Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the Pac-12’s final week of the regular season.
Nothing doing in the North: There is no clinching scenario for the North Division. Stanford locked it up with a victory last week against Cal and will play in its third Pac-12 championship game in four years next week.
For all the Southern marbles: Saturday’s showdown between USC and UCLA will determine the Pac-12 South Division champion and fill out the other half of the Pac-12 championship game bracket. This is the second year in a row that the South has come down to a rivalry game in the final week (last year it was the Territorial Cup).
Back to non-con: Stanford is done with its Pac-12 slate and the Cardinal finished with an 8-1 record. Their final game is against Notre Dame – a matchup that could have huge implications on the College Football Playoff landscape. This year the Pac-12 is 28-8 against nonconference opponents, with a 1-1 record against independents.
Bowling for nine … we think: So far there are believed to be nine bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams. We say “believed” because news broke Tuesday that there is some concern about Cal’s win over Grambling. A Cal spokesman told ESPN.com it filed a waiver to the NCAA “to cover all of our bases.” So with that in mind, Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington State are headed to the postseason. Cal would be bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011 and WSU is bowl-eligible for just the second time since 2003. If Washington is able to top the Cougars in the Apple Cup, the Huskies would be the 10th bowl-eligible team, which would be a conference record.
More on the Apple Cup: All eyes will be on the sidelines “27 seconds before kickoff,” which is when Mike Leach said he’ll make a decision about his starting quarterback. Leach doesn’t discuss injuries, but it’s possible Luke Falk might return to face the Huskies, one of the top defenses in the conference.
The Civil War: The only real drama surrounding this game is which uniforms Oregon will wear. Wait … What? … They already announced what they are wearing? Well, this is awkward. Hey look, Seth Collins is playing receiver!
Rivalry? Rivalries take years to fester and more than a few sprinkles of bad blood to percolate. Colorado and Utah have neither. That said, the last four games have all been decided by one possession, so there’s a recent history of drama which bodes well for this one day maturing into a rivalry game. And in our preseason Bold Predictions, we (I) said Colorado was going to knock off someone this year that they shouldn’t. I hit on my USC-UCLA prediction. Don’t make a liar out of me, Buffs.
Jockeying for position: Assuming all is well and good with Cal’s bowl eligibility, the only thing at stake between the Bears and Sun Devils is the winner gets a slightly better bowl destination. The loser is either relegated to the league’s lowest bowl rung, or passed over and picked up as an at-large team for another bowl that’s looking to fill out its matchup. Neither team is headed to a particularly prestigious bowl. But for the Bears, any bowl is a good bowl, given their hiatus. It's worth noting, however, that if their waiver is denied (see above) and the Grambling win doesn’t count, this becomes a must-win game for Cal to reach the postseason.
North reasserts itself: There’s one last North vs. South game to be played, the aforementioned ASU at Cal game. The North has proven to be the stronger division with three teams in the top 20 of the College Football Playoff rankings and a 13-10 record against the South. Oregon State went 0-4 against the South, but Oregon (3-1), Stanford (4-0) and Washington State (4-0) carried the division. Washington was 2-2, and Cal gets one last shot (0-3) against the South. All six South teams picked up at least one win, but only Utah had a winning record (4-0).
Taking a breather: Thought we were done with bye weeks? Arizona gets to relax this week – finally! After playing 12 straight games, the Wildcats have reached their bye week and are just waiting to learn their bowl destination. Chances are Cal will pick up a lot of new fans this weekend, if only temporarily.