PULLMAN – In the Pac-10 Conference, it’s the week of the big game even if the Big Game has already been played.
It’s rivalry week for eight of the conference’s 10 schools – California and Stanford played their Big Game on Nov. 20 – and three of the four games have bowl implications. And the other includes probation-saddled USC.
So how do these rivalry games measure up this week? Let’s look.
(Thursday, 5 p.m., ESPN)
Though the Sun Devils are 5-6 – and 6-6 makes a team eligible for one of the 35 bowls these days – they are out of the bowl picture. Two of their wins came against FCS teams and the NCAA only allows one to count toward eligibility.
So ASU has to look ahead to next season and, with only 13 seniors, that’s not a bad thing. But coach Dennis Erickson wants to wait for that.
“A majority of our football team and the guys that are playing are underclassmen,” he said Tuesday on the conference’s media call. “It’s exciting for us but then again, we’re worried about what’s going to happen Thursday, not next year.”
Arizona has an even more immediate concern.
Though the Wildcats are 7-4, they have lost three consecutive games and are in danger of falling from the Alamo Bowl to a repeat trip to the Holiday Bowl. The representatives of the Alamo, with the first pick, have told Arizona if it wins the Territorial Cup Thursday, and Stanford earns its expected BCS berth, the Wildcats’ invite is waiting, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Lose, and Washington wins, and they will invite the 6-6 Huskies.
USC at UCLA
(Saturday, 7:30 p.m., FSN)
The Trojans knew before the season they weren’t going bowling this year, which is tough, but they had no idea how tough. Of their five losses – against seven wins – three of them have come courtesy of the opponents’ final drive.
“A heartbreaking season would really be the best way to describe it,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “We wanted to win more games, especially for our seniors, who have already had so much taken away from them, out of their control.”
The Bruins’ year has been heartbreaking in a different way.
Entering the third year under coach Rick Neuheisel, and coming off a bowl win, UCLA expected to break through into the conference’s elite. Instead, injuries and tough losses ensured the Bruins (4-7) of a losing season.
But that doesn’t mean this week isn’t important.
“It’s a city thing,” Neuheisel said.
Oregon at Oregon State
(Saturday, 12:30 p.m., ABC)
Of all the games this weekend, this one is the most crucial for the conference. Win the Civil War and the Ducks are headed to the BCS national title game. Lose and they’ll play in the Rose Bowl.
Usually, that’s not a bad consolation prize, but after the year Oregon has had – 11-0 and ranked first in all major polls except the BCS standings – it would be a letdown. Still, Oregon coach Chip Kelly says the Ducks will prepare like they always do.
“I think our players would think I’m out of my mind if I changed (the preparation),” Kelly said.
The fact Oregon is playing for a title-game berth doesn’t mean much to the Beavers.
“There’s always tremendous motivation to win every game,” coach Mike Riley said. “For us, beating the Ducks is always one of our major goals each season.”
Washington at WSU
(Saturday, 4 p.m., Versus)
We’re not going in-depth here, because that’s what the rest of the week is for, but the Huskies (5-6) have a simple task: win the Apple Cup and they head to a bowl.
UW hasn’t been bowling since 2002 and was 0-12 two seasons ago. That year ended in Pullman, when the Cougars (2-9 this season) pulled out a 16-13, double-overtime win. Less than a month later Steve Sarkisian took over and UW has been working to pull itself out of the hole since.