Around the Pac-12: Rivalry Week lacks luster this season
The potential drama of this season’s Civil War is diminished, the Big Game has already been played and the Trojans are all done — for now.
Rivalry Week in the Pac-12 — what’s left of it — seems to have lost a bit of its luster this season.
Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) appeared to be hurtling toward a possible College Football Playoff berth when it wilted in the desert with a 31-28 loss at Arizona State last weekend. The Ducks dropped from No. 6 to No. 14 in the AP Top 25.
All is not lost for Oregon, by any means. The Ducks have already clinched the Pac-12 North’s spot in the league title game. If they win that one on Dec. 6 in Santa Clara, California, they’ll go to the Rose Bowl.
But first they’ll have to get by Oregon State in the 123rd edition of the Civil War set for Saturday in Eugene.
The Beavers are motivated. They remain just a win away from bowl eligibility after a disheartening last-minute 54-53 loss at Washington State last Saturday. Additionally, Oregon State (5-6, 4-4) has won only one Civil War since 2007.
“I think the fact that this is such a huge rivalry, this is such an important game to our players, our university, our community, (and) the fact that Oregon State is playing really good football and they have a really good football program. I think there are so many factors,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said, rattling off the reasons why the regular-season finale is important. “This is everything you would want in a college football game, especially for your last one of the regular season.”
Where the Pac-12’s other rivalries stand going into the final week of the season:
THE BIG GAME
It’s in the books, with Cal breaking a nine-game losing streak to Stanford with a 24-20 victory last weekend to claim the Axe. The Golden Bears (6-5, 3-5) made it dramatic with quarterback Chase Garbers scrambling for a 16-yard touchdown with 1:19 remaining and the defense standing strong to close out the win. Cal reached bowl eligibility with the win. Stanford (4-7, 3-6) will miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.
“To be able to get a win, get the Axe back and what that means to the players and our institution, it’s a big deal,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “To get bowl eligible and have a chance to win a bowl game, it’s huge for our program. To get both on the same day is special.”
Both teams still have a game left. Cal visits UCLA (4-7, 4-4) on Saturday night and Stanford hosts Notre Dame that afternoon.
The battle for the City of Angels is already decided, with the Trojans besting the Bruins 52-35 last Saturday. The game marked the end of the regular season for USC (8-4, 7-2) but not the end of the year. The Trojans are still in the race for the Pac-12 South title, sharing a seven-win conference season with Utah. If Colorado topples the No. 6 Utes on Saturday, USC earns the spot in the conference championship game against Oregon for a shot at the Rose Bowl. Which, let’s face it, would be the finish that no one expects.
THE APPLE CUP
Washington and Washington State are both 6-5 overall and bowl eligible as they head into a game where the stakes are not much more than statewide bragging rights. The Cougars seem to have the biggest stake in the game Friday. They’ve lost six straight to the Huskies.
THE TERRITORIAL CUP
So, what can Arizona State do as an encore to its big win against the Ducks? Win the annual rivalry game against Arizona, of course. The Sun Devils (6-5, 3-5) are already bowl eligible and the Wildcats (4-7, 2-6) have no chance of making the postseason, so this one is mostly about pride.
This one always feels kind of a manufactured, created when both teams joined the Pac-12. The Utes won their true rivalry, the Holy War against BYU, earlier this year.
Sixth-ranked Utah (10-1, 7-1) has plenty of incentive as the Pac-12’s only hope to make the College Football Playoff. The Utes will need to clinch the Pac-12 South first, then beat Oregon for the league championship, to even have a shot. The Buffaloes will be motivated, too. Colorado (5-6, 3-5) downed Washington 20-14 last week to get within a win of bowl eligibility.
“It’s going to take care of itself,” Utah linebacker Francis Bernard said. “As we continue to do our job, winning games, dominating, our team believes that the committee is going to make the decision and we’ll just leave it at that. We can’t do anything but continue to do our thing.”