Saturday marks the final round of conference games played under the banner of the Pac-10. Come 2011, teams will be placed in two separate divisions (north and south) battling for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.
1. Oregon (11-0, 8-0)Last Week: 1
Every week, the Ducks offense provides home run plays that showcase how difficult it is to beat a team that can score so quickly. Oregon will win the national title in a blowout. The only team that could possibly stop this attack is TCU, and the chances they get a crack at Oregon are slim. Chip Kelly’s offense is quirky but is a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
2. Stanford (11-1, 8-1)Last Week:
Stanford is the best one loss team in the country. Their defense isn’t something to fear, but it isn’t weak either. Each week, it has gotten better and better, and just shut out Oregon State. Meanwhile, their offense is led by perhaps the best pro-style quarterback in the country. Andrew Luck throws with precision and hasn’t missed a beat despite losing an incredible rusher in Toby Gerhart. Jim Harbaugh is a hot commodity and may be gone after this season. Nevertheless, his run at Stanford has been very impressive and he has turned things around 180 degrees. They clearly deserve a BCS at-large bid.
3. Arizona (7-4, 4-4)Last Week:
Nick Foles looks to be recovered from his injury, and he threw some beautiful passes against Oregon. The offense clicked well and held its own for the first two and a half quarters. Once again though, the running game just isn’t there. The defense also hasn’t looked good as of late, allowing teams to run it down their throats. The fact that the Wildcats are ranked third in the Pac-10 speaks volumes about how top heavy it is. Arizona has lost three in a row, and Saturday isn’t a gimme against Oregon State.
4. Oregon State (5-6, 4-4)Last Week:
The tough out of conference schedule put the Beavers behind the eight ball. Now, they need to beat Oregon to go bowling, which isn’t an easy task. Their offense was shutout in Palo Alto, and the defense appeared porous as they conceded 38 points. Mike Riley’s team has been very up and down all season. Losing James Rodgers really took a dimension out of their offense, and they haven’t found a way to compensate for it.
5. USC (7-5, 4-4)Last Week:
After the win at Arizona, everything seemed to be rolling in the Trojans directions. Since that game, their offense has flatlined, and there are serious questions about how many points they will put up at UCLA. Mitch Mustain wasn’t impressive, but USC still had a chance to win the rivalry game. For the Trojans to return to dominance, they need to find their swagger. They have led in the second half in 11 of their 12 games, but have only won 7. Finishing is the issue.
6. Arizona State (5-6, 3-5)Last Week: 7
Brock Osweiler relieved the injured Steven Threet and turned in a performance for the ages. 27 for 36 with 380 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. All year long, consistency at the quarterback position has been a key issue for the Sun Devils. Their defense has kept them in the majority of the games, but turnovers have killed them. They lost to Oregon by 11, but handed the game away by turning it over 7 times. Moving forward, Osweiler provides a very good option at quarterback. ASU is young, and if Erickson comes back, they could make some noise in the South division next year.
7. Washington (5-6, 4-4)Last Week: 8
The Huskies need to beat Washington State to go bowling, which is the main reason Jake Locker came back for his senior season. It would be a great testament to the progress Steve Sarkisian has been able to achieve in his short stint so far. He inherited a winless team and is on the verge of a bowl game. Simply amazing. Furthermore, Sarkisian deserves a tip of the gap for the onions he showed against Cal. Trailing by 3, Washington had fourth and goal from the 1 yard-line with 2 seconds to go. Instead of kicking a field goal to send it into overtime, the coach elected to run the ball and was successful. His risky decision paid off and brought them one step closer to an elusive bowl bid.
8. California (5-7, 3-6)Last Week: 6
For the first time in the Jeff Tedford era, Cal won’t be going to a bowl game. After extended progress, the Bears seem to be sliding back. Have they topped out? It’s easy to forget that Cal was awful and irrelevant before Tedford arrived, but the last two years haven’t been particularly great. Over that span, Cal has experienced a number of embarrassing blowout losses. The routs have led Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News to suggest their is a systematic failure holding Cal back. The upside? The Bears facilities, which Tedford pushed for, will help with recruiting. As it stands, Cal has the worst football facilities in the conference. It’s amazing Tedford is able to bring anyone in given the lack of luxuries.
9. UCLA (4-7, 2-6)Last Week: 9
The Bruins went up 17-0 early on Arizona State before a defensive collapse. By losing 55-34 to the Sun Devils, UCLA missed out on a bowl for the second time in three years under Rick Neuheisel. For all the talk the coach brought to Westwood (see: newspaper ad declaring the football monopoly over in Los Angeles), not much has been accomplished under his direction. The offense is dreadful, unable to pass the ball. The Bruins are 8-18 in Pac-10 play the past three years. Something needs to change if Neuheisel hopes to keep his job. After being the trendy pick among writers to return to national prominence this season, UCLA has flopped mightily. Despite all of the struggles, the coaching staff can buy some time with a win over rival USC.
10. Washington State (2-9, 1-7)Last Week:
Rumors suggest Paul Wulff will be fired after the season. The Cougars only have two wins, but they are on the upswing. Compared to a season ago, they are so much more competitive. Jeff Tuel is a solid quarterback with young players around him who will develop next year and further the progress made this year. However, that all gets thrown out of the window if the continuity disappears and a new coach is brought in. Wulff deserves at least another year. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way to making the case he has turned things around.