Non-Conference play is all but over, and thank goodness for that. The Pac-12 is still the standard-bearer for courageous out-of-conference opponents, but there are still far too many Portland States and Eastern Washingtons littering the calendar. All in all, it's been a significantly successful non-conference run for the Pac-12.
And now we can focus on just five games next week, four of which have significant intrigue. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. We have to address the unfortunate events of last night.
As you all know, Stanford defeated USC. Our long national nightmare is not over, and Stanford is once again ranked in the top 10. They did this by doing something few anticipated: utterly shutting down Matt Barkley, Robert Woods and Marquise Lee. They were able to do that because Stanford's defensive line utterly dominated USC's offensive line.
The Stanford defense played out of its collective mind in tonight's 21-14 win, sacking Golden Boy Matt Barkley five times, picking him off twice, and limiting his vaunted receiving duo to nine catches, 149 yards and zero touchdowns. USC was 1-for-13 -- 1 FOR 13! -- on third downs and managed only 26 yards rushing.
Do you think Cal can successfully copy the blueprint Stanford provided against USC next week?
Every time USC loses a game like this, I wonder if it means that the sanctions are starting to take effect. When USC loses an all-american along the offensive line and can't immediately replace him with another experienced blue-chipper, it makes you wonder. But it's also just one game and USC has certainly proven they have the ability to bounce back, frequently at Cal's expense.
Does USC have the depth to win the Pac-12 south this year?
Utah 24, BYU 21
A weird game in so many different ways, even before the multiple field rushes that made the climax so entertaining. Quite a bit of points were scored considering that these two teams combined for barely 400 yards of total offense, but that's what happens when you get lots of crazy special teams plays that set up short fields. Without Jordan Wynn or Jon White the Utah offense struggled to get much of anything going.
But oh, that defense. It just might be the best defense in the Pac-12.
How many games can Utah win with their all defense, no offense formula?
Missouri 24, ASU 20
Arizona St. should have won this game, which makes two non-con road games the Pac-12 should have won yesterday. How they were in position to win despite getting outgained in yardage and losing the turnover battle 4-1 is beyond me. Mizzou missed 3 field goals to keep ASU in it, but ultimately it was Arizona St.'s missed PAT that helped decide the game because it forced ASU to go for touchdowns at the end of the game.
Still, ASU had three shots at scoring from inside the Mizzou 3 yard line, then had a 1st and 10 at the 21 with just inside two minutes to go, but Todd Graham's offense just couldn't make the final big play to push the Devils over the top. House of Sparky rues the miscues that contributed to defeat:
It was a tale of two halves for Arizona State on Saturday night, and despite a furious rally, their battle with Missouri ended in a heartbreaking 24-20 loss. Like they had so many times in year's past, the Sun Devils were their own worst enemy, committing four turnovers and making several costly special teams miscues.
Does this close loss on the road to an SEC team increase or decrease your estimation of ASU's ability?
Washington St. 35, UNLV 27
Nobody is going to mistake 0-3 UNLV for a good football team, but Washington St. can't turn down road wins. Though Mike Leach's clock management was shockingly bad for a coach known for his intelligence and game management.
The difference in the game was that UNLV twice settled for field goals inside the 10 yard line (including a field goal on 4th and goal from the one, which, COME ON!) while Washington St. scored only touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cougcenter is dealing with a QB controversy:
You have to choose. If you're a fan of this team, make a decision. You either love Connor Halliday and want him to start forever, or you love Jeff Tuel and want him to start as long as he has eligibility. And when you make that decision, dig your heels in. Don't half-ass it.
Are you Team Tuel or Team Halliday?
Fresno St. 69, Colorado 14
If this isn't rock-bottom for the Buffs, I don't know what is. Ralphie Report drinks away the misery:
I started thinking about what I was going to write in the 1st quarter when it was 28-0. I was tipsy at that point. It then didn't take long for me to get rip-roaring drunk. 55-7 at halftime. I'm a sucker, so I didn't turn the game off in the 2nd quarter when I first thought about doing so. I stayed pat. I kept watching. I must really hate myself. What kind of reasonable person would put themselves through that?
Who is worse: 2012 Colorado, or 2008 Washington St.?
UCLA 37, Houston 6
Without Kevin Sumlin and Case Keenum, Houston has turned into a bad, bad football team. But credit still to UCLA for an easy win. That it was an easy win despite 5 turnovers is arguably more impressive, although it's quite clear that Houston is one of the few teams UCLA will face that won't punish them for that kind of carelessness.
Last night's sloppy game showed me another big difference between last year, and all those years before, and this year. Last year's sloppy games didn't end with 31 point wins that were never ever in doubt for even a second. Last year's sloppy games produced 4th quarter squeakers over San Jose State and Oregon State and Washington State, and outright blowouts to Texas and Utah and Arizona. But this is a different year, with different leadership, and this really looks like a different football team and program.
Washington 52, Portland St. 13 ; Oregon 63, Tennessee Tech 14 ; Arizona 56, South Carolina St. 0
HOORAY! NO MORE PAC-12 GAMES AGAINST FCS TEAMS THIS YEAR! Wait, is Oregon St. still planning on making up their game against Nicholls St.? NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
Oregon St. at UCLA, 12:30 pm, ABC/ESPN2
Colorado at Washington St., 1:00 pm, FX
California at USC, 3:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Utah at Arizona St. 7:00 pm, Pac-12 Network
Arizona at Oregon, 7:00 pm, ESPN
I love this slate of games. The only dud is Colorado at Wazzu, but that's on at the same time as OSU at UCLA and can subsequently be easily ignored.
Your day starts off with a game that will tell us quite a bit more about two teams that appear to be on the upswing. Is Oregon St.'s defense as good as it looked against Wisconsin? Hundley and Franklin will be a great test.
At 3:00 we get Cal and USC, which I don't need to convince to to watch.
And in the evening you can switch back and force between two intriguing games. Oregon is almost certainly the team to beat in the conference, but they're also completely unproven and untested this year, and they have a couple key injuries that might allow Arizona to make a game of it.
Meanwhile, ASU is likely improved on last year, but not so much improved that Utah's defense can't win the game by themselves.
Your challenge: pick the winner of each game. Reasons for your picks are even better!