Not all midseason Pac-12 games are created equal. Thursday night’s matchup pitting No. 3 Oregon against Arizona State for a 6 p.m. clash at Sun Devil Stadium on ESPN brims with implications for the conference, generally, and USC, particularly.
To this point, Oregon and Arizona State are two of three teams that remain undefeated in Pac-12 play — Oregon State is the other. Though early, Arizona State at the moment sits ahead of No. 10 USC in first place in the Pac-12 South division standings.
The initial Bowl Championship Series standings’ major deviation from the Associated Press poll is that it places Florida at No. 2 instead of Oregon. The switch occurred because the computer polls — which compose one-third of the BCS formula — were largely unimpressed with Oregon’s schedule thus far, computing an average ranking of 6.5, with the Wolfe computer even ranking Oregon No. 10.
The Ducks will look to post a quality win over the Sun Devils — whom they beat last year at Autzen Stadium 41-27, improving their national perception with likely their stiffest challenge to date.
Any doubts swirling around Oregon stem from the team’s relatively weak non-conference schedule to open the season, in which it played Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. Moreover, the Ducks have only played one road game — against Washington State at CenturyLink Field, where the crowd was predominantly comprised of Ducks fans.
Sun Devil Stadium’s raucous crowd can give a signal caller fits when trying to communicate the cadence, as then-junior quarterback Matt Barkley learned last season. Oregon redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota will have to adjust to his first career appearance on the road in a completely hostile environment.
Mariota’s worst career start occurred in the game at CenturyLink Field, where he threw two of his five interceptions this season.
If USC wishes to re-enter the BCS title chase, the Trojans likely want Oregon to win, so the Ducks’ resume is as impressive as possible when they visit the Coliseum on Nov. 3 for the most anticipated Pac-12 game of the season.
On the other hand, a victory for Arizona State would the put the Sun Devils squarely in the driver’s seat in the division if they win out, perhaps even allowing them one slip-up if USC suffers another loss in Pac-12 play — a distinct possibility with powerhouse Oregon, dangerous Arizona and rival UCLA still left on the docket.
The Sun Devils’ surprising start under new coach Todd Graham is turning heads, but they have yet to register a signature victory that would convince all pollsters to place them within the top 25, as they are only ranked in one poll: No. 24 in the Coaches’. Arguably, Arizona State’s most impressive victory so far was a 37-7 shellacking of Utah at home.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly and defensive tackle Will Sutton — two relative unknowns for the Sun Devils entering the year — are both in the thick of the races for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively.
Kelly leads the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, throwing for 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Sutton, though slightly undersized at 6-foot-1 and 267 pounds, has been a revelation, registering 8.5 sacks.
Both teams will look to seize the national spotlight and wrest control of their Pac-12 postseason fates Thursday night.