Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.
Team of the week: We spent all week asking if Stanford had a chance to overcome its "Oregon problem." Turns out the Cardinal did.
Best game: Stanford's 17-14 overtime win over Oregon was a defensive grinder, something you'd more often see in that conference down south. Both teams played well on defense, but holding Oregon to 14 points in Autzen Stadium means you played great defense, while the Ducks were merely good. The game was exciting throughout as well as meaningful. Stanford not only now controls its destiny -- win out and it goes to the Rose Bowl -- it also overcame a team that had ruined its previous two seasons.
Biggest play: You never know when extra effort can save a game, even in the early going. When Stanford backup safety Devon Carrington caught Ducks speedy quarterback Marcus Mariota from behind, making Mariota's mad dash a 77-yard one instead of a 92-yard TD, it just seemed like an admirable if quixotic effort. Then Stanford stopped the Ducks four plays later on a fourth-and-2 from the Cardinal 7-yard line, and you realized Carrington just took seven points away from Oregon. It was the equivalent of a pick-six. The Ducks could have used those points. And who knows if an early big play might have changed the complexion of the game?
Biggest play II: Let's not forget UCLA's impressive win over rival -- and nemesis -- USC. The key play in that game came from Bruins senior running back Johnathan Franklin, who's had a speckled history in the rivalry game. USC had cut the Bruins' lead to 31-28 with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter. You could sense creeping worry in the Rose Bowl. But on a second-and-7 play with four minutes left, Franklin went 29 yards for a touchdown to make the Bruins lead 10 points. It was an assertion of individual and team will, and the biggest moment on a day when Franklin gained 171 yards on 29 carries with a pair of TDs.
Offensive standout: We've taken note of Franklin, but let's not forget his quarterback, redshirt freshman Brett Hundley, who outplayed USC's senior star Matt Barkley. On a huge stage, Hundley completed 22 of 30 passes for for 234 yards with a TD pass. He also rushed for two scores.
Defensive standout: While the usual suspects played well for Stanford's defense, particularly linebacker Shayne Skov, who looked like his old, dominant self with a team-high 10 tackles, it really was a team effort led by coordinator Derek Mason. So this tip of the cap goes to an entire unit, which held a team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games to 14 points.
Special-teams standout: Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski repeatedly made the field long for the Ducks. He averaged 45.7 yards on six punts, but the big news is five of his punts were downed inside the Ducks' 20-yard line. Stanford wanted to force the Ducks to drive the entire field, and Zychlinski played a big role in realizing that strategy.
Smiley face: Sorry to make this all about UCLA and Stanford, but the weekend truly was. Both were playing teams that had dominated them of late. Oregon had won nine of the past 10 with Stanford. The Ducks had scored 105 points combined in the previous two games while winning each by more than 20 points. The Trojans had won five straight and 12 of the past 13 against the Bruins, with all five victories during the current winning streak coming by at least 14 points, including a 50-0 win last season. So there was more than a physical football game going on out there. There were emotional and mental obstacles to overcome. And both teams did, which is a credit to them and their coaches.
Frowny face: It was no secret that California's visit to Oregon State might be coach Jeff Tedford's last game for the Bears after 11 seasons. So it seems cruel that he goes out on a cold, rainy night with his team playing a sloppy, indifferent game in a 62-14 loss to the Beavers. Tedford deserves credit for rebuilding a lost program and laying the groundwork for massive facilities upgrades. He deserved better from his players, who apparently didn't bring their spines to Corvallis.
Thought of the week: One of the rules of so-called sports punditry is to be decisive with opinions. Wishy-washy doesn't wash. So, when asked about a game, or a team, or a coach, or a player, nuance often goes out the window. Something either is or it isn't. In the preseason, USC was presented as a near certainty. The only potential pratfall, it was repeatedly noted, was injuries that could expose a lack of depth. Well, injuries weren't USC's problem. USC was. Many after-the-fact critics will swing the generic "overrated" term, and that certainly works because, you might have noticed, the Trojans no longer are rated after falling out of the national polls. But what is at work here is the complexity of team sports, where a group of talented young men sometimes actually becomes less as a collective than they should be based on their value as individual parts. There's also this little fact we too often forget: There is no certainty in sports. There are no sure things.
Questions for the week: Is Oregon still in it? The short answer is yes. The biggest thing Oregon's and Kansas State's losses did was open the door to the SEC for a seventh consecutive title. The most likely scenario is for unbeaten Notre Dame to play the once-beaten SEC champion on Jan. 7 for the national title in Miami. But if Notre Dame loses at USC on Saturday, then the gates of possibility open, as the beleaguered BCS system would then be asked to spit out two finalists from a diverse crew of one-loss teams. It will be controversial whatever happens. And the Ducks, if they beat rival Oregon State on Saturday, could still end up in a top-two spot.