Issues to consider heading into the 12th week of games.
Building a Mansion in the Big Game: In big games, such as a rivalry game, you often get special performances that you don't see coming that go down in rivalry lore. For example, if California QB Brock Mansion were to outplay Stanford's Andrew Luck in Saturday's big game; wouldn't that be something? I know: It sounds crazy. Luck is the likely top pick in the NFL draft this spring. Mansion is making his third career start after Kevin Riley went down with a career-ending knee injury, and he's completed less than 50 percent of his throws with just one TD. But that's just my point. Sometimes you can envision the truly unexpected, and if the Bears are going to notch the upset and win their eighth Big Game in nine years, Mansion is going to have to come up big.
Locker's final home game: Jake Locker has not had the season anyone envisioned he would when he opted to return for his senior season at Washington instead of grabbing his millions in the NFL draft -- even his critics, who have an odd obsession with calling a humble, classy young man overrated and relishing in his failure to live up to stratospheric expectations. UCLA's visit Thursday is his final game in Husky Stadium. He will get big cheers when he's introduced with his senior class. Will he also inspire them with his play?
Big day for Barkley: Oregon State ranks ninth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency defense. Opponents are completing 63.5 percent of their passes and the Beavers have yielded 17 TD throws. USC QB Matt Barkley is third in the conference in passing efficiency and leads the conference with 25 TD passes. Toss in a solid Trojans run game, which the Beavers' struggling front needs to account for first, and you have a recipe for Barkley to put up big numbers.
Can Cal's defense duplicate Oregon effort? The Bears held Oregon to just one offensive touchdown and a season-low 317 total yards. It was an inspired effort. But Stanford's offense is pretty salty, too, ranking in the nation's top 15 in both scoring and total offense. And it's a more downhill, punch-you-in-the mouth approach. Cal will need the same kind of consistent effort and focus against the Cardinal because its offense has been struggling and may not be able to score much against an improved Stanford defense.
Bruins run, run, run: Washington ranks 118th in the nation in run defense. The Bruins rank a solid fourth in the Pac-10 with 194.4 yards rushing per game, and their one-two punch of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman is an effective lightning and thunder combo. It's expected to be cold, wet and rainy in Seattle tonight, which are not ideal conditions for the passing game, particularly for UCLA QB Richard Brehaut, who's never played in them. That means the Bruins should stick to the run and try to wear down a Huskies defense that tends to do just that.
Can Katz attack the Trojans' poor pass defense? Oregon State's offensive line has struggled all year, particularly in the running game, and RB Jacquizz Rodgers has vented his frustration a few times. The strength of the USC defense is up front, but it is vulnerable in the secondary, which has surrendered 284 yards passing per game, which ranks 116th in the nation, as well as 25 TD passes, most in the conference. Ryan Katz has struggled of late, and coach Mike Riley even briefly yanked him against Washington State. But Katz showed against Arizona that he can make plays downfield in the passing game. He's going to need to against the Trojans because the game could become a high-scoring affair.