Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.
Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.
Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.
Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.
Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.
Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.
Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.
Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.
Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.
Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.
Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.
Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.
Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?
Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?