For the third week in a row, the Pac-12 gets to stage a Thursday night made for ESPN affair, and conference Commissioner Larry Scott might be wishing he had the NFL schedule adjustment rule, where he could make a late selection of the most attractive game to show to the country.
5 games will be readily available nationally, depending on your sports package, and everyone is in action except Arizona St. There are interesting questions to be answered in each of them.
Kevin Prince took over for Richard Brehaut when Brehaut suffered a broken leg, and rallied the Bruins from 8 down against Washington St. in the fourth quarter to a 28-25 comeback win, which kept embattled coach Rick Neuheisel on the job for the time being.
Nick Foles mounted a rally against Oregon St., but it fell short, and after the Wildcats lost 37-27 to the Beavers, Athletic Director Greg Byrne fired coach Mike Stoops, an made Defensive Coordinator Tim Kish the Interim head coach.
UCLA has followed each loss with a win, but then each win with a loss. The Bruins had the "loss" week off, so does that make this a "win" week? The Bruins can actually claim a share of the Pac-12 South race lead with a win. Or possibly get their coach fired with a loss.
Arizona has lost 10 straight against FBS foes, and the lack of defense has been more of a problem than the 'Cats offense this year. Does promoting the Defensive Coordinator improve the defense?
Maybe ESPN wanted this game because its the one most like a [sur]reality show, the so popular genre currently dominating evening television?
The Ducks were already without RB La Michael James, out with a dislocated elbow, and then lost QB Darron Thomas at least temporarily to a strained/sprained/we don't talk about injuriesed knee. No problem, insert Bryan Bennett and have him continue to hand the ball to Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas.
By the time Barner was done, he had 171 yards and a touchdown, on 31 carries. Freshman De. Thomas added 73 yards and 2 more scores, and Oregon ran away from Arizona St., coming from behind for a 41-27 win after outscoring the Sun Devils 20-3.
The Buffs were ground up by Washington, losing 52-24. The Huskies ran for 295 yards against Colorado, and Washington is much more of a passing team than Oregon prefers to be. Compounding the problem, the Buffs lost RB Rodney Stewart for several weeks due to a knee injury, and LB Douglas Rippy for the season, also with a knee injury, in the process. This on top of the loss of WRs Paul Richardson and Kyle Cefalo.
Each game Oregon plays will be when we actually find out when James and Da. Thomas will return. Beyond that, this could be a Duck party, and little else. Oregon should dominate even without James and Da. Thomas. The thing to watch for is whether the Ducks look like they could have been dominant against an opponent at full strength.
The Utes recovered from a 2 game losing streak (against Pac-12 competition), an early start in the eastern time zone, and a 14-3 first quarter deficit to score 23 unanswered points, 14 by Coleman Peterson, who nailed 4 field goals in the notoriously kicker unfriendly Heinz Field. The result was the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honor for Peterson, and a 26-14 win over Pittsburgh. Utah got 171 yards from John White IV, but it was their defense, which yielded only 120 total yards, that secured the win.
Derrick Shelby led the defensive effort for Utah, with 7 tackles, a sack and a half, and the game clinching touchdown on an interception return. In addition to the win, Shelby also got the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week award.
The Bears were anything but Golden, as they fell behind 23-0, and eventually lost 30-9 to USC. California's defense played well enough to be competitive, holding the Trojans to 313 yards, and forced 3 field goals. But the Bears' offense was anything but offensive. Zach Maynard completed only 58% of his passes (which was actually one of his better days), but through 3 interceptions, and got sacked 3 times. The running game only produced 35 yards after the sacks were subtracted.
The game is vital to both teams' hopes for a bowl bid, and nearly as important to even avoid finishing near the bottom of their division. Can Utah still mount a bowl bid run? Can Cal? It's doubtful that both can.
The Trojans lost RB Marc Tyler to a separated shoulder, but Curtis McNeal stepped in, with 86 yards an a touchdown on 17 carries as USC beat Cal for the 8th. time in a row. If Tyler doesn't miss the game completely, he's likely significantly hampered.
The Irish had the week off, after shooting down Air Force 59-33. 7 Notre Dame players scored, as the Irish ran up the most points they have scored in a game in 15 years, which dates to when Lou Holtz was still coaching them. After losing their first two games, the Irish have been playing progressively better, and the winning streak is directly related to their playing some defense.
For only the 10th. time ever in this decades old rivalry, these teams are meeting with neither one ranked. That status will probably change for the winner.
A win over the Trojans will prompt talk of a BCS bowl berth for Notre Dame, and it might not subside until the Irish visit Stanford. A win over the Irish would be an another important step for Lane Kiffen, who lost to the Irish last year after the Trojans had won 8 straight under Pete Carroll.
Which team will be able to unleash their spin machine after this one? Which one won't need to?
will was going to be on hand for one of the best games in the country, never mind being the top game in the conference, this week. (Plans were changed to go to East Lansing for the Wisconsin-Michigan St. game instead.)
The Huskies' Keith Price injected his name into the quarterback conversation on a national level by completing 21 of 28 passes, for 275 yards and 4 touchdowns, and no turnovers, as Washington routed Colorado. Chris Polk supported Price with his fifth 100+ yard rushing game of the season, plus a touchdown catch. That kept him in the conversation nationally about top running backs.
The Cardinal's Andrew Luck kept his name at the forefront of the quarterback conversation at the national level by throwing for 4 second half touchdowns, which turned a 10-7 game at the half at Washington St. into a 44-14 blowout win over the Cougars. The performance earned Luck Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors, and made Stanford the first team in the Conference to become bowl eligible. Stepfan Taylor supported Luck with his third 100 yard rushing game in the Cardinal's last 4 games.
Luck did throw his third interception of the year on his first throw against the Cougs, which makes that a more negative number than his sack stat. Stanford's offensive line has only allowed Luck to be dropped twice so far this season.
Both teams, however, have yet to defeat an opponent with a winning record. So questions remain. The Huskies have taken a number of steps in 2 1/2 seasons under Steve Sarkesian. Have they, and their defense, much improved in the second third of this season, taken another of those steps? Are the Cardinal as good as their numbers, 6 wins by 27 or more points each, suggest?
The Beavers committed 4 turnovers and missed 2 field goals, and got beat 38-28 by BYU as a result. The Blue Cougars also beat up the Beavers, who lost DT Castro Masaniai for the year, and had 3 middle line backers knocked out of the game.
The Cougars are technically the home team, but are further from their campus than Oregon St. is, playing their annual west side game for the benefit of their alums that escaped Pullman.
Jeff Tuel returned in the Stanford game, after being out since early in the season opener with a broken clavicle. In last year's 31-14 blowout win in Corvallis, Tuel ran for a team-leading 79 yards, and that was against a comparatively healthy Oregon St. defense, which has made every opposing quarterback with any mobility look like an all-conference performer.
Washington St. has lost 2 games in a row, but is a single spectacular pass play in Boulder away from having lost 4 in a row. Oregon St. has lost 7 of their last 8, and 9 of 11. Yet Paul Wulff is on a hot seat, while Mike Riley's is merely warm. A win will make the seat much more comfortable for one of them, and much less so for the other. Who will be squirming late Saturday night in Seattle?
#24(t) Arizona St. (5-2, 3-1) has the week off. The Sun Devils are still in the drivers' seat for the Pac-12 South championship, and the division's berth in the Conference Championship game. Home field isn't even out of the question yet.
But despite their relatively good prospects for the post-season, the loss to Oregon reinforced that while Arizona St. has climbed well up the ladder in the college football world, they still have some work to do to join the top level. The bye week comes at a convenient time to regroup, and make some adjustments in preparation for a run at what could still be a major post-season.