Pac-12 preview: Utah on the brink, McKee questionable, ABC's cupcake crew back at UW

Arizona State Sun Devils running back Rachaad White (3) is gang tackled by the Utah Utes defense in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Utah won 35-21.

Arizona State Sun Devils running back Rachaad White (3) is gang tackled by the Utah Utes defense in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. Utah won 35-21. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

Eleven need-to-knows for Week 10 of the Pac-12 football season …

1 — The South's last stand comes Friday night, courtesy of a team from the North.

If Utah wins at Stanford Stadium — and Utah has never lost at Stanford Stadium — the South race is effectively over.

With their tiebreaker advantage included, the Utes (4-1 in conference play) would hold a two-game lead over Arizona State and a three-game lead on UCLA and USC with just three games left. And two of Utah's remaining dates are against South cellar dwellers Colorado and Arizona.

Win at Stanford, and the Utes could afford a loss to Oregon; they would clinch the division with victories over the Buffaloes (2-6) and Wildcats (0-8).

And that's presuming Arizona State wins out.

If the Sun Devils (3-2) were to lose again — they visit Washington and Oregon State on back-to-back Saturdays in the middle of the month — then Utah's margin for error would expand.

The Utes have built their advantage the hard way, with four wins over teams with .500-or-better records in league play: Washington State (4-2), ASU (3-2), USC (3-3) and UCLA (3-3).

As a reward, their stretch run features three teams with a combined record of 3-13 (Stanford, Colorado and Arizona), plus the Ducks.

2 — The Friday night affair qualifies as a no-win situation for the Pac-12's only playoff contender.

No. 4 Oregon needs Utah to finish with the best record possible in order to raise the profile of the likely showdown for the conference championship.

But the Ducks also need struggling Stanford to turn its season around.

Oregon's playoff resume would take a hit — potentially a fatal hit — if the Cardinal finishes with a 3-9 or 4-8 record.

The selection committee doesn't look kindly on bad losses.

3 — Stanford quarterback Tanner McKee is questionable Friday because of an undisclosed injury.

"We'll see over the next day or so if he's going to be ready to go," coach David Shaw said earlier in the week. "Hopefully this gets resolved sooner than later, but as coaches, we just prepare for every eventuality."

If McKee can't play, the Cardinal likely would use a combination of Jack West and Isaiah Sanders, the former in passing situations and the latter as a runner.

4 — Five teams are one victory from securing a bowl berth, but only three of them play this week.

Oregon State (5-3) can clinch its first bid since 2013 with a win at Colorado. Utah (5-3), a perennial postseason participant, would collect another invitation by winning at Stanford. And Arizona State (5-3) would become bowl-eligible by beating USC.

Washington State (5-4) and UCLA (5-4) are idle.

5 — The ABC broadcast crew handling Oregon's visit to Washington includes Mark Jones (play-by-play) and Quint Kessenich (sideline).

If those names are familiar to Pac-12 fans, it's because they were part of the infamous sideline cupcake stunt in 2017, when Kessenich compared Washington's non-conference opponents to cupcakes and placed three actual cupcakes on the sideline.

He didn't bother to mention — or simply didn't know — that Wisconsin had canceled a game against the Huskies that season.

The broadcasters also called then-UW coach Chris Petersen "cantankerous."

A year later, Jones veered into the realm of the unprofessional, mocking the Huskies on Twitter after their season-opening loss to Auburn.

The comment was described as "childish" by an ESPN executive in an email to UW athletic director Jen Cohen.

Vice president Nick Dawson told Cohen that "we will also ensure that Mark is not assigned to any further Washington games."

Dawson did not specify the duration of the ban, but it's apparently over.

6 — Oregon's No. 4 position in the College Football Playoff ranking is the highest for a Pac-12 team in the initial rankings in the eight-year history of the event.

The Ducks and Huskies were No. 5 in the initial 2014 and 2016 rankings, respectively. Both reached the playoff.

7 — One of the best defensive players in the conference could miss his second consecutive game.

Colorado linebacker Nate Landman was injured a few weeks ago — the details have not been disclosed — against Cal and didn't play in the loss at Oregon.

Landman is averaging nine tackles per game, second in the conference to Oregon State's Avery Roberts (11.3).

8 — Number of teams with fewer than three losses, per Power Five league:

SEC: six
Big Ten: five
ACC: three
Big 12: three
Pac-12: one

9 — If recent history is any indication, Cal's visit to Arizona on Saturday afternoon is likely to produce a riveting finish.

The Wildcats have won five in a row in the series by a combined 18 points.

That stretch includes the famous "Hill Mary" game in 2014, when the Wildcats rallied for a 49-45 victory on a Hail Mary pass to receiver Austin Hill.

The Bears haven't won in Tucson since 2004, when Aaron Rodgers directed a 38-0 wipeout.

10 — Washington's four victories have come against teams with a combined overall record of 7-25:

Cal and Stanford are 3-5; Arkansas State is 1-7; and Arizona is 0-8.

11 — Miserable at home, USC has played extremely well on the road — not only this season but for the past three years.

The Trojans haven't lost a conference road game since Sept. 2019 (at Washington).

Their eight-game winning streak is the second-longest in the Power Five, behind Ohio State's 12-game road streak in the Big Ten.


Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.


Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at jwilner@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pac-12 Hotline: Subscribe to the Pac-12 Hotline Newsletter. Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

Jon Wilner

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