Thursday, October 4, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 6
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week.
1. Oregon-Washington: Let's just get this one out there first. One of the best nontraditional rivalries in the nation features both teams in the Top 25: the Ducks at No. 2 and the Huskies at No. 23 after last week's victory over Stanford. It's the first time since 2000 that both teams are ranked in the Top 25 for this game. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was brought in to make the Washington defense better. And so far it has been -- especially last week, when it held Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to 75 yards and kept the Cardinal offense out of the end zone. But in case anyone needs reminding, Oregon is not Stanford. The Ducks rank fourth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 52.4 points per game. We'll see how far the UW defense has really come, and if it isn't emotionally/physically drained after already knocking off one top-10 team this year.
2. Ranked vs. unranked: Who is on upset alert this week? (Gosh, that would make a great poll question for later on this afternoon, hint, hint.) With ASU and Colorado both on bye and ranked teams Washington and Oregon going at it, that leaves the rest of the ranked Pac-12 teams facing unranked opponents. No. 13 USC is at Utah tonight, No. 14 Oregon State returns home to face Washington State, No. 18 Stanford hosts Arizona and No. 25 UCLA travels to Cal. Are there any Top 25 upsets out there this week?
Washington's defense was able to bottle up Stanford, but how will they fare against high-powered Oregon?
3. Critical stretch: Arizona and Stanford are both at a critical junction. The Wildcats -- once 3-0 and ranked -- are in the midst of a two-game losing streak. And after playing the Cardinal, they face three more teams currently ranked: Washington, USC and UCLA. Stanford, meanwhile, has to figure out a way to get some offense going. Quarterback Josh Nunes -- though he has the confidence of his head coach behind him -- looked bad against Washington. The rest of the offense didn't do much to help him. If the Cardinal can pick themselves up, it will be a confidence boost heading into Notre Dame and then The Big Game. Arizona played Oregon State close, but will it be able to stop the run as effectively as Washington did?
4. No complacency: The Beavers are back at home for the first time in almost a month -- and they bring a 3-0 start and a top-15 ranking with them. The hype machine is in overdrive given the fact that OSU has, arguably, the three best wins in the nation with victories over ranked Wisconsin and UCLA and once-ranked Arizona. In theory, 2-3 Washington State should be relatively easy compared to the schedule OSU has faced so far. But players said they aren't overlooking anyone -- and they are motivated by their 3-9 record last season. Washington State, meanwhile, played a very good 30 minutes against Oregon last week. It didn't get the win, and no one likes morale victories. But it was really the first time we saw the Cougars play confident football for 60 minutes. Travis Long (quietly tied for the conference lead in total sacks) continues to be a bright spot on defense.
5. Make an impression: After falling out of favor, USC and its quarterback could go a long way toward getting some pollsters -- Heisman or otherwise -- back on their side with a nationally televised game against Utah tonight. The Utes' defensive front will do what it can to make life uncomfortable for Matt Barkley, and you can expect Rice-Eccles to bring the noise. A solid performance from Utah could erase some bad memories from earlier this year. A strong showing from the Trojans could be just what they need to kick-start the team.
6. The good and the bad: There is a lot of negativity surrounding the California Bears. Conversely, there is a lot of positive vibes flowing around the Bruins. Every coach will tell you that each game is a must-win game. But some games are more must-win than others. And this is one of those for the Bears. If they fall to 1-5, their bowl chances are almost extinct with a second half that includes Stanford, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State. Plus they travel to Pullman and Salt Lake City. A win over a Top 25 team could change the entire trajectory of the season. But UCLA is thinking the same thing. The Bruins are still a young team learning how to handle success. They run the ball very well (ranked second in the conference) and Cal has had issues stopping the run (worst defense in the conference). On paper, this seems like a no-brainer. But this one might not be so simple. Teams can be scary when they are backed into a corner. And the Bears are certainly in a corner.