Former USC Coach Pete Carroll used to say that getting to the Rose Bowl was the goal every year (especially when it was hosting the BCS Championship Game), but now that the Pac-12 is split into North and South divisions, teams first must win their division to get to the Grandaddy of Them All.
In division play, every game counts even more than before, and with four ranked teams within the Pac-12 North division, no one has an easy path to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Huskies lost badly to LSU, but they kicked off their conference schedule with an important win over Stanford. Even if the Cardinal wins out, UW has to lose twice for Stanford to get into the title game ahead of the Huskies.
Washington just has to keep winning – but that’s always easier said than done, especially with Oregon and Oregon State still ahead.
Washington plays at Eugene this weekend, and the winner of this game has an inside track to play for the conference title.
Oregon is 5-0 overall, and those five wins have been by large margins, but the Ducks have played just one game against a ranked team (Arizona, which was #21 until being shut out by Oregon, 49-0).
The Oregon offense has, as usual, been dominant all year, but Washington’s defense, second in the conference in yards allowed per game, looks markedly improved from 2011. Last season, they gave up 446 rushing yards to Stanford; last week, they held the Cardinal to 65 total offensive yards. As impressive as that performance was, Washington’s defense still has to prove itself against the Ducks, who have more playmakers, with much more speed and athleticism than Stanford.
The Huskies’ offensive line also has a tough task its work cut out for it. UW quarterback Keith Price has played under duress for much of his career; he was sacked 26 times last season, and has already been dropped 11 times this year. Washington won’t remain winless if he’s running for his life against an Oregon defense that had 7 sacks against Washington State last week.
It would take several small miracles for the WSU Cougars to make it to the Pac-12 Championship game in Mike Leach‘s first year, but they could throw a wrench in Oregon State’s aspirations.
The Beavers are off to a surprising 3-0 start, and like UW and Oregon, they can keep themselves at the top of the North division with a win this weekend. While Washington State has been unimpressive, it might not be an easy win for Oregon State.
OSU leads the Pac-12 in pass efficiency but the Cougars aren’t far behind, at third. And as good as both teams are at throwing the ball, they’re equally poor at defending it and are sitting at last and next-to-last in the conference in pass defense.
If Oregon State and Oregon both keep their win streaks alive – which means they each have to get past Washington and Stanford – the Civil War game in Corvallis on November 24 could decide the division.
Conference games are just getting started though, and with so much football left to be played, beginning tonight, anything can happen.