The Pac-12, whose dominance in the North is becoming more blatant, will finally be in full swing this weekend with all four of the conference’s ranked teams in action.
No. 24 Cal football, which hasn’t been ranked since Jared Goff was at the helm in 2015, comes off of its bye week to face No. 19 Oregon.
Last week, the Ducks impressed a national audience even in a loss where they disintegrated down the stretch to No. 7 Stanford. In a matter of a couple of hours, an ecstatic Autzen Stadium became one full of utter shock and tears as Oregon fell to Stanford in overtime, 38-31.
Despite blowing a 17-point halftime lead and failing to capitalize on the Cardinal’s slow start, Oregon actually moved up one spot in the rankings.
So for Justin Wilcox and his freshly ranked Bears, the question is how their opponents will swallow a morale-destroying loss. The Ducks’ ability to summon any confidence will be the major focus for the matchup in Strawberry Canyon.
On the other side of the coin, Stanford has no time to revel in the comeback victory, as it will travel to South Bend to challenge No. 8 Notre Dame for a game that will have major playoff implications. The Fighting Irish need all the quality wins they can get to woo a ranking system that favors teams in conferences.
The Cardinal’s 6’3”, 225-pound senior wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will be the player to stop for Notre Dame, as he looked flawless in the clutch. In the shadows lurks senior Bryce Love, who has yet to have a breakout game this season.
Notre Dame’s biggest concern may be its quarterback position. The Fighting Irish don’t have an official starter, but junior Ian Book made a strong case for himself against Wake Forest with 325 passing yards while completing 25 of 34 attempts.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Notre Dame’s offensive identity is built around the run, and the way Stanford’s inexperienced defensive line struggled against Oregon last week betrays a weakness that plays right into the hands of the Fighting Irish.
Back on the West Coast, No. 11 Washington will host No. 20 BYU, a pair of teams that are pretty familiar with one another. The Cougars are 1-1 against the Pac-12 this season — a win against Arizona and loss against Cal — and have a marquee road victory over No. 15 Wisconsin.
The Saturday evening matchup will be a defensive struggle — neither offense is all that potent, and the defenses, especially Washington’s, are no joke.
BYU is averaging a less-than-impressive 163 passing yards per game, ranking 117th in total offense, and the Washington defense is allowing just under 13 points a game. With the home-field advantage, the Huskies should take this one away if Jake Browning can get into a rhythm and move a struggling offense.
With each of the top four teams in the Pac-12, which all happen to be in the North Division, facing significant challenges this week, it will soon be clear if the much-scrutinized conference is up to snuff.