The biggest game of Stanford’s football season will occur Saturday night while the Cardinal are hosting Notre Dame.
That’s not the most important contest. Stanford’s opportunity to win the Pac-12 championship hinges on what happens in Seattle, where Washington and Washington State will stage the Apple Cup at the same time.
The Cardinal need Washington to win, which would give them the North’s berth in the conference title game via a tiebreaker. If Washington State wins, the Cougars will face USC next week.
Stanford had a similar experience in 2013, playing Notre Dame while hoping Arizona would beat Oregon. That happened, and the Cardinal also won their own game.
Stanford coach David Shaw figures his players will have enough to worry about, although he won’t keep them from seeing Apple Cup updates. He’s allowing the school’s game operations staff to post the score occasionally, but “it’s not going to be scrolling every two minutes,” he said.
The odds going into the season were good that one or more coaches in the Pac-12 South would be fired. The most likely candidate, Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, will survive. But UCLA’s Jim Mora already has been dismissed, and the status of ASU’s Todd Graham entering the Territorial Cup vs. Arizona is in question.
Graham needing to beat Arizona is “pretty much undeniable,” according to The Arizona Republic. After going 28-12 in first three seasons at ASU, Graham is 17-19 (including 6-5 in 2017) for a total of 45-31. Hired the same year, Mora went 46-30 and Rodriguez has gone 43-33. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is 43-31 over the same period.
Seven teams in the conference are bowl eligible, and this week’s California-UCLA and Utah-Colorado winners will join them. With no College Football Playoff contestant and only one projected New Year’s Six invitee, the Pac-12 will have two extra teams beyond its bowl affiliations.
So Utah or Colorado almost certainly would have to fill in elsewhere, thanks to having possibly the worst conference record (3-6) among the Pac-12′s qualifiers.
The Pac-12 produced three of the 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, given to the country’s top assistant coach. The group includes USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin and the two defensive coordinators in the Apple Cup, Washington’s Pete Kwiatkowski and WSU’s Alex Grinch.
Martin’s offense produced 532 yards and 28 points vs. Utah. Grinch’s defense got seven takeaways against the Utes. Kwiatkowski’s group gave up 410 yards and 30 points to Utah.
PAC-12 POWER RANKINGS
1. USC (10-2) • Trojans used trick punt-return play vs. UCLA, like Utah vs. Oregon in 2015.
2. Washington State (9-2) • Cougars’ last win vs. a ranked Washington team came in 1997.
3. Stanford (8-3) • Weird to think Cardinal potentially could finish 8-6.
4. Washington (9-2) • Jake Browning had seven straight completions on last two drives vs. Utah.
5. Oregon (6-5) • Ducks are much different with QB Justin Herbert.
6. Arizona (7-4) • QB Khalil Tate finished with 14 rushes for 32 yards vs. Oregon.
7. Arizona State (6-5) • Territorial Cup winner will finish second in South.
8. Utah (5-6) • Utes never have finished last in South, but that’s in play.
9. California (5-6) • Bears held Bryce Love to 44 yards on 13 carries, aside from 57-yarder.
10. UCLA (5-6) • Interim coach Jedd Fisch may keep position through bowl game.
11. Colorado (5-6) • Buffaloes’ last consecutive bowl appearances came in 2004-05.
12. Oregon State (1-10) • Beavers are 3-23 in Pac-12 play over three seasons.