Five things we learned in the final week of the regular season:
We have a venue: On the strength of Arizona State’s 58-21 win over Arizona, the Sun Devils will host Stanford in the third Pac-12 championship game next week in Tempe. How big is this? Consider that Stanford stretched its home winning streak to 16 games by beating Notre Dame, it’s pretty big. The Sun Devils have now won eight consecutive games at home. And while last week’s win at UCLA was a huge maturity moment for the Sun Devils, they are still a decidedly better team when they are playing in the desert. Recall the shellacking Stanford put on the Sun Devils earlier this year on The Farm. Both of Stanford’s losses this year have come on the road. This sets the stage for a very intriguing game with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line.
Rivalries provide thrills: Show of hands: If we would have said Thursday night that one of this weekend’s rivalry games would come down to a single point, how many people would have said The Civil War? Honestly? We wouldn’t have, either. Utah-Colorado is blossoming into a nice little season finale. The Apple Cup kept our interest most of the game. And for those with polarized sunglasses who were able to stand the glare of Oregon-Oregon State, you saw a pretty good game. Others fizzled as UCLA pulled away from the Trojans in the second half and Arizona State routed the Wildcats. Also at question is what's going to happen with the coaching situation at USC -- which again seems unstable after the Trojans were blown out by their rivals. Did Ed Orgeron do enough to warrant dropping the "interim" from his title? Or was it simply a nice run that had to come to an end?
Sankey vs. Carey: No one is going to argue that Bishop Sankey and Ka'Deem Carey aren’t great running backs. In fact, they are two of the best in the country and both have NFL futures. A mini-debate has raged the last few weeks as to which one is better. There is, of course, no real wrong answer because both are outstanding. The good news is both players will be first-team all-league. But if you were looking for a lasting impression, it’s hard to ignore what Sankey did against his rival, rushing 34 times for 200 yards and a touchdown. Carey had pretty good numbers against ASU, but the game was so lopsided that they didn’t count for as much. Either way, phenomenal seasons from both players.
Irish halted: Notre Dame is not the unofficial Pac-12 champ. On the strength of Stanford’s 27-20 win, the Cardinal were able to halt Notre Dame’s stranglehold on Pac-12 teams. Dating back to last season, the Irish were riding a four-game winning streak -- having knocked off Stanford, USC twice and Arizona State. But a 189-yard rushing performance from Tyler Gaffney and a pair of picks from Wayne Lyons helped the league salvage a bit of dignity and avoid a second straight year of being swept.
Now, we wait: The regular season is over. It happens that fast. It seems like only a few days ago your Pac-12 bloggers were laying out their predictions for the season (yes, we’re going to link that post every chance we get). For California, Colorado and Utah, there is work to be done. Utah seems on the verge of breaking through, but can’t seem to keep a quarterback healthy. Colorado made great strides in its first season under Mike MacIntyre, but he’ll be the first to say no one is happy with how the year turned out. And Cal, well, it just needs to get healthy. The rest of the league now awaits its postseason fate. The Cardinal and Sun Devils will square off for a Rose Bowl berth. The rest of the league is likely going bowling -- though a couple of teams will be orphaned and will need to find a bowl game to pick them up. What we learned about the Pac-12 this year is what we learn every year. There’s never an easy week.