The thing about great conference races is that they're never decided until the very last game.
Despite the dominance of the USC Trojans during this decade, the Pacific-10 Conference has seen some great finishes recently, the most memorable (to me, anyway...being a resident of Oregon is cool sometimes) being the Oregon Ducks' Civil War dismantling of the Oregon State Beavers last year...which handed USC another Pac-10 title.
This year, however, the Trojans are on the outside looking in.
The conference standings have Oregon sitting at 6-1, the only one-loss team in the Pac-10. They have two tough games at Arizona and against Oregon State remaining; These last two contests will tell people whether the Ducks actually have the stones to finish a season strong.
One thing's for sure: If they botch this golden opportunity, Chip Kelly won't hear the end of it for some time.
The Stanford Cardinal , fresh off their savage beatdown of USC, stand at 6-2, with the tiebreaker over the Ducks. Despite their great success recently, however, they have already lost to the other two teams with two losses in conference play.
They only have the Cal game remaining in conference play, so they'll need a little help to even make the Holiday Bowl, let alone smell the Roses. Overall, however, I have to like their position.
Arizona sits at 4-2. The Wildcats have the tiebreaker over both Oregon State and Stanford, and control their own destiny. With the loss to the California Golden Bears, however, their road becomes much bumpier; even if they do beat the Ducks Saturday, they'll still have to contend with Arizona State and USC.
For them, it's win out and go to the Rose Bowl. If they lose again...well, it could get messy in Tuscon.
Oregon State , at 5-2, perhaps has the easiest road ahead. Sure, they have the Ducks in Autzen at the end of the season, but first the Beavers have to go up to Pullman for the auto-win against the Washington State Cougars.
They'll be rooting for Oregon this week: With an Arizona loss, and OSU's tiebreaker over Stanford, the Civil War could become a Rose Bowl play-in game...poetic justice, since the two Oregon schools have been USC's main challengers the last several years.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen...Southern Cal , at 4-3, has seen their season become a mockery of what they expect from their who's-who of high school studs. While they do own wins over Oregon State and Cal, they have virtually zero chance of going back to the Rose Bowl this year, due to their losses at Oregon and to Stanford.
The best the Trojans can hope for is a trip to the Sun Bowl, but even that will be a chore.
They'll have to beat Arizona and UCLA, and Stanford will have to beat Cal and make it to the Holiday Bowl (Oregon State went to El Paso last year, and the Sun Bowl has a no-return clause). All scenarios are very possible, but one has to wonder if the Trojans really give a damn at this point.
California, also at 4-3, is in a pretty weak position at this point: Oregon, OSU, and USC have already beaten them. They have a game against the suddenly unstoppable Cardinal upcoming, and their big win over Arizona might be rendered moot.
To top it all off, Jahvid Best is still feeling shaky after his terrifying mid-air spin-out against the Beavers.
Making the Emerald Bowl—which I believe is played in San Francisco, close to where Cal's campus is—might be a nice consolation prize for them, but getting to play that game will require hard work and plenty of help.
As for the other teams in the Pac-10...the UCLA Bruins and Arizona State Sun Devils both face an uphill battle to become the seventh Pac-10 team to be eligible for a bowl, but UCLA may be more likely to achieve that.
The Bruins still lack much of an offense (beating Washington State doesn't count), but their defense has been solid. Even if they don't make a bowl, they should still be able to get some in-game experience for Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, while ironing out their myriad personnel (player and coach) issues.
The Sun Devils are similar to UCLA in that they, too, have little offense to speak of, but they may have stumbled upon a ray of hope: third-string quarterback Samson Szakacsy (pronounced, I believe, Sis-ack-ski).
This young man came into tonight's Oregon game after Brock Osweiler was injured, and drove ASU down the field for a touchdown in the third quarter. Szakacsy did some good things with the ball, and put the Devils to within 10 before Oregon put the game away.
If he doesn't get the start next week, I'd have to seriously question Dennis Erickson's coaching skills and general sanity: Szakacsy is the only Sun Devils QB that has shown he can get points from drives that don't start in an opponent's side of the field.
While the Washington Huskies have had some great moments this year, I know Steve Sarkasian is disappointed that his squad didn't become bowl-eligible in 2009. After the stunner they pulled on Southern Cal, the Huskies have either been competitive in conference play (the Arizona schools) or been blown out of the water (the Oregon schools).
Whether or not Jake Locker bolts for the NFL, Sark will look to improve on this year as he tries to attract better recruits to his program.
As for Wazzu ...what can you really say? The Cougars have been outmatched, out-manned, and defeated by everyone they've lined up against.
This team needed some experience this year in order to start their development. If they can keep plugging away, work hard and protect Jeff Tuel, Wazzu could win a conference game next year!
Well...we can all dream, can't we?
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