It's week 7 already, but sorting out the muddy middle of the conference isn't much clearer than it was 3 weeks ago; we know the top of the conference (Oregon) and we know the bottom (WSU, Colorado, possibly Utah), but in between it's still too early to be certain. Is ASU for real? What about OSU? Was USC's loss to Stanford just a blip? Can Cal fight their way in to being a bowl team? Is Arizona the best 3-3 team in the country, or just another flashy offense with no defense from RichRod? Can the Huskies bounce back from a forgettable weekend in Eugene to challenge Stanford as the 2nd best team in the North? We'll get a little more clarity after this weekend, and here's my best guesses at how things will shake out:
Thursday, 6:00 PST, ESPN: Arizona State 34, @ Colorado 14
This is a tough match-up for the Buffs; not that Colorado is really going to have any great match-ups the rest of this year, but this is a particularly bad one for them - their pass-blocking and passing game is awful, and the Sun Devil pass rush and pass defense is terrific. Jordan Webb is going to have a rough day. And there's little reason to think ASU won't move the ball with ease against the Buffs either. The only sliver of hope for Colorado is that they're at home, they might catch the Sun Devils napping before their Oregon game and crazy things can happen in college football; but chances are this should be a cakewalk for Todd Graham's crew.
Saturday, 12:00 PST, Fox: @ UCLA 31, Utah 21
UCLA looks to regroup after a feisty Cal team whipped them last Saturday to salvage some hope for a positive season; this week, a similarly challenged Utah team comes to town also hoping to turn around a season that is quickly going down the tubes. The Bruins are more talented, but they are young and inconsistent. Their offense has been terrific (for the most part), but their defense has been erratic. Utah has been very good on defense, and a mess on offense, so this should make for an interesting match-up. Look for true Fr. QB Travis Wilson to see action in this one as the Utes try to get something going on offense, but ultimately I see the Bruins bouncing back in the comforts of home and putting Utah one step closer to staying home for the holidays.
Saturday, 12:30 PST, ABC: @ BYU 17, Oregon State 10
A battle of two teams with strong defenses and big question marks at QB; for the Beavers, Sean Mannion is out and in steps RS-Jr Cody Vaz who has all of 5 games of backup duty in 2010 on his resume. For BYU, Fr QB Taysom Hill is out for the year, and he had stepped in for RS-Sr Riley Nelson who's battling back issues. This figures to be a defensive battle, and while the Beavers are good on defense, this year the Cougars are outstanding. The edge on defense, plus playing at home and in the altitude should be enough for BYU to hand OSU their first loss of the season.
Saturday, 12:30 PST, NBC: @ Notre Dame 27, Stanford 20
Stanford's offense got a much-needed confidence boost last week vs. Arizona, but this week they'll come back to earth against what's been a really strong Notre Dame defense. The Irish have the talent to follow the Wilcox plan to keep the Cardinal passing game in check while stacking the box to shut down their running game. Stanford will try to harass Everett Golson, but Kelly's spread offense has enough play-makers and speed to give the Cardinal trouble, and playing under the shadow of Touchdown Jesus always seems to give the Irish a bigger boost than the average home town advantage.
Saturday, 7:30 PST, P12N: Cal 24, @ WSU 21
The mercurial Bears got their act together last week and stomped UCLA, allowing - for a week at least - the "hot seat" talk for Tedford to cool off slightly. They get a chance this week to extend the good feelings as they take on another dysfunctional team in WSU. Coach Leach called out his seniors this week as "zombies", and a shockingly average Cougar passing game is mired in the dreaded QB controversy, with neither Halliday nor Tuel playing well. I'm almost tempted to say the Cougs will be the ones to turn things around this weekend much like the Bears did last week, but I think Cal will survive a sloppy game and escape Pullman with an ugly win.