Early in the season, the Pac-12 conference schedule is already looking more and more like an absolute meat grinder. There are no cupcakes in this conference, not even a really bad team. In past years you could always count on some gimmes but that is no longer the case. Even the "worst" team in this conference (commence debate on which team that is) looks dangerous at this point, though there is much still unknown. It is not out of the realm of possibility to see every team in the conference be bowl eligible, whatever that means these days.
Player of the Week: Ishmael Adams, UCLA - already recognized as the special teams player of the week by the Pac-12, there is no denying that Adams's performance against ASU stood out due to its effect on the game.
Stat of the Week: 115 - total points scored by Cal and Colorado. Either these two teams have a horrible defense, or their offenses are getting scary. Perhaps a bit of both?
Game of the Week: Arizona at Oregon, 7:30pm PST, ESPN - last year, Arizona put a whooping on Oregon, shocking the entire country. Oregon looks to avenge that loss but it may not be an easy task. Clearly, Utah at UCLA will be a big game as well. The two contenders for the conference championship must hold at home.
1. Oregon (4-0, 1-0): the Ducks had the week off and likely used it to get pumped up at the idea of exacting revenge for their loss at Arizona last year, in the cozy confines of Autzen.
2. Stanford (3-1, 1-1): it is never easy to travel to Seattle and Husky stadium can get quite loud. Be that as it may, Stanford is somewhat lucky to not be starting the Pac-12 season 0-2. This game was tied late in the fourth quarter until some questionable calls by Washington. Neither offense was very impressive in this game, and Stanford is finding that it can no longer just steamroll over all its opponents. Luckily, the defense continues to be solid. Still, Kevin Hogan will actually have to be relied on to win games and that may not work out so well when the Cardinal travels to South Bend to take on a top 10 Notre Dame team (though I suspect they are somewhat overrated).
3. Washington (4-1, 0-1): I am not quite sure what to make of the Huskies at this point. More specifically, I don't really know if I should be impressed that they were even with Stanford until the middle of the 4th quarter, or if I should bemoan the fact that they let this game slip away. I don't know if their defense is good or if Stanford is just not as potent offensively as it used to be. One simple call from Coach Petersen, for a fake punt in the middle of the field, seemed to change the outcome of this game. We usually applaud and long for such risk-taking (particularly after watching a David Shaw team), but perhaps Petersen is finding out that these shenanigans don't work so well in the Pac-12. The Huskies have a bye week to work on things.
4. Washington State (2-3, 1-1): beware the Pirate! Just when you think you have escaped he strikes at ye. Mike Leach took some risks while trailing in the 4th quarter, and they paid off handsomely. Connor Halliday scored 2 TDs not once, but twice on fourth-and-long situations. Under a steady rain in Utah, Wazzu scored a big conference win. Though they were helped along by some poor play from the Utah QB, they showed resiliency and came through. The defense is still not impressive but the Cougar offense may perhaps be clicking, and that could be worrisome for the North division. Next week, Cal pays a visit to Pullman, which likely means another shootout is on the horizon.
5. Oregon State (3-1, 0-1): having lost a major weapon to the NFL, Sean Mannion has not been able to be as prolific as last year. The Beavers had the misfortune of having to play in the Mausoleum against Southern Cal (because that place sucks), but the game started well enough for them. After a Trogan TD, the kickoff was returned for a TD to bring the Beavers back to even. But that was as good as it got for them, as the game degenerated into a penalty fest (27 total for 232 yards, thank you SPTRs) and the Beavers were not able to generate any offense, mustering only 181 total yards and with Mannion throwing two picks. Yes, Mike Riley teams tend to improve over the course of the season, but that was not the case last year and it looks to be a tough season. Playing Colorado this week could be helpful to get back on track, but OSU had better be ready for shootout.
6. Cal (3-1, 1-1): the good news is that Cal can score a whole lot of points. The bad news is that Cal allows a whole lot of points. The Bears needed triple overtime to put away the pesky Buffaloes at home. And while Colorado has improved, allowing them to put up 56 points is not exactly a sign of a good defense. Be that as it may, Cal found a way to win this game, which was crucial as wins in this conference will be hard to come by. Now Sonny Dykes takes his prolific offense to Pullman for yet another game that will likely be a Pac-12 shootout.
1. UCLA (4-0, 1-0): the Bruins' first conference game was a road game against a top 15 opponent. Starting off slowly, with some questionable defense, UCLA suddenly exploded and went on to outscore ASU 56-10, scoring in a multitude of ways. Behind the heroics of Ishmael Adams and the highly efficient Brett Hundley, UCLA could do no wrong in this game. Be that as it may, there are still some legitimate concerns about the soft defense, which cannot be fully answered due to the nature of this blowout. UCLA now must face Utah in a potential trap game at the Rose Bowl, against a well-coached team that is coming off a stinging loss. The boys had better be ready.
2. Southern Cal (3-1, 2-0): Meh. The Trogans got to flex their muscles against a disappointing Oregon State team at home. There's no denying the talent on the team and QB Cody Kessler is providing a consistent performance when he has the benefit of a good running game. I guess Sark was able to motivate his troops to get over their beatdown against Boston College. But Southern Cal has been rather fortunate not to have faced Oregon and UW the last couple of years, when sanctions were still affecting them. Continuing with the fortunate scheduling, they will host ASU without Taylor Kelly this week. If the Sun Devils offense gets to have 105 plays again, that Trogan defense will get quite a stamina test.
3. Arizona State (3-1, 0-1): having to play without their injured starting QB Taylor Kelly was one thing, but having to deal with "Call Me" Ishmael Adams was another. ASU started off their showdown against UCLA quite well, seemingly not having lost a beat. But eventually, special team breakdowns and offensive mistakes took their toll and the Crackerman's squad got blown out at home. Ever the classy loser, Graham gave little credit to the winning team, likely frustrated by the bend-but-don't-break UCLA defense that teased the Sun Devils all night. But he should not despair, he had some time to work out the kinks, get more practice time and hopefully take his revenge on the other Los Angeles team when they visit the Mausoleum on Saturday.
4. Utah (3-1, 0-1): the Utes barely edged Arizona for the 4th spot in the poll, despite a deflating collapse at home against Washington State. The Utah offense became suddenly inept against a pedestrian Cougar defense, saddled with an uncharacteristically inaccurate performance by QB Travis Wilson and not being able to capitalize on a good running game. More disturbing was the fact that the usually stout Utah defense allowed not one but two 4th down conversions that were actually TDs and let a 21-0 lead evaporate. Coach Wittingham must regroup his players if Utah wants to remain a factor in the South division, but I wouldn't mind if they did that after playing UCLA at the Rose Bowl this week.
5. Arizona (4-0, 1-0): the Wildcats had the week off and it's a little surprising to see them in this spot right now, given that they are undefeated. But despite their efficient offense and a good performance by the freshmen, they haven't yet fully proved themselves and needed a miracle to beat Cal. This is the week where they get that opportunity, but it is a tall task as they have to travel to Autzen and take on the Ducks, who are likely chomping at the bit to avenge the bad loss they were handed last year.
6. Colorado (2-3, 0-2): Well, the Buffaloes are certainly not the inept team of years past. Despite losing to Cal, they were able to put up 56 points (albeit against a bad defense) in an away game. But their defense was just a little worse than Cal's, so Colorado is still not quite there. It would be a mistake for any Pac-12 team to sleep on the Buffs though. We will see if they are able to surpass their conference win total from last year, but they need to show progress in order to keep up with the wild Pac-12. And they have a good chance of picking up a win against the visiting Beavers this week.
That's it Bruins. Every game is a huge game from here on out and we have a good challenge against Utah coming up. Enjoy the ride!