- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.
1. Game of the year? Will USC-Oregon live up to all of the hype? This one doesn't smell nearly as sweet with a two-loss USC squad, but there are still playmakers up the ying-yang on both sides of the ball, including the four Pac-12 players getting votes in the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Here's hoping the hype is justified. Then again, last year's Oregon-Stanford game had similar hype and it was a total letdown. USC, however, is a much higher-profile program than Stanford, so even a two-loss USC team versus Oregon is significant.
2. Colorado curse? What do Colorado State, Fresno State, Washington State, UCLA, Arizona State and USC all have in common? They have all lost the week after playing Colorado. Every FBS team that has faced the Buffs this year has gone on to lose the following week. Only Sacramento State has survived the Buffs' curse (and as Pac-12 fans know, Sacramento State is all kinds of awesome). Why is this pertinent -- other than it's a sort of a freaky coincidence? Who did Oregon play last week? Just sayin' but then again, you could also claim an Oregon curse. Every team that has played them this year ends up in the fetal position, weeping softly with a gallon of Icy Hot on their fannies.
3. Flying high: Arizona and UCLA are both coming off of emotional victories. The Wildcats had the huge home upset of USC and the Bruins won at ASU on a last-second field goal. Both were thrilling, if not exhausting performances. They meet in Pasadena on Saturday, and whichever team is able to put last week behind it takes a big step forward in the race for the Pac-12 South crown.
4. Start of something big? Washington's home win against Oregon State was a huge step forward for the program. But can they keep it up? The Huskies close out their season with four straight games against unranked, sub-.500 teams. Last week could have been the start of a five-game win streak to close out the year. For as frustrating as the first half of the year was, an eight-win season would be pretty nice all things considered.
5. Start of something bad? This isn't unfamiliar territory to Arizona State fans, who year after year have seen their team start hot and finish cold. And the Sun Devils seem to be frustratingly keeping to script. After jumping out to a 5-1 mark, ASU has dropped its past two. Now it has to face three ranked teams in its final four. Not saying they won't be bowl eligible, but it might not come until they are back at home on Nov. 17 versus Washington State.
6. Big decision: Oregon State head coach Mike Riley was decisive when he opted for Cody Vaz over Sean Mannion at quarterback. He wasted little time and Vaz has worked the entire week with the first-team offense. Some say good for him for pulling the trigger. Others say this isn't the time to shake up the locker room on a 6-1 team. I'm on the fence. Unless Vaz blows up against ASU -- then it's a great call.
7. Keepin' it tight: Say this for the Sun Devils, they said they wanted to commit to the tight end, and they have. Chris Coyle has 38 catches for 473 yards -- second nationally among tight ends. The national leader is Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Stanford's Zach Ertz isn't far behind with 32 catches for a conference-best 525 yards among tight ends. Expect all three to play major roles this week -- as they have all season. Which one gets the nod for first-team all-conference? Tough call.
8. Maturing quarterbacks: For as tough as Jeff Tuel had it last week against Stanford, he showed some maturity in understanding the offense and was pretty gritty in the loss. Same for Utah's Travis Wilson, a true freshman, who is starting to get a hang of things as well. Age and experience separates these two when they meet in Salt Lake City, but both are in similar situations trying to make weekly progress.
9. More snaps: While Colorado continues its quarterback carousel, Stanford looks to be making a slight change in that direction. Head coach David Shaw said Kevin Hogan will see more snaps this week, outside of the read-option package he has run the past few weeks. Could be Shaw just wanting to get the youngster some work. Could be a move toward a full-fledged quarterback change.
2dChantel Jennings and David Lombardi