Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with chaos in the Pac-12 South ...
1. There was a time several weeks ago when it appeared the Pac-12 South would resolve itself in quasi-orderly fashion. What a simple, blissful time that was! Now that the South has reverted to its natural state as a wasteland of chaos and confusion, we can have some fun playing with different scenarios to resolve the logjam of three-loss teams.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News lays out the tiebreaker scenarios here. The only team that can win the South without help is Arizona State. The Sun Devils also have one of the tougher remaining schedules, with road games against Oregon and Arizona.
2. A week ago, this looked like the year when Utah would finally break through and make its first appearance in the Pac-12 title game. Led by quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, the Utes offense underwent a midseason revival, topping 40 points in four consecutive wins.
How quickly it all fell apart. Huntley suffered a broken collarbone in a loss at Arizona State, and news came Thursday that Moss suffered a knee injury in practice that will require surgery.
3. It’s hard to overstate how much Utah will miss those two players. Moss had been on a tear, averaging 135 rushing yards over his past six games. Huntley was coming off the best game of his career against USC — 22 for 29 passing, 341 yards, four touchdowns and no picks — and had Utah’s offense humming.
Now the Utes will turn to a pair of backups: running back Armand Shyne and quarterback Jason Shelley. Shelly won the backup job over celebrated freshman Jack Tuttle, a four-star recruit who had scholarship offers from USC, Alabama, LSU and a host of Pac-12 schools. Tuttle has since left the program, leaving Shelley and former walk-on Drew Lisk as Utah’s only healthy quarterbacks.
Kurt Kragthorpe of the Salt Lake Tribune profiled Shelley here and says the redshirt freshman has been prepared for the big stage.
4. Those injuries certainly change the complexion of Saturday’s Oregon-Utah game. The Ducks looked awful in their past two road games, but if the offense can hit 20 points, you’d think they’ll have a great chance to sneak out of Salt Lake with a win.
As the R-G’s Ryan Thorburn writes here, the Ducks have gotten used to preparing for multiple quarterbacks and aren’t taking Shelley lightly.
5. With all the upheaval in the Pac-12 South, I’m circling back to my preseason pick. USC has the South’s easiest remaining schedule with Cal and home and UCLA on the road. The Trojans need Utah to lose Saturday against Oregon or next week at Colorado, and they need Arizona State to drop one of its last three. Neither scenario seems especially far-fetched, does it?
It will be interesting to see what a division title might mean for Clay Helton’s future at USC. Helton shook up his staff last week, a sure sign he was feeling the heat. If the Trojans win their last two Pac-12 games and lose to Notre Dame, they’ll finish the regular season 7-5. They’d likely be an underdog in the Pac-12 title game, but USC winning the league wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen in the Pac-12 this year, or even in the top 50.
Helton could answer a lot of questions by doing one or more of the following: beating Notre Dame, winning the Pac-12 or beating someone decent in a bowl game. That would make it a little easier to write off USC’s struggles this season as the growing pains that come with starting a true freshman quarterback.
JT Daniels has had an up-and-down freshman season, as J. Brady McCollough of the L.A. Times writes here. But if USC believes Daniels is the next great Trojan quarterback, maybe the move is to keep Helton in place and revamp the offensive staff in the offseason.
6. Cal can throw the South into further disarray by beating the Trojans on Saturday. The Bears’ defense is on a roll after giving up 10 points against Washington and 19 against Washington State. But as Jeff Faraudo writes here for the Mercury News, Cal’s offense is still searching for a spark.
7. More fun with scenarios: Chantel Jennings of The Athletic lays out how all six teams in the South could finish 5-4 or 4-5.
8. After being left for dead, Arizona is tied for first place in the South with two games remaining. Greg Hansen of the Arizona Daily Star wrote about that transformation after the Wildcats beat Colorado last week to move into a first-place tie.
The problem for the Wildcats is their 1-3 record against division opponents. The Wildcats get Arizona State at home in the Territorial Cup, but to be more than a spoiler they’ll need USC and Utah to stumble.
9. Is Mike MacIntyre on thin ice at Colorado? After starting 5-0, the Buffs have lost four in a row and need to beat Utah, Washington State or Cal to avoid missing a bowl game for the fifth time in Mac’s six seasons.
Injuries, including one to star wide receiver Laviska Shenault, have contributed to CU’s slide, as Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera writes here. But there’s a reason why Colorado’s 5-0 start was viewed with some skepticism around the Pac-12. The Buffs defense has been torched in its past two games and will get another stiff test this weekend from Washington State.
10. Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew got the cover treatment this week from USA Today. Mustache mania is sweeping the Palouse thanks to Minshew’s heroics.
11. The Cougars held steady at No. 8 in this week’s CFP rankings. Their path to the College Football Playoff remains narrow at best, but as Vince Grippi writes here in the Spokesman-Review, that shouldn’t overshadow the major milestones within their reach.
Washington State has four conference championships and four Rose Bowl appearances in its history. Both of those things are on the table this season.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this essay from Roger Angell and be thankful he’s still gracing us with his writing at age 98.