10 Things We Learned About the Pac-12 in Week 12
This weekend's slate of Pac-12 games was rife with drama, featuring a rain-drenched rivalry game in the South and an overtime battle for the BCS in the North.
Suffice it to say, the suspense was well deserved, as both high-profile matchups had major implications for the conference title game, the Rose Bowl Game and the BCS National Championship.
But that wasn't the only action in the Pac-12 this week.
Elsewhere in the Conference of Champions, a few teams rolled on with impressive victories, while others faded further in already disappointing campaigns.
The final week of the season should provide even more excitement, as teams will be jockeying for position in the bowl game pyramid.
But before we can look ahead, let's look back and discuss the 10 things we learned about the Pac-12 on November 17, 2012.
UCLA Has Finally Escaped the Clutches of Mediocrity
USC K Andre Heidari and UCLA LB Eric Kendricks react after a blocked FG
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For the first time since 2006, the UCLA Bruins defeated bitter crosstown rival USC, reclaiming the Victory Bell and earning a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
UCLA (9-2, 6-2) survived a rainy day at the Rose Bowl, playing well in all three phases of the game to knock off the Trojans, 38-28.
The loss eliminates USC (7-4, 5-4) from high-tier bowl contention and also left Lane Kiffin's squad without its senior signal-caller. QB Matt Barkley left the game in the fourth quarter after a punishing blind-side sack by UCLA LB Anthony Barr.
The win was huge for the image of UCLA football in Los Angeles and around the country.
A loss to the Trojans would have left the Bruins with a close-but-no-cigar feeling, as they would have been relegated to second fiddle for a sixth consecutive year.
But head coach Jim L. Mora appears to have his program on the fast-track to national relevance.
UCLA is guaranteed a solid postseason spot and is just one win away from going to the Rose Bowl Game for the first time since the 1998-1999 season.
Who would have predicted that back in August?
The Pac-12 North Is Still Undecided
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On the same day that the Pac-12 South was won, the race in the North Division took an unexpected turn towards chaos.
Previously undefeated No. 2 Oregon fell in shocking fashion, losing in overtime to the Stanford Cardinal, 17-14.
The Ducks' loss, along with an epic face plant by No. 1 Kansas State, threw the BCS into fits and gave the SEC another shot at its seventh straight national title.
But the craziness is just getting going in the Pac-12, as Stanford now controls its destiny to win the North and host the Pac-12 Championship Game.
All credit has to go the Cardinal in this one.
The nation's leading defense in tackles for loss proved its worth against Oregon, limiting the Quack Attack to just 198 yards on the ground and 14 points.
Coming into the showdown, UO was averaging nearly 55 points and well over 300 yards rushing per contest.
And while the game came down to the wire with a missed OT field goal, the real story here is how David Shaw and the Cardinal was able to gobble up the Ducks offense.
If Stanford can beat UCLA in Pasadena on Saturday, they will clinch the North and host the Bruins in a rematch six days later for a spot in the Rose Bowl Game.
But should the Cardinal lose, Oregon would still host the conference title game, assuming they can get past the No. 16 Oregon State Beavers in the Civil War this weekend.
Buckle your seat belts!
Stanford's Defense Is Beastly
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The last slide gave a little taste of what the Stanford defense did on Saturday, but just to reiterate the Cardinal's dominance, it deserves a spot of its own.
Oregon could not get anything going on offense, as Stanford's front seven was crashing down on the run all night long.
White jerseys were busting into the backfield at will, dragging down the Oregon backs for negative yardage and pressuring freshman QB Marcus Mariota into tough situations.
On the day, Mariota was limited to 207 yards passing on 56.8 percent completion. He also took a sack and threw an interception, only his sixth INT of the season.
But most impressive was the Card's ability to limit Mariota's running ability, as the freshman signal-caller ran for 89 yards, 77 of which came on one big gash in the first quarter.
The Stanford D was also clutch, coming up with the some crucial stops in the neck-and-neck battle.
Oregon turned it over on downs twice and was held to 4-of-17 on third down conversions, eventually falling 17-14 in OT.
Considering the Ducks had dropped at least 42 points on every other opponent this year, it's clear that the Cardinal defenders were locked in and ready to go.
Look for the defense to lead the way from here on out, as they will need more stout run stopping when they face UCLA and RB Johnathan Franklin next.
The Pac-12 Will Probably Miss the BCS Title Game
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After then-No. 1 Alabama was upset by Texas A&M last week, the Oregon Ducks looked like far and away favorites to run the table and fly to Miami for the BCS Championship Game.
But after failing to get off the ground against Stanford, the Ducks suffered their first loss of 2012 and took a serious hit in the national title picture.
At this point, undefeated No. 1 Notre Dame and three one-loss SEC teams look to be ahead of Oregon in the pecking order, but that doesn't mean the Ducks are out of it just yet.
It's a fact that either No. 3 Georgia or No. 2 Alabama (assuming the Tide handle Auburn in the Iron Bowl) will take a second loss in the SEC title game.
And if Notre Dame's offense can't find its rhythm against USC this weekend, a beat-down Trojan squad could upset the Irish and claim the Jeweled Shillelagh.
In that scenario, No. 5 Oregon would have a chance to sneak back into the BCS title conversation, but only if they win out. Victories over highly-ranked rival Oregon State and resurgent UCLA in the Pac-12 Championship Game could boost the Ducks enough.
Oregon's chances would be even better if Florida State can find a way to knock off their inconsistent in-state rival, No. 4 Florida. The Gators travel to Tallahassee to face the Seminoles in a game with serious implications for both squads.
But if ND and Bama take care of business, the Pac-12 conference will be left out in the cold when the final BCS standings come out.
Oregon State Can Score Points in a Hurry
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We all know that Oregon State's defense can play with anyone, but the Beavers have shown a lot of progress on the offensive side of the ball too.
Against Cal on Saturday, the Beavs and QB Sean Mannion went off for 559 yards of total offense in a 62-14 rout.
Despite the caliber of the competition, winning by such a lop-sided margin is always impressive.
Mannion got the starting nod against the Bears and had an amazing day, throwing for 325 yards and four TDs. He eviscerated the California defense, finding open receivers downfield with ease.
And let's not forget that just last week, the Beavers played the Stanford Cardinal to the final whistle in Palo Alto, eventually falling by a 27-23 final.
The QB carousel in Corvallis scored more points against Stanford than did big brother Oregon in Autzen this week. That alone should be enough for head coach Mike Riley to motivate his team as the Beavs prepare to host the Ducks in the Civil War.
OSU fans would relish the opportunity to dash Oregon's BCS hopes, which have already taken a hit after UO lost on Saturday.
The Oregon State defense will definitely be ready to play, but which offense will show up?
If it's the offense that led the Beavers to a 6-0 start and a No. 7 ranking in the BCS, the Ducks better look out.
Washington Is Going to a Respectable Bowl
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A few weeks ago the Washington Huskies were stuck in neutral after losing three straight games and stumbling to a 3-4 record.
Flash forward to Week 12 and Steve Sarkisian's squad has done a lot to change its fate.
The Huskies (7-4, 5-3) have rattled off four consecutive wins, including an upset of then-No. 7 Oregon State.
Against Colorado on Saturday, QB Keith Price returned to his 2011 form, tossing five touchdowns on 75.9 percent completion.
And if UW can stifle the listless Wazzu Cougars in the Apple Cup this weekend, the Dawgs will finish the season with eight wins, the program's most victories since 2001.
After the start that the Huskies had, a spot in the Las Vegas Bowl would be very nice.
There's no guarantee that Washington will make the trip to Sin City, as USC and Arizona also boast 7-4 records, but to be in the conversation for a mid-tier bowl is something for Sark and Co. to hang their hats on.
Look for the Huskies to build off this momentum and progress in 2013, especially in the world of recruiting.
Lane Kiffin Is on the Hot Seat
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After the Trojans' loss to UCLA, head coach Lane Kiffin's seat is starting to feel some serious heat.
USC AD Pat Haden affirmed the fact that Kiffin will return to Heritage Hall in 2013, but that doesn't mean the pressure isn't cranked up.
If the Trojans come out uninspired this weekend against historic rival Notre Dame, the calls for change will grow even louder in the heart of Troy.
The No. 1 ranked Irish will be on the verge of a national championship berth and Southern Cal would love to play spoiler in front of the home crowd at the Coliseum.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, QB Matt Barkley is out with a separated shoulder that he suffered in the loss to the Bruins.
It seems unlikely that backup Max Wittek will be able to lead 'SC past the No. 1 team in the country, but crazier things have happened.
A fifth loss would cement the 2012 season as a complete disaster for the preseason No. 1 Trojans and the blame has to fall on Kiffin's lap.
With a former Heisman frontrunner under center and NFL talent throughout the roster, there's no way USC should be vying for a spot in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
Unless Kiffin can keep his monstrous recruiting class intact, the hot seat discussion will continue to boil over.
Oregon Needs to Practice Field Goal Kicking
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For a second straight season, the Oregon Ducks suffered their first loss as a result of deficiencies in the kicking game.
While it's easy to point all of the blame at K Alejandro Maldonado, a junior who missed two field goals in the loss to Stanford, that's a bit unfair.
Maldonado hasn't been the leg of choice for most of the 2012 season, as senior Rob Beard handled kicking duties for the first nine games of the season. Beard went down with an injury and had to sit against Cal and the Cardinal.
As a result, Maldonado had only attempted one FG before this weekend, a reality that I believe calls into question the player development of head coach Chip Kelly.
Don't get me wrong, Kelly is an amazing coach and has the Oregon program running on all cylinders, but this was a roster oversight.
In light of what happened against USC last season, you would think Kelly would focus on the kicking game, emphasizing its importance in practice and in games.
But Kelly didn't give his kickers much chance to develop, as Beard has only attempted eight field goals and Maldonado has now tried three.
Considering the fact that Oregon has been averaging close to 35 points in the first half alone, it would seem like a good chance to give the kickers some experience in garbage time.
Instead of embarrassing opponents with touchdowns number six, seven or eight, the Ducks could have taken their foot of the gas and put up some FGs.
Because Maldonado bounced his OT attempt off the left upright, Oregon is on thin ice in the BCS title conversation. Had he been given ample time to learn his craft, the Ducks might still be undefeated.
Utah Isn't Going Bowling
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After suffering a loss to the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, the Utah Utes dropped to a 4-7 record and are officially eliminated from postseason contention.
The Utes needed to win their final two games against UA and Colorado to achieve bowl eligibility, but it wasn't in the cards for head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Utah has struggled to adjust to its new home in the Pac-12 Conference, as the days of owning the Mountain West seem like distant memories now.
But there is hope in Salt Lake City with freshman QB Travis Wilson showing promise and command of the Utes' offense.
In the loss to Arizona, Wilson was unflappable, tossing for 311 yards and two TDs with no interceptions or sacks.
If Coach Whit can find some answers on the defensive side of the ball, Utah could be a force in the Pac-12 South soon enough.
And while the loss of DT Star Lotulelei to the NFL is huge, Whittingham is a great coach with a proven track record of winning. Look for the Utes to improve and make it to the postseason in 2013.
Arizona State Has the Makings of a Good Team
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After starting the season 5-1 and showing signs of discipline and focus, the Arizona State Sun Devils faltered with four straight conference losses.
But the Devils took care of business in Tempe on Saturday, absolutely stomping Washington State to reach bowl eligibility in head coach Todd Graham's first season.
The play of emerging sophomore QB Taylor Kelly has been solid and the defense has bordered on dominant in several games.
Against the Cougs, Kelly completed 87 percent of his passes to go with four touchdowns, as ASU rolled to a 46-7 win.
The game was nearly a shutout, but a 54-yard touchdown pass with 57 seconds to go got Wazzu on the board.
The Devils' D held a prolific WSU passing attack to just 240 yards through the air, a feat that Graham will be able to build from as Arizona State prepares to visit rival Arizona for the Territorial Cup on Friday.
If ASU can knock off the ranked Wildcats on ESPN, the Sun Devil faithful will be happy with a 7-5 finish and a shot at eight wins in year one.