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October 13, 2011

Week 7 preview in the Pac-12

MIDSEASON RECAP: League-by-league breakdown
MORE PREVIEWS: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | MWC | SEC | Others

The Pac-12 may soon learn what the Big 12 and SEC already know: Divisions can become so divisive.

When a conference separates its teams into different groups, the balance of power inevitably seems to shift toward one division.

THE SCHEDULE
THURSDAY
USC at California, 9 p.m.
SATURDAY
Utah at Pittsburgh, noon
Colorado at Washington, 3:30 p.m.
BYU at Oregon State, 4 p.m.
Stanford at Washington State, 7:30 p.m.
Arizona State at Oregon, 10:15 p.m.
When the Big 12 actually had 12 teams the South was the dominant division. In the past five seasons, Big 12 South teams were 66-30 against the North, and the South produced the conference champion in each of the past seven seasons.

In the SEC, the West hasn't been that better than the East, but it has had a significant edge. In the past five seasons, the West is 53-42 again the East. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the only West Division teams with losing records against the East in that span.

In the Pac-12, the North already is looking down on the South, and not just geographically. North Division teams are 8-3 vs. their South brethren, but that doesn't begin to tell the story about the North's apparent dominance.

Stanford, Oregon and Washington appear to be the top three teams in the conference. Most think the Nov. 12 game between Stanford and Oregon will decide the Pac-12 champion, although the conference championship game (against a South team) will be played three weeks later.

Meanwhile, down South (and to the west), newcomers Utah and Colorado still are seeking their first Pac-12 victories. Arizona already has fired coach Mike Stoops. USC is ineligible and unable to play in the conference championship game, but the Trojans likely wouldn't make it that far even if they were eligible. They've already lost to Arizona State and have otherwise appeared quite ordinary, having allowed 84 points in their past two games.

[Week 7 primer: Huguenin picks them all]

But this is a week for South teams to bring down North teams on their own turf. USC plays tonight at the road against California, a team the Trojans typically hammer. Saturday, Arizona State travels to face Oregon and Colorado visits Washington.

Of course, those matchups could reinforce the perception of a vast disparity between the divisions.

With a pair one-win teams (Arizona and Colorado), a team that has lost its starting quarterback for the season (Utah) and one that is ineligible for postseason play (USC), the South Division may only have two teams that will reach the six victories necessary for bowl eligibility.

And that's assuming 3-3 UCLA can make it.

UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel is trying to win enough to save his job. After a 45-19 loss at Stanford, Neuheisel encouraged his team by reminding them they were still in championship contention.

"I wanted them to realize not all was lost," Neuheisel said then. "The game was gone, but the season was still there."

Frankly, he's right. The Bruins are very much in the South Division race because they sweated out victories over Oregon State and Washington State - who likely will finish fifth and sixth in the North.

Further enhancing the Bruins' chances is that they only have one more North team (Cal) on their schedule.

COMING FRIDAY: OREGON VS. ASU
Arizona State at Oregon is our national game of the week, and we'll have a more in-depth look at that game Friday.
Best matchup: Oregon's offense vs. Arizona State's defense. Even without injured TB LaMichael James (dislocated elbow), Oregon's offense is dangerous. Kenjon Barner is another speed demon and versatile freshman DeAnthony Thomas has emerged as a threat. The Ducks have scored at least 43 points in each of their past four games. Conversely, Arizona State is ranked 24th in the nation in scoring defense and has held five opponents to 22 or fewer points. The Sun Devils also lead the Pac-12 with 10 interceptions. Last season, Arizona State limited Oregon to 125 rushing yards.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: Oregon QB Darron Thomas]

Player on the spot: Cal CB Stefan McClure. There is a good chance Golden Bears CB Marc Anthony will miss the game with USC because of injury which would result in McClure, a true freshman, making his first college start. He likely would be matched up often against USC WR Robert Woods, who leads the nation with 55 receptions and is averaging more than 149 receiving yards per game.

Keep an eye on: USC QB Matt Barkley. Barkley threw for a school-record 468 yards in his last game, and he has a history of playing well against Cal. Last season, he torched the Bears for 352 yards and five touchdowns, with all the TDs in the first half. As a freshman, he passed for 283 yards and a score against Cal. In the past two games, USC has mauled the Bears by a combined 78-17.

Numbers game: Oregon's LaMichael James has exceeded 200 rushing yards in each of the past three games. That feat hasn't been accomplished since 2007, when Tulane's Matt Forte did it. The most recent Pac-10 player to do it was USC Heisman recipient Marcus Allen in 1981. (It was the Pac-10 then). Only 10 Oregon players have reached the 200-yard mark, and James has done it six times in his career. During his current streak, James has rushed for 731 yards on 65 carries (11.2 ypc). He averages 170.4 rushing yards per game to lead the nation.

[Power rankings: James reaches top, but for how long?]

Quotes of the week

"I want to be out there for my teammates, but I think [with] my health you have to draw the line. I don't want to go out there and destroy my whole career because I came back too early." - Oregon's LaMichael James, who is sidelined with a dislocated elbow

"We're going to do it again and it's going to be more special." - USC coach Lane Kiffin, to the Los Angeles Times, saying he will lead the Trojans to the same success they had under Pete Carroll

"Obviously, my trip up to Autzen didn't go how anybody would hope. But we're a different football team now and I'm a different player." - Arizona State junior QB Brock Osweiler, recalling a 44-21 loss at Oregon in 2009, which was his first college start

Poll watch: With the first BCS standings of the season coming out Sunday, the coaches' poll is of keen interest because it is part of the formula. Stanford is ranked fifth and Oregon is ninth. Both teams are hoping to move up or at least maintain their rankings until their Nov. 12 showdown in Palo Alto. The only other ranked Pac-12 team to No. 20 Arizona State, which could make a dramatic climb with an upset of Oregon. Washington was high on the "also receiving votes" list and could break into the polls with another victory.

[Game tickets: Watch your favorite team in action]

Etc.: Despite leading Arizona to three consecutive bowl appearances for only the second time in school history, coach Mike Stoops was fired after a 1-5 start. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish was named interim coach. ... USC freshman George Farmer has moved from wide receiver to tailback and may get his first action of the season against Cal. Backup QB Jesse Scroggins practiced this week for the first time since undergoing thumb surgery in August. ... Utah QB Jordan Wynn needs surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and will miss the rest of the season. ... Arizona LB Jake Fischer, a 2010 starter who has been sidelined since tearing an ACL in the spring, isn't likely to return and will use this as a redshirt season. FS Adam Hall also tore an ACL in the spring, but he played in last week's game against Oregon State. But it was reported he had an unspecified injury and his status is in question for this week. ... Washington State QB Jeff Tuel is back in practice after suffering a broken collarbone in the season opener, but has not yet been cleared to play. ... Arizona State T Aderious Simmons has been out since suffering an injury in the season opener, but he's expected to play against Oregon. CB Osahon Irabor (back) and WR Rashad Ross (concussion) also are expected to play. The Sun Devils are hoping to have OT Evan Finkenberg (knee) and DE Junior Onyeali (knee) back for the Oct. 29 game against Colorado. ... Cal QB Zach Maynard played most of last week's game against Oregon, in which he completed fewer than half his passing attempts, with a deep thigh bruise. ... Colorado RB Rodney Stewart is just 123 yards away from equaling Eric Bieniemy's school record of 4,361 career all-purpose yards. Bieniemy is in his first season as Colorado's offensive coordinator. ... Stanford FS Michael Thomas grabbed the Cardinal's first interception of the season in last week's win over Colorado. ... UCLA freshman Brett Hundley is now the Bruins' No. 2 quarterback, behind Kevin Prince. Starter Richard Brehaut broke a bone in his lower left leg in last week's game. Hundley likely won't play unless Prince is injured so as not to burn a redshirt year. ... Cal WR Keenan Allen is No. 2 in the Pac-12 in receiving with 39 catches for 668 yards. His 17.1-yards-per-catch average also ranks second. ... Colorado WR Paul Richardson (sprained knee) is out and likely will be replaced in the starting lineup by redshirt freshman Keenan Canty. Four Buffaloes remain suspended - DBs Ayodeji Olatoye, Parker Orms and Paul Vigo and LB Liloa Nobriga. ...Oregon LB Michael Clay, who has missed three games with an ankle injury, is expected to play Saturday. ... Oregon State RB Jovan Stevenson (concussion) is expected to play on Saturday. RB Malcolm Agnew, who has been out since the season opener with a pulled hamstring, may also play. But senior DT Dominic Glover won't play this season. He was unable to pass enough classes to regain his academic eligibility. ... UCLA S Tony Dye (neck) has missed three games and his status for the rest of the season is in question. ... With Utah in fall break, the Utes have practiced at 10 a.m. (PT) in order to adapt to a noon (ET) kickoff Saturday at Pitt. ... Brothers Jermaine Kearse and Jamaal Kearse scored touchdowns for Washington in last week's game against Utah. ... Washington State K Andrew Furney has made a field goal in every game this season. He is 4-for-4 on attempts from 40 yards and beyond.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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