And then there were two. What to make of Stanford’s demise at the hands of the Utes? First, the obvious: now only Oregon and UCLA are left as undefeated Pac-12 teams. Second…does this augment UCLA’s win against the same team on a Thursday night? I think that remains unclear. The transitive property does not apply to college football, and furthermore I am not sure that Travis Wilson, the Utah QB, was feeling 100% against UCLA. Not to take anything away from the Bruins’ victory. Stanford also lost a game it should have won last year. It also had a close game last year (against Arizona). And UCLA still lost to them twice last year. So in the end, nothing is for certain, and will not be until around 4pm PST on Saturday. One thing is for certain though: just as Utah had been seeking its signature victory to claim that it belonged in the Pac-12, so too must UCLA beat Stanford to claim its spot amongst the elite in the conference.
Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota, Oregon – Well, I couldn’t refuse the Ducks anymore. This Mariota kid is scary good. He made mince meat out of Washington, to the tune of 366 yards and 3 TDs in the air and 88 yards and 1 TD on the ground. IMHO, he is the Heisman frontrunner.
Stat of the Week: 4 out of 10 – halfway through the season, 4 of the top 10 QBs in passing yards are in the Pac-12, led by Sean Mannion who leads the nation with 2511 yards.
Game of the Week: UCLA at Stanford, 12:30pm PST, ABC/ESPN2 – No comment necessary. Time for the Bruins to get it done.
1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0): in their first challenging game of the season, the Ducks answered the call (and it wasn’t from a hunter). While Oregon ended up winning this game by 21 points, it looked like a relatively close game, with Washington trailing only by a touchdown entering the 4th quarter. However, the truth is that Oregon took its foot off the gas pedal and the end result would have been an even bigger rout. Oregon is now firmly in command of the division. Will Wazzu catch them sleeping in their next game in Eugene? Doubtful.
2. UCLA (5-0, 2-0): personally, I don’t think UCLA has earned this spot yet, but they barely edged Stanford in our poll. As it has done until now in the rankings, it is moving up because teams above them lose. The Bruins have taken care of business so far, with convincing scores but not necessarily convincing play. The reassuring part is that the players and coaches seem to realize this. A 27-point victory over UC Berkeley was not cause for wild celebrations and ego inflation, but instead led to reflection and a bit of regret over the level of play. The attitude is right, now it’s time for execution. It’s time to beat Stanford.
3. Stanford (5-1, 3-1): it’s hard to win in Salt Lake City. Stanford found that out the hard way, dropping a conference game for the first time since their loss to Washington last year. The Cardinal did not really play poorly, despite two uncharacteristic fumbles, but QB Kevin Hogan seemed quite bothered by the Utah pass rush and did not have a good day. They could not punch it in at the end near the goal line, and this time they were not saved by a Ty Montgomery kickoff return for a TD. Has Utah exposed a weakness in the Cardinal steamroller, or merely motivated them to take it up a notch the rest of the season? The loss to Washington last year launched a great run for Stanford. To get it going again, they will have to get past UCLA, who visits this weekend with the higher ranking.
4. Washington (4-2, 1-2): the Huskies were every bit the worthy opponent for three quarters against Oregon, challenging them more than anyone had all season. But they were dominated in the fourth quarter after entering it only down by one TD. The Ducks scored two TDs but could easily have scored another one and won the game by 4 TDs. It’s incredible that you could lose by that much and feel like you played a close game. So Washington has now gone through the Stanford-Oregon gauntlet and come away winless, even with one of the games played at home. Now it will be UCLA’s turn and hopefully we will have better luck. Keith Price and Bishop Sankey played very well for the Huskies, but there isn’t much you can do when your opponent can seemingly score at will. Things certainly don’t get easier for Washington as they travel to Tempe to take on ASU. A loss here and you can bet Sarkisian will seriously consider the Southern Cal job…if they still want him.
5. Utah (4-2, 1-2): Hello Utes! Kyle Wittingham’s program has been building up to this, with close losses against Oregon State and UCLA. I doubt anyone would have thought that their first conference win this year would be against Stanford. Sure, the schedule was somewhat accommodating, with all of those games played at home, but this team has been improving visibly and was rewarded for their hard work. The Utah defense, as UCLA experienced, was relentless and harassed the Stanford QB repeatedly. Most of all, the goal line stand at the end of the game sealed the deal. With a surge in confidence, Utah travels to Tucson to take on a rather weak Arizona squad and could be sitting pretty at 5-2, a nice turnaround from last year.
6. Oregon State (5-1, 3-0): Wow. 28 points in one quarter. The Beavers went nuts in Pullman and Sean Mannion continued his blustering pace, throwing for 493 yards and 4 TDs. Just think where this team would be if it hadn’t lost to Eastern Washington. The defense went on a tear in the fourth quarter, causing 3 interceptions on 3 straight possessions, all of which were converted into TDs. The Beavers still barely rush the ball, but why would you when your QB leads the nation in passing yardage? Let’s not kid ourselves, Oregon State can’t beat good teams with a one-dimensional game. But Cal is next and Sean Mannion may pass for 1,000 yards and get the Beavers bowl eligible. After that…victories may be slim pickings, but never count Mike Riley out.
7. Arizona State (4-2, 2-1): A comfortable win against Colorado may be just what the Sun Devils need to prepare for the Huskies. It seems ASU was focused on working out some kinks in their running game as they were scoring at will in the first half. Now they will go up against a Washington squad that is either battle-ready after two tough games, or simply battered. Either way, they have to be sharp to stay in the race.
8. Washington State (4-3, 2-2): what treasure could be more precious to a pirate than a football? In their game against Oregon State, the Cougars were unfortunately more than generous with their six turnovers. They entered the fourth quarter tied and very much in a tight contest against the prolific Beavers. Then Connor Halliday lost his marbles, threw 3 interceptions on 5 passes, which of course forced Mike Leach to make him walk the plank for giving away his loot. It was definitely a wasted opportunity at home for Wazzu but they had better not dwell, otherwise their visit to Autzen will be a blur as it has been for many a Duck opponent.
9. Southern Cal (4-2, 1-2): you’ve tried the Visor, now try the Ogre! Looks like Southern Cal is back on track after avenging last year’s loss to Arizona. With a balanced attack that had seemingly disappeared from Kiffin’s Denny’s menu, Ed Orgeron rallied his troops to their first Pac-12 victory and earned a Gatorade bath in the process. As far as I’m concerned, the Trogans should stop wasting their time now and just hire him. He is their best recruiter and the most familiar with the culture, and the players love him and love playing for him. Not sure what else you need. Add a victory at Notre Dame this week and Ogre should be a shoe-in.
10. Arizona (3-2, 0-2): close doesn’t count. The Wildcats started off too slowly and weren’t able to catch up against Southern Cal. Conference play continues to expose RichRod’s crew, which cannot rely on Kadeem Carey alone to win games. Yes, the team is somewhat young and there is a lot of season left. Perhaps their first season spoiled everyone as they had the benefit of a senior Matt Scott who was a pretty darn good QB. But BJ Denker played very well. The problem was really all the big plays that the Arizona defense allowed. Now they are in danger of falling to 0-3 in the conference, with a resurgent Utah set to visit this week.
11. Colorado (2-3, 0-3): the growing pains continue under Coach McCarthy’s tenure, with a rather severe beatdown administered by Arizona State in the first half. This is such a tough rebuilding project for McCarthy, who likely doesn’t even know where to start at this point. But Jim Harbaugh provided a good blueprint…so perhaps they should start there and build up their lines. If you remember well, Colorado’s game against Fresno State was cancelled because of the floods. The Buffs scheduled instead Charleston Southern, a FCS program, for this week, and even got a waiver to have that game count towards their bowl eligibility. Unfortunately for them, CSU is undefeated and playing pretty well. Oops.
12. UC Berkeley (1-5, 0-3): well, the Bears fought and got within a TD, showing signs of life here and there. The defense even played relatively well, certainly better than most expected. In fact it was the offense that got smothered against UCLA, who did not seem to be playing full throttle but still managed to win by 27 points. As expected, depth is an issue that will likely doom UC Berkeley for the rest of the season. There is talent on this team though, and QB Jared Goff (despite a modest day) could end up being really good. But again, a one-dimensional team will not go far in this conference. The Bears’ matchup this weekend pits them against another such team, so we could very well see a shootout when Oregon State visits.
There you have it folks. Get ready for a big Saturday!