A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:
Game of the week: Which Stanford team shows up at No. 7 Notre Dame? Is it the explosive offense that racked up more than 600 yards against Arizona? Or the struggling offense which failed to score an offensive touchdown at Washington? The Irish have one of the nation's best defenses, but Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes put to rest any questions about his starting job with his five-touchdown performance against the Wildcats. But for the Cardinal to be considered serious contenders in the Pac-12 North, they are going to have to get it done on the road.
Speaking of the road: Heck of a time to make your first collegiate start -- midseason and on the road. But that's the challenge in front of Oregon State backup quarterback Cody Vaz. With the news that Sean Mannion will be out at least 2-4 weeks with a knee injury, the junior steps in after having not played since 2010. Head coach Mike Riley created a minor media buzz during spring ball when he said Vaz had closed the gap with Mannion. Fortunately for the Beavers, the running game is starting to click with Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew, and the wide receiver duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks is playing well. Vaz has some support.
Is he for real? Anyone recognize the guy in blue wearing No. 15 last week? After his first interception last week, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was, dare we say, prolific. He completed 83.3 percent of his throws and tossed four touchdowns in the Bears' upset against UCLA. This coming a week after he completed 32.1 percent at home against Arizona State. The yards, touchdowns and completion percentage were all season highs. Has the light finally come on?
No peeking: Can the Sun Devils resist the urge to look beyond Colorado to their showdown next week with Oregon? Head coach Todd Graham said it shouldn't be hard. But then again, these are college players, and you have to wonder if the 1-4 Buffs are being overlooked. The good news is we'll find out tonight, since it's the national Thursday game.
Rally the troops: It's a good thing for Washington that USC isn't still ranked in the top five. The Huskies have been outscored 93-24 in their two games against top five programs this year. After the 41-3 loss to LSU, the Huskies had Portland State to beat up on. It's not going to be as easy this week with the No. 11 Trojans coming to town. Steve Sarkisian has had some success against the Trojans, and he obviously knows the program very well. Can he get the Huskies to put last week's debacle at Oregon behind them?
About those Trojans: Head coach Lane Kiffin talked at length this week about how tough it is to come into the season with a high preseason ranking -- ya know, like No. 1. But the Trojans showed last week that maybe the fork-sticking was premature. After spotting the Utes 14 points, quarterback Matt Barkley calmly led a USC offense that looked potent and efficient. And in the process, he pulled himself back into the Heisman race -- though there is still work to be done on that front. Nov. 3 is still high noon for the Trojans, and the better they look leading into that game against Oregon, the better it will be for the conference. And, aside from the first three minutes last week, the Trojans looked pretty good.
Swing game? If the Utah Utes hope to make a bowl game this season, this game might be the turning point. They face a UCLA team that showed its youth against Cal on offense, and a fairly seasoned defense looked porous. The Utes have to travel to Oregon State next week, where they'll see the Vaz-led Beavers (Utah knows a little something about overcoming-quarterback-injury adversity). Then it's five straight games against unranked teams to close out the season. A win puts them back at .500 and still in the bowl hunt. The Bruins are two wins away, but face a tougher second-half schedule, including closing out the season with USC and Stanford. A win by the Bruins puts them on the verge of bowl eligibility.