It's a great week for Pac-12 football, as rivalry week for most of the conference is here. And the two games that aren't inter-conference rivalries carry their own importance, with Stanford facing UCLA as they try to clinch the Pac-12 North, and USC facing their biggest non-conference rivals Notre Dame as they try to knock the Fighting Irish out of the National Championship picture.
Friday, Noon PST, FX: Utah 27, @ Colorado 10
This game is strictly for pride for both teams, as Colorado gets their last shot at a 2nd win and their 1st at home, while Utah tries to notch their first (and only) road win of the season. The Buffs were surprise winners last year in this revived (but not yet heated) rivalry; winning again this year would likely turn up the heat in this match-up for Ute fans. But that's unlikely - as noted all year long, this edition of Colorado is historically bad, and there's little reason to think this game will prove any different. I expect John White IV to have a big game and Travis Wilson to have a much better outing than his last start in a hostile stadium. The Utes may stumble a bit as they overcome their own road demons, but unless they've totally cashed-in on the season due to being eliminated from bowl eligibility, they should ride White and a stout defense to a solid win.
Friday, 7:00PM PST, P12N: @ Arizona 42, ASU 34
I hadn't realized the connections between RichRod and Todd Graham before; their mutual coaching history should provide another fun subtext to an already interesting match-up. This should be a high-scoring game, but the edge goes to the Wildcats - their offense is lethal, especially with Ka'Deem Carey running the way he is lately (he's leading the country right now in ypg). With Matt Scott apparently healthy and ready to go, Arizona just has too many weapons for the Sun Devils to contain. Stud DT Will Sutton will do his best to disrupt the Wildcat running game and harass Scott, but after an impressive start to the season, ASU has been exposed as a middle of the pack team. Arizona's defense can be exploited, but I don't think the Sun Devils have enough guns to keep pace with Scott, Cary and company.
Saturday, Noon PST, P12N: Oregon 46, @ Oregon State 24
Under Chip Kelly the Ducks have never lost two in a row, and I don't expect that to change with this game. I figure the Ducks will come out fired-up and play with a, er, "chip" on their shoulders and do their damnedest to stay in the Pac-12 and BCS Title pictures. The Beavers have had a terrific turnaround this year to quiet any hot seat talk for Mike Riley, but they just don't have the same kind of front 7 that Stanford does to replicate the success the Cardinal defense had against the Ducks. And while Sean Mannion has bounced back nicely from injury and being benched, the Oregon defense is going to sack him - a lot - and force mistakes. Oregon State might keep this one close for a few quarters, but I think the Ducks will bounce back in a big way from last week and put on a show.
Saturday, 3:30PM PST, Fox: Stanford 27, @ UCLA 24
While it's difficult to predict the true psyche of any college team, the external motivating factors clearly favor Stanford (assuming Oregon wins the Civil War that is) as they want to ensure they win the North; meanwhile, the Bruins have already played their big rivalry game last week and clinched the South - they could be forgiven if they aren't at 100% focus for this one. From a pure numbers standpoint, it's hard to pick a favorite; Stanford's defense is better than UCLA's, which the Bruin offense is quite a bit better than the Cardinal, even considering recent changes in fortune with Kevin Hogan at QB. That said, I like what Hogan brings to that offense - his emergence has opened up more opportunities for Stepfan Taylor, and Zach Ertz has really established himself as this year's Coby Fleener for the Cardinal. I've been impressed with Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin, but I think Stanford - with Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov, Ben Gardner et al. will be able to keep them relatively in check.
Saturday, 5:00PM PST, ABC: Notre Dame 28, @ USC 24
The Trojans have had multiple opportunities to salvage something of their season, and failed each time. With Matt Barkley out, I don't think even the Ewing Theory can save them against a Notre Dame team looking to assure their place in the BCS Title game. Something just hasn't clicked for USC this year despite fielding arguably the most talented lineup in the conference, and that something sure seems to be the guy in charge. I'm no fan of Notre Dame, but the FEI metrics love them this year even if their scores have not wowed people. The Trojans certainly have the talent to win this game, even with (or maybe even because of) Max Wittek starting, but they have yet to step up in the games that matter the most. I think they'll keep it close, but the Irish will make the plays they need to (and maybe get some of their trademarked luck), and will leave the Coliseum with their ticket to Florida for the Title game.