Scout takes a shot at predicting how the rest of the Pac-12 schedule will play out, who wins the conference and where the teams will go bowling...
At the midway point of the Pac-12, this much is clear: Oregon and Stanford are the best two teams in the conference. Again.
The two have combined for the last four Pac-10/Pac-12 conference titles, seven BCS games (four for Oregon, three for Stanford) and four BCS wins (Oregon a Rose and Fiesta, Stanford a Rose and Orange) in the past four years.
So this year should be no different. Their showdown on a Thursday night in November will really only be for the Pac-12 North, but it's also likely for home field in the conference title game. Both teams have won on each other's home fields the past two years, and in each of the last three year's, a loss to each other has effectively knocked the loser out of the national title game.
The next question becomes, who's the best in the Pac-12 South? Who gets to face Stanford or Oregon in the conference title game? And how will the rest of the conference shake out?
Scout's College Football predicts the remainder of the Pac-12 season.
Sonny Dykes' first year in Berkeley isn't going anywhere as planned. Injuries have hurt the Bears and they've been blown out in every game, save their win over FCS Portland State. Plus there is a quarterback controversy. Their best chance at a win is when they visit Colorado the week before they go to Stanford. But they've been awful on the road and Colorado has been better at home than on the road. Cal goes winless in conference in Dykes' first season.
The Ducks are still steaming over their loss to Stanford a year ago, which knocked them out of the BCS title game. This year may be the best version of Oregon in their impressive five-year run. Sure, they have to go to Stanford to play, but two years ago, against Andrew Luck and a better Stanford team, they had no problem in Palo Alto. This game should be much closer than that version, and closer to last year's version, but Oregon picks up the road win and wins the Pac-12 North.
The Beavers have quietly put together a solid season, especially when they lost their first game to Eastern Washington and it appeared to be the end of the world. Sure, they lost to Stanford over the weekend, but they're still having a good year. We think they'll split their last four, a road game at Arizona State and then the Civil War in Eugene, but an 8-4 record still gets them to a good bowl, probably the Holiday.
The Cardinal get the homefield advantage with Oregon, which works out great for them, having Washington, UCLA and Oregon all at home. But Oregon has targeted this game for a year, and this time, there is no Zach Ertz to help the Cardinal spring the upset. Still, a 10-2 record probably gets the Cardinal back into the BCS and since we think Oregon is going to the BCS National Championship Game, we think the Cardinal go back to Pasadena.
The Huskies got Cal last weekend and Colorado the weekend after their upcoming bye to lick their wounds of their 3-game losing streak. But they then have to go on the road, where they've struggled and they visit Corvallis, where they haven't won since 2003 and Pasadena, where they haven't won since 1995 on consecutive weekends. We do think they beat the Cougars to win the Apple Cup to go 7-5, but dreams of a bigtime bowl are probably not realized.
The Cougars are rapidly improving under Mike Leach, and thanks to their win over USC early in the year and Cal not long after, they got the road wins they have scuffled to get. Pullman should be rocking on Thursday night for a game against Arizona State, but the Sun Devils looked good in their last game and may be hitting their stride. We think they get Utah at home putting their game in the Apple Cup against Washington as a game for bowl eligibility, but we think they come up just short this year.
The Wildcats have a tough stretch to end the season, with Oregon and a road game to Arizona State closing out the season. But they do get UCLA and Washington State at home, two schools that have struggled on the road for the past few years, and those three games should get them to 8-2 before we think they drop their final two games. Still, 8-4 with some of the early offensive issues and graduation losses is a big step in the right direction for the Wildcats.
The Sun Devils may be playing the best of any team in the South right now, but the schedule gets trickier with three road games, one in Utah and one in Pasadena, against their toughest competition for the Pac-12 South spot in the conference title game. The big one right now looks like the one at UCLA in late November- which like last year, will probably be for the spot in the title game. UCLA is better at home and Arizona State has not been great away from Tempe, but Arizona State is doing much better on both offense and defense and even though Utah is a tricky place to play, and we think they lose that one, we pick them to win in Pasadena and clinch the Pac-12 South Division though we think they fall short against Oregon in Eugene.
Colorado is showing signs of life under Mike MacIntyre, with three wins this season and just looking more competitive, though they have still had a couple of ugly losses. But the effort is finally there. That said, only their home game against Cal looks winnable but the future is looking much brighter under Mac, so a 4-8 record is a step in the right direction.
Now that the Stanford-Oregon gauntlet is done, UCLA gets to return to Southern California, where four of their final five games will be (three at the Rose Bowl), including this weekend's game with Colorado. Then comes a dangerous game at Arizona, where they haven't won since 2003. We think UCLA takes two of their final, winning a crucial Friday night game at home with Washington then losing to Arizona State the following weekend before they visit a banged up USC to close out the season.
The big question for USC is whether they'll have enough bodies for the end of the year. They beat Utah last weekend but we think they'll lose-win-lose-win-lose to close out the season. Still, that would put them at 7-6 and in a bowl game. Oregon State has been a tough place for them to play, even during the Pete Carroll years, and it's been nine years since they won in Corvallis. Stanford hasn't lost to USC since 2008 and should make it five in a row. UCLA is the more talented team and even with it being in the Coliseum, UCLA has more to play for at that point. But a bowl game given this years' circumstances should be a nice way to end the year and welcome in their new head coach.
Utah's loss to USC makes their game at home against Arizona State crucial because then comes road games against Oregon and Washington State before they end the year with Colorado. They need to win at least two of their last four games to get to a bowl, which shows the continued improvement of the program, but missing a bowl could be a major setback, especially given the excitement when they beat Stanford. We think they will surprise Arizona State and then the year beating Colorado to clinch a bowl.
PAC-12 Championship Game: Oregon over Arizona State
BOWL PROJECTIONS: Oregon- BCS National Championship Game
Stanford- Rose Bowl
Arizona State- Alamo Bowl
Oregon State- Holiday Bowl
UCLA- Sun Bowl
Washington- Las Vegas Bowl
USC- Fight Hunger Bowl
Arizona- New Mexico Bowl
Utah- Poinsettia Bowl