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Originally published November 20, 2011 at 8:23 PM | Page modified November 20, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Bud Withers

USC, Neuheisel re-emerge while Kelly is second-guessed

Most Pac-12 football teams are playing for diminished goals — BCS appearances rather than national-title games, pride rather than the postseason.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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So now, the spoils are less gaudy: Most Pac-12 football teams are playing for diminished goals — BCS appearances rather than national-title games, pride rather than the postseason.

What We Learned

USC wasn't ready to be written off. The Trojans (9-2), bowl-ineligible or not, have crowded their way into the elite of the Pac-12, beating Oregon three weeks after an overtime loss to Stanford. I think scholarship sanctions will thin them significantly, but until they take hold (or Matt Barkley leaves), they're a load.

"This game was mainly to show USC is back," safety Jawanza Starling told the L.A. Times.

Even Chip Kelly is second-guessable. Kelly's clock management, and even his play-calling, were up for scrutiny after Oregon's loss. He kept timeouts in his pocket even as the Ducks were, at their deepest penetration, on the USC 18 on their last drive inside the 40-second mark. And Oregon's last offensive attempt wasn't downfield, it was an odd hitch pass toward the left sideline that went for a loss of 2 yards.

Rick Neuheisel has returned to the pulpit. The UCLA coach, who had sworn off his practice of addressing the crowd on a live mic after games, took it over again after a 45-6 victory over Colorado and said, "Despite the naysayers, we're playing for the championship next week."

They are, even if it's for the Kind-Of-Title in the Aw-Shucks Division. The Bruins (6-5), who became bowl-eligible with the win, get the berth in the Pac-12 title game if they beat USC.

It could be a rough offseason for coaches. Arizona and three other schools — UCLA, Arizona State and Washington State — could be coach-shopping soon. ASU's (6-5) Dennis Erickson, earlier a candidate for league coach of the year, lost a second straight game (third overall) as a double-digit favorite, and the Arizona Republic wrote, "After this collapse, it would be a surprise to see him back next year."

The Cougars are looking for a replay official. After Marquess Wilson's goal-line catch against Utah, a would-be game-winner, the ball was placed down at the half-yard line with only seconds left on the clock and WSU out of timeouts and unable to call for a review. Merely the spot of the ball would seem to dictate a look from above.

Should the Cougars have gone for it and either won or lost the game right there? Tough call. They were knocking on the door, but they have no power running game and had a quarterback with a lacerated liver facing one of the league's most formidable defensive fronts.

The Huskies are in danger of pulling an Arizona. The darkest possibility for struggling Washington (6-5) is a five-game losing streak to end the season if UW doesn't prevail in the Apple Cup and then loses a bowl game — exactly what Arizona did in 2010.

This Week

Utah's skimpy chance of claiming the Pac-12 South spot in the title game Dec. 2 suddenly is a lot more robust. All the Utes have to do is beat Colorado on Friday afternoon, have Cal knock off Arizona State that night, and have USC beat UCLA.

Elsewhere, there's Saturday's Apple Cup, Oregon State's visit to Oregon and Notre Dame at Stanford. The Ducks must beat the Beavers to win the Pac-12 North. Oh, and almost forgot Louisiana-Lafayette's game at Arizona (good tickets still available).

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com




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