Out of the Tunnel: Pac-12 slate could turn into Separation Saturday

If last week was 'Survival Saturday' in college football, the upcoming week 11 should be nicknamed ‘Separation Saturday’ across the country, and especially in the Pac-12. Bowl positioning is in a constant state of flux and a number of teams are trying to end the season on a high note. The upcoming week should provide some clarity on the road to the Pac-12 Football Championship Game and deliver a terrific slate of games across a number of networks.

A look at the upcoming Pac-12 football slate:

Colorado at Arizona (10:30 a.m. PT on FX)

The Wildcats haven’t won a game in this series in more than a quarter of a century and could be without quarterback Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion according to school officials and will be reevaluated throughout the week. Backup B.J. Denker struggled upon taking over the offense at UCLA in a game that was already well out of hand by the time he stepped onto the field. Still, Colorado’s defense hovers near the bottom of the conference in most major categories and could be the cure to the funk Arizona has been in since upsetting USC two weeks ago. If the Buffs play inspired on the road they could certainly pull off a huge win for the program but it will be tough to top Rich Rodriguez’s team if they play sound on homecoming.

Arizona State at USC (Noon PT on Pac-12 Networks)

You’ll have to go back to 2001 for the last time the Trojans lost three straight games and they’ll no doubt be looking to avoid that feat against the incoming Sun Devils on homecoming. Arizona State is also coming off a loss and looking to capture that elusive sixth win to become eligible for a bowl game this year in Todd Graham’s first season. Taylor Kelly and a number of weapons on offense give ASU plenty of hope against a USC defense that is looking for answers after giving up 1,318 yards in two games. Though it is homecoming, it’s fair to wonder how motivated some of the Trojans are with a very early start time and, for a change, more attention on the team across town.

Oregon State at Stanford (Noon PT on Fox)

This might be the game of the week in the Pac-12 with both seven-win teams looking to stay in the hunt for the division title and a possible trip to the Rose Bowl regardless of what happens in later games against Oregon. Stanford’s front seven has been ferocious in limiting opponents' ground games and getting pressure on the quarterback so it should be interesting to see what Mike Riley draws up to counter that. The quarterback position is usually in the spotlight, and will be a huge part of this contest with Cody Vaz getting the nod for the Beavers and newcomer Kevin Hogan getting an increased workload in relief of Josh Nunes to make things interesting on The Farm under center.

Utah at Washington (7:30 p.m. PT on Pac-12 Networks)

Both teams are coming off two straight victories but it will be the Utes, fighting and clawing their way to get to a bowl game, who will have extra motivation to win this one. The Huskies won a sloppy road game on Friday night but are hoping a return to Seattle and an extra day to prepare will lead to a sharper effort on both sides of the ball. Special teams are one area where Steve Sarkisian will pay extra attention to this week with the dangerous Reggie Dunn looking to take back yet another kick return for a touchdown.

Oregon at Cal (7:30 p.m. PT on ESPN)

If there’s one team that has had success against the Ducks’ high-flying attack, it’s the Golden Bears in Berkeley -- including a near upset two seasons ago. This could be the classic letdown game after a big win for Oregon, but Chip Kelly will no doubt be on the lookout to stem that from his players and have them looking to impress on the national stage. Cal is dealing with a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball (the story all season long) and it appears backup Allan Bridgeford will start at quarterback.

UCLA at Washington State (7:30 p.m. on ESPN2)

The Bruins scored one of the most impressive victories in the Pac-12 last weekend and are looking to sustain momentum of three straight wins as they control their destiny inside the division. The Cougars on the other hand have struggled to protect the quarterback on offense (40 sacks) and are without star receiver Marquess Wilson, who was suspended from the team. A balanced UCLA offense has been the key to the program’s success in Jim Mora’s first season but they’ll still have plenty to handle on defense up in Pullman with Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense looking to snag an upset.

Stat pack

- Kenjon Barner has more rushing touchdowns than 85 FBS schools and more rushing yards per game than 40 schools. His 321 yards against USC were not only a Ducks record but fourth-most in Pac-12 history. Oregon has scored 40 or more points in 12 straight games, tying the BCS era record held by Texas.

- UCLA is ranked ahead of USC in the AP Top 25 for the first time since November 11, 2001.

- USC and Oregon are the only FBS schools to have played two or fewer of their first six games of 2012 at home.

- Utah's Reggie Dunn made NCAA history with his fourth career 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, breaking a record held by Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State, 1986-88) and Brandon Boykin (Georgia, 2008-11). Utah also leads the nation in fumbles returned for touchdowns (4) this year.

- Saturday's noon kickoff for USC/Arizona State (on Pac-12 Networks) is the earliest kickoff at the Coliseum since 1998. All six of the Trojans' victories this season have been by double digits but they haven't beaten a team above .500. USC has forced 24 turnovers in 2012 after getting just 17 all of 2011.

- Stanford is the first team to shut out Colorado at home since Nov. 15, 1986, a stretch of 150 games. The Cardinal rushing defense their past three games: -16 yards allowed on the ground.

- A remarkable seven quarterbacks played in the Colorado-Stanford game, four for the Cardinal and three for the Buffs.

- USC is going for win No. 800 on Saturday while Oregon will be looking to capture No. 600.

- Arizona State has not defeated USC in Los Angeles since a 26-15 win in the Coliseum in 1999. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly is on pace (65.5 percent) to shatter the school record for completion percentage (61.8 percent). The ASU defenses is averaging 9.11 tackles for loss per game, good enough to rank second in the nation, and have six more than they did all of last season.

- Last week’s 49-6 win over Washington State came in Kyle Whittingham’s 100th game as Utah’s head coach and gives him a 70-30 career record. Washington is the only Pac-12 school that Utah has never beaten (they are 0-7 all-time against the Huskies).

Thanks to the various Sports Information Departments around the conference for the stats, notes and nuggets.

Tweet of the week

They said it

Oregon coach Chip Kelly, when asked if this was the best team he’s had since arriving in Eugene: “My answer is I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, does it?”

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