Canzano: Pac-12 race set up for wild finish
Who wins it all?
The Pac-12 Conference finally started acting like its old self on Saturday night. Its playoff hopes took a hit. A couple of heavy home favorites lost. And the race for the conference championship looks like a ball of yarn.
Two weeks left in the regular season.
Five teams still in contention.
Next weekend, four of those contenders face each other, head-on. Utah plays at Oregon (7:30 p.m. on ESPN) and USC travels to UCLA (5 p.m. on FOX). The No. 5 contender, Washington, gets a home game vs. Colorado (6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks).
Five-team tie anyone?
That would be the most Pac-12 thing ever.
I’d like to see Oregon play USC for the Pac-12 title in Las Vegas. Those teams didn’t meet in the regular season. But I can’t dismiss how dangerous Utah is next Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Also, I’m not sure what to make of UCLA, which tripped as a 19.5-point favorite at home against Arizona on Saturday.
Are the Bruins waxing or waning?
UCLA coach Chip Kelly told reporters after the 34-28 loss to Arizona: “I think we ran into a really good quarterback. I think our guys played with great effort, but he extended plays like nobody we played against this year and I can’t recall since we’ve been here.”
Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura (315 passing yards, 2 TDs) gave the Bruins all kinds of problems. He’s creative and mobile. It made me wonder what USC quarterback Caleb Williams will do vs. that same UCLA defense.
Basically, this is going to be a wild two weeks.
Some other thoughts…
• OREGON STATE: Cal has routinely looked bad this season. It’s been a rough year for Justin Wilcox’s team. But the Bears (3-7) were particularly harmless on offense at Reser Stadium on Saturday night.
Give Oregon State credit.
Its defense dominated in a 38-10 win.
OSU allowed Cal only nine rushing yards in the game. The Bears managed only 10 first downs and three offensive points. The Beavers won for the 10th time in their last 11 home games. It sets up an interesting two-game regular-season finish for OSU (7-3).
(VIEW: Oregon State-Cal photo gallery.)
The Beavers travel to Arizona State (3-7) next Saturday. Then, it’s the regular-season finale at home against rival Oregon (8-2) on Nov. 26. Those in-state rivalry games are always interesting, but they’re particularly dicey for the road team.
OSU coach Jonathan Smith won seven games last season and made the LA Bowl. It was celebrated. Smith gets one extra year added to his contract whenever he reaches seven wins. So he earned a one-year extension on Saturday.
A nine-win regular season is now a possibility for his Beavers. Health is about to become an issue for a lot of Pac-12 teams. Depth tends to plague OSU more than some others. So keep an eye on that for the Beavers. But if Smith’s team wins the final two games, Oregon State should throw it a parade in downtown Corvallis.
• DUCKS DEFENSE: Oregon’s defense couldn’t stop Washington in the 37-34 loss on Saturday. I woke up Sunday morning and studied the drive chart for the game. The Ducks forced only one punt in the game.
Look for yourself:
The only other UW offensive drive that didn’t result in a score on Saturday was an 11-play, 98-yard voyage by the Huskies that ended with an interception. UO linebacker Noah Sewell tipped a Michael Penix Jr. pass near the goal line on that drive. The deflection was then intercepted by Oregon linebacker Jeffrey Bassa.
Dan Lanning said after the game: “We weren’t able to get a stop defensively.”
Oregon got two stops, technically.
But I hear you, coach.
I understand the logic of not wanting to punt the ball to Washington on fourth down and 1 from your own 34 yard-line. There were only 84 seconds left in a tie game. But when Lanning’s offense didn’t convert, he left the Huskies an easy field goal attempt.
Also, he had back-up quarterback Ty Thompson in the game on that critical fourth down. The entire sequence felt messy. Running back Noah Whittington slipped and fell for a loss.
“We felt like we were going to fall forward,” Lanning said. “We’ve been a team that can get a yard or two yards consistently this year and we didn’t get it done there.”
(VIEW: Oregon-Washington photo gallery.)
Oregon plays Utah at home next Saturday and then finishes the season at Oregon State. Neither game is going to be easy, especially if quarterback Bo Nix isn’t healthy. I’ll have more on this soon. Still, I liked a lot of what I heard from Lanning in the post game.
“We didn’t finish this game the way we wanted but we’ve been a connected team all year and that doesn’t change because of this result,” Lanning said. “My love is not based on the result of this game. I love that locker room, I’m proud of that locker room. We didn’t play the way we wanted to play and that really falls on me.”
Lanning is going to win a lot of games at Oregon. He owned his decisions. He pulled his team closer amid a disappointing outcome. He’s a unifier. I like that. If the Ducks win out, they’ll be 11-2 and Pac-12 champions. But this is going to be a wild ride to the finish. I’ll stick around to see what Lanning’s team does next.
• ARIZONA: Fist bump to coach Jedd Fisch at Arizona, who got a signature win on Saturday over UCLA. It will be fun to see what he does with the program in the next 12 months. But first, I want to see what Arizona does in the next two weeks. It hosts Washington State on Saturday and then plays the rivalry game with ASU. Win them both and Fisch will be bowl eligible.
• BOWL GAME: On that note, the Pac-12 currently has seven teams that are bowl eligible — Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Utah, USC, and UCLA. Arizona would be bowl team No. 8, if it can go 2-0.
Stanford, Colorado, ASU and Cal are eliminated from bowl contention.
• HUSKY UPRISING: Credit to Washington and Kalen DeBoer. Oregon had a 23-game home winning streak and all kinds of momentum. UW’s athletic department was anxious to see how it matched up on the road vs. the Ducks… and it did in every way. If the Huskies find better defensive players next season, they will be a tough out.
• COUGARS: How about Washington State? It got bowl eligible with a win over Arizona State. Jake Dickert has a road game vs. Arizona, then the Apple Cup. The team’s offensive woes evaporated in the last two weeks, mostly because WSU has Nakia Watson (116 yards, 3 TDs) at running back.
• ROAD DOGS: Home favorites had been really good this season in the Pac-12 Conference. Entering this weekend, conference favorites playing at home had a 37-1 record. On Saturday night, that trend imploded. Oregon — a 12-point home favorite — lost to Washington. Then UCLA — a 19.5-point favorite against Arizona — lost at home, 34-28.
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I'm ready for the Beavers to win out their regular season and the Ducks to lose out theirs. Sweet November.
Oregon State back in top 25!!! 6 PAC teams are ranked!