Pac-12 notes: Big games ahead for Oregon, Utah

Ducks, Utes eyeing College Football Playoff heading down stretch

Utah is hitting stride at the right time. Oregon escaped last week, but kept winning.

With the calendar flipping to November and the first College Football Playoff rankings set for release on Tuesday, all Pac-12 eyes are on the Utes and Ducks and this is a huge weekend for the two teams.

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CJ Verdell #7 of the Oregon Ducks runs with the ball against Armani Marsh #35 of the Washington State Cougars on Saturday.

In this week’s Associated Press poll, Oregon is ranked No. 7, with Utah at No. 9.

Both teams (and the Pac-12 in general) got a major boost last weekend with Oklahoma’s upset loss at Kansas State, Auburn’s loss at LSU and Notre Dame dropping out of the national title picture with the egg it laid at Michigan. Oregon jumped four spots in this week’s AP poll, while Utah jumped three.

The last time multiple Pac-12 teams were ranked in the top 10 this late in the season was 2016. That year, Washington and Colorado were both in the top 10 two weeks in a row, with Southern California joining them in late November. That was also the last time the Pac-12 had a representative in the College Football Playoff, with Washington going in as a 12-1 conference champ.

For Utah and Oregon to remain in CFP contention, they’ll need to get through major hurdles on Saturday.

Utah (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) visits Washington (5-3, 2-3) and while the Huskies have been a disappointment, they’re still dangerous and have had two weeks to prepare. They’ve also won four in a row against the Utes, including a 10-3 win in last year’s Pac-12 title game.

The Utes have won four in a row since their loss at USC on Sept. 20 and it’s been a dominant stretch. They’ve outscored the opposition 146-23.

Get past this week and the schedule gets lighter for Utah, which has home dates with UCLA and Colorado and a road trip to Arizona down the stretch.

North division-leading Oregon (7-1, 5-0) travels to surging USC (5-3, 4-1). It’s actually the Trojans, not Utah, in the driver’s seat in the South. USC has won two in a row after knocking off Colorado, 35-31, last weekend and the Trojans are 4-0 at the Los Angeles Coliseum this season.

Oregon has won seven in a row, but has had to battle for the last two. After holding five consecutive opponents below 10 points, the Ducks have knocked off Washington, 35-31, and Washington State, 37-35, in the last two weeks. They needed a last-second field goal to beat Washington State and rallied from 14 points down in the second half to win at Washington.

Get past this one with a win and the Ducks get Arizona and Oregon State at home and Arizona State on the road before playing in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 6.

For the Pac-12 to have at shot at the CFP, Oregon or Utah – or both – has to keep winning. Do that and their showdown in the Pac-12 title game could potentially be a matchup of top-five teams. The winner would have a legitimate CFP claim, as dominoes will fall around them.

At least two of the six teams ahead of Oregon will lose this month. No.1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama meet on Nov. 9 and No. 3 Ohio State hosts No. 5 Penn State on Nov. 23. Also, No. 6 Florida plays No. 8 Georgia on Saturday, with the loser of that game falling out of CFP contention.

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Trying to stay afloat

While two of the four matchups in the Pac-12 this week have conference title and CFP implications, the other two involve teams in survival mode.

Colorado (3-5, 1-4) visits UCLA (3-5, 3-2), while Oregon State (3-4, 2-2) visits Arizona (4-4, 2-3).

All four teams are hoping for bowl eligibility, but none of them has an easy path to get there.

Since a 35-30 win in Boulder on Oct. 5, Arizona has lost three in a row and getting desperate. The Wildcats fired defensive coordinator Marcel Yates this week and the biggest star on the team – quarterback Khalil Tate – hasn’t played well enough to keep freshman Grant Gunnell on the sidelines. Both played in last week’s 41-31 loss to Stanford and both could play going forward.

Even if Arizona wins this week, it ends the season with Oregon, Utah and rival Arizona State.

Needing three more wins, CU, UCLA and Oregon State have an even tougher road, but getting win No. 4 this week would set up an interesting final stretch.

Notable

Arizona State, California, Stanford and Washington State are off this week. … Utah running back Zack Moss has recently set school career records for rushing yards (3,379) and rushing TDs (33). … Oregon State has the fewest turnovers in the FBS, with two (both interceptions). … The first CFP rankings of the season will be announced Tuesday at 7 p.m. MT on ESPN.