Pac-12 North comes down to the Apple Cup during Rivalry Week
It’s the final week of the regular season for the Pac-12, which usually means a bit of bedlam. The league hasn’t disappointed this season, with two coaching vacancies already, along with some uncertainty atop the North.
First, the one absolute: USC (10-2, 8-1) has already clinched the Pac-12 South and has Thanksgiving week off after 12 unbroken weeks of play. That gives the Trojans a week to rest and heal before the league championship game on Dec. 1.
Up North, Washington State will clinch the division with a victory over Washington in the Apple Cup. The Cougars (9-2, 6-2) are coming off a bye for Saturday’s game at Husky Stadium.
The Huskies (9-2, 6-2), ranked as high as No. 5 this season and at one point considered the league’s best chance for a spot in the College Football Playoff, were eliminated from the race for the Pac-12 title when Stanford beat California 17-14 last weekend.
The Cardinal (8-3, 7-2) can earn the North’s spot if Washington State loses. Stanford has already completed its conference season and hosts Notre Dame on Saturday — at the same time as the Apple Cup.
Coach David Shaw said the Cardinal are working on how much the Apple Cup looms over their own game at Stanford Stadium.
“It’s not going to be scrolling every two minutes during the game, that’s for sure,” he said, adding that he’s still sure it will be announced from time to time for fans in the stadium.
Washington’s chances at the league title diminished two weeks ago after a 30-22 loss at Stanford, but the Huskies rebounded last weekend with a late rally for a 33-30 victory over Utah at home.
“I hope this gives them some swag back,” coach Chris Petersen said after the victory. “They don’t have to play so tight. They don’t have to play perfect to come back and win. Just keep playing.”
The Pac-12 will not have a representative in the playoffs for the second time since the CFP system was introduced in 2014.
Other issues around the league for the last week of the regular season:
VACANCIES: As of right now, there are two head coaching vacancies in the Pac-12. Gary Andersen parted ways with the Beavers on Oct. 9, and Jim Mora was dismissed by UCLA following last weekend’s 28-23 loss to the Trojans.
Arizona State’s Todd Graham has been on the hot seat but the Sun Devils (6-5, 5-3) became bowl eligible with a 40-24 victory at Oregon State. A victory over Arizona in the Territorial Cup on Saturday, and then a bowl win, could mean he’ll stay in Tempe for at least one more year.
As a Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 can expect to lure some big names, but this season there are a number of high-profile vacancies, including Florida and Tennessee — not to mention the teams that are waiting out the season before dismissing their coach.
The Bruins job is probably the most attractive out West, with a rich tradition and a big market in sunny Los Angeles. But UCLA has not been to a Rose Bowl — on their home field — since 1998. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is often mentioned in connection with the job.
Oregon State is a tougher sell. The players have petitioned the school to give interim coach Cory Hall the job permanently, but it’s more likely the Beavers will bring in a fresh perspective. Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday that he is not interested in the job after rumors swirled this weekend.
Ideally, schools with vacancies hope to fill them by Dec. 20, which is the early period letter of intent day.
RIVALRIES: While Northern California’s Big Game and the Los Angeles rivalry have already been played, the rest of the league is in the midst of rivalry week.
Oregon (6-5, 3-5) plays Oregon State (1-10, 0-8) in the annual Civil War game. Last season the Beavers upset the Ducks, winning the game for the first time since 2007. This season, Oregon State is still looking for its first conference win, while Oregon is playing for bowl positioning.
“It’s Oregon versus Oregon State, two teams that don’t like each other and we got that bitter taste in our mouth that we’ve had for an entire year and I don’t think our guys want that taste anymore,” said Oregon coach Willie Taggart, who is making his Civil War debut.
Colorado (5-6, 2-6) visits Utah (5-6, 2-6) on Saturday night with both teams looking to become bowl eligible.
Also in the South, Arizona (7-4, 5-3) plays Arizona State (6-5, 5-3) in the Territorial Cup. Both teams are already headed toward the postseason so there will be jostling for best bowl position.
BOWL BOUND: The Pac-12 has arrangements with seven bowl games. The Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl are designated as playoff games this year, so the Pac-12 champion will be slotted in the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach bowls (since the league’s chances of making the four-team playoff field were already shot).
The teams eligible for a bowl include USC, Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State, Stanford, Washington and Oregon. Teams on the bubble with five wins are Colorado, Utah, UCLA and California.
There is the possibility that a five-win team could also make a bowl game, albeit slim. UCLA interim coach Jedd Fisch said Tuesday the Bruins have already decided they’ll accept a bid if offered.
The bowls that the Pac-12 has partnerships with (besides the Rose Bowl) include the Alamo, Holiday, Foster Farms, Sun, Las Vegas and Cactus.
Oregon State is the lone Pac-12 team that is definitely eliminated from postseason play.
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