October 4, 2011 in Sports

Pac-12 teams stress importance of divisional wins

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – Last year at this time every Pac-10 Conference game counted equally.

This year, now that the Pac-12 Conference has divided into two divisions, some mean a hair more than others.

Sure, every conference game counts in the standings, and all games are added into the equation in deciding who wins each division and advances to the championship game. But there are really two races, North and South. So a win against a divisional opponent means more.

“Every game counts as much as any other one,” Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said on Tuesday. “(But), obviously, if you beat somebody in your division it kind of gives you a two-up on them; you’ve got to lose two games for them to make up the difference.

“That’s probably the biggest difference.”

The Sun Devils (4-1 overall, 2-0 in Pac-12 play and atop the South Division standings) have one of those double-counters this Saturday, when they travel to Salt Lake City to face Utah.

“They have a great football team, I think,” Erickson said. “They’ve got a great tradition, an outstanding defensive football team, so, to us, this is a game we’ve been looking forward to ever since the beginning of the season, actually.

“We’ll see what happens.”

The Utes are 0-2 in conference, but only one of those losses has come against a South Division foe, so a win Saturday can get them right back into the race.

Especially considering head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker if two teams tie for the division title.

The change can keep an average team in the race, which seems to be the case with UCLA.

“We set a goal we’re going to be in this conference race and we’re in it,” UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. “We’re 1-1 (in Pac-12 play, 2-3 overall). With a win this week we’ll be 2-1. With USC off, we could be tied for second place in the conference, in our half, the division. … And, pending how Arizona State does against Utah, possibly even tied for first. It’s everything we’ve asked for in terms of where we want to be in the conference race.”

Four from the Pac-12

1. Stanford’s Andrew Luck did something amazing against UCLA last week, and we’re not talking about his one-handed catch on a trick play. Luck called the plays during the Cardinal’s no-huddle offense. “It’s something that’s always been in the game plan,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We’ve got one of the few quarterbacks in college football that can truly do it. So we want to put him into position to do it.”

2. So if USC (4-1 overall, 2-1 in conference) is down, is the Pac-12 down? That seems to be the case in some national commentators’ eyes. At least ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit alluded to that scenario recently. A question about that seemed to raise Neuheisel’s ire. “I think ESPN’s power over who’s hot and who’s not is unusual,” Neuheisel said, chuckling. “I think they decide. If they think SC is the only sexy school out here, then shame on them. … They’ve become so powerful, they kind of create programs.” ESPN is part of the new Pac-12 media package that kicks in next year.

3. Along those same lines, Chip Kelly had his thoughts about such comments. “Sometimes I think people say things because they like to get people to talk about things,” said Kelly, probably the most reticent of all Pac-12 coaches when it comes to answering questions.

4. Washington’s defense was maligned a bit earlier this year, but the Huskies (4-1, 2-0) stepped up and handcuffed Utah last week, holding then-Pac-12 second-leading rusher John White to 35 yards on 14 carries in their 31-14 win. “We couldn’t get any movement on the line of scrimmage,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.


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