Battling For January–Inside the Pac-10, Part II

Posted by: Avinash on Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Part I here.

osuwin“Not a worry in the world.”
Oregon State (4-3, 2-2 in the Pac-10)

Feisty win by the Beavers. That being said, it’s hard for me to see them passing any one of the top four contenders on this list, because smarter defensive coordinators will remember that pressuring Canfield will lead him to lunge the ball into triple coverage. I see them winning three of their last five and punching a ticket to San Francisco or Vegas and being perfectly happy with it; if they’re lucky one of the top four above them will self-destruct and they could make it to San Diego.

Must be a calmer experience to have modest expectations; even if you fail at meeting them, it can’t feel too bad.

“The time is now.”
USC (5-1, 3-1 in the Pac-10)
And literally, it’s now for this team to put up or fall out. At Notre Dame, at Oregon, Oregon State, at Cal, at ASU, UCLA to finish. They’ve looked terrible the past three weeks against the dregs of the Pac-10. I talked about chemistry, and it showed all throughout that Arizona game when the Wildcats looked better for fifty minutes of the sixty (in terms of debuts for QBs of the future, Riley>>>Sanchez).

TrojansAssI really don’t know what to make of this team. On one hand, their O-line faces continual decimation and teams with virtually no pass rush blow by the remnants. On the other, after the Stanford loss, no one really fears the Trojans anymore–they’re deeply vulnerable, and Arizona nitpicked at their talent for three quarters before finally folding. (Oh, I guess that’s trouble on both hands.) You have a feeling if this is ever a time for USC to go down, this will be it.

Of course this is probably the point in the story where they crush Notre Dame by 48 and set up a death match in Autzen, squeak out a win, annihilate the Beavers, and take us to the wire at Cal. You’d prefer if the Trojans die before you face them, but somehow you just know they won’t.

California (5-1, 2-1 in the Pac-10)
calflagDespite the loss, the Bears still have destiny in their hands. Win out and we’re BCS bound. But that’s always easy enough to say–our last three opportunities at that elusive goal (OSU last week, at Arizona last year, at USC in 2004) have slipped away. Will we bounce back and show the fortitude of the ’04 team that would end up getting hosed, or let everything fade away like we did last year?

The offense will now be tested with some veteran defenses in UCLA and ASU, plus the always looming threat of USC two weeks after, trap games with the Washington schools bookending that important matchup, and then two weeks to prepare for the Biggest Game. The defense always worries me, considering its ability to allow any offense to rack up 400 yards. I never feel like we’ve won until we hit 38. Never. Add in that the Longshore ankle looks like it’ll be a recurring problem, and the offensive line did have trouble last week against a fast OSU defense. Expect two big battles forthcoming on the road. Should go without saying wins are imperative.

newduckOregon (5-1, 2-1 in the Pac-10)
70 percent of the time, in that sort of close game, Oregon beats Cal. There were really fluky turnovers (especially the batting at the line of scrimmage and the airmail to Felder), and even then the Bears couldn’t close the deal (seven points off three turnovers?). I just felt lucky to get out of Autzen with the W. Not to mention this team also has the advantage of USC AND ASU coming up to their house to decide matters. Talk about the cards lining up in your favor.

That being said, the injuries to Colvin and Johnson deeply wound their offensive firepower. Don’t be fooled by the 53 they lit up on Wazzu–that’s a weekly occurrence for the Cougars on the road. They’ve only played one defense that’s allowed under 380 yards this year, and that was the shellshocked Michigan team they battered around at the Big House. As Cal proved last week, good defense can capably hold good offense at bay.

dennisericksonArizona State (7-0, 4-0 in the Pac-10)
Slow starts, fast finishes. Pretty much the way you can describe this Sun Devil team, who has fallen behind Colorado 14-0, Oregon State 19-0, Washington State 17-14, Washington 17-10, before rallying to outscore these teams by a combined 120-19. And yeah, half of those teams might suck, but you’d have to be up 31 at halftime for me to even be remotely comfortable against the Sun Devils; once the pitchforks start blazing, the fire doesn’t stop burning.

But again…the moment the faithful in Tempe picked up their schedules, they pencilled in six wins by this point. They were expected to beat almost everyone, top to bottom. Wazzu took them to the wire in Pullman (ASU never looked right at all in that game), and Oregon State was in control of their game before Canfield started airmailing gifts to the ASU defense. Everyone knew the test would be the end of the road, and that’s where it stands. (Sidenote: Alcoholic offenses? Probably be on the rise again.)

In other words, they’re like Cal last Saturday–sitting in the driver’s seat of the Pac-10, just waiting to be knocked off. Don’t you love college football, a sport where the only week you want to be on top is the last?

Share your thoughts on the second half of the Pac-10 season. Who’s going to be BCS-bound? Who will take the conference? Vote in the sidebar and voice in the comments.

Here are the big matchups left, right after the jump.

This week:
Cal at UCLA (UCLA can be crappy one week and magnificent the next. Big rebound test for a pissed-off Cal team–actually would have been more concerned about this game if we had beaten the Beavers, although Riley in a possible bounceback start does worry me).

NOTE: I’m still undecided if I’m going; I just know I can’t stand road trips. My stomach’s too weak for a seven hour drive, which is why I passed on Autzen. If anyone’s flying down to Burbank airport or anything and flying back, let me know–I might still go if I don’t have to worry about that damned trip.)
USC at Notre Dame (outside of that Nebraska game, Trojans have always played worse on the road. They should still roll over the Irish.)
Oregon at UW (big test to whether Oregon has enough mettle to compete outside of the first six weeks)

Oct. 27 (biggest week of the year, could feasibly cut BCS hopefuls in half)
USC at Oregon (will this be the last stand of Troy?)
UCLA at Wazzu (just to watch the Bruins lose by 30)
Cal at ASU (the winner could be in the driver seat, depending on the result in Autzen)

Nov. 3
UCLA at Arizona (Karl Dorrell gets fired here. My guess.)
ASU at Oregon (ASU has four road games. FOUR. This is the toughest one.)
OSU at USC (Revenge game for the Trojans.)
(I’m not mentioning Wazzu because they stink outside of Brink. If we can’t roll them over, then we’ll deserve whatever crap bowl we get in December.)
Nov. 10
ASU at UCLA (Never underestimate the power of home.)
USC at Cal (Enough’s been said about this one.)
Nov. 15
Oregon at Arizona (This is the most dangerous game I see in terms of letting down. You’ve been warned Ducks fans.)

Nov. 17
Cal at UW (If we’re still in contention for the BCS at this point, I will be elated. And terrified–Locker frightens the hell out of me.)

Nov. 22
USC at ASU (It’ll be nice to watch meaningful Thanksgiving football. For once.)

Nov. 24
Oregon at UCLA (Oregon’s schedule bizarrely mirrors ours last year; dynamic matchups followed by trap games at Arizona and at USC).

Dec. 1
Glorious day of football.
UCLA at USC (This game could decide the Pac-10 crown, it could be utterly meaningless. Who knows.)
OSU at Oregon (Never an easy game.)
Cal at Stanford (I will try to be at this game if something meaningful is at stake.)
Arizona at ASU (Arizona in the late months is always a force to be reckoned with–ask Oregon and Cal last year. But they could barely win this game with Koetter running the Sun Devils into the ground.)
UW at Hawaii (BCS buster? Come on Huskies. The thought of Brennan playing in the Fiesta makes me retch. Or maybe that’s my chest. Ugh.)

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