There are plenty of truisms in college football, but few are more accurate than the difficulty and importance of winning on the road. Going in and proving yourself in a hostile environment is often the best way to turn a good season into a special season, or to legitimize a team as a contender. Here's a list of road wins earned by Pac-12 teams so far this year:
Stanford over Duke
Cal over Colorado
Stanford over Arizona
Utah over BYU
Aaaaaand that's it. The Pac-12 has exactly two road wins over non Pac-12 opponents as compared to eight road losses (yes, I know Oregon/LSU is technically considered a 'neutral site game.' Sorry, I'm counting that as a road game since LSU's campus is 5x closer to Dallas and Oregon's). And those road losses have really lowered perceptions of the Pac-12 nationwide.
True, going on the road to Nebraska, Wisconsin and Oklahoma St. aren't likely to result in wins. But when a win over fellow conference-mate Colorado is arguably the most impressive road win earned by a Pac-12 team you know it might not be the strongest year for the conference. Colorado, Utah and USC all will have the opportunity to
embarrass redeem the conference at Ohio St., Pitt and Notre Dame respectively, but for the most part the non-conference book on the Pac-12 has been written and it's not especially kind.
Texas 49, UCLA 20
But before we get into the road woes, let's just get past the general woes, home or away. UCLA is terrible, they have been terrible for years, and they appear to have completely given up on dead-man-walking Rick Neuheisel. After years of faith and support, Bruins Nation wants to see heads roll. Coaches. Administrators. Players. Evidently it's all fair game in Westwood now, but ultimately blame must fall on one man:
The comments in the game thread reflect anger, frustration, hopelessness. I heard the same tone from the alumni viewing party I was at yesterday. The fans don't have faith in this program. The fans don't think this program will turn around. It's reflected by attendance at the Rose Bowl. Last week saw the second smallest "crowd" ever for a U.C.L.A. game, and the stadium was barely half full yesterday, and that was with 10-15 thousand Texas fans. The fans are staying away. That's on the coach.
If you were UCLA's AD, would you fire Neuheisel now or at the end of the season?
Illinois 17, Arizona St. 14
I guess nobody should be surprised when Arizona St. follows up a momentum building win with a momentum destroying loss. It's just their way. But for one thing I thought Missouri was a better team than Illinois, and for another Arizona St. just plain looked good for the majority of last week's game. And this week the managed to outgain Illinois by 122 yards.
But in the end penalties, poorly timed turnovers, a missed field goal and horrible offensive line problems doomed the Sun Devils. It's looking like another mediocre, up-and-down season in Tempe.
The Illini got to Osweiler several times, forcing fumbles and negative yardage left and right. This never allowed the Sun Devils offense to get going (in much the same ways that the penalties didn't allow the Sun Devils offense to get going either), and as a result ASU ended up on the wrong end of a low-scoring affair.
Perpetually solid, seemingly dangerous, but always losing just when you think they're good . . . is Arizona St. the Pac-12 South version of Cal, circa 2007-2010?!?
Nebraska 52, Washington
In their first two games Washington allowed 473 and 333 yards of passing to Eastern Washington and Hawaii respectively. Against Nebraska they changed it up by allowing 309 yards rushing. They've given up an average of 36.7 points per game and rank near the bottom in the country in yards allowed per game and per play. I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that Washington does not have a good defense.
UWDawgPound gives every unit of the team a grade of C+ or higher in a game Washington was losing by a score of 44-17 with 12 minutes left in the 4th quarter:
Washington should have led 24-17 at the half but a non existent call on Cort Dennison during a botched Nebraska punt return negated a Husky special teams TD and gave Nebraska great field position to take a three point lead at the half. The crew who took the TD off the board should simply be horsewhipped because they destroyed what could have been a great contest. You have to wonder how much they were paid to throw the game Nebraska's way because instant replay clearly showed there was no infraction and it was a Husky TD?
Did any of the UW defensive stats I mentioned above give you confidence, or are you still predicting DOOOOOOOOOOM?
San Diego St. 42, Washington St. 24
I think every Pac-12 fanbase not located in Seattle were pulling hard for the Cougs down in Southern California, and they appeared to have the game in control with a 10 point 3rd quarter lead.
And then BOOM. 28 straight unanswered points from the Aztecs. The Cougar rebuilding project just wasn't as far along as many hoped it might be. SDSU ran up exactly 500 yards of offense and four Wazzu turnovers turned a shoot-out into a blow-out. But the ever rational CougCenter calmly responds to a tough loss:
Still, keep your heads up. If you believed this team was much improved before this game, I don't think there's any reason to believe otherwise. You'll hear me say it a lot, but improvement is never linear in sports. Seasons are filled with fits and starts, and you hope that the steps forward are bigger than the steps back. Many of you will remember how I basically quit football after the Arizona State loss last year ... one week before the Oregon State win.
And if you're feeling like a jilted lover at this point, may I submit to you that it might have more to do with your inflated expectations than the team itself?
Was SDSU's win just a brief break in the COUGMENTUM or a sign that WSU is still stuck to the bottom of the Pac-12?
Stanford 37, Arizona 10
I make it a habit of not watching Stanford, particularly when they're actually good. But I'm told by those who pay attention that Stanford has been following a pattern of mediocre/sluggish play masked by scorelines that flatter their true effort. Which I guess is plausible when your schedule consists of WAC bottom dwellers, the worst BCS program in the country, and a team that includes Nick Foles and 80 other people that are either injured or freshmen.
Of course, of much greater concern is three potentially scary injuries picked up by the Cardinal. Coby Fleener's injury probably isn't major, and there are like seven equally good replacements at tight end (say hello to Levine Toilolo) behind him on the depth chart. But every Stanford fan must be terrified of losing oft-injured WR Chris Owusu and even more terrified that stand out linebacker Shane Skov could be out for the season.
We only have one half of evidence to go by, but the Stanford defense responded incredibly well to Skov's absence against Arizona, a testament to Shaw and senior captain Michael Thomas. Junior linebacker Jarek Lancaster, Skov's backup on the depth chart, had five tackles. True freshman James Vaughters, who, like Skov, was one of the top linebacker recruits in his class, registered his first career sack. The Stanford defense is undeniably better with Skov on the field, but that doesn't mean it can't be very, very good without him.
How badly might this potential injury hurt Stanford's chances this year?
Utah 54, BYU 10
When does a 130 yard advantage in total yardage equal a 44 point blowout win? When your opponent turns the ball over seven times, including a stunning six lost fumbles. Don't get me wrong, there's no doubt that Utah was the better team. But when one team coughs up six fumbles it's an indication that God might hate you . . . uh-oh, did I just bring up religion while recapping The Holy War? Well, I'm sure BYU fans will love playing Idaho and New Mexico St. while Utah is playing Arizona St. and Washington. Block U is reveling in victory:
Not so Saturday. The Utes completely dominated the second half. The sold out LaVell Edwards Stadium crowd sat stunned for most the game and you've got to wonder if it left Mr. Edwards himself wishing the stadium didn't bear his name.
Certainly this was the worst performance BYU has experienced at home since Edwards' first season in 1972 and that includes the three-year stretch of awfulness that defined the Gary Crowton era. It was the worst loss to Utah in modern rivalry history.
Colorado 28, Colorado St. 14
The other major non-conference rivalry of the weekend finally went to the Buffaloes after the finally woke up in the 2nd quarter. Paul Richardson mocked Cal fans by catching just 4 passes for 27 yards and Colorado continued to share the joint title of 'most undisciplined Pac-12 team' with Cal and Arizona St. Nevertheless, congrats to Jon Embree for his first win as a coach. Ralphie Report is thrilled with a win but tired of self-inflicted wounds:
Overall, I'm happy we won, but I still wish I'd seen more from us. It was nice to see Tyler Hansen willing us to victory, with his two rushing TDs and the first downs he got, but it shouldn't have been that close. Penalties and mental errors are absolutely killing us. We're not going to have a chance in any of our games if we don't continue to improve.
With Ohio St. clearly struggling, what chance do you give Colorado for a rather stunning end to their epic road losing streak?
USC 38, Syracuse 17
Robert Woods broke Keyshawn Johnson's record of 32 receptions over the first three games of the season. Enjoy him now, because before you know it Robert Woods will gone. Teams are lining up to tee off on Woods because he is that effective. That is why it is so important that Barkley get the other WR's into the mix...Marquis Lee was great and I heard Carswell's name more than a few times last night.
Oregon 56, Missouri St. 7
Man, at least Cal let Presbyterian score a few fun touchdowns. Easily the more interesting news is that Oregon has received an official notice of inquiry from the NCAA.
What, if anything, will happen to Chip Kelly and the Ducks when the NCAA comes a-knockin'?
Hooray! Nearly a full slate of Pac-12 games! This is exciting because a) no more Pac-12 vs. FCS games b) conference games are more exciting and important and c) It cuts by 50% the games I need to recap! Win-win-win!
Colorado @ Ohio St.
UCLA @ Oregon St.
California @ Washington
USC @ Arizona St.
Oregon @ Arizona
Burning questions: How cruel is Arizona's early season schedule? Is Washington vs. Cal the most under-the-radar game of the season, as it will play a huge role in shaping the non-Oregon-Stanford pecking order in the rest of the conference? And how hideous will the game in Corvallis be between one team that's broken and another team that has just plain given up?