November 18, 2010

Week 12 preview in the Pac-10

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UCLA at Washington, 8 p.m.
Stanford at California, 3:30 p.m.
USC at Oregon State, 8 p.m.

Rivalry games often are so emotional and intense they're given nicknames. There's the Backyard Brawl, the Iron Bowl, the Holy War, the Red River Rivalry and the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, among others.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the annual clash between Stanford and California simply is known as "The Big Game." The name hasn't really caught on nationally, and frankly there's little wonder.

Seriously, just how much can a game be hyped when the participants have met as ranked opponents just once in the past 58 years (No. 21 Stanford beat No. 6 Cal 38-21 in 1991), have combined for just four Rose Bowl appearances in that span and count former Stanford band trombonist Gary Tyrrell among the most enduring figures in the rivalry's history?

Tyrrell became a great trivia answer when he was bowled over in the end zone by Cal's Kevin Moen at the completion of the famous five-lateral kickoff return in 1982 that did more to bring national attention to the rivalry than Jackie Jensen, Chuck Muncie, Jim Plunkett or John Elway ever could.

When Cal and Stanford square off in Berkeley on Saturday, it will be a big deal among the brainiacs in rugby stripes and cardinal and white. Yet, as rivalry games go, the Big Game hardly registers on college football's Richter Scale.

Still, compared to other Pac-10 rivalries this season, Cal-Stanford might as well be Michigan-Ohio State. Seventh-ranked Stanford is 9-1 and has a chance to reach a BCS bowl. Cal (5-5) still is trying to get bowl-eligible but is difficult to beat in Berkeley, as top-ranked Oregon learned last week by struggling to a 15-13 win.

Thus, at least both teams have something at stake. That won't be the case in most of the other traditional Pac-10 rivalries that will be played in the next two weeks.

The Dec. 4 Civil War matchup of Oregon and Oregon State has lost much of its luster. The Ducks may be playing to clinch a place in the BCS national championship, but the Beavers have lost three of their past four games and could be out of bowl contention by then. Besides, even in a rivalry game, Oregon doesn't figure to lose to a team that just lost to Washington State.

Speaking of Washington State, the Dec. 4 Apple Cup won't matter outside the state of Washington - and may not matter much inside it. Washington State has been out of bowl contention for a month, and Washington could be eliminated if the Huskies fall to UCLA on Thursday night.

Arizona has had a nice season and would love to cap it by beating Arizona State on Dec. 2. But regardless of the outcome, Arizona already knows it is headed to a bowl and Arizona State already has been eliminated from postseason consideration.

USC is ineligible for postseason play, but the Trojans may have a chance to prevent UCLA from going to a bowl when they meet on Dec. 4. Of course, it's possible the Bruins could be eliminated before then. They need two more wins to become bowl-eligible and their two games before USC are on the road.

Of course, even if championships, national rankings and postseason appearances aren't on the line, a year's worth of gloating will be at stake. Sometimes, that's enough to make any rivalry a big game.

Best matchup: Stanford pass offense vs. California pass defense. Stanford sophomore QB Andrew Luck may be the most gifted passer in the nation. He's thrown 22 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. But he may face more resistance than usual against Cal's pass defense, which is ranked 15th in the nation and statistically is the best that Luck will have faced this season. The Bears have held each of the past four quarterbacks they've faced to fewer than 200 passing yards and have allowed just two touchdown passes in that span.

Player on the spot: Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Surprisingly, Oregon State already has lost five times. Not surprisingly, Rodgers was held to fewer than 100 yards in four of them. The Beavers need two victories in their final three games to become bowl-eligible, but they're not likely to make it if Rodgers and the running game don't come around. Rodgers is the key to the Beavers' success. If he's running well, the Beavers could upset USC just as they did in 2008, when Rodgers rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Numbers game: Oregon State is attempting to break its first two-game Pac-10 Conference losing streak since 2007 (UCLA, Arizona State). The Beavers haven't lost three conference games in a row in the same season since '02 (USC, UCLA and Arizona State).

What they're saying

"There has obviously been some negativity, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. I have a great family that has been really supportive of me. The team has been incredibly supportive, and I can't thank the guys enough." - Cal K Giorgio Tavecchio, on the reaction he has received after missing a 29-yard field goal that would have given the Bears a fourth-quarter lead over Oregon

"On-field officials are obviously not doctors. They cannot determine whether an injury is actual or feigned. All they can do is stop the clock. There's nothing we can do." - David Cutaia, the Pac-10 supervisor of officials, in response to charges that Oregon opponents are faking injuries to slow down the Ducks' fast-paced offense

"Now is not the time for talking. It's about going out and doing it. If we don't, we'll be talking a lot with our families during Christmas." - Oregon State CB James Dockery

Etc.: Washington State's 31-14 victory over Oregon State last week snapped a 16-game losing streak in conference play. ... Washington QB Jake Locker is sufficiently healed from a broken rib and will play against UCLA. ... Oregon State's Rodgers needs 101 rushing yards to break into the Pac-10 career top 10. ... Arizona's defense has allowed 422 rushing yards in the past two games, losses to Stanford and USC. In their first eight games, the Wildcats allowed an average of 88.4 rushing yards per game. ... Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson has been reprimanded by the Pac-10 office for comments about officiating in last week's loss to Stanford. Erickson was upset that LB Vontaze Burfict was called for a face mask penalty followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Replays clearly showed that Burfict grabbed the opposing player's jersey and not the face mask on the play. ... Oregon CB Cliff Harris now has returned four punts for touchdowns. He also has scored on an interception return. ... Arizona WR Juron Criner needs 18 receiving yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the season. ... Cal RB Shane Vereen needs just 2 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. ... Oregon State lost a fumble for the first time this season in last week's loss to Washington State. ... Stanford is 9-1 for the first time since 1951. ... UCLA CB Sheldon Price has been sidelined since he sustained a sprained knee against California on Oct. 9, but is expected to return to action against Washington. ... During an open week, Arizona State sophomore backup QB Brock Osweiler received more reps with the first-team offense during practice. ... Oregon sophomore RB LaMichael James needs 32 rushing yards to reach 3,000 for his career. ... UCLA sophomore RB Johnathan Franklin needs 108 rushing yards to reach 1,000. He'd be the first Bruin to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season since 2006. ... USC QB Matt Barkley is bothered by a strained hamstring, but shouldn't miss any playing time. ... Oregon WR Jeff Maehl has 526 receiving yards in the past five games. He also has caught 16 touchdown passes over the last 15 games. ... Washington State RB James Montgomery has indicated he may petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility. Montgomery sat out a redshirt season at California, sat out a year after transferring to Washington State, then missed most of last season with a career-threatening leg injury.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at

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