Thursday, November 8, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 11.
Backups-to-starters: Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan both started the season on the bench. Now they square off as starters in one of the most pivotal games in the North Division this season. Whichever team wins in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday emerges as the prime contender to challenge Oregon for the division crown and a spot in the conference title game. But the stakes are higher still. Because there's a good chance that if either loses to Oregon, but is able to win its other remaining games, that team could still make the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the national championship game. Much on the line with not a ton of experience at the QB position.
Backups-to-starters, Take II: While Vaz and Hogan are now starting quarterbacks because of performance reasons, Allan Bridgford and B.J. Denker probably will get the nod in lieu of injured starters Zach Maynard and Matt Scott at California and Arizona, respectively. Maynard suffered a knee injury in the loss to Washington. An MRI showed no ligament damage, but he hasn't practiced much. Scott continues to be evaluated after suffering a concussion in the loss to UCLA and Denker has been taking the bulk of the snaps in practice this week.
Bowl-bound? Washington, Arizona State and Arizona all could become bowl-eligible this week with victories. The Sun Devils have the toughest chore of the trio, going on the road to face a disgruntled USC team that gave up 62 points to Oregon last week. Arizona -- despite the questionable health of quarterback Scott -- has the easier task with Colorado coming to the desert. Washington has been tough at home, but hosts a surging Utah squad also looking to get back into the postseason.
Slump-buster: Speaking of that Arizona State-USC game, both teams come into the game with losing streaks. The Sun Devils have dropped three straight and USC has dropped two in a row. The Trojans have not lost three in a row since 2001. Someone is going to put the skids on their losing streak.
Utah may need more kick-return magic from Reggie Dunn to get a win at Washington.
Something's Bruin: UCLA took a huge step toward winning the South -- no asterisks this year, thank you very much -- with its blowout win over Arizona last week. That sets up a monumental showdown next week with crosstown rival USC -- a team that's had its way with the Bruins every year since 2006. While an upset isn't expected in Pullman, Wash. -- especially given the issues the Cougars have experienced this year -- the Bruins are still a young team and can't be caught looking too far ahead. It's a good thing to control your destiny, but it also can weigh heavily on a team with a lot of freshmen playing on offense.
Barner watch: After rolling up 321 yards and five touchdowns last week against USC, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner has played his way into the Heisman conversation. However, the Ducks needed all four quarters to pull away from the Trojans last week and Barner carried 38 times. You have to wonder if the Ducks go back to their standard operating procedure of sitting the starters in the second half should they build a big lead on the Bears.
Three weeks in a row? Can Utah kick returner Reggie Dunn do it again? He has returned three kickoffs 100 yards for touchdowns in the past two weeks -- an NCAA record. And he has four such returns for his career, also an NCAA record.
Tough at home: The Utes will need all the points they can get. Washington is 4-1 at CenturyLink Field and the Huskies' defense is allowing only 13 points per game in their home away from home. (Stanford had a defensive touchdown and USC had a special-teams touchdown -- total points are 15.8).