Oregon is sitting on 8-0 and has the runaway leader for Conference Player of the Year in LaMichael James, to go with outstanding freshman quarterback Darron Thomas. As a true national championship team though, I have my doubts. The offense is explosive, no doubt about it. But Stanford scored 31 points. USC scored 32. Both of those teams led them in the second half. The latter fact in of itself isn't too alarming--Alabama trailed in the second half last year and no one held it against them. When you win shouldn't affect your ranking. But as an observer trying to gauge how the stretch drive will go, you can certainly take notice. Teams like Alabama played from behind, because all their games were lower-scoring. How much longer can the Duck defense play with fire?
Stanford and Arizona are right on Oregon's heels, and the Cardinal probably doesn't want to hear any skepticism about Oregon. Jim Harbaugh's team went to Autzen Stadium, had a 21-3 lead and ended up on the wrong end of a 52-31 score--for those scoring at home, that's a 39-point turnaround in a little more than a half. Stanford has mowed over everyone else and is sitting on a 7-1 record. Arizona has shown its depth, also posting a 7-1 mark while missing quarterback Nic Foles the last two games. Matt Scott has stepped in and produced, and the Wildcats' game with Oregon over Thanksgiving weekend is now the most anticipated on the Pac-10 calendar. Before they get to that game though, they play Stanford on Saturday night. We'll look at the specifics of that game in our Saturday previews, but in the big picture it's enormous. If Arizona wins, they'd control their destiny for the Rose Bowl bid when they go to Oregon. If Stanford wins, they might want to root for Oregon--if the Ducks play for the national title, an 11-1 Cardinal squad would be the likely team chosen to replace them in Pasadena.
After the Rose Bowl and any potential at-large BCS selections, the prime bowl destinations in this conference are the Alamo, Holiday and Sun. None are situated on January 1, so the pickings are dry. Oregon State leads up the league's middle class. At 3-1 in the league, they are also one game back of first place, although a 4-3 record overall means there's no chance at a BCS at-large. But since they do play Oregon in the season finale, they do control their own destiny. A more reasonable goal for Jacquizz Rodgers and his mates is to aim for the Alamo or Holiday, where they would get a crack a Big 12 opponent. Arizona State & Cal are also in the hunt for these spots, at 4-4 each, while Washington & UCLA are each 3-5 and fighting for their lives. USC, at 5-3, is on probation and not allowed in a bowl game for each of the next two years. Otherwise, only Washington State at 0-6 is out of it, although even the hapless Cougars are showing some fight this year, behind promising quarterback Josh Tuel.
No one is going to deny James the Pac-10 MVP, but some honorable mention should go to Stanford's Stephan Taylor. He's overshadowed by his own quarterback, Andrew Luck, who has shot to the top of NFL draft boards, but Taylor is a consistent 100-ypg game producer for an offense that ultimately wins by muscling people. On an individual level, certainly the biggest disappointment has to be Washington's Jake Locker, who started the season as the presumptive #1 pick by the NFL next April, and now is happy to complete ten passes a game.
Image from indyposted.com
Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily MLB playoff coverage and game analysis in college football and the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.