Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Meanwhile, in the rest of the Pac-12...
By Ted Miller
Lots and lots of Oregon-Stanford chatter this week. As it should be. Big game. Big stakes.
But there's a lot going on outside of Center Court.
Three 5-4 Pac-12 teams can get bowl-eligible this week: California at Oregon State and the winner of UCLA's visit to Utah.
Dennis Erickson was Paul Wulff's coach -- one of them, at least -- at Washington State. One of them is going to leave an axe wound in the other's once-promising season.
Is Colorado going to win a Pac-12 game? It seems like a visit from 2-7 Arizona offers the last good chance for a conference win. The Buffs just don't win on the road, particularly against good teams, and their final two games are at UCLA and at Utah.
Rick Neuheisel is trying to direct UCLA to its third consecutive win this weekend.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian has won two in a row over his former team, USC. He and Lane Kiffin have been trash-talking each other this week, which has been amusing. But this is a big game in the overall conference pecking order.
First there's Cal and UCLA.
Both program's have restless fan bases. Getting to a six win and bowl eligibility would quiet that a bit.
Cal needs to win. It will be an underdog in its final two games: at Stanford and at Arizona State. If the Bears finish 5-7 for a second consecutive year, coach Jeff Tedford will be near the top of hot seat lists going into 2012.
UCLA needs to win. Neuheisel is already on one of the nation's hottest seats, but a third consecutive quality victory might win friends and influence people. If that happens, the Bruins should be able to handle Colorado at home on Nov. 19. That then would set up a visit to archrival USC on the season's final weekend as a potential South Division title clincher.
And a loss at Utah would immediately bring the villagers and their torches back to Westwood.
If the Utes won at home, a third consecutive conference victory would suddenly turn a season that was once spiraling into the mire into one that could be pretty darn successful: 8-4 and a quality bowl game to get a potential ninth victory. Not too shabby after an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play.
Oregon State, Arizona and Colorado are just playing for pride. And every win makes the offseason just that much more tolerable. The Buffaloes and first-year coach Jon Embree, in particular, probably don't want to be freighted with a 1-12 record -- 0-9 in the conference -- for the next nine months.
Wulff is in a tight spot, period. Few folks believe he has a chance to save his job. But beating the Sun Devils -- not that far-fetched considering it could be rainy/snowy and cold on Saturday night -- would leave open the possibility of a late-run at a 6-6 finish. And, perhaps, 5-7 with an Apple Cup victory might offer Wulff some hope to return in 2012.
Meanwhile, for Erickson, a loss to the Cougars could overturn a once-promising season. Just two weeks ago, a 10-win regular season and South Division crown seemed likely. A second-consecutive defeat to a previously reeling team would cast a dark shadow over Tempe. Talk of Erickson's job security could renew.
As for USC-Washington, they are in the race for the unofficial title of "Third Best Team in the Pac-12." Both have good shots at winning nine games. The Huskies need to win their final three games. The Trojans need to go 2-1, and with a visit to Oregon on Nov. 19, this might be a must-win.
While the Trojans can't play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, a 10-2 or 9-3 finish would generate plenty of positive momentum for the program as well as Kiffin.
The Huskies, meanwhile, could play their way into the Alamo Bowl. For a program that was 0-12 in 2008, there would be no mistaking the transformation under Sarkisian.
And he'd love to improve to 2-0 versus his buddy Lane Kiffin.