It’s already over? That sure felt like a quick season. But it certainly was not a dull one. The Pac-12 emerged as the second best conference in the nation this year, and at times even looked like it was on par with the SEC. We will never truly know, since our southern friends schedule cupcakes and play fewer intra-conference games. That talk matters little anyway. It’s always about of taking care of business. And one Saturday, for half a game, UCLA just did not. As always, they showed the resilience and character to fight back, but the hole was too deep and they lost a chance to play for the Rose Bowl. Al Pacino makes a speech in “Any Given Sunday”, about football being a game of inches. Just one play against ASU, and UCLA would be playing for the conference crown and the Rose Bowl. Be that as it may, our Bruins and their coaches regrouped and finished on a great note, pushing the Morgan Center to make a true commitment to football. So in the end, you might even say that this was a successful season, if not on the field, at least in showing that UCLA is now ready to take care of its program.
Player of the Week: Brett Hundley, UCLA – the Bruin QB had his most efficient game at the most opportune time, making big play after big play to bring tears to the Trogans’ eyes.
Stat of the Week: 1997 – last time UCLA had won in the Crapiseum.
Game of the Week: Stanford @ Arizona State, 7:45pm PST, ESPN – the only game left, the Pac-12 conference championship.
1. Stanford (10-2, 8-2): the Cardinal’s last game of the regular season was against Mr. Tomatohead’s Notre Dame team at home. It was a tight contest, with Stanford leading only by 1 entering the last quarter. Both defenses really stiffened up in that quarter, but the Cardinal was able to keep the Irish scoreless and came away with the win. Stanford used its usual formula, with a strong defense and another big day for Tyler Gaffney on the ground. It wasn’t a very pretty game, with both QBs throwing a couple of interceptions, but Stanford got the job done against a top 25 team. It’s another season of what might have been for David Shaw, who seems to be doing his best Terry Donahue impression of playing conservative, losing to unranked teams yet going to the Rose Bowl (maybe). The tree now has to travel to the desert to play ASU for the conference championship. They’ll be facing a team hungry for revenge, and their own issues of not playing very well on the road.
2. ASU (10-2, 8-1): the Sun Devils left no doubt about their place in the South division, destroying a mistake-prone Arizona team at home and winning the division by 2 games and ensuring that they would play the championship game in Tempe. They won this one without Marion Grice while still rolling up 478 yards on Arizona, and were certainly helped by the defense’s 3 interceptions (which included a pick-6). ASU is riding high going into the championship game against Stanford, but their rush defense could be cause for concern as they allowed 249 rushing yards and will now play against the penultimate rushing team. But Todd Graham is auditioning for his next gig so they should be fine.
3 (tie). Oregon (10-2, 7-2): Oregon looks like it is just going through the motions now, completely disinterested and unmotivated. That made for an epic Civil War, but one that they should really have lost. They had three turnovers on three straight possessions. But trailing 35-30 with 1:38 left, the Ducks drove 83 yards in just over a minute to steal the game, their fastest scoring drive of the game. Not sure they deserved this victory, but so it goes. Now the Ducks await to see which bowl will invite them, and no one is rooting harder than UCLA to see them sneak into a BCS bowl game, though that is highly unlikely at this point.
3 (tie). UCLA (9-3, 6-3): saving the best for last is just fine sometimes, thank you very much. After a disastrous outing against ASU the previous week, the Bruins put together their most complete game of the year, on the road against their hated rival. That is impressive and it made every Bruin fan giddy. The defense hit hard and stayed stingy, and Brett Hundley masterfully led the offense. Sadly, it was still a season of what might have been. A momentary lapse and the Rose Bowl slipped away. That is how things go in college football and hopefully Coach Mora has learned that. No matter the failings this season, we can’t deny his enthusiasm and his drive to succeed even though it feels like he gets too conservative at times. In two years, progress has been made on the field, with regressions here and there. Mora is 9-1 against the South Division (but only 3-6 against the North). But Jim Mora’s biggest success to date seems to be his ability to make UCLA commit to the football program. So this sets ups a hugely important 2014 season: a lot of returning players, a favorable schedule, great recruiting classes and a commitment to facilities and to the program. A Rose Bowl berth will be a minimum expectation, no matter what happens in this year’s bowl game.
5. Washington (8-4, 5-4): in his last conference game, Bishop Sankey ran past the rival Cougars to the tune of 200 yards and a TD. Sankey got the ball 34 times and the Huskies came back in the second half after trailing 10-3 to end the first half. At least this ensured a winning record in the conference for Washington, and likely a better bowl. After reviving the program from disaster and bringing it back to mediocrity, Sark likely realized he had hit his ceiling and skipped town to relive his south central glory days and avoid being exposed. With a fifth-year senior QB and one of the best RB and TE in the country, this was the best Sarkisian could muster. So his departure was bittersweet for Husky fans who don’t seem too bent out of shape, but there is always a risk in having a new head coach. Washington certainly has the commitment, the facilities, and the tradition, so it will be interesting to see who they hire after striking out on Mora who now knows UCLA > Washington.
6. Southern Cal (9-4, 6-3): the Trogans are back where they belong, under the Bruins’ paws. Sure, they made a game of it, but it was clear that UCLA simply has the better team right now and likely for the near future. No matter how dirty the Trogans tried to make the game, they just couldn’t keep up. And the reward for their tumultuous season is to let go of a beloved coach only to hire a mediocre one. Given Ogre’s past behavior and his previous trashing of UCLA, I don’t feel too bad. But the players loved him and you can see why he was such a menace on the recruiting trail. So in the end I don’t think that Haden was fair to Ogre but I sure am glad to see him gone from the conference. I’m not sure if Sark will now coach them for their bowl game…oh wait, I don’t give a crap.
7. Arizona (7-5, 4-5): a week after stunning Oregon, the Mildcats got their tail handed to them by their rival. Too many turnovers and a porous defense were enough to put this game out of reach quickly. Another season ends for RichRod who still has taken his teams to two straight bowl games. But he loses his QB yet again and will have his third one in 3 years for 2014. It is also unclear whether Ka’Deem Carey returns. If he does, they will be tough next year, as the defense did manage to make some strides and would likely improve next year. If not, they are likely looking at yet another similar season.
8. Washington State (6-6, 4-5): the first half of the Apple Cup started well enough for the pirate and his crew. The halftime score of 10-3 was likely shocking to anyone who knows Mike Leach. Unfortunately, the Cougar defense failed in the second half and Wazzu lost a chance at a winning conference record. Though they are bowl eligible, it remains to be seen whether the 8th Pac-12 team is attractive for a bowl organizer. Be that as it may, I would say watch out for the Cougars next year. They will have a senior QB, a defense that was better than most expected, and if they can figure out a semblance of a running game I think they will make some noise in the North.
9. Utah (5-7, 2-7): ending a rocky season on a good note, the Utes took care of Colorado at home, holding on as the Buffs charged back in the second half. Close losses, a big win against Stanford, but losing a good QB, this season was a character builder for Kyle Wittingham and his team. I still think he is one of the better coaches in the conference (heck, I even think he would have been a better hire than Sark for Southern Cal). Utah is likely on the cusp of competing for the division, and with a home stadium that is challenging to opponents, I expect them to be much tougher next year with a little stability.
10. Oregon State (6-6, 4-5): sorry Scotty. The Beavers got their heart ripped out in about a minute by the hated Ducks, in the last minute of a tight game. It would have been a nice ending to the season, one which saw the Beavers lose to a FCS team, win 6 in a row, then lose 5 in a row. Without a running game to speak of, the Beavers were basically a clone of Washington State, somewhat surprising for a Mike Riley team. But his hand was likely forced by difficulties with the OL and lack of talent at running back. Mannion ended up throwing for over 4400 yards in the season, and Brandin Cooks is a stud WR who had a total of 1670 yards. Not sure where the Beavers go in 2014. I could see them being picked ahead of Wazzu for a bowl game this year, though their 5-game losing streak could be a deterrent.
11. Colorado (4-8, 1-8): the Buffs fought back against Utah, in the always difficult setting of the Rice-Eccles Stadium. But it was too little too late as they were completely stifled in the first half and could not muster any running game at all, as other teams have experienced against Utah. The future is still encouraging for Colorado fans. They have a good, young QB, a star WR, and the coach Cal should have hired before having a brain fart. They still have an uphill climb before they can compete for the division, but a bowl game is not out of the question next year.
12. Cal (1-11, 0-9): Luckily, Cal’s season had ended the week before. The players were likely asked to do a bake sale or car wash to help pay the debt on their new stadium…
So ends the 2013 Pac-12 season. Stay tuned for a follow up where I compare the actual results to our predictions from July.