The term "must win" is overused. It comes with a connotation that dire consequences loom if victory is not achieved.
Yet that's exactly the case for the Pac-10 quartet of Washington, California, UCLA and Oregon State.
They face must-win games this week. Losses either will or likely will result in a premature end to the season, meaning no bowl game.
Washington hasn't made a bowl appearance 2002.
"I want to get there," Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I think that it's a real reward for your hard work and your efforts, to not only your kids and your players but everybody involved in your program. There's so much time and effort that gets put into the season, to reward them with that game I think is pretty special. So it hasn't lost its excitement for us, that's for sure."
Washington (4-6) has to win its final two games and both are on the road, at California and Washington State. The Huskies are just 1-13 on the road over the past three seasons.
Meanwhile, Cal has been tough in Berkeley. Well, at least the Bears had been until they were dismantled by Stanford 48-14 last week to drop their record to 5-6. If the Bears lose to Washington, they won't be bowling, which would be first since coach Jeff Tedford took over the program in 2002.
"All the lifting, running, everything we've done since last January comes down to this week," Tedford said.
It also all comes down to this week - and next week - for UCLA. The Bruins (4-6) have to win their last two games, against Arizona State and archrival USC, to become bowl-eligible.
Oregon State, which is 5-5 after upsetting USC last week, doesn't face a must-win per se, but faces the most difficult task to gain bowl eligibility. The Beavers play at Stanford (10-1) on Saturday. If they don't prevail, their postseason hopes will hinge on beating Oregon (10-0) next week.
"We control our own destiny," Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz said. "We are tired of talking about it. We have to go out and do it."
Best matchup: Oregon rush offense vs. Arizona rush defense. It's common knowledge that Oregon's run-oriented offense is among the most explosive in the nation. What might not be common knowledge is that Arizona's run defense, statistically, is the best in the Pac-10. Of course, reasons that might be unknown are that USC and Stanford rushed for more than 200 yards each in Arizona's past two games. But Arizona has had an open week to bolster its run defense. In addition, Oregon rushed for "just" 162 yards against Cal in its most recent game. Perhaps the game tape will offer clues on how to slow down the Ducks (and not just by faking injuries). Clearly, the only chance to beat Oregon is to slow down the Ducks' running game. Arizona has a chance.
Player on the spot: USC QB Mitch Mustain. With usual starting QB Matt Barkley slowed with a sprained ankle, it's possible - perhaps even likely - that Mustain will start for the Trojans against Notre Dame. If Barkley cannot play, Mustain will get his first starting assignment since 2006, when he was a freshman at Arkansas. Mustain played in the second half of last week's loss to Oregon State, going 8-of-17 for 60 yards.
Numbers game: This week's game between USC and Notre Dame is only the ninth time in the teams' 81 meetings that both enter the game unranked. It's the first time neither is ranked since 2001. This is the first time since 1941 that both teams are led by first-year coaches - USC's Lane Kiffin and Notre Dame's Brian Kelly. In '41, USC was coached by Justin M. Barry and Notre Dame was coached by Frank Leahy.
What they're saying
"We might be the underdog, but we ain't going to play like it." - Arizona WR David Roberts, on Friday's game at No. 1 Oregon
"He's played well for us in scrimmages since we've been here, so we look for him to play a lot better than he did Saturday if he's the guy." - USC's Kiffin, on Mustain, who may start Saturday against Notre Dame
"It's one of the big reasons I came back, the opportunity to do that, to play in a bowl game and go hang out somewhere for a week with the team and do some fun things. And just enjoy that experience for a week. It obviously means a lot to me." - Washington QB Jake Locker, to the Seattle Times
Etc.: UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel has indicated that he'll wait until after the season to decide whether to retain offensive coordinator Norm Chow. ... Arizona State backup QB Brock Osweiler has taken numerous reps with the first-team offense in practice, but coach Dennis Erickson said Steven Threet remains the Sun Devils' starter. ... Oregon State junior RB Jacquizz Rodgers ranks 10th in the Pac-10 in career rushing yards and needs just 14 to move past USC's Anthony Davis and UCLA's Gaston Green into eighth place. ... Stanford is outscoring opponents 264-78 in the first half and has not trailed at halftime this season. ... Arizona QB Nick Foles has thrown for 601 yards and four touchdowns in the past two games. He's thrown for 300 yards four times this season. ... Cal WR Jeremy Ross (broken finger) won't play against Washington, but could play in a bowl game if the Bears qualify. ... UCLA QB Richard Brehaut is recovering from a concussion, and is expected to play Friday. ... Cal RB Shane Vereen has rushed for 1,061 yards and needs 20 more to move into the school's top 10 for single-season rushing yardage. ... USC has had five games this season decided by three or fewer points. ... Washington QB Jake Locker has had no more problems with his injured ribs and is expected to play against Cal. G Ryan Tolar (knee) is questionable. ... Oregon sophomore RB LaMichael James needs 32 rushing yards to reach 3,000 for his career. ... Washington State was off last week and has another bye this week; the Cougars played Washington next week, which will be their first game since beating Oregon State on Nov. 13. ... Arizona RBs Nic Grigsby (ankle) and Greg Nwoko (ankle) are expected to play against Oregon. ... UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin needs 55 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the season. ... Oregon is seeking just the second 11-win season in school history. ... Cal P Bryan Anger is averaging 46.0 yards per attempt, which would break the single-season school record of 45.3 yards. ... Washington State WR Marquess Wilson needs 32 receiving yards to become the ninth player in school history to reach 1,000 yards in a season. ... USC LB Chris Galippo (concussion) is questionable for Saturday's game. ... Washington sophomore RB Chris Polk is coming off a career-best 138 yard performance. ... Arizona CB Trevin Wade has regained his starting job after being replaced against USC. ... Arizona State has won four of its past five games against UCLA played in Tempe. ...Oregon WR Lavasier Tuinei has a shoulder injury and is out indefinitely. That will cost the Ducks their second-leading receiver and best downfield blocker.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.