Who would have thought that the Big Ten's Rose Bowl bid would be settled before the Maize and Blue clashed with the Scarlet and Grey? And that USC would be out of the Pac-10 picture.
That's what we're looking at tomorrow when Ohio State heads over to Ann Arbor, and Oregon and Stanford vie in separate games for the Pac-10 crown.
Ohio State will wear a 2009 version of its 1954 uniforms.
Don't expect any funny business in the top of the BCS this weekend. No. 1
, No. 2
and No. 3
looks to lock up the Big 12 South vs. a reeling
Tonight, No. 4
And here's what we got for you.
No. 11 Oregon (8-2) at Arizona (6-3), Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, ABC:
Dear Oregon: What is going on out there? After losing the opener and your star running back against
, you go on this absurd win streak, routing all comers, including eyebrow-lifting defeats over then-No. 6
, 42-3, and then-No. 5
, 47-20, only to blow it against an improbable
Cardinal, who have, with your aid, looked unstoppable since.
And yet, despite all this wackiness and unpredictability, a conference championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl remain firmly within your water fowl's winged grasp. A victory Saturday night against a plucky Arizona Wildcats squad will seal your invitation to Pasadena and a chance to face Ohio State on New Year's Day, which would mark your first Rose appearance since the 1994 season (when you lost to
, by the way. Sorry.)
At bottom, the Corner is at a something of a loss when it comes to judging your game against this Brother Stoops-led 'Zona outfit. Since the Stanford debacle, you Ducks have redeemed yourselves a little by taking care of
in yet another blowout, 44-21.
But which of your dual personalities will show up in Tucson? The one that let the Trees of Palo Alto nearly uproot your season? Or the one that ushered both Cals (Berkeley, Southern) into their respective 2009 irrelevancies?
LeGarrette Blount returns for Oregon.
Here inside the Corner bunker's windowless redoubt, we want to believe it's the latter. For one thing, LeGarrette Blount, the star tailback ejected for fisticuffs against Boise State way back when, has returned. Not that you'll need him. Rookie backup LaMichael James has filled in admirably, helping you muster, as you know, the sixth-best rushing attack in college football. In your trouncing of Arizona State last week, James bolted for 150 yards and a hat trick of touchdowns.
But, then again, Mike Stoops is no defensive fool. His Wildcats have limited opponents to about 106 yards per game on the ground, though this does include an ugly performance last Saturday, when that front seven permitted a deflated Cal to amass 159 yards on 30 carriers, the worst outing this season by Stoops' team, which fell out of the top 25 as a result of that 24-16 loss.
And yet somehow in this nutty Pac-10 year, the Wildcats still "control their own destiny," as the sportswriters like to type, just as you Ducks do. If they beat you on Saturday and then win out against Arizona State and USC the rest of the season, the Wildcats will head to Pasadena in your stead. Thus, we warn you, your opponent will be motivated.
So be careful, Eugene. But, in the end, we believe that, deep inside your splendid dreamcoat haberdashery, you've got what it takes. Your dutiful ground game will deliver you the Arizona state championship, as well as the Pac-10 one.
All the Best,
Corner's choice: Oregon 38, Arizona 24
California (7-3) at No. 17 Stanford (7-3), 7:30 p.m., EST:
The "Big Game" has a different feel this year, thanks to the Cardinal's exploits over the last two weeks. Vanquishing consecutive then top-10 ranked opponents in Oregon and USC may have boosted Stanford's national profile of late. But it's how they did so that's given the Cardinal national cache.
Against Oregon and USC, Stanford scored a combined 106 points and racked up just shy of 1,000 yards of total offense.
For good measure last week, Harbaugh went for a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand and in front of USC's home crowd. Like the climax in a Greek play, fans saw years of pent-up Pac-10 hurt caused by USC's decade dominance unleashed in one unnecessary run. And, like a tragedy, the Cardinal came up short. But still, the message was sent and received.
Let's put this in perspective. In just three years, Stanford has gone from one of the worst teams in college football to rubbing a gratuitous two-point conversion attempt in the face of the conference's recent alpha dog. Call it bad sportsmanship, but there's no denying Stanford has an edge now.
Heck, even Stanford alum Tiger Woods will serve as an honorary captain this weekend.
For its efforts, and with a potential Rose Bowl bid awaiting them if things fall into place, Stanford is now firmly in the national spotlight. Heisman watch lists around the country were quickly updated over the past two weeks, with running back Toby Gerhart's name now appearing on most. The 6-1, 230-pound bruiser, who rumbled for a school-record 223 yards rushing against Oregon, stands as the nation's third best rusher, averaging 140 yards a game.
Toby Gerhart, Stanford
Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck has outplayed his conference cohorts under center, quietly leading the league in pass efficiency. The two have combined to power a unit ranked first in the conference in total offense and 10th in the country in rushing.
For Cal, the game presents a chance for its players to witness what might have been. Late-November hoopla and Rose Bowl chatter were forecast by many for this Cal squad. But those same two teams that propelled Stanford into the national BCS conversation -- Oregon and USC -- also drubbed Cal.
Couple that with a late loss to
No. 20 Oregon State
, and the Golden Bears can only settle for playing the spoiler in Saturday's contest. Still, bowl positioning is very much on their minds.
Adding insult to literal injury, running back Jahvid Best will stay on the sidelines again this week after suffering a concussion brought on by a horrific-looking end zone landing against Oregon State.
But if Cal is going to have a puncher's chance in this one, at least it won't be short where it could matter most. Lead wide-out Marvin Jones will be ready to play on Saturday after nursing a thigh bruise throughout the week. Good thing, given that Stanford's pass defense ranks near the bottom in the country, giving up 245 yards per through the air. Of course, Cal isn't much better on that front either, ranking almost dead last in the nation after hemorrhaging nearly 269 passing yards per game.
The key match-up, however, presents the strengths of both teams. Stanford's vaunted running game will look to find holes against Cal's run defense, which ranks second in the conference.
But unless Stanford makes mistakes, or the Golden Bears' backup running back Shane Vereen improves his career-high totals posted against
last week, look for the Cardinal to take it in a high-scoring affair and for Gerhart to find the Heisman moment that will send him to New York as a finalist.
Corner's Choice: Stanford 45, Cal 38
-- Sung Moss
No. 10 Ohio State (9-2) at Michigan (5-6), 12 p.m. EST (ABC)
: All in all, not a bad season for the Buckeyes. Locked up a Rose Bowl bid and will aim for another 10-win season and undisputed Big Ten title. As for the Wolverines, one has to wonder how they can continue to draw 100,000-plus to every game at the Big House with the way they've been playing. But attendance is never an issue in the ancient classic known as the Big Game. Losing is, however. Michigan leads the series 57-42-6, but has lost five straight.
"Certainly the University of Michigan is not used to it
losing, but neither am I or my staff," Coach Rich Rodriguez said
at a news conference. "We're all going through this process. We know what we're in and moving forward and know what we have to do. We can see some happier times ahead."
Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
The once-mighty Wolverines need to win to finish at .500 and muster up a minor bowl. Their season started with much optimism, 4-0, before it was derailed by heartbreaking losses to
. UM has some hope for the future because its outstanding freshman quarterback, Tate Forcier, will be a year older and wiser.
Ohio State running back Brandon Saine
Saturday in Ann Arbor, though, Ohio State -- which will don the uniforms of its 1954 national championship team -- will bring too much to bear. Running back Brandon Saine, who stuck it to Iowa last week, has found his stride and runs behind a punishing offensive line.
Corner's choice: Ohio State 34, Michigan 17
-- William Hennelly
The Corner is written by Scott Eden, Sung Moss and William Hennelly in New York's Canyon of Heroes
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This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.com.