Taking stock of Week 13 in the Pac-12.
Team of the week: Quick: Name the team that you saw as a certainty to lose this past weekend. Washington State, right? The Cougars were 2-9, mired in controversy, and their best defensive player, OLB Travis Long, was out with an injury. Further, rival Washington was riding high, having won four games in a row. And when the Huskies took an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter, that certainty felt confirmed. Heck, the Pac-12 blog even tweeted a postmortem, declaring the Cougs dead. But despite all that was against them, the Cougars rose up and won. Kudos, particularly to the seniors, who end their careers on a high note.
Best game: The Apple Cup was exciting -- it went to overtime -- but it was terribly sloppy. No. 1 Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC, while certainly not elegantly played by the Trojans, was a high-stakes affair that wasn't resolved until the waning moments of the fourth quarter. While Notre Dame was seemingly in control throughout, USC's offensive talent made it seem as though things could change quickly. The Fighting Irish stopped USC eight straight times inside the 10-yard line with 2:33 left to ice the game, which was pretty darn dramatic (though USC fans might use another term).
Biggest play: With less than six minutes left and the score tied at 27, Arizona lined up to punt from its 15-yard line. The Wildcats already had lost momentum, allowing a 10-point lead to slip away, but there was no reason it couldn't swing back their way. Unless they gave up a blocked punt, which they did. Kevin Ayers got the block, and it was recovered at the Arizona 8-yard line. A TD run from Cameron Marshall later, the Sun Devils took a lead they'd never relinquish.
Defensive standout: Arizona State LB Brandon Magee, a Pac-12 blog favorite, collected a career-high 17 tackles -- 14 solos -- with three coming for a loss in the Sun Devils' win over Arizona.
Defensive standout II: Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas, who has had a better season than his overall numbers indicate, was dominant against UCLA, recording two sacks in the win over the Bruins.
Offensive standout: It hasn't been the scintillating year many projected for Oregon WR/RB De'Anthony Thomas, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, but he came through big for the Ducks when they needed him in the Civil War. With Kenjon Barner banged up, Thomas turned in his best game of the season, rushing for 122 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns. TD runs of 5 and 29 yards in the third quarter transformed a close game into a blowout.
Special-teams standout: Utah's Reggie Dunn quite simply has posted the best season a college football kick returner has ever had. In the win over Colorado, just after the Buffs tied the game with a 100-yard kickoff return, Dunn went 100 yards for a score on the ensuing kickoff, providing the winning points. It was the fourth time this season and fifth time in his career Dunn has gone 100 yards for a touchdown on a kick return. Both are NCAA records.
Special-teams standout II: Washington State kicker Andrew Furney came up big in the Cougs' come-from-behind Apple Cup win. He tied the game with a 45-yard field goal and won it in overtime with a 21-yard kick. On the night, he was 3-for-3.
Smiley face: It was reasonable to wonder how Stanford might react at UCLA after its emotional, hard-fought win at Oregon. But the Cardinal were efficient, businesslike and dominant on both sides of the ball against a very good Bruins team. I'd bet if you asked the SEC champion which team it wouldn't want to play for the national title, Stanford might be the first team mentioned.
Frowny face: Late in the fourth quarter and holding a nine-point lead, Notre Dame stopped USC eight straight times inside the 10-yard line. First, you give credit to Notre Dame, which plays outstanding defense. Then you acknowledge that Lane Kiffin's play calling at this crucial moment was ... terrible, as L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote in detail here.
Thought of the week: With the Rose Bowl berth on the line, UCLA gets a second crack at Stanford on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game. With just six days separating that and their regular-season game, how might this matchup look different? Did the Bruins save some schematic ideas? Remember: UCLA already had won the South Division. With Oregon's win over Oregon State, the Cardinal needed to win at UCLA to earn the Pac-12 North Division crown. The Bruins' stakes were much lower: pride. If you're one for realpolitik in college football, a win Saturday would have sent the Bruins to boisterous Autzen Stadium for the Pac-12 title game. UCLA's chances to get to the Rose Bowl might be better at Stanford than they would have been at Oregon.
Questions for the week: Who had Stanford and UCLA as their North and South Division winners in August? Anyone? Anyone? I can't recall a published prediction picking either. But I now have written a post-it note that is now stuck to my desk: "There are no sure things. There are no sure things. Never forget." Of course, you know I will forget this.