Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with a deeper look at the two division races ...
1. Halfway through the season, the Pac-12 standings look no clearer than they did when everyone was 0-0. The South isn’t quite the unrecognizable wasteland it was a couple weeks ago, but the North now has four teams with a legitimate path to the Pac-12 title game.
College football reporter Brett McMurphy released a batch of bowl projections this week that has Oregon playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Jon Wilner has Washington in the Rose Bowl and Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, which means he has the Huskies winning the Pac-12 and the Ducks likely finishing 10-2.
On the radio this week, I described Oregon as the team to beat in the North but not necessarily the favorite. Maybe I’m parsing words here, but I think the Ducks deserve the No. 1 spot after knocking off the team everyone had at the top of the division. Do I think they have the best odds of getting to the title game? No.
Here’s a closer look at the contenders and their odds of getting to the Pac-12 title game.
2. Oregon (5-1, 2-1)
Remaining schedule: at Washington State, at Arizona, UCLA, at Utah, Arizona State, at Oregon State
It’s one thing to show up against your rival in a game that’s been circled on the calendar all season. It’s another thing to win three road games in four weeks in places like Pullman and Salt Lake City.
Mario Cristobal’s tough-minded approach — covered here by Bruce Feldman for The Athletic — should make the Ducks a better road team than they’ve been of late. I expect them to be tested, though, starting Saturday in Pullman.
Odds to win the North: 28 percent
3. Washington (5-2, 3-1)
Remaining schedule: Colorado, at Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, at Washington State.
The Huskies lost a tough game in a hostile environment when their kicker missed from 37 yards at the end of regulation. If you’re Chris Petersen, the message now is to keep calm and carry on.
Washington’s remaining road games are against fading Cal and Washington State, a team the Huskies traditionally dominate. They’ll need Oregon to drop a game somewhere, but the Huskies should feel pretty good about their chances of being in the Pac-12 title game if they win out.
I’ll say, though, that Washington hasn’t looked like a dominant team at any point this season. I won't be stunned if they end up getting pushed by Cal, Stanford or Washington State.
Odds to win the North: 36 percent
4. Washington State (5-1, 2-1)
Remaining schedule: Oregon, at Stanford, Cal, at Colorado, Arizona, Washington
It’s going to be quite a scene this weekend in Pullman with ESPN’s “College GameDay” making its long-awaited arrival. The city has already declared a state of emergency, and there are reports of people putting vans on Airbnb for upwards of $350 for the night.
Vince Grippi of The Spokesman-Review compared the crowd greeting the GameDay bus to the one that greeted John Glenn after his return from space. And that was for a bus; imagine what it will be like when the actual celebrities appear.
I’ll admit, I didn’t think the Cougars would be in this position at the midway point of the season. They’ve proved me wrong so far, but I want to see how they stack up with Oregon and Stanford before labeling them a serious contender.
Odds to win the North: 12 percent
5. Stanford (5-2, 3-1)
Remaining schedule: Washington State, at Washington, Oregon State, at Cal, at UCLA
Quite a few people wrote off Stanford after the past two weeks, possibly with good reason — giving up 41 at home to Utah will do that. But if the Cardinal can somehow win at Washington, they’d have the tiebreaker over their two closest competitors with three winnable games to close the season.
As this breakdown from SB Nation points out, Stanford’s running game has been suspect this season. Bryce Love has been battling injuries and had another quiet game Thursday night against Arizona State, running for only 21 yards on 11 attempts. It’s hard to see Stanford getting to the Pac-12 title game unless that changes.
Odds to win the North: 19 percent
6. Others: Cal (3-3, 0-3), Oregon State (1-5, 0-3)
One of these teams will get its first (only?) Pac-12 victory Saturday in Corvallis. The Bears seem to be following a script similar to last year’s: a surprising start, followed by a fade in Pac-12 play. As Jeff Faraudo of the Mercury News notes here, instability at quarterback has been a factor, with Brandon McIlwain accounting for 11 turnovers in his past three games.
Odds to win the North: Less than 5 percent.
7. Over on the South side, Saturday’s game between USC and Utah is shaping up as a de facto elimination game for the Utes and maybe a battle to decide the division.
As Jon Wilner notes here, it’s rare for a game of this magnitude to end up on the Pac-12 Network. Fox selected Oregon-Washington State for its 4:30 p.m. window — I get that one — and Washington-Colorado for its earlier time slot. Colorado was unbeaten when those selections were made, but still, that was destined to be a double-digit point spread.
A closer look at the South contenders:
8. Utah (4-2, 2-2)
Remaining schedule: USC, at UCLA, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Colorado, BYU
If Utah wins Saturday, the Utes would be tied with USC in the loss column and control their path to the Pac-12 title game. Looking at their schedule, though, that path won’t be simple. UCLA seems to be figuring things out; Arizona State can be feisty at home; Boulder in November won’t be an easy trip, especially if Colorado is still alive in the division race.
In the Salt Lake Tribune, Kurt Kragthorpe muses about the potential implications of USC’s win against Washington State earlier this season, which involved some officiating shenanigans from the Pac-12. If officials had flagged what appeared to be a clear targeting penalty against the Trojans, we might have a whole different race in the South Division.
Odds to win the South: 29 percent
9. USC (4-2, 3-1)
Remaining schedule: at Utah, Arizona State, at Oregon State, Cal, at UCLA, Notre Dame
If the Trojans win Saturday, they’ll have the South pretty much locked up. With tiebreakers against Colorado and Utah, they would need to lose two of their last four to fall out of first place.
If Utah wins, the South could stay up for grabs into the final week. One factor working against the Trojans is the loss of top pass rusher Porter Gustin, who is out for the season after fracturing his ankle against Colorado.
Odds to win the South: 44 percent
10. Colorado (5-1, 2-1)
Remaining games: at Washington, Oregon State, at Arizona, Washington State, Utah, at Cal
Colorado’s path to win the division looks something like this: The Buffs need Utah to beat USC, and they need to beat Utah in Boulder. Beyond that, the Buffs would either need to win out (not likely) or hope for USC to drop a game somewhere.
That’s a tall order, especially with star wide receiver Laviska Shenault a question mark after suffering a toe injury against the Trojans.
Odds to win the South: 17 percent
11. Others: Arizona (3-4, 2-2), Arizona State (3-4, 1-3), UCLA (1-5, 1-2)
Hard to see any of these teams being anything more than a spoiler. Arizona was a trendy preseason pick in the South, but the Wildcats look dead in the water with Khalil Tate now officially out with an ankle injury.
Rhett Rodriguez will get the start Saturday against UCLA. It remains to be seen when Tate will return and whether resting his ankle will bring him closer to the player he was last season.
Odds to win the South: Less than 10 percent.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this revealing interview with Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires in Rolling Stone.