Nine weeks of college football chaos have left the Pac-12 in shambles. With Washington as its lone one-loss team, the conference enters a pivotal weekend in determining the North and South division champions.
Just a few weeks ago, it appeared as though the Pac-12 had a number of College Football Playoff contenders. That was before upsets and late-night craziness rattled the conference standings. As Washington sits at 4-1 in conference play (7-1 overall), week 10 action may have major championship implications.
Five Pac-12 teams currently reside in the AP Top 25. A three-team cluster sits atop the North division. USC is joined by a surprise contender at the top of the South rankings. After this weekend, it may become clear who the pretenders are in the Pac-12.
Oregon looks for revenge
Washington finally ended its 12 game losing streak to rival Oregon a season ago. The Huskies went into Autzen Stadium and piled on 70 points to defeat an underachieving Oregon team.
While Oregon hopes to return the favor, Washington hopes to send a message on its home turf. The Ducks have struggled to a 2-4 conference record, hindered by the loss of quarterback Justin Herbert.
Nonetheless, the Ducks proved the potency of their offense last week against Utah. Senior Royce Freeman remains one of the nation’s elite running backs–he ran for 139 yards on just 20 carries against the Utes. He has rushed for over 100 yards in six of Oregon’s nine games this season and also remains a threat in the passing game out of the backfield.
Defense, once again, is Oregon’s downfall. The Ducks have surrendered at least 20 points in every conference matchup in 2017. The Oregon rush defense has improved, ranked 15th in the nation with just under 116 rushing yards allowed per game.
Showdown in Pullman
The game of the week in the Pac-12 may be Saturday’s matchup between No. 18 Stanford and No. 25 Washington State. Fresh off a 58-37 loss at Arizona last week, the Cougars face a must-win game in an effort to revive their Pac-12 title hopes.
Stanford has been quietly rolling through its Pac-12 slate. It survived a scare at Oregon State 15-14 without star running back Bryce Love, and has now won five straight conference clashes.
Love’s ankle injury status has not been updated, but the Cardinal are obviously better off with a Heisman candidate in their backfield.
WSU fell apart in nearly every aspect of its game at Arizona. The Cougar defense, responsible for WSU’s historic 7-1 start, gave up 58 points and 585 yards.
The offense struggled as well. Quarterback Luke Falk, who was in Heisman conversations a mere three weeks ago, was benched in favor of sophomore Tyler Hilinski. Although Hilinski threw for over 500 yards, he also tossed four interceptions and fumbled a pair of times.
After this matchup in Pullman, the Pac-12 football landscape may have some clarity.
Pac-12 South title match?
Before the season, not many would have circled the Nov. 4 game between Arizona and USC as significant in the conference championship race. As the other four teams in the South have collapsed, it is a two-team battle for a place in the Pac-12 title game.
USC has looked, frankly, not good this season. Quarterback Sam Darnold is a turnover machine and an injury-ridden defense is depleted and surrendering yards in bunches. Despite this, USC is in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12–win and they’re in to the conference championship game.
After being embarrassed at Notre Dame in its nationally televised Oct. 21 game, USC trounced Arizona State last Saturday to move to 5-1 in Pac-12 play.
Arizona may be the biggest surprise in college football. Quarterback Khalil Tate has singlehandedly pulled the Wildcats into the race, as his threat as both a passer and a runner taunts disciplined Pac-12 defenses.
While Arizona’s defense has been characteristically weak, its offense simply outpaces whatever points the opponent can score. USC will be Arizona’s biggest challenge of the year, but a win plants the Wildcats into sole possession of first place in the South division.
Will the nation applaud a Washington versus Arizona Pac-12 championship game? Likely not. But if the Huskies prevail in the north, that is the most likely scenario.