UW outlasts USC as Oregon rolls, Arizona goes bowling

Instant reaction to Pac-12 developments on the field …

1. Pinball wizards

The marquee matchup of Week 10 unfolded exactly as expected, with Washington and USC combining for 94 points, 1,087 yards and one unlikely player of the game: UW tailback Dillon Johnson, who ran over and around the Trojans for an astounding 256 yards — or 156 more than he had gained in any previous game this season..

Then again, USC’s defense is like a clump of interstellar dust and gas: It gives birth to stars.

Two weeks ago, Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes was on the receiving end of USC’s ineptitude.

Last week, Cal  freshman quarterback Fernando Mendoza was the lucky beneficiary.

This week, Johnson averaged 9.8 yards per carry — that’s right: 9.8 — scored four touchdowns and rushed for the same number of yards that UW quarterback Michael Penix Jr. generated through the air.

As a result of their 52-42 victory, the Huskies (9-0/6-0) retain the cushion that accompanies a perfect record. They can afford a loss down the stretch (to Utah, Oregon State or Washington) and hold their place in the College Football Playoff race.

The goal for UW is to emerge from the conference championship game in Las Vegas with the trophy in hand and no more than one loss on the ledger.

Of course, Oregon (8-1/5-1) has that very same goal. The bitter rivals are the Pac-12’s only playoff contenders with one month remaining in the regular season.

However, they are not the only teams in contention for a spot in Las Vegas.

USC remains alive, as well. The Trojans have two league losses but would qualify if they beat Oregon and UCLA and get help through the conference tiebreaker procedure.

Utah can also finish with two league losses and earn a trip to Las Vegas.

Same with Oregon State and … wait for it … Arizona.

The Wildcats hammered UCLA on Saturday evening for their third consecutive win.

Like the Trojans, Beavers and Utes, they have just two conference losses.

Washington and Oregon should be considered the heavy favorites to collide in the title game. But the final three weeks have just enough marquee matchups and potential twists to make the race interesting.

2. Postseason paths widen

Speaking of the postseason, a series of results across the Power Five on Saturday proved fortuitous for the Pac-12.

Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State for its second defeat of the season, knocking the ninth-ranked Sooners out of the playoff race.

The same fate befell Missouri, which now has two losses after coming a bit short against Georgia.

(No two-loss team has ever made the CFP.)

And Notre Dame’s third defeat of the season (at Clemson) pushed the Irish to the outskirts of the New Year’s Six bowl chase — and thus unlikely to block the Pac-12 from claiming an at-large berth to the Fiesta, Cotton or Peach.

Put another way: The Pac-12 could not have asked for a more favorable landscape entering the second week of November than the one currently in place.

3. The highest high

Arizona is gaining momentum by the week and stands as the biggest surprise of the Pac-12 season to date.

The Wildcats (6-3) have beaten Washington State, Oregon State and the Bruins in succession — all three teams were ranked at the time of kickoff — and are bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2017 season.

Freshman quarterback Noah Fifita is playing at an all-conference level; Jedd Fisch is on the short list of candidates for Coach of the Year honors; the improvement on the lines of scrimmage is jaw dropping.

And let’s not forget: The Wildcats lost in overtime at Mississippi State and in triple overtime at USC — they are remarkably close to being 7-2 or 8-1.

They became the seventh Pac-12 team to qualify for the postseason, joining Washington, the Oregon schools, the L.A. schools and Utah.

How does that compare?

Number of bowl-eligible teams (at least six wins):

ACC: seven
Pac-12: seven
SEC: seven
Big 12: six
Big Ten: five

4. The lowest lows

The anti-Arizona would be Washington State.

Unless it’s Colorado.

Remember the Cougars and Buffaloes? At the end of September, they were among the hottest stories in the sport — CU because of its sizzling start under Deion Sanders, WSU because of its then-perfect record against the backdrop of realignment chaos.

Five weeks later, both teams are gasping.

Washington State has lost five in a row after the dreadful showing Saturday at home against Stanford. Quarterback Cam Ward and Co. managed all of seven points against a Cardinal defense that had given up at least 40 in four consecutive games.

Ben Arbuckle, WSU’s new play-caller, appears to have no answers for the mid-season adjustments made by opposing staffs.

The Cougars must win two of their final three games to become bowl-eligible and avoid a complete collapse. Given that they face Washington in Seattle in the finale, the Cougars are in must-win mode against Cal (away) and Colorado (home).

Meanwhile, the Buffaloes are a mess. They lost at home Saturday to Oregon State — their fifth defeat in the past six games.

Like WSU, they need two wins in their final three games to claim a bowl berth. Given that the Buffs face Utah in Salt Lake City in the finale, they are in must-win mode against Arizona (home) and WSU (away).

In the past week, coach Deion Sanders has called out his offensive linemen and demoted his offensive coordinator.

The line did not exactly look inspired Saturday (four sacks allowed), and the staff change produced no beneficial results.

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