After Stanford upset Oregon in Week 11, assuming the Cardinal would again the represent the North in the Pac-12 Championship would have been equal parts easy and egregious. The only predictability of November football is that it's unpredictable.
To that end, the title contenders in action in Week 13 should beware.
South-leading Arizona State needs no extra motivation for its showdown with defending divisional champion UCLA. A Sun Devils win lands them in the conference title game, but UCLA takes control of its destiny with a victory.
Oregon is back in the driver's seat up North with Stanford's loss at USC, but the Cardinal's two slip-ups serve as a reminder not to take any opponent for granted—especially not on the road.
Record Last Week: 4-2 (4-2 against the spread)
Record on the Season: 66-12 (47-31 against the spread)
Saturday, Nov. 23, 3:30 ET
Washington State pulled out of a three-game tailspin with an impressive defensive performance last week at Arizona. Get used to it, because Saturday's potential bowl-clinching matchup with Utah should be more of the same.
Despite its wholly unimpressive 4-6 record, the Utah defense has been among the Pac-12's best. The Utes should have no problem getting pressure on Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday and grounding the Cougars' air-raid offensive attack.
However, Utah has yet to win a game outside its home state and is struggling to find an offensive rhythm with quarterback Travis Wilson gone for the season. Head coach Kyle Whittingham praised reserve Adam Schulz's "big arm" on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches' teleconference, but the former walk-on will be hard-pressed to pass on Washington State's outstanding secondary and star safety Deone Bucannon.
Utah's handicaps will loom large, as the Cougars should get just enough to book their first bowl bid since 2003, while denying the Utes a postseason appearance for a second straight season.
Prediction: Washington State 21, Utah 17
Saturday, Nov. 23, 3:30 ET
Oregon rallied from its loss at Stanford with a more typical performance last week, routing Utah. Now that the Ducks are back in the Pac-12 North lead, don't expect them to relinquish it.
Arizona's defense is much improved from a season ago, when Oregon deluged it in a 49-0 blowout. However, it's still a far cry from Stanford, the only team in the conference that has shown the ability to slow that quick-strike offense. And with the Wildcats' third-down struggles, as examined by the Arizona Daily Star's Daniel Berk, it's that much less likely that Arizona will slow down the Ducks.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey is pursuing his program-record 14th consecutive 100-yard game against a defense that Wildcats head coach Rich Rodríguez called one of the best in the nation.
Indeed, moving the ball on the Ducks should prove difficult for Arizona in its final home game of 2013.
Prediction: Oregon 45, Arizona 20
Saturday, Nov. 23, 4 ET
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The only thing likely to live up to the "big'' in this rivalry matchup's Big Game moniker is Stanford's margin of victory.
Smarting after a tough, 20-17 loss at USC, the Cardinal should have no trouble closing out their Pac-12 slate emphatically against the young and struggling Golden Bears.
Offense has not come easily for Stanford of late, but Cal's No. 99-ranked rush defense is ripe for Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney to have a big day.
Prediction: Stanford 42, Cal 10
Saturday, Nov. 23, 7 ET
Last year's Arizona State-UCLA affair was a gem. Both offenses were clicking, with quarterbacks Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly coming into their own over the course of one Tempe, Ariz., afternoon.
Now the two are seasoned veterans and two of the more recognized quarterbacks in the conference, looked upon to keep their teams' respective Rose Bowl dreams alive. If Arizona State wins, it's guaranteed a place in the conference title game. A Bruins win would put them into a one-game play-in against rival USC next week.
Both defenses are rife with talent, and Arizona State's is built to cause UCLA problems. The swarming pass rush, led by tackle Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford, will test a young Bruins offensive line. Hundley must elude pressure and avoid making poor decisions that the greedy Sun Devils secondary of Osahon Irabor, Alden Darby and Robert Nelson can exploit.
Likewise, Kelly will feel pressure from Anthony Barr and Co. Opponents have taken to double-teaming and chip-blocking Barr on virtually every snap. Expect the Sun Devils to follow suit. His comrades in the linebacker corps—Eric Kendricks, Jordan Zumwalt and Myles Jack—need to contain from sideline to sideline to prevent the explosive plays on the edges Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are so adept at making.
Home-field advantage should be a tremendous edge for the Bruins. Arizona State has traditionally struggled in big games away from Sun Devil Stadium. This season is no exception, as evidenced by the Sun Devils' losses at Stanford and on a neutral field against Notre Dame.
Any advantage in this game is big. That's because another contest decided on the last possession could be in order.
Prediction: UCLA 41, Arizona State 38
Saturday, Nov. 23, 9:30 p.m. ET
USC has been reinvigorated by interim head coach Ed Orgeron. They are back in the polls and rolling in Pac-12 play. So Colorado couldn't possibly be a trap for USC, could it?
Put succinctly, no. Colorado does have a dangerous, deep-ball threat in wide receiver Paul Richardson, and the USC secondary is occasionally vulnerable to such players leaking out on the sideline. It's how Arizona rallied against the Trojans, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan overthrew a few potential game-changers last week.
But for Richardson to make such plays, he'd need an upright quarterback throwing to him. Colorado freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is going to become well-acquainted with Trojans J.R. Tavai, Leonard Williams, Anthony Sarao and Hayes Pullard.
The Buffs have plenty for which to play. Colorado picked up its fourth win of the 2013 season—matching the program's win total from the previous two seasons combined—and remained in the hunt for a bowl game by virtue of the exemption it received for its replacement game against Charleston Southern.
Mike MacIntyre has made tremendous strides in his first year at Colorado, but the Buffaloes are nowhere near ready to compete with a team of USC's caliber. Orgeron will stay perfect in conference, setting up a huge showdown next week with UCLA.
Prediction: USC 38, Colorado 14
Saturday, Nov. 23, 10:30 p.m. ET
The air of desperation typical of late-season conference struggles is apparent in this game.
Quarterback Sean Mannion badly needs a bounce-back game, coming off a three-interception game against USC and four interceptions at Arizona State. Last year, Washington picked off Mannion four times.
This year, the Huskies' pass defense is ranked No. 25 in the nation. Washington's ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks makes a passer's life all the more difficult.
Oregon State must establish a consistent run game, something that's been especially problematic for the Beavers all season.
The big question mark for Washington is quarterback play. Senior Keith Price is recovering from a shoulder injury, which could leave duties to freshman Cyler Miles. Miles showed flashes at UCLA, scoring a pair of second-half touchdowns. But an improving Oregon State defense has picked up its production on the line, particularly Scott Crichton, who has 6.5 sacks on the year.
Much like the Arizona State-UCLA showdown earlier in the day, home field has the potential to be a major factor. Washington has yet to win a conference game on the road. If Oregon State can generate a few early turnovers and find a way to get Mannion connected with Brandin Cooks, the Beavers can score a quality win and snap their losing skid.
Prediction: Oregon State 31, Washington 27