Sun Devils still control their own destiny in Pac-12 South
TEMPE, Ariz. — Another delectable week of Pac-12 South football is complete. Feel free to exhale.
One game went into the final minute. Another went into extra time.
Two more road teams won, and stars were made and/or brightened.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley piled up 424 yards total offense. USC quarterback Cody Kessler threw for a school-record seven touchdowns. Utah running back Devontae Booker rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in double overtime.
Arizona State’s defense rose up.
And so it goes.
Only halfway through the season, five games in the Pac-12 Tough were decided on the final play — two on Hail Marys, two by wide-right kicks and one by a 200-yard rusher. Four others were decided in the final five minutes.
One thing seems certain — the South Division race will go down to the final weekend of the regular season, when ASU plays Arizona and Stanford meets UCLA on Nov. 28 and Utah plays Colorado the next day.
For all that, the Pac-12 South crown may stay put.
After an easy 26-10 victory over troublesome Stanford at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night, defending champion and No. 17 Arizona State is 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference and one of two teams that controls its own destiny … although control is a word that should be used loosely here.
By virtue of a Hail Mary victory over USC that resuscitated their season Oct. 4, the Sun Devils will repeat in the Pac-12 South by winning their final five games, no matter what else happens. It will not be easy, though. Washington, Utah and Arizona appear to be the most challenging of the five teams remaining on the schedule, although no one in the division (except Colorado) should be counted out.
That is ASU’s plan.
"Our motto this year is unfinished business, and we came out and did just that," defensive back Lloyd Carrington said after avenging a 38-14 loss to the Cardinal in the Pac-12 title game here last year.
"We came out tonight with a chip on our shoulder and got the job done. Now, it’s time to just move forward and accomplish our goal of winning a Pac-12 championship."
Utah, which began the week with a double-overtime victory over Oregon State on Thursday, also could win the Pac-12 South if it wins out. And if the Utes win out, they deserve it. Utah is to play division leader USC (4-1) next week before facing Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Colorado.
Normally, playing at home might help.
So far this season, not so much.
Pac-12 South teams are 4-8 at home and 9-2 on the road in conference games. Throw out Colorado (0-4), and road teams are a perfect 9-0. UCLA lost at home to Utah, which lost at home to Washington State. Arizona’s 31-24 victory over then-No. 2 Oregon in Eugene on Oct. 2 may be the most impressive single performance of the conference season so far, and it vaulted the UA from unranked to No. 10 in the AP poll.
The madness continued Saturday.
UCLA beat California, 36-34, when Cal tried a long pass in the final minute that was intercepted instead of continuing to work up field for what could have be a game-winning field goal.
Of course, UCLA knows how working it down field can work out. The Bruins missed two field goal attempts on the final play of the game, the first attempt negated by a penalty, while losing to Utah, 30-28, two weeks ago.
That came about an hour the Sun Devils beat USC on its Hail Mary pass in its 38-34 victory.
And a week after USC scored a touchdown at halftime on a Hail Mary pass in a 35-10 victory over Oregon State.
And two weeks after Arizona beat California, 49-45, with a 47-yard Hail Mary pass on final play of the game to cap a 36-point fourth quarter.
So of course Cal went deep late against UCLA on Saturday.
That is the way to play it this year.
Utah’s victory behind Booker was especially valuable because it came against a Pac-12 North opponent. The more of those, the better, and USC has two, against Stanford and Oregon State. Arizona also has two, against Oregon and Cal.
For all the madness of the South, Saturday’s results seemed to bring some clarity to the North race. Oregon, after trouncing Washington, is the North’s only one-loss team. Two-loss Stanford, though, still has a chance to defend its title because it has yet to play the Ducks. That meeting will come on Nov. 1 in Eugene — and let’s not forget that the Cardinal have had the Ducks’ number in recent years.
Scheduling could have a significant impact on the final standings. Each Pac-12 South team does not play two teams from the North, and USC got the best of the schedule this year by missing Oregon and Washington, two of the three best teams in the North.
ASU also misses Oregon, and California. Arizona misses Stanford and Oregon State. UCLA plays both Oregon and Stanford, and the Bruins finish the season not against USC but against Stanford.
It should be fun.