Story by Jon Wilner
Nine need-to-knows for Week Seven of the Pac-12 football season …
1) Oregon’s second season begins Friday night when the Ducks (4-1/1-1) take the field for the first time since losing to Stanford.
The margin for error and aura of invincibility gained from the victory at Ohio State are gone. Win out, and the Ducks should be fine: At 12-1, with a Pac-12 championship and victory over the Buckeyes, they would have a great case for the College Football Playoff.
But a second defeat likely would doom their chances. No team with two losses has made the CFP cut in the seven-year history of the event.
Their arduous journey commences, appropriately, with a difficult opponent:
Cal has held the Ducks to 17 points in each of the past two seasons, with the teams splitting the games.
Oregon has scored at least 20 points against every other conference opponent in that two-year span.
2) The Friday night affair (7:30 p.m., ESPN) is also Oregon’s first game without tailback CJ Verdell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in the loss at Stanford.
The timing could be worse, however: Verdell’s replacement, Travis Dye, has thrived against Cal over the years.
In 2018, he rushed for 115 yards on 20 attempts.
In 2019, he gained 81 yards on 15 carries.
And in 2020, Dye rushed for 71 yards on 12 carries and had two catches for 85 yards.
The Ducks could be without offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead on Friday night, as well. The highly respected playcaller is recovering from surgery and didn’t attend the Stanford game.
His absence was noticeable: Oregon struggled to find its rhythm as quarterback Anthony Brown looked out of sorts.
We’re not suggesting Moorhead is more important to the Ducks than Verdell … actually, we are.
3) Cal’s defense is not what it was in prior seasons, however.
The Bears are No. 68 nationally in yards allowed per play (5.53).
We won’t count last year because of all the players lost to COVID protocols. But in 2019, the Bears were No. 43 in yards allowed per play.
And three years ago, they were No. 9.
The deterioration could be attributed to injuries, a decline in personnel and the loss of several key assistants, including former defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who’s now calling plays for … Oregon.
4) Percentage of teams in each Power Five conference with .500 or losing records:
Big Ten: 42.8%
Big 12: 20%
5) It’s strength against weakness in Seattle, where UCLA’s turf-gobbling ground game faces Washington’s porous run defense.
That’s right: The usually stout UW defense has played the role of turnstile through five games.
The Huskies are allowing 4.56 yards per carry (No. 98 nationally) and 182.2 rushing yards per game (No. 101).
Meanwhile, the Bruins are churning for well over 200 yards per game with the tailback duo of Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown running behind a veteran offensive line.
UCLA is facing a disadvantage Saturday, however: The Huskies had two weeks to rest and prepare.
6) Pac-12 quarterbacks among the top 50 nationally in passer rating:
28. Utah’s Cam Rising
29. UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson
33. Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels
37. Oregon State’s Chance Nolan
43. Stanford’s Tanner McKee
49. Washington State’s Jayden de Laura
7) Saturday marks the last decent chance this season for Arizona (0-5/0-2) and Colorado (1-4/0-2) to collect a conference victory.
The South cellar-dwellers tangle in Boulder with history keeping watch:
The last time a team went 0-9 in Pac-12 play was Oregon State in 2017, when head coach Gary Andersen quit in the middle of the season.
Arizona has lost 17 in a row overall, with its last victory coming in Boulder two seasons ago.
8) If the Utah-Arizona State showdown for control of the South is in doubt in the final minutes, it would end a series trend.
Winning team and victory margin in the past five meetings (with location):
2015: Utah +16 (Salt Lake City)
2016: Utah +23 (Tempe)
2017: ASU +20 (Salt Lake City)
2018: ASU +18 (Tempe)
2019: Utah +18 (Salt Lake City)
2020: no game
With a victory, the Sun Devils would become the clear frontrunner to win the South.
9) Washington State’s four-game winning streak against Stanford is not the longest in series history for the Cougars. Beginning in 1957, they won eight in a row.
WSU’s longest winning streak against a current conference opponent is a 13-game domination of Oregon State that started in 1979.
(The Cougars have four-game streaks against Arizona, ASU, Cal, Oregon, UCLA and Utah.)
While not one of the marquee games of the weekend — the ESPNU broadcast is proof of that — the matchup is nonetheless vital for both participants.
The winner would improve to 4-3 overall and face a vastly easier path into the postseason, needing only to win two of its remaining five games to qualify for a bowl berth.
The loser must win three of its last five.
Both teams have difficult schedules ahead that feature daunting non-conference assignments:
WSU faces No. 19 Brigham Young, while Stanford plays No. 14 Notre Dame.
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