Take 2: Who can surprise with late charge?

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
12:00
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Which Pac-12 team with a losing record has the best chance of rallying for bowl eligibility? Ted and Kevin offer their thoughts, which is not unlike someone handing you a wad of cash.

Kevin Gemmell: If there is any team equipped to make a late charge and possibly sneak into the bowl picture, it has to be Utah for the simple reason that the Utes -- while still offensively inadequate -- can play defense. And that's something worth hanging your hat on.

I write this fully understanding that it's a long shot. And I'm not declaring that Utah will go to a bowl game. But the question is which team could -- and the Utes appear the best of the bunch.

[+] EnlargeStar Lotulelei
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireStar Lotulelei and Utah's defense have the team's strength, but need the offense to surge to a bowl.
Utah -- 2-5 overall, 0-4 in the Pac-12 -- has the No. 2 total defense in the conference, allowing just under 333 yards of total offense per game. The Utes are allowing 23.6 points per game -- but a lot of that has to do with the offense leaving them in unfortunate situations.

Consider their losses this year. The only team that truly blew them out was Arizona State. They lost in overtime to Utah State -- a six-win team that fell at Wisconsin by just two points. Utah was within 10 of USC (thanks to its defense), a touchdown to UCLA (because of its defense) and played probably its strongest defensive game of the year last week in the loss to Oregon State. The Utes have not lost to a sub-.500 team.

The problem is the offense, which ranks last in the conference in total yards and is second-to-last in scoring offense, rushing offense and passing offense. Half of this team is good enough to be playing in a bowl game. The other half hasn't represented very well.

But then you look at the remaining five games on the schedule, four of the five games are against teams with sub-.500 records. Only Arizona sits at 4-3. And all five teams are in the bottom half of the conference in total defense Cal (ninth), Washington State (10th), Washington (seventh), Arizona (11th) and Colorado (12th).

If ever there was a chance for the Utes offense to get back on track, it will be against these teams. The defense has done more than enough to give the offense a chance to win football games. But the offense hasn't taken advantage of those opportunities.

As Travis Wilson continues to mature as a starting quarterback and Kelvin York picks up more carries, it's possible that the Utah offense can do just enough to win games. It will take a Herculean effort from the defense -- but isn't that Utah's modus operandi? Expect the Utes to harness every ounce of experience from last season's bowl run and pour it into this year.

They might not get there. But of all the sub-.500 teams left in the conference, I'd give them as good a fighting chance as anyone.

Ted Miller: The team that will make a second-half surge is Washington.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireSteve Sarkisian and Washington have played a brutal schedule, but things look easier down the stretch.
First off, Huskies fans: Can I buy you a drink? Something to calm you down. You're running around in our mailbag with your hair on fire. Kevin goes, "Hey, do they do this every year, because that is awesome. Other than the smell of burning hair." And I go, "Yeah. It's crazy ... ouch!" (A Kansas State fan threw a rock at me).

I realize the loss at Arizona was bad. 52-17 bad. But the Wildcats are pretty good, and the Huskies are pretty wounded, physically and emotionally.

But let's just consider: Washington (3-4, 1-3) has three other losses: BCS No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 LSU and No. 9 USC. The Huskies got blown out on the road at LSU and Oregon, and played the Trojans tough at home. Here's a little secret ... Huskies, you're not as good as LSU and Oregon. While you might be moaning that the gap with the hated Ducks remains wide, just keep in mind it remains wide with everybody else in the conference, too.

And, by the way, you're not as good as Stanford either. But you nonetheless beat the No. 17 Cardinal. Know why? A good game plan. Good coaching.

I picked Oregon State to win Saturday in Seattle, but I don't have a high degree of confidence in the pick. The Huskies are much better at home, particularly on defense, and Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion is coming back from a knee injury. I suspect, at worst, you will see a highly competitive game that goes into the fourth quarter.

Then the Huskies face a very manageable final four games, the only downer being three are on the road: at California, Utah, at Colorado and at Washington State. The Huskies could win all four, and certainly should win three to become bowl-eligible.

And what if they upset the Beavers? Then, all the sudden, you could say the Huskies are perhaps the best 4-4 team in the nation, with wins over two ranked teams!

Schedules are funny things. How many teams in the nation would be better than 3-4 playing the Huskies schedule? I'd say fewer than 30.

The Huskies are going to produce a second-half surge. So, Kevin, enjoy the panic in the mailbag for as long as you can. Soon we'll be hearing again about how we constantly show the Huskies no respect.

Ted Miller | email

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