The swells of Rivalry Week have risen and crashed, and as the waters recede, the Pac-12 football landscape has nearly taken its final form.
AP poll-ranked No. 10 Huskies reign supreme in Washington, taking the crown for the Pac-12 North with their victory over rival No. 13 Washington State on Friday. A blanket of snow that covered the field all game favored the Huskies, who pride themselves on their defense more than anything.
Gardner Minshew and his receiving corps struggled to only 152 yards on 35 receptions. Washington allowed the short throws but held its back line; the Huskies only allowed one play of more than 20 yards.
Washington captured its sixth-straight Apple Cup and clinched the division. It will prepare to play No. 17 Utah on Saturday for the conference championship.
In another battle for the state, Arizona State knocked the wind out of a University of Arizona crowd with a 19-point comeback during the Duel in the Desert. The Wildcats produced more offense than their opponent, but two turnovers and a missed field goal on the final play cost them a tight game.
USC came up short against Notre Dame, putting together a very respectable bid for bowl eligibility at the Coliseum. The Trojans scored without trouble on their first drive and subsequently took a 10-0 lead over the Irish, which was their biggest deficit of the season.
Notre Dame then started to spread the field with screen passes, getting away from USC’s inspired defensive line. The Irish crept back into the game, and, though USC kept it tight, Ian Book’s 352 passing yards could not be overcome.
The Trojans have ended at 5-7 on the year, their first losing season since 2000. USC fans are not putting up with these deficiencies — attendance has been the lowest since 1987, and head coach Clay Helton left the field to a barrage of boos.
Yet, USC athletic director Lynn Swann chose to stick with Helton who has a $15 million buyout clause.
In sharp contrast to the Trojans’ talented yet undisciplined squad are the Cal Bears. With its victory over Colorado in Berkeley, 33-21, Cal has now won four of its last five games (including a defeat of USC) with its defensive and methodical style. The Bears make up for what they lack in talent with sound fundamentals and hard-nosed coaching from Justin Wilcox who represents everything that the Trojans lack.
But Cal has its own problems. Even though its defense captured an astounding five takeaways and scored 14 points against Colorado, its offense nearly failed them. The Bears punted eight times and only put together two drives with multiple first downs, both of which required fourth down conversions.
The Buffaloes have bailed their opponents out many times with penalties, but Cal needs to move the ball better if it wants to compete with Stanford in a postponed Big Game on Saturday. If the Bears can manage that, they would capture the state of California, at least in terms of Pac-12 schools, for the first time since 1991.
The most glaring takeaway from this week, however, came after Washington hammered home the final nail in the coffin for the Pac-12, slowing down the conference’s highest ranked team and almost certainly precluding an appearance in the College Football Playoff.