Pac-12 football notebook: Los Angeles becomes the center of the universe in Week 6

Because of the new playoff format in Major League Baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are about to get several days off. They and a few other teams will sit home and relax this coming weekend while eight teams battle in the new wild card series.

If we had the old playoff format, the Dodgers might have been scheduled to play Sunday, Oct. 9, in Game 1 of the NLDS. As it stands, the Dodgers won’t play for nearly a week. Their first playoff game won’t be until Tuesday, Oct. 11.

They, along with other Angelenos, can sit back and watch college football this weekend. Los Angeles will be a central focus of the college football world, not just the Pac-12.

National college football writers will have to pay attention to the Pac this week. Utah-UCLA is a midday kickoff in afternoon sun. Washington State-USC is a late-afternoon kickoff which will end under the lights near 8 p.m. in the Coliseum. It’s getting serious in the Pac-12. Here’s our notebook after Week 5 and heading into Week 6:

CHIP KELLY'S BIG CHANCE

This is it. Chip Kelly, who has struggled to lift UCLA to a higher plane of relevance and quality, pushed the right buttons in a thumping of Washington. The final margin was only eight points, but UCLA led by 24 early in the fourth. If he can beat defending Pac-12 champion Utah in Week 6, UCLA will face Oregon later in October with a chance to rise to the very top of the conference. The stakes could not be higher.

UTAH VS QUARTERBACKS

Utah owned Chance Nolan and Oregon State, but it got smoked by Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Against UCLA, the Utes have to play Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who is skilled, mobile and experienced, exactly the kind of QB who can give Utah’s defense fits. We will see how much Utah learned from its Florida failures in this game.

RISING OR FALLING

Cam Rising piled on the points against UCLA last season. He and his Utah teammates will need to be prolific against the Bruins’ suspect defense, in a game which could easily become a shootout. Rising hasn’t been at his very best this season. He probably will need to be elite against DTR and UCLA.

UCLA DEFENSE

The Bruins wobbled at the start but then generated pressure on Washington quarterback Michael Penix on Friday night. Holding Washington to 16 points through three quarters was a real achievement and a big step forward for defensive coordinator Bill McGovern. Utah, though, has a better offensive line than Washington. This is the true test for UCLA’s defensive unit.

CLARK PHILLIPS

Clark Phillips picked off multiple passes against Oregon State, but that was against Chance Nolan, who is struggling. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is not struggling. Phillips faces the best passer he and Utah have seen to this point in 2022 … and Caleb Williams will go against the Utes one week later.

UTAH WEARS THE TARGET

Utah is the defending Pac-12 champion. The Utes face UCLA and USC in consecutive weeks. Now we will find out, one way or the other, how ready the Utes are to take the best punch from foremost Pac-12 contenders.

HOW THEY FINISH

We have seen UCLA get off to fast starts in big games, such as the Oregon game last year, but the Bruins often have trouble finishing. We’ll see if this pattern plays out again on Saturday against Utah.

WASHINGTON STATE-USC

Very simply, this is the second-biggest home game on USC’s 2022 schedule, topped only by Notre Dame in late November. If Trojan fans want to make a statement, this is the time to do so.

WASHINGTON STATE'S FOUR MINUTES

Jon Wilner of the Wilner Hotline has said that Washington State has played well in 296 of 300 minutes this season, referring to the four minutes at the end of the Oregon game which slipped away. It’s another way of saying the Cougars have been really good and require USC’s total respect. This is not giong to be easy.

JORDAN LEE

Jordan Lee is someone USC fans need to know about. He’s a senior strong safety and a transfer from Nevada. He missed the Oregon game, which helps explain the Ducks’ ability to hit big downfield passes and mount their late rally in that contest. He will play against USC, making Washington State’s secondary a lot better.

CAM WARD'S CEILING

We have seen Cam Ward’s floor this year against Wisconsin. However, the Washington State quarterback has played a lot better in subsequent weeks. The big hope for the Cougars — the big worry for the Trojans — is that Ward will play his best game of the season against USC. If he does, the Trojans will need to score 50 points to win.

USC OFFENSIVE LINE

USC beating Arizona State while giving a full day off to Justin Dedich and not having to play Courtland Ford for many snaps is a real plus. Those guys need to get healthier as soon as humanly possible. If they do, USC’s offense is likely to perform at a much higher level.

CALEB WILLIAMS PLAYS WITH FIRE

Caleb Williams makes incredible plays, but the acrobatics sometimes lead him to think he can make any kind of throw in any situation. Sure, if it’s 3rd and 10 and USC needs a big play, Caleb can and should take a risk, provided the scoreboard situation warrants it. However, Caleb Williams can’t make overly aggressive throws or decisions on first down and in goal-to-go situations, such as Saturday night against Arizona State. Some structure needs to accompany the sizzle in Caleb’s approach to each game.

ELSEWHERE IN THE PAC-12

Cal’s offense getting smothered by Washington State shows how bad Arizona’s defense is.

ARIZONA

The Wildcats clearly look like a team which will feast on bad opponents and not beat good ones. Good news for USC.

STANFORD IS CRATERING

The Cardinal are every bit as bad as they were last year, which I was not expecting. David Shaw talked a big game in the offseason, but he is not backing it up.

OREGON STATE'S MISSING PIECE

Pac-12 commentators and columnists were saying it throughout the weekend: Oregon State has 21 of the 22 positions on the football field figured out. It just needs a quarterback.

WASHINGTON WAKE-UP CALL

Washington didn’t play a road game in its first four games of the season, and the quality of its opposition wasn’t great, either. UCLA provided a reality check.

WASHINGTON CHALLENGE

Washington next plays Arizona State in Tempe. Washington hasn’t won in Tempe since 2001. If not now, when?

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire