Taking stock of the eighth week of games in the Pac-12.
Team of the week: Arizona. The Wildcats ended a 10-game losing streak to FBS foes with a bang, thumping UCLA 48-12 on ESPN last Thursday. Little has gone right for the Wildcats this season, including the termination of coach Mike Stoops, but an outstanding performance on both sides of the ball in interim coach Tim Kish's debut merits a tip of the cap.
Best game: No game was closer than two touchdowns, but USC's 31-17 whipping of Notre Dame speaks well for the conference. The Trojans dominated the action on both sides of the ball, and perhaps sent a message to Stanford and Oregon that both have more than a one-game season ahead.
Biggest play: No question here. Trailing just 17-10, Notre Dame faced a third-and-goal on the USC 1-yard line, with the home fans certain a tie game was at hand. But Irish quarterback Dayne Crist -- who was in because starter Tommy Rees hurt his knee -- fumbled the snap. Trojans safety Jawanza Starling scooped up the rolling ball and went 80 yards for a touchdown the other way. That, my friends, is a game-changing moment.
Offensive standout: Forget the skill guys this week -- Stanford's offensive line takes this one. The Cardinal dominated the line of scrimmage against Washington, opening holes for a school-record 446 yards rushing and yielding no sacks. The Cardinal have surrendered just two sacks this season -- fewest in the nation -- and rank 17th in rushing offense with 219 yards per game.
Defensive standout: Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu had 10 tackles -- all solo -- three for a loss, and two sacks in the 45-2 win at Colorado. He was the best player on a defense that pitched a shutout.
Special-teams standout: Darragh O’Neill. Colorado's punter was the lone bright spot for the Buffaloes in the loss to Oregon. He punted 12 times for a 43.2 average, with a net of 40.3. He set school records with six punts downed inside the 20 and four inside the 10 (two of those inside the 5), as Oregon’s average starting field position after his kicks was its own 23. Four of the kicks traveled 50-plus yards.
Smiley face: USC's and Stanford's impressive wins against quality foes sets up a marquee national game on Saturday in the Coliseum with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand. After a slow start to the season, the Pac-12 is now on the national map, with the Cardinal solidly in the national championship hunt and the conference potentially in position to land two BCS bowl berths.
Frowny face: Utah and Colorado are now 0-8 in Pac-12 play. They combined for 409 yards and 12 points in blowout losses Saturday. Recall how, in the past, the Pac-10 had to defend its defensive performances by pointing out its defenses had to play Pac-10 offenses? Well, here you go. The old Pac-10 can play defense. It just needed some new blood -- teams lacking offensive playmakers -- to prove it.
Thought of the week: The Pac-12's bottom and muddled middle need to rally -- big -- if the conference is going to fill its bowl slots, particularly if the conference produces two BCS bowl teams. USC is ineligible and Colorado already is guaranteed a losing season. That leaves 10 teams. The conference has bowl contracts with seven games, which would increase to eight spots with two BCS bowl teams. While four teams -- Stanford, Oregon, Washington and Arizona State -- are already bowl-eligible or are nearly certain to get there, six teams have between two and four wins. How many teams get off the carpet? Or does the conference have five to seven losing teams?
Questions for the week: Will there be a monumental upset this season? While it's possible to reduce the season to a small handful of games centered around Oregon's visit to Stanford on Nov. 12, most years one of the conference's topflight teams falls to a mediocre one -- recall how USC used to do that. It didn't happen last season, as Oregon and Stanford rolled, with just the Ducks' win against the Cardinal in Autzen Stadium between them. Will that be the case again? Or will the Cardinal or Ducks -- or Sun Devils -- get clipped by a team they don't see coming?