl eligible and could go to the postseason for the first time since 2003. Rich Rodriguez (with some help from his Arizona defense and Ka'Deem Carey) pulled off one of the biggest wins of the season and his team elevated its standing in the bowl game pecking order. Todd Graham has his Sun Devils in the Pac-12 championship game in just two years, and Jim Mora’s Bruins will go to a highly rated Pac-12 bowl for the second year in a row. The 2012 coaching class has upped the quality of football throughout the Pac-12. In fact, this might be the strongest the league has been in years. And that makes for great football. The downside is one team in a BCS bowl game and no one in national championship contention.
5. Bowl picture shaping up: With Washington State’s victory over Utah, the Pac-12 bowl picture is coming into focus. The Cougars become the ninth Pac-12 team to become bowl eligible, and in the process assured that Utah will miss the postseason for the second straight year. USC’s victory over Colorado also knocked the Buffs out of postseason contention. Cal, which wrapped up the season with its loss to Stanford, was out of the picture a while ago. The next week will go a long way toward determining where those teams go. We can be pretty confident Washington, which rushed for 530 yards as it scorched Oregon State 69-27, will have a nicer bowl game than the Beavers. With only seven contracted bowl games, two teams will have to look for games where conferences didn’t meet their bowl obligations. They are out there. And Pac-12 teams (and their traveling fans) would be awfully inviting.