Desert Swarm: No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 Utah face final road tests
Here are some things to watch this week in the Pac-12 Conference:
GAMES OF THE WEEK
No. 6 Oregon at Arizona State and No. 7 Utah at Arizona. Oregon wrapped up the Pac-12 North and a spot in the conference championship game with its win over Arizona last week. The Sun Devils were among the favorites in the South a month ago after beating Washington State at home, but have followed with losses to Utah, UCLA, USC and last week at Oregon State. Utah thrashed UCLA at home last week and now faces an Arizona squad riding a five-game losing streak. Since leading Washington 17-13 at halftime on Oct. 12, the Wildcats have been outscored 210-99 in the 18 quarters since.
MATCHUP OF THE WEEK
Oregon State at Washington State. We’re back on the Palouse for another potential bowl-elimination game. The Beavers and Cougars each have five wins. Both face their rivals on the road in the final week of the regular season where both are likely to be decided underdogs. This matchup is the best chance for either team to reach bowl eligibility. The Beavers haven’t gone to a bowl game since 2013 and have made major strides in Jonathan Smith’s second year in charge. The Cougars are trying to reach a bowl game for the fifth straight season, which would extend the school record.
It remains possible, albeit extremely unlikely, that 11 of the 12 teams in the conference could end up bowl eligible. There would need to be a lot of chaos for that to take place, including upsets by Arizona over Utah and Colorado over Washington just this week for it to come even close to becoming reality. But the number of teams hovering around five or six wins this deep into the season speaks to the parity in the conference.
“Nobody wants to give us any credit the last couple of years but say what you want to say, there is parity in this conference. There is parity. It is hard to win,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said.
Oregon, Utah, Washington and USC are all bowl eligible. Oregon State, California, Washington State and Arizona State need one more win.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Washington State QB Anthony Gordon has set a single-season school record with 39 TD passes, fourth-most in conference history. He needs five more to overtake Jared Goff and Jake Browning, who hold the conference record with 43. … USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. has caught four or more passes in 13 straight games and 16 of his past 17. In those 17 games, Pittman has 104 catches for 1,667 yards and 14 TDs. … UCLA RB Joshua Kelley needs 61 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for season. He would become the seventh UCLA RB to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. … California LB Evan Weaver leads the country averaging 15.1 tackles per game.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Washington QB Jacob Eason may have some clarity about his future coming out of the final two weeks of the regular season. Eason is thought to be a potential first-round pick if he were to declare for the NFL draft. But it’s been an inconsistent first season at Washington. Eason at times has made NFL-caliber throws, combined with careless and costly mistakes. He hasn’t been helped by drops from a lackluster receiving corps. Whether he returns for his senior season will be a lingering question hovering over the Huskies.
The battle for Los Angeles has plenty of story lines, including the start of a potential offseason of change for USC. With rumors continuing to swirl about Clay Helton’s future, the Trojans could still win the South with a win over rival UCLA and a stumble by Utah in either of the final two weeks. UCLA needs a win over the Trojans and over California in the final week to become bowl eligible.