The Pac-12 is determined to scuttle your Saturday-night plans, with a backloaded schedule full of compelling storylines.
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Oregon and California could each run 100 plays in a collision of prolific tempo-based offenses. Pirate of the Palouse Mike Leach gets another chance at a signature victory, hoping the CenturyLink Field mojo rubs off on the Cougars against a Stanford team that finally showed how dominant it could be when running on all cylinders, for three quarters anyway. A few miles down the road, in Seattle, two of the top running backs in college football share the spotlight when Arizona and Washington open conference play. And out in the desert, USC and Arizona State hope the door doesn't shut on their seasons.
Here is a look at all the games involving league teams this week, ranked from worst game to best:
5. California at Oregon, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Rating: 3 stars
The skinny: It might not be close, but it will be entertaining. Oregon, averaging 61.3 points and 672 yards of total offense per game, gets to feast on a beleaguered Golden Bears defense that is giving up 42 points per game and 7.4 yards per play. That means Cal true freshman quarterback Jared Goff is going to be throwing the ball all over the place in catch-up mode once more. The clash between lock-down Oregon corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Cal wide receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper will be worth a late-night look.
4. Colorado at Oregon State, Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
Rating: 3.5 stars
The skinny: No truth to the rumor that the Beavers will be handing out defibrillators to every fan that comes to Reser Stadium. It might be necessary, however. Oregon State has already played heart-stopping affairs with Eastern Washington, Utah and San Diego State, relying on the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection (43 receptions for 639 yards and seven touchdowns) to overcome the team's defensive deficiencies. Colorado hasn't played in three weeks because of the flooding in the state that scuttled its game with Fresno State, so rust could be an early factor.
3. Stanford vs. Washington State (at Seattle), Saturday, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
Rating: 3.5 stars
The skinny: The Cardinal barely held off the Cougars at home last season, with safety Ed Reynolds' 25-yard interception return for a touchdown being the difference in the 24-17 escape. Now Stanford will be without All-America left guard David Yankey (personal reasons) against a Washington State defense that has made great strides. But to pull the upset and remain atop the Pac-12 North, the Cougars need quarterback Connor Halliday to play better in the red zone and feature emerging sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks against a depleted Stanford secondary.
2. Arizona at Washington, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox
Rating: 4 stars
The skinny: Washington junior Bishop Sankey is second in the FBS in rushing yards per game, and Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona is averaging almost one yard more but doesn't have enough carries yet to qualify for NCAA rankings. The Huskies are going to load up the box and force Wildcats quarterback B.J. Denker and an unproven passing game to derail their terrific start. It will also be worth monitoring how Arizona decides to defend tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Linebacker Marquis Flowers, a 6-foot-3, 233-pound former safety, would seem to match up best against the mammoth All-American.
1. USC at Arizona State, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Rating: 4 stars
The skinny: The loser will effectively be out of the Pac-12 South race before October and in danger of seeing its season fall into a tailspin. Both the Trojans and Sun Devils will want to feature their fine running games to make life easier for passing attacks that have had issues. Arizona State was undone by critical drops at Stanford, while USC quarterback Cody Kessler fell apart after a decent start against Utah State because of an injured hand and lack of timing with wide receiver Marqise Lee. If USC's defense, whose star sophomore defensive end Leonard Williams has been limited in practice, cannot shut down the up-tempo approach of ASU, there isn't another realistic scenario where embattled head coach Lane Kiffin leaves the desert with a conquest rather than a calendar counting down to his dismissal.