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Pac-12 heavyweights make case for BCS title game

Undefeated Oregon State has been the surprise of the Pac-12 football season. (Associated Press)
Undefeated Oregon State has been the surprise of the Pac-12 football season. (Associated Press)

As the Pac-12 season churns toward November, there are three conference teams occupying spots in the top 10 of this week’s Bowl Championship Series standings.

There is, of course, Oregon, ranked fourth despite a No. 2 ranking in both major polls. And there’s Southern California, hanging onto a No. 9 ranking after an upset loss to Stanford earlier this season.

Between those two teams, though, is a party crasher. That would be Oregon State, picked by media to finish last in its division this year but still unbeaten at 6-0 and ranked seventh in the BCS standings.

But do any of them truly have a chance to play in the BCS national championship game? Or will we see another SEC vs. SEC matchup? We examine the road ahead for each contender.

Oregon Ducks

Record: 7-0, 4-0 in Pac-12

Rankings: Second in AP, Second in coaches, Fourth in BCS

Strength of schedule: 58th (Sagarin)

Best win: Probably last week at Arizona State, 43-21, though the one real knock on Oregon is that it hasn’t played anyone particularly tough this season.

Upcoming: Nobody will be knocking the Ducks’ schedule once they finish playing three ranked teams in their next five games. A gimme against Colorado this week precedes a much-anticipated showdown against USC in Los Angeles, and Oregon finishes the season with a home game against No. 17 Stanford and its annual rivalry game at No. 7 Oregon State. The Ducks are likely to be favored in every game the rest of the season, but there are plenty of tests the rest of the way.

Outlook: USC is probably the most talented team left on the Ducks’ schedule, and few visiting teams leave the Coliseum with a victory. But Oregon certainly has the best chance to finish the season unbeaten. And even if the Ducks get past USC and everyone else, they could see the Trojans again in the Pac-12 championship game, if USC takes care of business the rest of the way.

Oregon State Beavers

Record: 6-0, 4-0 in Pac-12

Rankings: Seventh in AP, Ninth in coaches, Seventh in BCS

SOS: 15th (Sagarin)

Best win: Maybe Wisconsin in its season opener, but a road win over Arizona on Sept. 29 was probably more impressive.

Upcoming: The Beavers get four of their final six games at home, though one of their two road games is at Stanford. The other is this week against Washington. OSU benefits from missing USC this season. And, of course, Oregon looms at the end of the conference schedule.

Outlook: Games against UW and ASU the next two weeks certainly won’t be gimmes. But the Stanford game looms pretty large at this point. And OSU regains starting quarterback Sean Mannion this week. It seems improbable that the Beavers will be 10-0 heading into their game against Oregon, but heck, it’s improbable enough that they’re 6-0, too. It’s not likely OSU can climb high enough to make the national title game, but an at-large bid isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

USC Trojans

Record: 6-1, 4-1 in Pac-12

Rankings: 10th in AP, Eighth in coaches, Ninth in BCS

SOS: 52nd (Sagarin)

Best win: The Trojans don’t have a win over a team with a winning record yet this season. Their 24-14 win on the road over then 3-2 Washington might be their best effort.

Upcoming: A tough game at Arizona before the aforementioned matchup with Oregon, plus a visit to UCLA and the season finale against unbeaten No. 4 Notre Dame.

Outlook: What some expected to be a national championship season kind of went out the window with an early-season loss to Stanford, and the Trojans would need to win out and get a lot of help from teams ahead of them to weasel back into the picture. Still, USC controls the outcome of the south division race, and can earn a crack at the Rose Bowl by outlasting ASU and UCLA.

Notes: After rushing for 318 yards against Washington State, Cal was held to just three yards rushing last week by Stanford (this week’s WSU opponent). “They’re a very good defensive football team,” Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. “What they did and how they played led to our lack of production, especially in the run game.” … OSU coach Mike Riley said he’s not concerned about bringing Mannion back too early from knee surgery, but that he would “never even blink” if he had to play backup Cody Vaz. Vaz led OSU to wins against BYU and Utah in Mannion’s absence.