One of these two teams will be in sole possession of 2nd place in the Pac-12 North on Sunday. - Craig Mitchelldyer
With the season hitting the home stretch, it's separation time in the division races. Oregon State travels to Palo Alto to battle the Cardinal of Stanford for sole possession of 2nd place in the North, while ASU visits the Coliseum to battle the Trojans, with the loser almost certainly out of contention to win the South. Plus some other games of lesser interest...
We're another week closer to the end of the regular season, and the conference races are taking on more clarity. There's still a good battle brewing in the South, with the game between the Trojans and Sun Devils looking like an elimination game. Meanwhile in the North, Oregon State and Stanford battle for 2nd place and the right to stay in control of their own destiny as both have games remaining with the Ducks. The rest of the slate is less interesting, but we'll predict those games too. On to the picks!
Saturday, 10:30AM PST, FX: @ Arizona 38. Colorado 17
After a brutal loss last week, the beat-up Wildcats get the next best thing to a bye week - they have a home game vs. the Buffs. Good thing too, as QB Matt Scott is unlikely to play, recovering from a concussion. They don't need him to win this game, but it does mean they probably won't name their own score as they otherwise would have. They will likely lean more on RB Ka'Deem Carey to, er, carry the load. Colorado is such a mess that even playing the Arizona defense won't be much of a panacea.
Saturday, Noon PST, P12N: @ USC 38, Arizona State 27
Both teams are coming off tough losses, though I suspect the Trojans are feeling worse - in a season that is quickly falling well below expectations, last week was their last chance to salvage some pride. The question now is if they can at least salvage a claim to the South division title while drowning out the growing controversy and questions about their coach. Meanwhile the Sun Devils are still mathematically in the hunt for the South division themselves, but need some outside help to do so. I think Monte Kiffin's defense bounces back enough to allow the uber-talents on the USC offense to win despite scoring less than 51 points. This will be an interesting match-up between the most disciplined team in the conference (by far) vs. the least.
Saturday, Noon PST, Fox: @ Stanford 24, Oregon State 20
This is the most interesting match-up of the week - a couple of physical teams sitting at 5-1 in conference and starting their backup QB's. For Stanford, it's become clear that dual-threat Kevin Hogan, a RS-Fr, makes the Cardinal offense better; for the Beavers, the gap between current starter Cody Vaz and former starter Sean Mannion isn't as clear. What is clear is both teams will lean on their salty defenses to carry the day and keep the winning team in control of their own destiny in the North. I look for the Stanford defense to shut down the modest OSU running game, and rely on their ferocious pass rush to protect a mediocre secondary from getting burned by the talented duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. I also expect Hogan to be enough of an x-factor to keep the Cardinal ground game effective against a tough Beaver defense, and to hit on some big plays with the TE crew of Levine Toilolo, Zach Ertz and Ryan Hewitt.
Saturday, 7:30PM PST, ESPN: Oregon 56, @ Cal 17
Under normal circumstances I might consider this a bit of a trap game, with the Ducks coming off a highly-anticipated game and big win over USC and another important game a week from now against Stanford. But Cal is so beat up and so demoralized right now I don't see any chance they can keep this game close. It's possible the Ducks may look unfocused and sloppy, but it won't matter - they'll still roll, and Allan Bridgford - likely starting at QB in place of injured Zach Maynard - will get well acquainted with his own turf courtesy of the Oregon pass rush.
Saturday, 7:30PM PST, ESPN2: UCLA 35, @ WSU 13
It's certainly possible that coach Mike Leach's very public and very bold critiques of his team could yet lead to an inspired performance this season, but it seems more likely that their will for this year has been broken, outside of the ever-present desire to salvage their season with a win in the Apple Cup. Since the Bruins don't wear purple, I expect they will absorb whatever early spunk the Cougs might have, counter it effectively and cruise to a pretty easy win. The boys from L.A. might feel out of sorts in the snow, but behind Brett Hundley and Johnathan Franklin powering the run game they should be able to handle the elements.