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October 20, 2011

Week 8 preview in the Pac-12

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Stanford has established itself as a strong second-half team.

It had better be.

THE SCHEDULE
THURSDAY
UCLA at Arizona, 9 p.m.
SATURDAY
Oregon at Colorado, 3:30 p.m.
Utah at California, 7 p.m.
USC at Notre Dame, 7:15 p.m.
Washington at Stanford, 8 p.m.
Oregon State at Washington State, 10:30 p.m.
The Cardinal have dominated the second half in their first six games, outscoring their opponents 161-26 after intermission. Now, Stanford needs to show it can be just as effective in the second half of the season.

Stanford's previous opponents are 14-24 and none has a winning record. But in the second half of the season Stanford faces six opponents that are a combined 23-13.

"There was a sense when the guys came into [this week's team meeting] that it was time to start playing our best football," coach David Shaw said earlier this week.

The grind begins Saturday against Washington, which is 25th in the BCS standings. The Cardinal then will play USC the following week. They also face Oregon, archrival California and Notre Dame.

Stanford, which finished fourth in the final polls last season, entered this season with national championship aspirations. As one of 10 undefeated FBS teams, those aspirations remain strong.

But largely because of its rather soft opening schedule, Stanford is ranked just eighth in the initial BCS standings. The treacherous second half will allow the Cardinal a chance to climb in the standings. That is, if they can stay unbeaten.

Stanford has not allowed more than 19 points in a game, but five of its past opponents are ranked between 69th and 98th in the FBS in scoring offense. Washington, which is averaging 37 points per game, is 22nd behind quarterback Keith Price and tailback Chris Polk.

[Video: Is Stanford ripe for an upset?]

"You can tell they're an orchestrated attack," Shaw said. "Their quarterback is playing well, with a lot of confidence. They have multiple receivers that can do a lot of different things. They have a running back that, if you play too soft [against the run] and too much coverage, can hurt you. He's been hurting people for years. Got a good thing going."

Obviously, Stanford does, too.

Quarterback Andrew Luck is a leading Heisman contender. Tailback Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 559 yards. Six players have more than 10 receptions. TE Coby Fleener has caught six touchdown passes.

Stanford hasn't faced a good defense yet. But that doesn't matter. All that matters is what Stanford does in the second half.

Best matchup: USC WR Robert Woods vs. Notre Dame CB Robert Blanton. Woods is ranked among the nation's top five in receptions (60) and receiving yards (815). Meanwhile, Blanton has emerged as the Irish's best cover corner. He'll get some help with Woods, but there will be plays when they go one-on-one. Whoever gets the best of those matchups will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game. Woods has four 100-yard games. The Trojans need another stellar effort from him, especially with RB Marc Tyler banged up.

[Video: Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart hands out midseason Heisman invitations]

Players on the spot: Washington QB Keith Price. So why isn't this guy a Heisman contender? So far, the first-year starter has led Washington to a 5-1 record while throwing at least three touchdown passes in every game. Overall, Price has thrown 21 touchdown passes - that's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck or Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and as many as Boise State's Kellen Moore, who are all top Heisman contenders. This week, he'll try to outdo Luck while facing a Stanford defense that's ranked 14th in the country.

Keep an eye on: Utah OT John Cullen. Facing a Cal pass rush that has produced 15 sacks may be the easy part for the Utes' tackle. He has been given the tag as a "dirty player." Pittsburgh DT Chas Alecxih made that charge last week after Cullen was penalized for a late hit. Utah players say Cullen just plays hard until the whistle. He'll likely be under some scrutiny the rest of the season.

Numbers game: UCLA is 76th in the nation in pass defense, which might not seem so bad considering the quarterbacks the Bruins have played. Thus far, UCLA has faced three quarterbacks ranked among the nation's top 30 in pass yardage: No. 1 Case Keenum of Houston, No. 17 Andrew Luck of Stanford and No. 25 Sean Mannion of Oregon State. The schedule doesn't get any easier, either. In tonight's game, the Bruins face No. 2 Nick Foles of Arizona; later, the Bruins face No. 27 Zach Maynard of Cal, No. 20 Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and No. 11 Matt Barkley of USC.

[Yahoo! Sports Radio: USC QB Matt Barkley]

Quotes of the week

"I wouldn't expect any right now. And I don't know if I would be on their list or not." - Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, to the Tucson (Ariz.) Citizen, on whether if he has had contact with Arizona officials about the school's coaching vacancy

"I definitely could play. It's one of those things - if they need me to play. I don't know if they will need me. If the occasion arises that I need to play, I'll play." - Injured Oregon TB LaMichael James (dislocated elbow), on his status for this week's game against Colorado

"I don't. Maybe that's naοve on my part or maybe it's early-onset dementia." - UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, responding to whether he's feeling mounting pressure because of the Bruins' 3-3 start

Poll watch: One-fourth of the Pac-12 teams are included in the BCS standings. Stanford is eighth, Oregon is 10th and Washington is 25th. The Huskies are facing Stanford, so they will either move up or drop out. Arizona State does not appear in the BCS standings, but is ranked 25th in the coaches' poll.

[What to watch? Week 8 viewer's guide]

Etc.: Arizona will play its first game tonight under interim coach Tim Kish, who also is the defensive coordinator. … Colorado has lost LB Doug Rippy (torn ACL) for the rest of the season. He leads the Buffaloes with 62 tackles. RB Rodney Stewart (sprained knee) is expected to miss up to four games. Freshman Tony Jones will take Stewart's place in the starting lineup. WR Paul Richardson (knee) remains out. … Cal is 0-3 in conference play, its worst start since 2001 - the year before coach Jeff Tedford was hired. … With a victory tonight against Arizona, UCLA can move into a tie for first in the South Division. … This week marks the first time a 5-1 USC team is unranked in the AP poll since the poll was introduced in 1936. … Arizona's pass rush has produced just three sacks this season. Two came in the season-opening win over FCS member Northern Arizona. The other came when Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden fell down. … Washington State QB Jeff Tuel last week returned to the starting lineup after breaking his collarbone in the opener. Tuel passed for 145 yards against Stanford. … Utah TE Dallin Rogers is out for the season with a knee injury. He's the fourth starter the Utes have lost for the year to injury. … Arizona State, which is off this week, is getting healthier. DE Junior Onyeali (knee) has been out four games, but he is expected to play against Colorado on Oct. 29. CB Omar Bolden (torn MCL) has returned to non-contact drills in practice. RB Cameron Marshall (knee) and C Garth Gerhart (ankle) are questionable for the Colorado game. OT Evan Finkenberg (knee) remains doubtful. … Oregon RB LaMichael James (elbow) and QB Darron Thomas (knee) are questionable this week. Freshman QB Bryan Bennett reportedly has been working with the first-team offense in practice. … Stanford has held each of its opponent to fewer than 20 points. The only other teams to do that are Alabama and Wisconsin. … Though there has been no official announcement, Cal LB Mychal Kendricks has an injured right shoulder. His status for Saturday's game is questionable. True freshman CB Stefan McClure is expected to make his second consecutive start in place of injured Marc Anthony. … Oregon State DT Castro Masaniai (broken leg) is out for the rest of the season. G Josh Andrews is expected to play after missing the past three games with a sprained MCL. … Washington WR Jermaine Kearse has 28 career touchdown receptions and needs two more to equal Mario Bailey's school record. … Cal WR Keenan Allen leads the nation in receiving yards. He has 52 catches for 828 yards and is on pace to set school records in both categories. … Oregon has rushed for 300 yards in four consecutive games. … USC TB Marc Tyler (separated shoulder) is questionable for this week's game, but he says he will play. If he can't go, junior TB Curtis McNeal could get his first start. … Washington State sophomore WR Marquess Wilson has caught at least one pass in all 18 games in which he's played. He's caught at least one touchdown pass in 10 games. … Utah is 3-0 when leading after three quarters and 0-3 when trailing after three. … Cal RB Isi Sofele has a little extra motivation for this weekend's game against Utah. He's originally from Salt Lake City and will be facing a lot of old friends. … Oregon State has forced 10 turnovers in the past three games. … Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler has passed for 200 yards in nine consecutive games.

Olin Buchanan is a senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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