Wayne Root: UCLA at Stanford a Huge Thursday Nighter
Wayne Root: UCLA at Stanford a Huge Thursday Nighter
We have another big Pac 12 game this week set for a Thursday night kickoff. Washington rocked the world a week ago with a stunning upset of USC. This week, Pac 12 North favorite Stanford hosts Pac 12 South contender UCLA in a game that will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Before talking about the game...let's take a quick look at the Pac 12 standings.
PAC 12 NORTH
Washington State 1-1
Oregon State 0-2
For now, it feels like Stanford's division to win because they're better than everyone else...and because they match up well with California. Stanford plays a smart, disciplined game that's well designed to thwart their No-Cal rival. The Bears from Berkeley play a high risk offense that has to avoid turnovers to have a chance to win that one.
Amazing that Oregon isn't even in the discussion! That home loss to Washington State last week was an eye opener for those who believed the Ducks would get things turned around after the Utah debacle. (It was also an eye-opener for Michigan State fans who are feeling worse and worse about their chances in the Big 10!).
If Stanford beats UCLA Thursday...that puts them at 4-0 in the league with USC and UCLA already in the rearview mirror. Not a lock...but in great shape.
PAC 12 SOUTH
Arizona State 2-1
The media has so many big games to talk about this week that Arizona State at Utah is getting overlooked. That's obviously looming very large over the division right now because of the slow starts for UCLA and USC. If the Utes win as a favorite of just under a touchdown...and UCLA loses to Stanford...Utah will be up two games in the loss column on the rest of the field. That's huge because they would have enough margin-for-error to lose to UCLA and still lead the division.
All told...there's still time for things to get very interesting in the talented Pac 12. But Stanford and Utah have a chance to start locking things down already with home victories.
Does UCLA have a chance to upset Stanford Thursday night? You know THE KING OF UPSETS is thinking very hard about that! We all know that Stanford is most dangerous as a dog with something to prove...and least dangerous as a favorite suffering from overconfidence. So, that right there opens a door. For UCLA to win:
*Josh Rosen must make smart choices and avoid turnovers
*UCLA must use balanced play calling to avoid becoming predictable
*UCLA needs to recognized the urgency of this game
*UCLA must hope Stanford stays overly conservative
I was very impressed with Rosen in his debut vs. Virginia...and he more than held his own in the road blowout at Arizona that many of you probably watched on TV. But, he was awful at home against BYU, and couldn't make enough plays in their home upset loss to Arizona State. He was even shaky much of the night here in Vegas against UNLV. Playing on the road against a great team like Stanford...that's just not a game you can ask him to win on his own.
The right gameplan and mindset will keep UCLA in the game. They can definitely steal a victory if Stanford plays too conservative to pull away.
What about the big picture? Does Stanford have a chance to climb up from #15 to reach the Final Four? Let me say it this way. If Stanford runs the table to finish 12-1 with a Pac 12 title on their resume (and the requisite win over Notre Dame), WAYNE ALLYN ROOT would be lobbying very hard for inclusion in the playoff tournament. The loss at Northwestern doesn't look as bad now as it did at the time. Winning a Power Five conference and closing strong would make up for that. Don't forget that Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech last year. My personal Power Ratings have Stanford better than #15 right now. And, certainly in a "tournament" format...having SMART kids who understand what's at stake and know how to prepare is a big plus.
Stanford "has a chance" as so many other teams do. A loss to UCLA, and it becomes an extreme longshot. Utah would then become the Pac 12 team with the best chance to matter in January. Frankly, there's a decent shot the Pac 12 gets shut out if Clemson keeps winning in the ACC.
FINAL FOUR SPOTS
Very likely the Big 10 champion
Very likely the SEC champion
Very likely the Big 12 champion
Either the ACC champ, the Pac 12 champ, or Notre Dame
Maybe that scenario changes over the next six weeks. Maybe the SEC powers beat each other up so much it opens a door. For now...both Stanford and Utah are dealing with immediate litmus tests that all Pac 12 followers will be watching very closely.
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Back with you in a couple of days to talk about the NY Jets hosting the Washington Redskins this week in the NFL. After a refreshing bye week, are the Jets ready to roll to a Wildcard?
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