A few things to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.
League play is upon us: Rejoice! Now the Pac-12 teams can gut each other with their nine-game conference schedule and lose all of that national credibility it built up in the first four weeks of the season. This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, it doesn’t look like there are any easy outs. Would anyone really be shocked if Colorado beat Oregon State based on what we’ve seen? The only one that would be truly shocking would be Cal beating Oregon -- and we might raise an eyebrow if Washington State beats Stanford in Seattle -- especially sans David Yankey for the game and Ed Reynolds for a half.
Nonconference notes: A good tidbit from the folks at the Pac-12 offices regarding the league’s 29-4 nonconference record: Since 1934, only one season witnessed the conference capture more than 29 wins in nonleague play; 2002 (32-15), when the league played an eight-game conference schedule, allowing an additional 10 non-conference games to be played. There are three nonconference games remaining (a possible fourth pending Colorado’s situation) against Notre Dame. The Pac-12 is contracted with seven bowl games, so there could be as many as 11 more nonconference games.
Battle of elites (1): Two of the league’s top running backs will be on the field in Seattle on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Ka’Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey playing defense. In terms of rushing yards per game, they are separated by less than a yard (149.5 for Carey, 148.67 for Sankey). Yards per carry? It’s even closer (6.97 for Sankey, 6.95 for Carey). Both have four rushing touchdowns. While it’s not truly head-to-head, this could be one of those games folks look to when awarding postseason honors.
Battle of elites (2): Two of the league’s top wide receivers will be on the field in Corvallis on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean a bizarre trade or either Brandin Cooks or Paul Richardson playing defense. Cooks leads the nation with 43 catches for 639 yards and seven touchdowns. In only two games, Richardson has 21 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Sixty percent of the time Cooks catches the ball, Oregon State either gains a first down or scores a touchdown.
Battle of elites (3): Two of the league’s top defensive players will be on the field in Tempe on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Morgan Breslin or Will Sutton playing offense (which would be awesome!). Breslin is tied for the conference lead in total sacks (four) with teammate George Uko and leads the league in tackles for a loss per game. Sutton, on the other hand, has nine tackles, no sacks and half a tackle for a loss. The reason? Teams are double- and triple-teaming him like crazy. Plus, ASU has faced more run-based teams in the first few weeks. This week might be a good time for him to break out.
Speaking of USC: How good has the defense been? According to ESPN Stats & Information, none of the four quarterbacks USC has seen has posted a Total QBR above 30. The Trojans are also blitzing a lot more under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Last year they blitzed 25 percent of the time. This year it’s up to 46 percent. And when they blitz, opposing QBs are completing just 41.9 percent of their throws, throwing it away or ending up on the ground.
All hands: With big quarterback numbers come big receiving numbers. Six Pac-12 receivers have hauled in 10 or more catches in a game eight times this season, led by Cooks and Richardson with two each. Also, 17 different receivers have posted 100 or more receiving yards in a game 26 times, led by Cooks and Utah’s Dres Anderson with three games each.
Layoff impact: Colorado is playing for the first time since its Sept. 7 win over Central Arkansas, which seems like months ago, though it actually has been only 20 days. After their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was called off because of the flooding, the Buffs had a bye in Week 4. This is Colorado’s first trip to Corvallis. The previous two meetings (1931, 1963) took place in Portland. This is the last Pac-12 team Colorado is yet to play since joining the league (though the Cal game in 2011 was the back end of a home and home that didn’t count in the conference standings).
Tough road: This is the second-straight game against a top-five team for California, which faces No. 2 Oregon this weekend. The Bears have gotten huge numbers out of true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who leads the FBS with 435.3 yards per game. But the defense has been hammered with injuries. Not good, considering 12 different Ducks have scored touchdowns so far.
Odds and ends: Worth noting that four more Pac-12 receivers were recently added to the Biletnikoff watchlist: Cal’s Bryce Treggs, Oregon State’s Richard Mullaney and Washington State’s Gabe Marks, who are all in action this weekend. Utah's Dres Anderson is the fourth UCLA and the Utes are off this week in anticipation of their Thursday night showdown next week in Salt Lake City.