Issues to consider heading into the 14th -- and final -- week of regular-season games.
Brock Osweiler vs. the Zona Zoo: Arizona State backup QB Brock Osweiler was fantastic last week coming off the bench for an injured Steven Threet, throwing for 380 yards and four touchdowns and running for another score in the Sun Devils' win over UCLA. But starting is a whole different thing. For one, you have to think about starting all week, so there's a different sort of pressure. Then there's starting on the road; it's much more difficult for an offense when it can't communicate. Finally, there's starting on the road in a rivalry game. It's loud and the whole state is watching. Osweiler's only previous start was in 2009 -- he was a true freshman -- at Oregon. He completed just 5 of 10 passes for 14 yards with an interception before being knocked out of the game. Osweiler looks like a different quarterback today. How different might determine if the Sun Devils get the upset.
Beavers must win third down: Oregon coach Chip Kelly often says he doesn't care about time of possession. That's true. But he cares about possession. If Oregon State is going to record the upset, it needs to win possession, which means converting on third down when it has the ball and stopping the Ducks on third down. And fourth down; the Ducks have gone for it 28 times this year. The problem for the Beavers is they have been bad on third down this year, particularly on defense, where they rate last in the Pac-10. And the Ducks are good on third down on both sides of the ball. The Beavers need to figure out ways to limit the Ducks' possessions. That means playing keep-away on offense and stepping up on conversion plays. What might that mean on defense? It means being fairly conservative on first and second down -- don't give up the big play, the Ducks' staple -- and then attacking on third (and fourth) down.
Can the Cougars stop Chris Polk? Washington RB Chris Polk needs 46 yards rushing in the Apple Cup to reach the 1,000-yard benchmark for the season. He figures to get that and more against a Washington State run defense that surrenders 211 yards on the ground per game, which ranks 115th in the nation. But the question is how much more? The Cougars held Oregon State to just 97 yards rushing in their only Pac-10 victory. Of course, ganging up on the run doesn't always yield positive results. The Cougars held Arizona State to 118 yards on the ground, but 375 yards passing helped the Sun Devils coast to a 42-0 win. But at least slowing down Polk would force Jake Locker and his broken rib to throw the ball on what figures to be a cold and perhaps snowy day in Pullman.
Brehaut through the air: Just who is UCLA QB Richard Brehaut? Is he a guy who can throw for 321 yards, as he did in the Bruins' loss last week at Arizona State? Or is he the guy who seemed unable to establish a consistent rhythm in the passing game, as he did in most of his other starts since taking over for Kevin Prince? We don't yet know. What we do know is USC has surrendered a lot of passing yards this year -- the most in the Pac-10, in fact. And the Trojans rank eighth in the conference in pass efficiency defense. While many of the questions heading into the USC-UCLA game are about the health of Trojans QB Matt Barkley (ankle), the bigger question in the game is whether the Bruins will be able to muster offensive balance and challenge a suspect pass defense.
Going bowling? Will the Pac-10 add a bowl team over the weekend? If Washington beats Washington State, the conference gets a fourth bowl-eligible team. If Oregon State upsets No. 2 Oregon, it could get another. And Arizona State continues to hope that if it upsets Arizona, it will get a waiver for the NCAA that allows it to play in a bowl game at 6-6, despite two of the wins coming against FCS teams. We shall see.