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Pac Mentality: What to look for in Week 11

We’re headed down the home stretch in the Pac-12. There are only three full weeks of play left leading up to the second Pac-12 Championship Game at Autzen Stadium a yet-to-be determined location.

The races are still way up in the air. In the South, UCLA tops the standings with a 4-2 conference mark. The Bruins are playing good football and are riding a three-game winning streak all the way to the Palouse to take on the hapless Washington State Cougars. By the way, we knew Wazzu head coach Mike Leach was a big fan of pirates, but a mutiny brewing in his first year is taking it way too far.

Anyway, UCLA has games remaining at Washington State and home against USC and Stanford. It’s a tough road for Jim Mora’s team, but heading into Week 11, the Bruins control their own destiny. USC and Arizona State still have a shot at the conference title, but the loser of their game Saturday in Los Angeles would then have four conference losses and would be almost eliminated.

In the North, where the real power in the conference lies, much will be determined with Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford all slated to play each other, including the huge matchup between the Beavers and the Cardinal in Palo Alto Saturday afternoon. But let’s face it, neither one of those teams looks sound enough to knock off Oregon when they get the chance.

Ranking the Week 11 games:

6. #18 UCLA at Washington State – Things are going well for UCLA and not so good in Pullman. It’s almost unfathomable to me that the Bruins are only 14.5-point favorites.

5. #3 Oregon at California – Look, it’s gonna be a blowout, but at least Oregon is always fun to watch.

4. Colorado at Arizona – The Buffs have won only three conference games since joining the Pac-12. One of them was last year when they completely embarrassed Arizona in Boulder.

3. Utah at Washington – Two resurgent teams duking it out at the C-link. Washington can become bowl eligible with a win.

2. Arizona State at #19 USC – Could be a shootout between two teams with recently sagging defenses. Winner stays alive in the South.

1. #11 Oregon State at #14 Stanford – Rushing yards will be hard to come by in this clash of two of the top five run defenses in the country.

Here’s what I’ll be looking for in Week 11:

ASU’s pass defense against USC’s lethal passing attack – Arizona State, despite their defensive challenges during their current three-game losing streak, still ranks seventh in the nation in pass defense, allowing just 161 yards per game. Enter their next opponent, USC, and all-world receiver Marqise Lee, who has topped that figure three times by himself in 2012. In fact, make that four times since he went off for a conference-record 345 yards against Arizona — more than double what ASU gives up. ASU’s depth at cornerback has been an issue all season long, and this week both Deveron Carr and Osahon Irabor will be under pressure having to face Lee and Robert Woods. ASU hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season long, but both Brandin Cooks (116) and Markus Wheaton (108) topped the century mark for Oregon State in their win over the Sun Devils last week.

Will Matt Scott play? – Scott has taken hellacious head shots in each of the last two weeks and Arizona has stated that the senior does indeed have a concussion. They shouldn’t need him against Colorado, but interestingly enough, he hasn’t been officially ruled out for the game as of Thursday.

The battle of the backups – Sure, the defenses should and will get a lot of attention in the Oregon State game, but this game could come down to which one of the backup quarterbacks is better. Oregon State’s Cody Vaz has been outstanding in relief of the injured/ineffective Sean Mannion and Kevin Hogan was very efficient in Stanford’s win over Colorado.

Can Utah stay hot on offense? – The Utes have scored 49 points in each of their last two wins, marking the first time they’ve scored 40 or more in back-to-back games since 2010 (when they had 56+ in three straight). Washington’s had a bend but don’t break philosophy in their last two wins (over Oregon State and Cal), allowing an average of 438 yards but only three offensive touchdowns.

When will Oregon extend their streak? – The Ducks have scored 40 or more points in 12 straight games, so it’s really not a matter of if they’ll extend that streak against the struggling Golden Bears, but when? During the span, the earliest Oregon has reached 40 on the scoreboard was against Arizona State last month when they topped the mark with 11:33 to go — in the 2nd quarter!

Washington State’s running game – That phrase may be the biggest oxymoron in all of college football this season. Under Mike Leach, the Cougars have pretty much just scrapped the run part of their offense. Don’t believe me? The Cougars have run for 262 net yards on the season, which is far and away the worst mark in the country. Twenty-two Pac-12 players have more yards than that this season, and to really add to the shame of this statistic, Oregon’s Kenjon Barner ran for 321 just last week.