Night games and Friday road assignments have become big topics in Pac-12 football this season, and another scheduling subject is coming into play in important games in November and December.
Colorado, Washington State and USC all have waited until at least the 12th week of the season to have a bye, but that apparent hardship could turn into an advantage. Colorado is off this week before facing Utah, with bowl eligibility probably at stake for both teams. WSU is idle before meeting Washington in the Apple Cup rivalry game, which could decide the Pac-12 North title. And with USC having clinched the South championship, the Trojans know they will have a week off before the Pac-12 championship game — on a Friday.
In contrast, the North winner will have played in a rivalry game the previous Saturday, either the Washington-Washington State or the Stanford-Notre Dame contest.
USC coach Clay Helton might deserve to be rewarded for not complaining about playing 12 straight weeks, going into Saturday’s game vs. UCLA. He talked all season about the potential for a week off prior to the conference title game. “We’ve been able to do our job, and now we get it,” he said.
Colorado’s schedule also has worked out well, with the Buffaloes (5-6) having two weeks to prepare for Utah in a game that will decide whether they qualify for a bowl. “That’s good motivation for you, no doubt,” said coach Mike MacIntyre.
In 2011, the Buffs were playing for a rare 13th straight week when they upset Utah, costing the Utes the South title with USC ineligible.
Thanks to UCLA’s win over Arizona State, the Pac-12 now appears almost certain to have nine bowl-eligible teams. USC, Washington State, Washington, Stanford and Arizona have qualified. The league’s five-win teams include ASU, UCLA, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and California. ASU and Oregon each should get a sixth win vs. Oregon State, with next week’s Utah-Colorado and Cal-UCLA winners also guaranteed to become eligible — even if Utah, Cal and UCLA lose as big underdogs this week.
The conference won’t have a College Football Playoff contestant, but likely will have one team in a New Year’s Six game. That would leave eight teams for six affiliated bowls, with two looking for vacancies elsewhere.
Mostly because of quarterback Khalil Tate’s emergence, Arizona has destroyed any theory that games are predictable based on what happened the previous season. In 2016, the Wildcats lost to UCLA, Washington State, Colorado and Oregon State by a combined 205-72.
This year, Arizona claims wins of 47-30 over UCLA, 58-37 over WSU, 45-42 over Colorado and 49-28 over OSU. That’s a total of 199-137, representing a 195-point turnaround against four opponents.
BYU and Utah each will face Tate in 2018.
Pac-12 Power Rankings
1. USC (9-2) • Trojans have won last two games vs. UCLA, after losing three straight.
2. Washington State (9-2) • Seven takeaways vs. Utah were Cougars’ most since 2003.
3. Stanford (7-3) • Cardinal claim five straight home wins vs. AP Top 10 opponents.
4. Washington (8-2) • Huskies haven’t allowed more than 30 points in a game in two seasons.
5. Arizona (7-3) • Khalil Tate: Five runs of 70-plus yards.
6. Arizona State (5-5) • Sun Devils lost to UCLA, even while posting 584 yards and 29 first downs.
7. UCLA (5-5) • Josh Rosen: 381 passing yards vs. ASU after missing loss to Utah.
8. Oregon (5-5) • QB Justin Herbert likely to return vs. Arizona.
9. Utah (5-5) • Utes are 5-5 for the first time since Kyle Whittingham’s first season (2005).
10. Colorado (5-6) • Phillip Lindsay is Buffaloes’ first 1,000-yard rusher in consecutive seasons.
11. California (5-5) • Bears have lost seven straight Big Games vs. Stanford.
12. Oregon State (1-9) • Beavers could go winless in Pac-12 for second time in three seasons.