We've come to the end of the first ever Pac-12 regular season, and as it should be, there are 4 of the 6 rivalry games on tap. Due to the lunacy of the Notre Dame effect, there are 2 non-conference games, both against bowl-bound opponents, and a non-rivalry game as well. Interestingly, no one will make or miss a bowl game as a result of this week's action, as everyone is either bowl eligible already, or already assured that their season will end Saturday.
However, 5 teams still have a chance to reach the initial Pac-12 Championship Game. And who goes where is totally up in the air, with 6 of the 7 games potentially impacting the attractiveness of the holiday travel plans for the 7 conference teams going bowling. And the New Mexico Bowl, in its first year as a Pac-12 Bowl, will be watching to see if they are even going to have a team coming, or if they will have to find an at-large team from elsewhere.
An old rivalry starts off Saturday, and is of greatest interest in the state of Oregon.
The 115th Civil War takes place in Autzen Stadium this year, in the one game played in the state annually where a stadium holding over 100,000 could be sold out.
Fans Folks who attend or watch no other game all year show up or tune in this one. And as it turns out, it will decide who plays in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Beavers broke a 3 game losing streak with three 4th. quarter touchdowns that produced a 38-21 upset win over Washington. Sean Mannion threw for 339 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Jovan Stevenson ran for 3 scores, but it was a goal-line interception by Ryan Murphy that prevented a touchdown, and set the table for a 99 yard touchdown drive, that turned the game in Oregon St.'s favor.
The game will be the last one for WR James Rodgers, who passed Mike Hass for career receptions at Oregon St. before spraining his left ankle. It was Rodgers who gave the Beavers their last win in the Civil War, scoring on a fly sweep in overtime to produce the 38-31 win in 2007.
The Ducks lost their first game in Autzen Stadium since their 2009 season opener against Boise St. when Alejandro Maldonado missed a 37 yard field goal, and USC held on for the 38-35 win. It stunned and disappointed Oregon fans who had watched their Ducks score 3 unanswered touchdowns to rally after falling behind 38-14 late in the third quarter. De'Anthony Thomas' 96 yard kickoff return for a touchdown started it, and both Kenjon Barner, who ran for a game high 123 yards, and 2 touchdowns, and La Michael James added fourth quarter scores.
But 2 fumbles deep in Trojan territory cost the Ducks enough scoring opportunities to take them out of the hunt for a return to the National Championship game. Oregon now must win in order to host the conference championship game next Friday. An OSU win would hand the initial Pac-12 North Division championship to Stanford, and move the game to Palo Alto.
Another old one that is new again starts the weekend off Friday afternoon.
A few decades and a couple of generations ago, this was a heated rivalry on par with the others in the conference. But Colorado moved on to the Big 8, and Utah the WAC, and the teams from adjacent states drifted away from each other. A couple of conference reorganizations, one affecting each institution, only increased the distance between the teams from neighboring states. But then came Pac-12 expansion, and the Buffs and Utes get to revive hostilities. And what a way to start it off. Colorado would not only knock Utah out of their chance at the Pac-12 Championship with an upset win, it would also send UCLA into the game regardless of what happens the rest of the weekend.
The Buffs are staggering toward the end of the season, though, having been chopped up into Buffalo burgers by the Bruins. UCLA's 45-6 win was the 23rd consecutive loss on the road for Colorado. The Bruins rolled up 553 yards of offense, 328 on the ground, on the way to a 45-6 win. Not a good sign going up against a run first team like Utah.
The Utes pulled out a 30-27 win in overtime over Washington St. when Coleman Petersen hit a 38 yard field goal. It was Petersen's third field goal of the game, and he was perfect on 3 PATs too, which earned him Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week honors. John White IV also had a monster game in Pullman, rolling up 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 42 carries.
It was the 4th win in a row for Utah. A fifth win, combined with losses by UCLA to USC and Arizona St. to California, would send the Utes to the conference championship game, despite their losing their first 4 Pac-12 games.
Arizona St. must win, and have both Utah and USC also win, in order to reach the Pac-12 Championship game. They and the Utes both have the edge over UCLA in a 3-way tie-breaker, as both would have a better record in division. And the Sun Devils have a win over Utah. But the Bruins have a win over the Sun Devils, so a 2 way tie goes to UCLA.
The Golden Bears made a game of it in the fairly "Big Game", scoring with 14 seconds left to pull withing 31-28. But Stanford kept their band off the field until after they recovered the on-side kick. California was competitive because they were competitive in both the passing and rushing matchups.
Zach Maynard completed 20 of 30 passes, the same as Andrew Luck, and he threw for 280 yards, compared to 257 by Luck. Both threw for 2 touchdowns, and while Luck served up an interception, Maynard didn't.
Isi Sofele carried 22 times for 84 yards for the Bears, while Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney combined for 86 yards on 22 carries. Another solid effort, especially if its also balanced, could send California to better than a bottom tier bowl game.
The Golden Bears even did something one time that no one else has done all year; stop Stanford in the red zone. The Cardinal are now only 61 of 62 scoring on red zone trips.
The Sun Devils overcame an early 2 touchdown deficit, but couldn't hold off Arizona's rally, or finish off what could have been the game winning drive, and lost their third game in a row, and fourth of five. Trailing 31-27, Brock Osweiler, who completed 36 of 65 passes, for 487 yards, had the last 2 passes fall incomplete, and time run out.
Two Osweiler interceptions and a fumble, while the 'Cats were playing turnover free ball, helped hem in Arizona St.
Unless Arizona St. wins, and gets the help they need to get to the conference championship game, which isn't that unlikely, time may run out for coach Dennis Erickson as well.
The Apple Cup is at the Huskies' home away from home, which is the home of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, due to renovation of Husky Stadium, which started 2 weeks ago. Which is a field they have yet to play at, while the Cougars are familiar with the facility. Washington St. annually plays one of their home games in Seattle, including this year's game against Oregon St. So who will really have the home field advantage?
The Cougars' freshman phenom quarterback Connor Halliday, who had burst onto the scene with a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week performance the week before in Washington St.'s 37-27 win over Arizona St., got a harsh dose of reality in his second and final start of the season.
Halliday threw for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns, but completed only 21 of 48 passes, and he suffered 4 interceptions. Worse, he suffered a lacerated liver, and will miss the Apple Cup. The loss also ended any chance for the Cougars to go to a bowl, despite a 2-0 start to the season.
With Jeff Tuel also out for the year, Marshall Lobestael will again be the Cougar quarterback. Whether coach Paul Wulff will keep his job should Washington St. lose, or even if they win, is a question up for open debate conference wide.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian isn;t in danger of losing his job, despite the Huskies having lost 3 games in a row, and 4 of their last 5. But he is being questioned for his management of the loss to Oregon St., where Keith Price was brought in to relieve Nick Montana, but not until the Huskies were down 31-14 in the fourth quarter. Price and Montana combined to throw for only 155 yards, and though they threw for 3 touchdowns, 2 by Montana, they both threw interceptions.
Price will return to starting duties for the Apple Cup, which could be Chris Polk's last game as a collegian in the state of Washington. Polk ran for 109 yards on 25 carries, but no touchdowns, against Oregon St.
It was the Washington defense, which gave up 484 yards, that really spelled doom for the Huskies, and has defensive coordinator Nick Holt on the really hot seat. The Husky defense had given up over 380 yards 9 times, including 6 games where opponents passed for over 300 yards, and 4 games where they gave up over 200 yards rushing.
The Fighting Irish held on to pull out a 16-14 win over Boston College, which extends Notre Dame's current winning streak to 4 games since they lost to USC. The Irish have fashioned an impressive looking record against mostly average to mediocre competition, but they do have an impressive 31-13 home field win over Michigan St.
The Cardinal got quite a battle from California, but still won the fairly "Big Game" 31-28. It was not a spectacular performance by any standard, but Luck did what he needed to, which was to throw a pair of third quarter touchdown passes, and driving Stanford into position for what turned out to be the winning field goal in the 4th. quarter. The drive took nearly 8 minutes, and 14 plays, to cover 62 yards, which left the Bears with only 3 minutes to work with to try to get 2 scores.
On paper, this should be a Stanford romp, with the Cardinal playing to lock up a BCS bowl berth. They will know whether they are hosting the Pac-12 Championship Game or not by kickoff, as Oregon St. will have upset Oregon or lost the Civil War by kickoff time in Palo Alto. But an at-large BCS bid is within reach, and an impressive win over Notre Dame would carry style points. So an uninspired performance like last week's letdown game shouldn't happen.
It's Notre Dame, and Stanford, though, so there's no guarantee in a year where there have been a lot of unexpected outcomes.
Louisiana-Lafayette (8-3, 6-2) at Arizona (3-8, 2-7) at 2 PM MST (1 PM PST), not on TV.
The Ragin' Cajuns have been off since Nov. 12, when they lost 30-21 at Arkansas St. Bowl bound Lousiana-Lafayette should nevertheless come to Tucson with a good effort, as a win will set a school record for wins in a season.
The 'Cats followed up their upset of the Sun Devils to claim the Territorial Cup by hiring former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez this week. Rodriguez replaces Tim Kish, who went 2-3 as the interim head coach after Mike Stoops was fired, but did win his first and last games. Rodriguez will stand back and watch this one, with Kish still running the show one last time.
Nick Foles, who had completed 35 of 51 passes, for 370 yards and 2 touchdowns, had to leave the game after being shaken up. Bryson Beirne came on in his stead, and threw only 1 pass. But it was good for a 23 yard touchdown to Juron Criner, for what would turn out to be the winning score. Criner had 9 catches for 134 yards.
The Bruins became bowl eligible with their blowout win over Colorado. Because USC in ineligible for post-season play, UCLA can reach the Pac-12 Championship game with a win over the Trojans, or if Utah and Arizona St. both lose.
Kevin Prince completed 15 of 19 passes against Colorado, for 225 yards and 4 touchdowns, and ran for another 84 yards. Johnathan Franklin ran for 162 yards and a touchdown, on 15 carries, and Nelson Rosario had 6 catches for 102 yards, as the Bruins pretty much did whatever they wanted to the Buffs.
The Trojans broke a 2 game losing streak against Oregon, and a 5 year losing streak in the Willamette Valley when they held off the Ducks. It was also Oregon's first conference loss at home since the end of the 2007 season.
They did it by getting another big day from Matt Barkley, who completed 26 of 34 passes, for 323 yards, and 4 touchdowns. 8 of the completions went to Marqise Lee, for 187 yards and a touchdown. Lee was named Pac-12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year as a result. 7 more went to Robert Woods, for 2 more scores, and 53 more yards.
The battle for the championship of the city is for a little more than that; the Pac-12 South Championship, and relevance nationally are also on the line. And maybe UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's job. Neuheisel wanted to play in a big game when he returned to the Bruins, and he has gotten his wish. When the Trojans are involved, be careful what you wish for. Just ask the Ducks.
Going forward, there may be less of the traditional games late in the going, as the Conference office has floated the idea of moving rivalry games up much earlier in the season. Reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, so hopefully the notion will quietly disappear. We wont know until we see future schedules come out.
Here's the complete national schedule for what is rivalry week in a lot of places, with eastern times, so you can practice time conversions before the bowl games begin.