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A weekly update on the state of football in the Pac-12 conference
The spread offense arms race is in full force in college football. This week featured even more games in which the final score resembles basketball far more than football. It makes for exciting games at times, and apparently it even has some big time coaches worried. Defensive struggles tend to go unnoticed these days, unless of course you're an SEC fan. For the Pac-12, it is shaping up to be a surprisingly competitive year. First year coaches in the league are a combined 15-11, and that includes Mike Leach's 2-5 squad which arguably had the toughest rebuilding job. Of the 4 new coaches, he is the only one with a losing record so far, but he still has the best quote of the year.
Player of the Week: Cody Vaz, Oregon State - replacing Sean Mannion, one of (if not the) league's best QB, in a road game, against BYU's tough defense, Vaz went 20-32 for 332 yards and 3 TDs. Sure, he was helped by the Beavers' great defense, but that is an impressive performance and a great coaching job by Mike Riley.
Stat of the Week: 0 - Southern Cal scored zero points in the second half against Washington.
Game of the Week: Oregon at Arizona State, 6:00 pm PST, ESPN - Oregon's 7th game will only be its second road game, and likely their toughest test so far. ASU has been playing well, but has not had a tough opponent yet. It was a back and forth affair last year before Oregon prevailed.
1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0): Oregon was off this week, and will face ASU in a big Thursday night game. So far, they have outscored their opponents 314-120. They have not been in a close game yet (except for one half here and there). This could be a good test for Oregon, or just another blowout.
2. Oregon State (5-0, 4-0): Honey Beavers don't mind the road, they're bad ass. 3-0 on the road for Mike Riley's squad, against some good competition. And this time, it was without starting QB Sean Mannion who will be out for the season. Methinks Riley can coach pretty well. It doesn't hurt to have at his disposal arguably the league's best receiving tandem in Wheaton and Cooks...those two are 1-2 in receiving yards in the conference and don't get a tenth of the hype that concussed Trogans do. There are still issues, as the Beavers could improve their pass defense, but their third down defense is quite awesome: they only allow 20% conversion, and that's against good opponents. Next week they host Utah at home and will look to avoid a letdown.
3. Stanford (4-2, 2-2): a week after an offensive fire fight, the Cardinal found itself in a heavyweight defensive match. They proved they can play both. Unfortunately, they succumbed in overtime after being denied a touchdown at the goal line by overeager referees, and weren't able to finish their 4-year sweep of the Trogans and the Irish. Perhaps it was karma, a payback for the Bu$h Push. Football is a game of inches, and Stanford needed just a few more. Now comes one of the lame results of the twelve-team conference, that being a Stanford vs. Cal game in October. Strange scheduling for what should be a good game against a possibly resurgent Cal team in Berkeley.
4. Washington (3-3, 1-3): despite holding Southern Cal scoreless in the second half, Washington could not overcome 4 turnovers and was unable to score more than a touchdown. Perhaps a moral victory for the Huskies, but Washington coach Sarkisian likely expected more from this matchup. Some concerns persist on the offensive side of the ball, and that is worrisome as UW travels to Tucson to take on high-scoring Arizona.
5. Cal (3-4, 2-2): the Bears were able to continue their improved play by taking care of business on the road against Washington State. This time, it was not Maynard who lifted them, since he was not playing the UCLA defense. Instead, he only passed for 189 yards and had two interceptions. Maynard had 14 completions, 11 of them to Keenan Allen, who had 166 yards receiving. Do the math. However, Cal's running backs found ample room to operate, to the tune of 318 yards. Perhaps that gives them some confidence heading into the big game at home against Stanford...but the Magical Level was likely reserved only for UCLA.
6. Washington State (2-5, 0-4): the Cougars' passing defense has been surprisingly good, with their coordinator disguising coverages and creating confusion. They have caused 5 interceptions in the last two weeks, but unfortunately their run defense has not kept up and they just cannot run the ball on offense (though that's mostly a by-product of Leach's offense). Their game at home against Cal was never close. The pirate has his work cut out for him, but he seems to have the patience and is still not afraid to call things as he sees them. Perhaps that is what a culture change looks like. Wazzu has the week off before taking on Stanford.
1. Southern Cal (5-1, 3-1): the hype continues for the Trogans and for whiner extraordinaire Matt Barkley. Despite going only 10-20 for 167 yards, 1TD and 1 INT, look for brown-nosing ESPN to continue bringing him up in Heisman discussions. Hilarious. This game was won by Southern Cal's defense and mercenary running back Silas Redd, as the offense was unable to score in the second half. No worries though, Colorado comes to the Crapiseum next week to allow Barkley to pad his "Heisman" stats a bit more. I do think I would have a laughing conniption if the Buffaloes win. One can dream.
2. Arizona State (5-1, 3-0): the Sun Devils traveled to Boulder on Thursday night and found themselves in a tight contest in the first half against Colorado, leading only 20-17 at halftime. Things changed dramatically in the second half, with ASU outscoring Colorado 31-0. Sun Devil QB Taylor Kelly continued his solid and impressive play, racking up 308 yards and 5 TDs. Things begin to get interesting for ASU as they get a second Thursday night game in a row, against a very different opponent. Oregon travels to Tempe and we will perhaps see how far the Sun Devils have come under Todd Graham.
3. UCLA (5-2, 2-2): a workmanlike effort allowed UCLA to control a physical game against Utah. Had it not been for a muffed punt (come on, Manfro), perhaps we would feel a bit better about this game. The defense only allowed one touchdown, and most importantly, held Ute running back John White to only 44 yards. The penalty situation also improved. The offense was efficient, and although they did exactly what we feared, which was to send our running backs directly into Utah's defensive line, the Bruin offensive line did a great job for Franklin & Co. Hundley on his end wasn't prolific but managed the game very well and used his legs to bail out the team time and again. It was a victory that didn't make waves and likely flew under the radar, but that was probably a good learning experience for this team. Hopefully the bye week will be put to good use before a road trip to take on Arizona State.
4. Arizona (3-3, 0-3): Arizona had the week off, a chance to catch its breath after the crazy game against Stanford and to get ready for Washington at home.
5. Utah (2-4, 0-3): the Pac-12 conference slate has proven to be a bit tougher than Utah anticipated, but they have also had some bad luck with their QBs. They can take solace in seemingly having their QB of the future Travis Wilson getting some experience early in his career, with a good outing in his first game, on the road. For this year, this still puts a heavy burden on running back John White and on the Ute defense. Coming up with 4 more wins for bowl eligibility will be a difficult task but still achievable for this team given their remaining schedule. Their upcoming game at Oregon State will be their toughest.
6. Colorado (1-5, 1-2): a solid first half against ASU gave way to a pounding in the second half, which featured turnovers and a simply overmatched Buffalo squad. This team is giving coach Embree some hints of what it could do, but Colorado's problems can only be fixed through recruiting and experience, as I am not sure that Embree can win otherwise. But just once...a magic moment...would be nice, for their visit against Southern Cal. Otherwise, just bring the buffalo and have him accidentally run over that idiot and his sword.
It is not a stretch to say that the conference is vastly improved from last season. The Pac-12 even has 3 teams in the top 10 in this year's first BCS rankings, including a surprising Oregon State team. It makes for an exciting and competitive season, but I think all of us would still like to get a more consistent effort from our UCLA Bruins, who have 5 games left to make a good statement.