As the end of the regular season draws near, it looks increasingly probable that both divisional titles will be determined by rivalry games taking place next weekend – one in the desert and the other on the Palouse.
As long as Washington beats Oregon State on Saturday, the Huskies and the Cougars will play for the North on Nov. 23 in Pullman. If Arizona State can take down Oregon in Eugene, the Sun Devils will be able to clinch the South Nov. 24 in Tucson against their in-state nemesis. It’s a tougher road for Arizona and Utah, but the Wildcats and Utes are still in the thick of the race, too.
There’s plenty of meaningful football to be played. Let’s see how everyone stacks up after 11 weeks.
1. Washington State (9-1, 6-1; last week: No. 1) – Gardner Minshew and the offense are getting most of the shine, but Tracy Claeys and his defense have quietly had two of their best weeks of the season, conceding a combined 20 points and 588 yards of offense to Cal and Colorado.
2. Washington (7-3, 5-2; last week: No. 2) – A 148-yard effort on the ground from Myles Gaskin against Stanford two weeks ago restored some confidence in the Washington offense. So imagine what a big outing from quarterback Jake Browning against Oregon State would do for the Huskies six days before the Apple Cup.
3. Utah (7-3, 5-3; last week: No. 3) – Quarterback Jason Shelley and running back Armand Shyne filled in admirably for Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss against Oregon, combining for 458 yards of offense in a 32-25 victory. If the Utes can survive Colorado this weekend, that will probably be the duo leading them in the Pac-12 title game a few weeks from now.
4. Stanford (6-4, 4-3; last week: No. 4) – No JJ Arcega-Whiteside meant Stanford had to turn to another big, imposing target to lead the passing game against Oregon State. You probably didn’t know Colby Parkinson’s name before, but you should now after the 6-foot-7 tight end had four touchdowns on just six receptions for 166 yards against the Beavers.
5. Cal (6-4, 3-4; last week: No. 7) – There isn’t a team in the conference playing better defense than Cal – at least over the past four weeks. The Golden Bears have given up just 44 points in that span and locked up a much-deserved bowl bid on Saturday by upsetting USC 15-14 at the Coliseum.
6. Arizona State (6-4, 4-3; last week: No. 9) – With Utah’s injuries and Arizona State’s recent form, the Sun Devils may be the Pac-12 South team you’d least like to see right not. Herm Edwards has his team riding a three-game win streak. If the Devils can make that a five-game win streak, they’ll have the Pac-12 South crown a few weeks from now.
7. Arizona (5-5, 4-3; last week: No. 6) – But the Wildcats and a healthy Khalil Tate (healthier Khalil Tate?) aren’t looking so shabby these days, either. It would take an upset of Washington State, but if Arizona can win two in a row, coupled with a Utah loss to Colorado, the Wildcats will win the South Division.
8. Oregon (6-4, 3-4; last week: No. 5) – An eight- or nine-win season wouldn’t be a total catastrophe in year No. 1 under Mario Cristobal. But here’s what would: the Ducks lose to Arizona State in Eugene this weekend, drop the Civil War game to Oregon State and watch quarterback Justin Herbert flee for the NFL Draft. I give the first scenario better odds.
9. USC (5-5, 4-4; last week: No. 8) – The Trojans keep Clay Helton if: USC’s coach can lead a blowout win over UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, then pull an upset of No. 3 Notre Dame one week after that. The Trojans part ways with Helton if he loses one or both of USC’s rivalry games in the next two weeks. I give the second scenario better odds.
10. Colorado (5-5, 2-5; last week: No. 10) – Some might say pulling the trigger on Mike MacIntyre this early is an abrupt move. I’d count myself as part of that group. Any coach in the Pac-12 would be hard-pressed to lead Colorado to a South Division title given the injuries the Buffaloes have suffered this season.
11. UCLA (2-8, 2-5; last week: No. 11) – Chip Kelly’s first season in control of the Bruins isn’t totally excusable. On paper, UCLA has far more talent than Arizona State and look where Edwards has led the Sun Devils his first season in charge.
12. Oregon State (2-8, 1-6; last week: No. 12) – We can let Jonathan Smith off the hook, though. He arguably faced a tougher rebuild than any other Power Five coach in the country and still led Oregon State to some inspiring results – even the losses – along the way. Maybe Smith still has a few tricks up his sleeve saved for the Nov. 23 game against Oregon.
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