It's time to wrap up the regular season. Here's a preview of this weekend's activity.
Note: Times are Pacific.
There's a lot on the line here beyond the obvious bragging rights associated with the Apple Cup. The Cougars are gunning for a nine-win regular season -- which would be a heck of a statement coming off a 3-9 campaign -- and the Huskies are looking to become the Pac-12's tenth bowl-eligible team, which would set a conference record. Washington State may be without quarterback Luke Falk. If he doesn't play, redshirt freshman Peyton Bender will take his place against the league's leading defense. This is setting up to be a close one.
This, on the other hand, is not setting up to be a close one. The Beavers offense is by far the worst in the Pac-12 (16.9 points per game), and the defense has been lit up at prolific levels lately, too. Just last week, Washington scored 45 points against Oregon State -- in the first half. So we can only imagine what Oregon will do in the Civil War now that the Ducks are firing on all cylinders with Vernon Adams Jr. It's not expected to be pretty, and that's why Oregon is a 34.5-point favorite.
Last year, the Utes finished with nine wins. They're at 8-3 now, so they can still surpass that total and reach double digits with a win over the Buffs and a victory in the subsequent bowl game. That'd be at least some consolation for Kyle Whittingham's club, which was once ranked in the nation's top 5 but has since encountered tougher times without Devontae Booker. The Buffs improved this year, though there was still more pain than joy along the way. An upset win would push them to 5-8 and, more important, put a feather in their cap -- Utah sports the type of physicality that Colorado aspires to possess.
The winner here heads to the Pac-12 championship game to face Stanford, so the City of Angels can be happy their storied rivalry has big-time meaning again. The Bruins are coming off a big road win at Utah; the Trojans must circle the wagons after getting run out of Oregon. There's a fifth-year senior quarterback on one side in Cody Kessler and a true freshman on the other in Josh Rosen. That contrast makes for an intriguing matchup.
The Trojans are currently favored by 3.5 points at home, but the Bruins have owned this rivalry of late. UCLA is playing for its fourth straight victory over USC since that embarrassing 50-0 loss in 2011. Times have changed: This time, a UCLA loss won't allow them to back into the Pac-12 championship.
Is this blossoming into a top-tier rivalry? We discussed that on Tuesday. This much is certain: The Irish and the Cardinal have played some sensational games over the past six years with a lot at stake. The 2012 contest actually ended up determining a berth in the national title game. This one has the potential to be similarly meaningful, as Notre Dame and Stanford are both still alive in the chase for the College Football Playoff (the Cardinal, of course, face much longer odds than the Irish).
Christian McCaffrey should be a center of attention in this one. Maybe he'll evoke memories of 2009, when Stanford's Toby Gerhart ran roughshod over the Irish in his closing argument for the Heisman Trophy. Regardless of the outcome here, the Cardinal will have the Pac-12 title game a week later, so their busy finish is just beginning.
The Golden Bears couldn't get over the Stanford hump last week, but a home victory over the Sun Devils would give them a seven-win regular season, which would mark another gradual improvement from last year's five-win effort. Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici has played his last home game; will this be the Memorial Stadium farewell for Cal's Jared Goff? We won't know the definite answer to that question until a later date, but we do expect both signal callers to put up some numbers in this contest. The Sun Devils' pass defense ranks near the bottom in the Pac-12, allowing more than 300 yards per game, so that sets up nicely for Goff.