UCLA (6-5, 5-3 Pac-10) @ USC (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 1:30 PM, PST
Television: ABC (Regional Coverage)
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (92,000)
UCLA and USC will renew their cross town rivalry in what’s becoming a traditional time slot in their battle for the Victory Bell. Many prognosticators thought that this game would decide the conference champion and in a sense, they’re still right, but each team took rather unexpected paths in arriving at this point. USC has lost twice in Pac-10 play, falling to Stanford at home and Oregon on the road. UCLA enters the game 6-5 overall with some bad losses that Bruins fans may not let head coach Dorrell forget even if UCLA pulls off the upset. This season every UCLA loss except their 24-20 setback to Arizona State came against an unranked opponent. For a team that was preseason ranked No. 14, the losses are unacceptable. What’s amazing is UCLA has beaten just the right amount of Pac-10 teams to provide them with a reasonable chance to still reach the Rose Bowl. All the Bruins need is Arizona to beat Arizona State, coupled with a win of their own and UCLA will be playing in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. As simple as it sounds, the dream remains a long shot as the Bruins are currently 20-point underdogs to USC while ASU is favored to beat the Wildcats by seven points. Last year, UCLA’s 13-9 victory ended USC’s national title hopes while snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Trojans. Prior to USC’s rivalry-game winning streak, the Bruins had snapped off eight straight against the Trojans so perhaps the trend will continue with a Bruin victory Saturday. USC will use a balanced attack on offense to keep the Bruins guessing. With QB Booty now at full strength and a handful of other key starters playing their second or third consecutive game after battling injuries most of the season, USC finally looks like the team once predicted to be playing in the BCS Championship. For UCLA, season starter Olson is back at QB and could be a difference maker in the game. Last week, in a backup role, Olson looked ordinary completing 4-of-10 passes for 64 yards and 1 INT. The Bruins did win though, mainly because of a defense that blanked Oregon. The only way UCLA wins is if they get outstanding special teams play. PK Forbath is solid and the Bruins return men are outstanding, having taken several kickoffs and punts to the house this season. If there is a weakness on USC, it’s definitely in their kick coverage teams. UCLA’s strong secondary should present a formidable challenge to USC as the Bruins are capable of intercepting passes when they can get their hands on the ball. Similarly, their pass rush is better than average with DE Davis pressuring from the edge. Still, USC has so many weapons. Arizona State found this out the hard way on Thanksgiving and with more than a week to prepare, expect Trojan OC Sarkisian to call another excellent game plan this Saturday. UCLA will have to score points to keep up and if they don’t get them in special teams, this game won’t be close.
USC 38, UCLA 17.
Oregon State (7-4, 5-3 away) @ Oregon (8-3, 5-3 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 1:30 PM, PST
Television: ESPN 2
Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000)
The Civil War rivalry game is one of the best kept secrets in college football. Last season, QB Leaf made his first 2006 start and led the Ducks back from a 13-point 4th quarter deficit to claim a 28-27 lead late. Oregon State tacked on a field goal to go up 30-28 with minutes remaining. The Ducks responded by driving into field goal range, only to have their attempt blocked on the last play of the game, giving the Beavers the emotional victory. In the series, the home team has won the last 10 games and this season, the game is in Eugene. Last year’s game was incredible, but since 1995, the 30-28 final score was the closest Civil War margin in more than a decade. In 2004, OSU went duck hunting in a 50-21 beat down. In 2005, the Ducks returned the favor in hammering the Beavers 56-14. Another blowout could be in the making this season as Oregon is scrambling to find a healthy QB for the game. After losing one-time Heisman hopeful Dixon to injury, and after second string QB Leaf went down last week against UCLA, the Ducks will start the game with redshirt freshman Kempt at the helm. He’ll be backed up by another reshshirt freshman QB Roper who was just 1-for-5 against the Bruins, throwing an interception on his very first collegiate pass. Kempt soon replaced Roper and had even less success, throwing for 52 yards on 5-for-23 passing. He also had two INT’s. Oregon does have a strong rushing game with RB Stewart having gained 1,306 YDS so far this season. The problem is OSU may have the second best overall defense in the conference. Most troubling for the Ducks is the Beavers, with no amount of uncertainty, do have the No. 1 ranked rushing defense in the country allowing an NCAA leading 64.0 YDS per game. With Dixon’s season-ending injury at Arizona the Ducks now have five opening game starters who’ve been watching from the sidelines during their recent two game skid. A host of other banged up Ducks will also join them, with many only able to play spot minutes. OSU’s offense is not the greatest although they do have a talented RB in Bernard (1,037 YDS) and skill at the WR positions. Their problem is QB Canfield can’t seem to get the ball to them so they can make plays. The experts say this game is even and I agree. In the 111th game of this storied Civil War, a low scoring affair seems in order with the Beavers handing the Ducks their third straight loss while posting back-to-back victories over their rival for the first time since 1973-74. Oregon State 16, Oregon 13.
California (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10) @ Stanford (3-8, 2-6 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 4:00 PM, PST
Television: FSN, FSNW (DirecTV Channels – 652 & 653)
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000)
Cal could have never imagined they’d be in this spot late in the season after beating Tennessee 45-31 to start the year. Still, here they are in need of a victory to ensure their postseason eligibility that’ll more than likely secure them a spot in the Emerald Bowl just a short drive over the Bay Bridge. Saturday will be the 110th Edition of the “Big Game” and will also mark the 25th Anniversary of “The Play” that Stanford fans and players still fail to recognize as a legitimate end to that game. The play will be referenced about 1,000 times before, during and after the broadcast and will give viewers at least one more chance to hear the absolute melt down of then Cal announcer Joe Starkey as he totally lost it when the Stanford Band started swarming the field. His call will live in infamy, as will the play, but I’m not sure this year’s game will be another one worth remembering. Stanford leads the all-time series 54-44-11 (unless you’re a Cardinal who sees the record as 55-43-11). Their advantage was much greater until Cal head coach Tedford came on the scene, becoming the first Cal coach in the series to start 5-0 against Stanford. He can build upon his own achievement with another win this weekend where two senior QB’s will go head-to-head. Cal’s Longshore has been disappointing, throwing only 15 TD’s to 11 INT’s this season. Despite having all-everything WR Jackson and talented RB Forsett at his services, Longshore has not been able to muster enough offense to beat the better teams on the schedule of late. After book ending a 5-0 start with wins over Tennessee and Oregon, Cal has lost 5-of-6 to stumble down the stretch. The good news is a victory over a rival heals a lot of wounds. In the past five “Big Games” the Cardinal have never scored more than 17 points. This season they’ll get their chance as the Bears’ once stout defense has given up more than 30 points four times since Oct. 13. Still, Stanford is just 95th in total yards and 111th in points scored. QB Ostrander will lead the attack but how well is uncertain. He’s battled injury and has looked anything but stellar in the games he’s played. Backup QB Pritchard had success in upset wins over USC and Arizona but has also struggled in throwing only 4 TD’s compared to 11 INT’s. Cal will have the advantage in the rushing game and if the OL and RB Forsett are in sync could control the clock while putting points on the board. Assuming they do and QB Longshore does not give Stanford favorable field position by turning the ball over, Cal should continue to frustrate Stanford fans who have only witnessed one Cardinal victory since the opening of the new Stanford Stadium. That said two intangibles remain. One, Harbaugh is the kind of head coach I could see thriving in a rivalry setting. Two, this season has been wildly unpredictable, producing some mind-boggling upsets. So, after some consideration, Stanford somehow wins and avenges what happened to them 25 years ago. Stanford 24, Cal 23.
Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Pac-10) @ Arizona State (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10)
Kickoff: 5:00 PM, PST
Television: ESPN 2
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706)
There is no love loss between these two teams or their fans. The Sun Devils have won four of the last five meetings and after blowing a chance at their first Rose Bowl birth since 1997 in a loss to USC on Thanksgiving, the Sun Devils would love to take out their frustrations when they face the Wildcats for the 82nd time this weekend. Both teams have a lot riding on this game. If Arizona wins, they become bowl eligible. The already bowl eligible Sun Devils will look to enhance their postseason resume for a chance to play in the Fiesta Bowl in nearby Glendale with a win over the ‘Cats. This game features tremendous match ups on both sides of the ball that have the potential to make this game the Pac-10’s best this weekend. ASU, behind fiery QB Carpenter, will look to control the clock while Arizona, behind gun-slinging QB Tuitama, will look to strike for the big play on every snap. There is speed and athleticism at all positions for both teams and while ASU’s may be more developed, it’s hard to argue against Arizona having some of the most dynamic youngsters playing in the conference today. Arizona is ranked 10th in the nation in total passing while ASU is not far behind, ranked 26th. The real difference on offense comes in the ground game where Arizona only gains an average of 79.7 yards while ASU gobbles up more than 150 rushing yards per game. ASU’s ability to run the ball, kill clock, and keep Arizona’s offense off the field is a key to the game as Arizona should have success throwing against a talented, but gambling ASU secondary. When ASU’s on defense, Arizona will spread the field to try and prevent ASU from stuffing the run and turning the Wildcats into a one-dimensional offense. If the Sun Devils succeed, expect to see them blitz often to try and disrupt Tuitama’s timing. As great as Tuitama has been in leading the ‘Cats to three straight victories, he has at times missed open receivers. He can’t afford to do this against the Sun Devils. I’m not saying he has to play perfectly but when the opportunity is there, Arizona needs to capitalize to keep the Sun Devils from controlling the ball and the clock. Special teams will play a factor as both are explosive in the return game. Arizona WR Thomas has been strong on kick returns while DB Cason has gotten better from game to game, returning punts. ASU has also excelled in this department as the kicking game has helped put them in strong field position all season. Last year, ASU scored on some wild plays that rattled the Wildcats who also played most of the game without Tuitama. This season, Arizona seems to be the more gambling and opportunistic team, making it interesting to see what tricks Wildcat OC Dykes has up his sleeve after having 16 full days to prepare for this game. Turnovers are always a factor but last year’s game saw neither team give the ball away. Of course, Arizona was much more conservative then on offense as ASU was on defense. This season, both teams are making big plays in all facets of the game. From kick and punt returns, and interceptions to long gains on offense, this truly should be a wild shootout in Tempe where the team who has the ball last should be in a position to win. Arizona’s hopes of a bowl birth came to a screeching halt in a 28-14 home loss to the Sun Devils in 2006. This season, the Wildcats are in the same position but should produce a different result as these Wildcats are a much better version of their former selves.
Washington (4-8, 2-7 Pac-10) @ Hawaii (11-0, 8-0 WAC)
Kickoff: 8:30 PM, PST
Television: ESPN 2
Stadium: Aloha Stadium (50,000)
The ESPN 2 triple-header of nationally televised Pac-10 games ends with this one in beautiful Honolulu, Hawaii. The Warriors are led by Heisman hopeful Brennan who could eclipse 4,000 yards passing for the season with a big game against the Huskies. He should as the two most recent spread offenses Washington has faced (Arizona and Washington State) saw Arizona’s Tuitama throw for 510 yards and Wazzou’s Brink throw for 399. Like all non-conference foes who visit the islands, Washington will have to avoid falling into vacation mode this weekend. Hawaii’s clear skies, warm trade winds and sandy beaches are enough to lull anyone to sleep and the Huskies this season have been prone to losing their focus at the wrong times. A victory for Washington would be huge after their disappointing loss in last week’s “Apple Cup” to Wazzou. For Hawaii, a win most likely means a BCS birth, assuming they maintain or improve upon their current BCS ranking. Warrior head coach Jones is a great one and he’ll have his players focused as Hawaii will look to be the second consecutive WAC team to qualify for a BCS bowl game (Boise State, 2006). Washington will pose some unique challenges so the potential for a competitive game is there. Unlike most of Hawaii’s opponents this season, the Huskies run the ball and run it well. Husky QB Locker is a duel threat who will take to the ground in a heartbeat. RB Rankin leads the team with 1,149 yards on 212 carries. In Hawaii’s only two games this season against teams with traditional, balanced attacks, Fresno State gained 182 yards on the ground in a 37-30 loss to the Warriors while Nevada gained 219 rushing yards in a 28-26 setback. Washington could easily put up these kinds of rushing numbers, even more actually, and can do so in a way that limits Brennan’s touches behind center. If the Huskies can run the ball, they’ll have a chance. In the end, though, regardless of how much time of possession the Warriors do get, they’ll still put up points and more than likely will put up whatever amount of points they’ll need to pull out the win. Hawaii 45, Washington 37.