Six need-to-knows entering Week 13 in Pac-12 football …
1. Title game scenarios
One berth in the conference championship is locked up, but USC won’t learn the identity of its opponent until Saturday afternoon or, perhaps, deep into the night.
Three teams are alive on the final weekend.
If you’re confused by the scenarios, allow us to simplify:
— Oregon has the cleanest path. If the Ducks win at Oregon State, they’re in. Lose, and they need Washington to lose.
— The Huskies must beat Washington State, but that’s not enough: They also need Oregon to lose and Cal to beat UCLA on Friday.
(There is another path for UW, but it depends on Colorado beating Utah — an extremely unlikely outcome.)
— Utah’s road is the trickiest. In addition to a victory over Colorado, the Utes need Oregon State, Washington and UCLA to win.
2. Apple turnover
The Hotline is struck by the stylistic changes that will be on display in Pullman.
The last time the Cougars hosted the Apple Cup, in 2018, they possessed the nation’s most productive aerial attack (373.8 yards per game) while the Huskies aimed for a balanced offense with tailback Myles Gaskin.
The snowy conditions undermined the Air Raid in a 28-15 loss.
Four years later, the styles of offense have flipped.
Washington leads the nation in passing (366.8 ypg) while the Cougars are dedicated to balance with tailback Nakia Watson.
The current weather forecast calls for dry conditions. If the snow scheduled for Sunday moves into the Palouse early, it could change the dynamics.
3. The Big Ten brawl
How might the Ohio State-Michigan affair affect USC’s pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth?
From our vantage point, the Trojans’ preferred outcome is clear: They need Ohio State to win as decisively as possible.
The Big Ten winner is a lock for the playoff. USC’s competition for one of the four semifinal berths, as a one-loss Pac-12 champion, would be the loser of Saturday’s showdown in Columbus.
The Wolverines seemingly would have a weaker case for CFP inclusion as an 11-1 division runner up because of their soft non-conference schedule.
Meanwhile, Ohio State played, and beat, Notre Dame.
In other words, Michigan’s decision to cancel a home game against UCLA could play a role in catapulting USC into the playoff.
4. Ratings bonanza
Week 12 brought the most-anticipated Saturday in many Pac-12 seasons, and it delivered two noteworthy television audiences:
— USC’s 48-45 victory over UCLA drew 4.53 million viewers in the Fox primetime window, according to SportsMediaWatch, making it the most-watched conference game of the season.
— Oregon’s 20-17 win over Utah in the night slot attracted 2.5 million viewers and was ESPN’s “most-watched Saturday game to kick off after 10 p.m. (ET) since 2015,” per the network.
Here are the nine conference games that have drawn in excess of two million viewers this season, according to the SMW database:
1. USC-UCLA: 4.53 million
2. Washington-Oregon: 3.63 million
3. UCLA-Oregon: 3.34 million
4. USC-Stanford: 2.96 million
5. USC-Utah: 2.74 million
6. Utah-UCLA: 2.65 million
7. Utah-Oregon: 2.5 million
8. Oregon-WSU: 2.27 million
9. Cal-USC: 2.04 million
The collection could grow to 11 this weekend with the Oregon-OSU game on ABC (12:30 p.m.) and the Apple Cup on ESPN (7:30 p.m.)
5. The new guys
The Pac-12 has four new head coaches if we count Washington State’s Jake Dickert, who was promoted from the interim position at the end of the 2021 regular season.
The three true newbies are UCLA’s Lincoln Riley, Washington’s Kalen DeBoer and Oregon’s Dan Lanning, and all three have secured at least nine victories. (Riley has 10.)
It marks the first time in conference history that three first-year coaches have won nine games, according to the Pac-12.
Dickert can get there, as well, if the Cougars (7-4) beat Washington and win their bowl game.
6. Notes and nuggets
— With a victory this week, Oregon State would clinch its first nine-win season since 2012.
— Only one team in the FBS can claim two 1,000-yard receivers: Arizona, with Jacob Cowing and Dorian Singer.
— USC’s last victory over Notre Dame when the Irish were ranked came in 2009. They are No. 13 in the current AP poll and have won five in a row.
— Washington State’s last Apple Cup victory at home was Nov. 23, 2012.
— Oregon has won 12 of the past 14 matchups against Oregon State. (Note: The rivalry has not been given a nickname since the schools determined Civil War was inappropriate.)
— Colorado is playing an AP top-15 opponent for the fourth consecutive week. The Buffaloes lost to No. 10 Oregon, No. 5 USC and No. 12 Washington by a combined 124 points. Next, they get No. 14 Utah.
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