Pac-12 Football: The Weekend When Everything Changed
Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star
Two Top-10 ranked teams, two teams with seemingly nothing left to play for other than pride and an epic battle between two others fighting to prove that they belong—this past weekend shuffled everything up in the Pac-12 Conference, except in Eugene.
From the Pacific Northwest to the dusty borderlands of the Sonoran desert, upsets shook the Conference, dashing National title hopes for the Oregon State Beavers and putting the USC Trojans' season in serious jeopardy, with games against two of the Top Three schools in the country still to come.
No. 7 Oregon State 17, Washington 20
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After three straight losses for the Washington Huskies, head coach Steve Sarkisian demanded more from his squad. And they delivered.
After two 50-plus point losses on the road to the Oregon Ducks and Arizona Wildcats, the Huskies answered by intercepting Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion four times and handing the Beavers their first loss of the season.
Attempting to go 7-0 for the first time in school history, the Oregon State Beavers traveled to Seattle with Mannion fresh off minor knee surgery, looking to keep their National Championship hopes alive. Instead, Mannion threw three interceptions on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter.
After Mannion's fourth pick, he was replaced by Cody Vaz who immediately threw a touchdown pass to even the score with just under five minutes to play. Unfortunately, that was plenty of time for the Huskies to come back and hang the game-winning field goal in the final minutes.
With Oregon dominating the North division, the only chance that Oregon St. has left is to beat the Ducks on Thanksgiving weekend, provided that they get past No. 14 Stanford in Palo Alto.
No. 9 USC 36, Arizona 39
Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
On a day when USC Trojans receiver Marqise Lee and quarterback Matt Barkley broke records, Arizona Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott was just a little bit better. Scott finished the game with 27-of-50 attempts for 369 yards and three touchdowns, as well as 100 rushing yards and a 10-yard scamper for a touchdown.
Lee broke the school and conference record for receiving with 345 yards and two touchdowns, which also landed him in the Top Five in NCAA history. Barkley was no slouch either, passing for a school-record 493 yards and tying Carson Palmer with three 400-yard passing games.
Barkley ended up with three touchdowns on 31-of-39 attempts, but his Hail Mary attempt on the final play of the game was knocked down, as well as their National Championship hopes, leaving the Trojans a win shy of 800 games as a program.
While USC has a tough schedule including the AP No. 2 Oregon Ducks and the BCS No.3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Arizona's schedule is relatively light against cellar-dweller newcomers Utah and Colorado. Arizona travels to the Rose Bowl to face the Bruins this weekend, and if they run the table, they will play for the Pac-12 crown.
Washington State 17, No.17 Stanford 24
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Aside from a short pass to Jamal-Rashad Patterson who took it 70 yards for a touchdown, Stanford Cardinal quarterback Josh Nunes looked lost against the Pac-12 whipping post Washington State Cougars.
Nunes finished the game with just 7-of-15 passing for 136 yards and a touchdown. If not for the stellar defense by the Cardinal, this game could have gone the Cougars' way.
The Cardinal defense sacked Cougar quarterback Jeff Tuel a school-record 10 times and returned an interception early in the fourth quarter for a touchdown. They also held the Cougars run game to -16 yards.
This sloppy offense will most likely get them past Colorado next week, but they will need to wake up and improve, as they host No. 11 Oregon State the following week, then travel to No. 4 Oregon and finish at upstart UCLA.
UCLA 45, Arizona State 43
Rick Scuteri-US PRESSWIRE
Anytime a game is won as time expires, you know it was a close game and a hard-fought match up. UCLA Bruins true freshman kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn felt the pressure but drilled the 33-yard field goal to put the Arizona State Sun Devils' season in jeopardy.
Both quarterbacks had monster games as UCLA freshman Brett Hundley completed 19-of-29 for 274 yards and four touchdowns and a pick. Arizona State signal caller Taylor Kelly finished with 25-of-35 for 315 yards, four touchdowns and a pick as well.
It was Kelly's interception in the final minutes of the first half deep in Bruin territory that led to a UCLA touchdown. They took the lead going into the half that ended up costing the Devils the victory and a chance at playing for the Pac-12 crown.
If UCLA can survive the visiting No. 22 Arizona Wildcats in the Rose Bowl this weekend, they travel to Pullman the following week to face Washington State, but finish the season against No.17 USC and No.14 Stanford.
The road for Arizona State to the Pac-12 South crown seems to have come to an end as three of their next four games are on the road facing No.11 Oregon State, No.17 USC and ending their season at No. 22 Arizona for the Territorial Cup. Fortunately for the Devils, they still have a chance to become bowl eligible when Washington State visits Tempe for their final home game on November 17.
Cal 27, Utah 49
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After consecutive victories over then-ranked No. 25 UCLA and Washington State, it seemed that Cal Bears coach Jeff Tedford had secured himself at least another season in Berkeley— now it seems about as clear as mud.
After straight losses to Stanford and Utah, who was previously winless in the Pac-12, Tedford will be lucky if he even makes it to the end of 2012 as the head coach of the Bears. They host Washington this Friday night, then travel to Autzen to take on the No. 4 Ducks and end the season at home against No. 11 Oregon State.
The Utah Utes notched their first conference victory after four straight losses. They could win at least two of their last four games facing the Washington State Cougars at home and ending their season in Boulder versus the lowly Colorado Buffaloes. If they win those games, they will have to beat either Washington in Seattle or Arizona at home to become bowl eligible.
Colorado 14, No. 4 Oregon 70
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After letting their foot off the throttle last week in Tempe, the Oregon Ducks had no idea what impact it would have on their BCS standing. Head coach Chip Kelly and his Ducks scored 43 points against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the first half last week, and Kelly allowed his starters to sit the second half.
As a result, the Ducks didn't score in the second half, and the final score of 43-21 looked a lot closer than the game really was. When the BCS rankings came out and Oregon dropped from the No. 3 spot to No. 4, the Ducks were going to make a statement against the Colorado Buffaloes.
The Ducks came out running on all cylinders and scored 56 points in the first half, added another 14 in the third quarter for good measure and put an exclamation point on the statement with a 70-14 victory. Unfortunately, the BCS computers didn't think their victory over a one-win team, no matter how monumental, was enough to move them up in the rankings.
Oregon still has some tough games left to play this year, traveling to L.A. to face the No.17 USC Trojans this weekend and finishing up the season in Corvallis for the Civil War against the No. 11 Oregon St. Beavers. Prior to that, they travel to play Cal and host the No. 14 Stanford Cardinal in their final home game on November 17.
With the speed and dominance of this Oregon team, I see them playing Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship, making a return trip to the National Championship game and bringing home the title to Eugene.