Issues to consider heading into the 13th week of games.
Can Arizona "Cal" Oregon's offense? California didn't reinvent the wheel when it held Oregon to just one offensive touchdown Nov. 13. A good defense just played soundly and with passion and focus. Sure, the Wildcats probably picked some things up from the Bears, but you also have to figure that Chip Kelly & Co. made adjustments during their own bye week in anticipation of folks trying to use the Bears "man-free" scheme (man-to-man in the secondary with a safety spying the QB). The Wildcats have the personnel to slow the Ducks. But can they keep up with the tempo and not lose focus -- and gap control -- over four quarters?
Luck, Stanford need to roll up style points: Stanford is fighting to prove it is BCS bowl-worthy. It could guarantee itself an at-large BCS bowl berth if it pushes up two spots from No. 6 to No. 4 in the BCS standings. So style points matter, because you never know what could happen at the top of the BCS standings. Further, QB Andrew Luck is trying to secure an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Another big performance could give him a push against Auburn's Cam Newton among "character counts" voters.
Will Mustain (finally) get his close-up? USC's backup QB Mitch Mustain is the best-known player in college football who has seen barely any action since 2007, when he was a good SEC quarterback, going 8-0 at Arkansas as a true freshman. But playing QB in the Pac-10 is a whole other level, and Mustain was never able to win the Trojans' starting job. But with Matt Barkley's high-ankle sprain, it's possible -- likely? -- he will get the call Saturday against rival Notre Dame. It's a great chance for him to earn some redemption as well as help his team. And, he also might raise an NFL eyebrow or two (see Cassel, Matt).
Is California Jekyll or Hyde this week against Washington? The whole "California is always great at home!" line of thinking went poof last weekend when Stanford slammed the Bears 48-14 in the Big Game. The Bears have now suffered three blowout losses on the road and one blowout loss at home. The deal with the Bears is simple: Sometimes they show up and play four quarters. And sometimes they don't. Of course, Stanford has made a lot of teams look bad, and Washington is no Stanford. If Cal shows up and plays four quarters, it should be able to handle the Huskies. But if it doesn't, it could get its rear end kicked again.
Brehaut or Bruin nothing: UCLA QB Richard Brehaut wasn't playing well at Washington last week, but it became clear when he was forced out with a concussion that the Bruins have no shot without him. His backups were 1 for 11 passing, each throwing an interception. Brehaut is expected back at Arizona State on Saturday. The losing team is out of contention for earning bowl eligibility. The Sun Devils have a much better defense than the Huskies. If UCLA is to have any shot, first, it needs Brehaut to stay healthy. And, second, it needs him to look like a Pac-10 quarterback.
Foles and Wildcats attack: If Arizona can slow down the Ducks' offense at all -- see the Cal game -- then the Wildcats have an offense that can take advantage much better than the Bears did. QB Nick Foles isn't the sort to get spooked by the Autzen Stadium crowd, and he leads a veteran unit with plenty of playmakers. The Wildcats will need to attack and, perhaps, even take chances because conservative play won't beat the Ducks.
Beavers' lines redefined? The Beavers' offensive and defensive line have struggled much of the year, and they hit rock bottom in a loss to Washington State. But both played well in the shocking domination of USC. The offensive line opened holes and protected QB Ryan Katz. The defensive line shut down the Trojans' running game and pressured Barkley. Was this the proverbial turning of a corner? We figure to get a much better idea at Stanford, particularly for the Beavers' D-line, which will have to go mano-a-mano with one of the best O-lines in the nation.
Will the USC D (finally) make a stand? If Barkley can't play against Notre Dame due to a sprained ankle, that means we have no idea what we'll see from the USC offense. So this would be a good weekend for the Trojans' defense, which has ranged from bad to mediocre this year, to take a big step forward. And the Notre Dame offense, which also is using a backup QB -- freshman Tommy Rees -- is hardly a juggernaut. The USC offense may not be able to score in bunches, as it often did with Barkley, but it can still score enough to win a ninth consecutive game versus the Fighting Irish if the D makes a stand.
Not to repeat ourselves but ... Locker? The hype around Washington QB Jake Locker really started to really bubble during his final two games of 2009, when he put up huge numbers against Cal and Washington State. It's been a thoroughly disappointing season for Locker, but if he leads the Huskies to wins in their final two games -- at Cal and at Washington State -- they will go to their first bowl game since 2002. That counts for something. And while the Huskies could afford to just run the ball against woeful UCLA last week, they will need balance to overcome a good Bears defense.
Sun Devils put it together: Arizona State might be the best 4-6 team in the nation. It's lost four games by four points or less, and two of those defeats were against top-10 teams (Wisconsin and Stanford). The Sun Devils also gave Oregon its second-toughest game. They are as good as a team with a losing record can be, but they seem to find ways to lose with mistakes at critical times -- penalties, turnovers, whatever. If they play a smart, (mostly) mistake-free game versus UCLA, they should win. And even if they fail to become bowl-eligible -- the season finale is at Arizona -- they will create some positive momentum for what could be a breakout in 2011.