By Don Wanlass
If you had told me at the start of the college football season that the Pac 12 Conference would have four of the top 12 teams in the country two months into the season, I would have questioned your sanity as well as your knowledge of college football.
But here we are at the start of November with Oregon, USC, UCLA and Utah ranked eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th in the latest Associated Press poll. Only the mighty Southeastern Conference has four higher ranked teams with Mississippi sneaking in at 11th ahead of Utah.
In the first College Football Playoff rankings that were released Nov. 1, the Pac 12 has three teams in the top 12, Oregon, USC and UCLA. The SEC has five teams in the top 11, with LSU joining top-ranked Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Ole Miss.
It is starting to look like the winner of the USC-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl in two weeks could be playing for the Pac 12 Conference title the first week of December with an outside chance at a berth in the College Football playoffs. But to get to that point both the Bruins and Trojans must get past their next two opponents.
That shouldn’t be much of a problem. The Trojans play Cal at the Coliseum Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m. The Bruins play Arizona State in Tempe at the same time. ESPN has the Trojans game and Fox Sports 1 shows the Bruins.
Next week, the Trojans face Colorado on a Friday night while the Bruins host Arizona, a team that gave USC trouble Oct. 29 before finally falling 45-37.
Defense continues to be the Trojans’ main weakness, but so far quarterback Caleb Williams has been able to outscore all of the Trojan’s opponents except for Utah.
Williams may have played his best game of the season against Arizona. Playing without his top two receivers — Jordan Addison and Mario Williams were both injured — Williams completed 31 of 45 passes for 411 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception.
The rest of USC’s deep receiving corps stepped up in the absence of Addison and Williams. Tahj Washington caught seven passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Kyle Ford had six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown and Brenden Rice had five receptions for 62 yard and a touchdown.
Michael Jackson III had three catches for 19 yards and also gained 53 yards on a reverse as the Trojans rolled up 621 total yards.
It almost wasn’t enough. Jayden de Laura, who played the previous two seasons at Washington State, completed 26 of 43 passes for three touchdowns and ran eight times for another 54 yards to lead an Arizona offense that gained 543 yards and recorded 28 first downs.
The game see-sawed back and forth for three quarters until USC scored twice in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter to take a 45-29 lead.
De Laura then responded with a 12-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown and a two-point conversion that cut the gap to 45-37 with 1:26 to play in the game, but the Trojans recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.
As it now stands, the Bruins are the only team between USC and a berth in the Pac 12 Championship game and the possibility of a place in the college football playoffs.
The Trojans don’t leave the confines of Southern California again, with Cal, Colorado and Notre Dame all coming to the Coliseum and the UCLA game up the Harbor (110) Freeway in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans do need to shore up their defense. Getting injured linebackers Eric Gentry and Ralen Goforth healthy would be a big plus.
Nick Figueroa has joined Tuli Tuipulotu to provide the Trojans with a decent pass rush and the Trojans secondary continues to make big plays, but the Trojans defense at times can’t get of the field.
It cost them big time against Utah and it almost cost them against Arizona.
UCLA coach Chip Kelly, quarterback Dorian Robinson-Thompson and running back Zach Charbonnet have to be looking forward to the Nov. 19 battle after hanging 62 on the Trojans last year.
The Bruins’ offense continued in high gear Oct. 29 against Stanford, rolling up a 38-6 lead before Kelly called off the dogs early in the fourth quarter.
Robinson-Thompson grimaced in pain throughout the night and still completed 18 of 29 passes for 199 yards. He also gained 50 yards rushing.
Charbonnet again came close to breaking the 200-yard barrier, finishing with 198 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns.
Charbonnet now has 964 yards on the season with 10 touchdowns while averaging 7.5 yards a carry.
The Bruins gouged Stanford for 324 yards rushing, even though Stanford edged the Bruins in time of possession by three minutes.
The Bruins need to be focused the next two weeks against the Arizona schools before USC comes a calling in the Rose Bowl Nov. 19 in what will be the biggest USC-UCLA game in many years.
SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE: The Lakers doused first-year head coach Darvin Ham with buckets of water after he won his first career game Oct. 30, a 121-110 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
The win improved the Lakers record to 1-5 and gave hope to Lakers’ fans that this Russell Westbrook experiment might work after all.
Westbrook came off the bench and provided a spark to the second unit. It also helped that the Lakers hit 13 of 30 shots from three-point range. In the NBA these days, three-point shooting is often the difference between winning and losing.
Still, it was good to see the Lakers big three of Westbrook, LeBron James and Anthony Davis all play well at the same time.
James scored 26 points in 35 minutes while Davis scored 23 and pulled down 15 rebounds in 37 minutes, although he tweaked his lower back injury in the closing minutes of the game.
Westbrook, playing 32 minutes in his new role coming off the bench, scored 18 points and had eight rebounds and eight assists. He made six of his 12 shots, including two of four from three-point range and played under control and with great energy.
The Lakers had six players scoring in double digits as Lonnie Walker IV and Austin Reaves each had 15 and Matt Ryan scored 11.
The Lakers only turned the ball over eight times while finding the secret to winning for the first time in six games.
Can they build on that? Let’s hope so. Ham continues to stress defense and sharing the ball on offense. Westbrook can provide instant energy coming off the bench and appears to like the notion of playing for the best sixth man in the league award.
The Lakers still need a healthy Davis if they are to fulfill any of the championship aspirations the front office and their fans have. The win over Denver provided a light at the end of the tunnel for at least one night.
CHAMPIONSHIP TIME: The Los Angeles Football Club will play for its first Major League Soccer championship Nov. 5 at Banc of California Stadium when they host the Philadelphia Union. Game time is at 1 p.m. and the game will be televised by Fox.
LAFC advanced to the title game with a convincing 3-0 win over Austin FC Oct. 30.
Austin finished with only one shot on goal the entire match. LAFC had 16 shots on goal in the first half alone.
Chicho Arango put LAFC ahead 1-0 in the 29th minute, heading in a corner kick from Carlos Vela. A Vela corner kick resulted in LAFC’s second goal early in the second half, the ball deflecting into the net off Austin forward Maxi Urruti.
Mahala Opoku finished the scoring in the 81st minute, scoring off an Austin turnover.
Despite playing at their home stadium, LAFC has a parking problem for the championship game.
USC has a football game in the evening and since it it USC’s Homecoming and Trojan football fans like to tailgate before their games, the parking lots around the Coliseum and Back of California Stadium, which are controlled by USC, are unavailable for LAFC fans.
Fans are being encouraged to take the Expo Rail Line or one of six MTA bus lines that serve the Coliseum area. The team also is offering a free shuttle service from Dodger Stadium to the game.
An Uber and Lyft drop-off point will be available at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Exposition Boulevard.