Overview: While Oregon's national-title hopes were dashed in a loss to Arizona, the Ducks still have a lot to play for when they travel to play UCLA on Saturday. But staying in the BCS hunt may be difficult without star QB Dennis Dixon, who has been lost for the season with a knee injury. The league's game of the week, though, is Thanksgiving night in the desert, when USC visits Arizona State. The Sun Devils control their destiny in the Pac-10 title race, and a victory puts them a lot closer to the Rose Bowl. The Apple Cup features two disappointing teams this season, and Stanford looks to add more misery to Notre Dame's plate.
Best matchup: Arizona State's run offense vs. USC's run defense. Arizona State's defense isn't going to allow a lot of points to USC's offense. That puts the onus on the Sun Devils' offense to produce. It's vital that TBs Keegan Herring and Dimitri Nance be given room to run against an aggressive USC front seven. If those guys are shut down, it's going to be a long night for QB Rudy Carpenter. Arizona State has allowed a league-high 43 sacks, and if USC can worry only about getting to Carpenter, it will get ugly for the Sun Devils. Arizona State averages 164.6 rushing yards per game; USC allows 92.2.
The pressure is on: Oregon TB Jonathan Stewart. With Dixon now out for the season with a knee injury, it falls to Stewart to provide the bulk of the Ducks' offense. He is a big guy who can run between the tackles but also has the speed to get outside. However, there are two potential problems for the Ducks. One is that Stewart suffered a sprained ankle in last week's loss to Arizona and may not be quite 100 percent. The other is that the Ducks finish the regular season with UCLA (111.1 ypg) and Oregon State (64.0 ypg), both of whom are good against the run. If Stewart is bottled up, Oregon could lose both which means a team that had legit designs on playing in the national title game instead has to settle for, at best, the Holiday Bowl.
Who's hot: California FS Thomas DeCoud has 28 tackles in the past two games. Stanford has 24 sacks in the past six games and has 30 for the season. USC has limited its past two opponents to a 23.3 third-down conversion percentage (7-of-30). Washington State K Romeen Abdollmohammadi has made his past eight field-goal attempts. He also has made a 40-plus-yard field goal in each of the past four games. USC has won seven in a row over Arizona State. Arizona is averaging 38.7 points per game in its past three games. Washington TB Louis Rankin has rushed for 200 yards in two of his past three games.
Who's not: UCLA has lost three in a row and allowed an average of 25 points per game in those losses. Arizona State has allowed 43 sacks this season. Washington State has allowed opponents to convert 52 percent of their third-down opportunities (91-of-175). Stanford has scored just 32 points in its past three games. California has lost five of its past six games. In those five losses, the Golden Bears committed 19 turnovers.
Keep your eye on: Washington State QB Alex Brink. Brink has had a solid season (310.8 yards per game, 21 TDs), but he also is coming off a nightmarish six-interception performance against Oregon State in a 52-17 loss. Saturday's game at Washington will be Brink's final Apple Cup showdown, and he'll want to go out with a good performance. Washington's pass defense is in the middle of the pack in the Pac-10, but the Huskies have an OK pass rush. If Brink gets time to throw, he'll be fine. If he doesn't, don't necessarily expect a six-interception repeat but do expect a Huskies victory.
Numbers game: Arizona has won three in a row; that's the longest current winning streak by a Pac-10 school. Arizona State has forced at least one turnover in 12 consecutive games. Oregon State has outscored foes 113-9 in the first quarter and hasn't allowed a first-period TD this season. Cal's offensive line has allowed just nine sacks this season. The past five Washington-Washington State games have been decided by a total of 21 points; the past three have been decided by a total of 10. Arizona State has shut out opponents in the fourth quarter in seven of 10 games. Washington State WR Brandon Gibson has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and is the only receiver in the Pac-10 averaging more than 100 yards per game. Arizona State leads the nation in average time of possession: 34:21.
Freshman to watch: Let's go with a surprise Washington QB Jake Locker. OK, so it's not a surprise. But Locker, who has been banged-up for much of the season and missed last week's upset of California, is expected to play in his first Apple Cup on Saturday. His running ability, coupled with TB Louis Rankin's new-found confidence, will put a huge strain on a Washington State defense that has had some meltdowns this season. Also keep an eye on Washington State OT Micah Hannam, who needs to make sure Brink stays upright against what likely will be an attacking Huskies front seven.
Injury update: UCLA QB Ben Olson has been practicing this week and may be available against Oregon. The same goes for Bruins TB Chris Markey. Oregon State TB Yvenson Bernard (knee) sat out the second half of last Saturday's rout of Washington State, but is expected to be ready for the Dec. 1 game against Oregon. Arizona State DT Michael Marquardt (ankle) and FS Jeremy Payton (ankle) are questionable for Thursday's game, and OT Zach Krula (knee) is doubtful. Stanford CB Nick Sanchez (undisclosed) is questionable to play against Notre Dame. USC LB Keith Rivers (ankle) is questionable for the game against Arizona State.
They said it:
"It wouldn't be tough to say that this would definitely keep us a lot warmer here, even if it did snow all winter long, if we could win this ballgame." Washington State coach Bill Doba on what it would mean to beat Washington
"It's one of those things where you watch all the games on TV and kind of hope and wish to have a chance to play in a big game like that. Fortunately for us, we're going to have a chance to be the national game on TV that day." Arizona State QB Rudy Carpenter on playing in a big game on Thanksgiving
"I'm always on the line. That's how I approach this game. Every season's that way. If you go back to Year One in this profession, I felt that way in terms of how I have to get better as a coach and do what's necessary to be successful." UCLA coach Karl Dorrell when asked if he felt his job was on the line
"If he's ready to go, then you won't hold him back from playing the type of game he's capable of playing." Washington coach Tyrone Willingham on whether the offense would be scaled back if banged-up QB Jake Locker can play
Bowl implications: Arizona State is the only league team with a shot at the national title, but the Sun Devils' hopes are slim. Still, the Sun Devils are in the driver's seat for the league's BCS bid. Oregon and USC also remain in the hunt for that spot, but neither can afford another loss. Those three teams also are the leaders for the conference's spot in the Holiday Bowl. UCLA still needs one more win for bowl eligibility. If the Bruins get to six victories, they definitely will go bowling.
Worth noting: USC is 22-0 in November under Pete Carroll. Stanford and Notre Dame first met in the 1925 Rose Bowl. That was the Irish's first-ever appearance in a bowl, and it was the final game for Notre Dame's famed "Four Horsemen." This is the 100th renewal of the Apple Cup. Washington leads the series 64-29-6. UCLA's Matt Slater has three kickoff returns for TDs this season, most in the nation. In Pac-10 conference games, the home team is 22-16.