Football is back! And that means This Week In The Pac-12 is back! Which maybe we shouldn't be so excited about, because it really wasn't a very good week for the conference of champions. Consider:
Teams that embarrassed themselves in a loss: Cal, Colorado, Washington St.
Teams that embarrassed themselves in a win: Stanford, Arizona, Washington
Teams that proved nothing by beating horrible teams: Utah, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona St., USC
So, yeah. Nobody really impressed this week. The gap between the presumed conference contenders and everybody else seems even larger than usual. Week one was a major buzz kill. I'd like to say that it can only get better from here, but unfortunately you're all too smart to believe a line like that.
Well, time to dive in. Here's a game-by-game review of the week and what it means for Cal, listed in a vague order of importance. And as always, there are bolded questions for you to answer in the comments, if you dare.
BYU 30, WSU 6
Arguably the most surprising result in the first week. I don’t think anybody should be surprised that Washington St. lost, or that their defense struggled against an efficient BYU offense. But just 6 points? It’s just one game, but if this one game is representative of WSU’s talent then it has to be seen as a regression from last year’s offense. I don’t think anybody would predict that.
BYU dropped tons of players into coverage and the result was that Jeff Tuel struggled to find open receivers all game, throwing two interceptions in the process. Marques Johnson was blanketed by multiple defenders and the WSU running game didn’t do anything to keep BYU honest.
Long term, this game probably means nothing. Sooner or later Mike Leach will put together a dangerous offense. But it likely means that some of the more breathless predictions won’t come true this year.
How long until Mike Leach puts together an offense to be terrified of?
Stanford 20, San Jose St. 17
For my money, the most shocking result of the weekend. I fully expected Stanford to simply power run the ball right over San Jose St. for an easy, boring win. Stanford's gameplan was predictably conservative, as Josh Nunes rarely threw the ball further than 10 yards downfield and finished with a long completion of 14 yards. But evidently Stanford doesn't have the talent or the cohesion to simply power the ball over teams without a semblance of a downfield passing threat, and it almost resulted in a painful upset.
There's no way to sugarcoat last night's win. The offense and the defense took turns looking terrible. Execution was lacking. The playcalling was suspect. Still, I'm not ready to lower my expectations -- 9 wins -- for this year's Stanford team after one game. We'll save that for next Sunday, if necessary.
Cal obviously faceplanted on Saturday. But do Stanford's simultaneous struggles mean that you maintain hopes for a Big Game victory?
Colorado St. 22, Colorado 17
If game one is any indication, year two in Colorado's rebuilding effort may not provide much tangible progress. Colorado's offense struggled mightily, averaging less than 4 yards/play against a team that sported a decidedly mediocre defense in 2011. Perhaps the Buffalo defense performed well enough to get a win on a different day, but it wasn't enough to beat their in-state rivals.
Calling this a loss doesn't do it justice. It was devastating. The Rams improved as the game went on, made adjustments, and generally took care of business. The Buffaloes? Not so much. What ensued was a painful 3 quarters of Football (1, 3 & 4), and one quarter of somewhat competent Football. Not a winning combination.
Washington 21, San Diego St. 12
If San Diego State had a place kicker, this might have ended up very, very differently. But evidently the Aztecs don't, because they attempted a two point conversion twice and failed both times, then later passed up an easy field goal for a difficult 4th down conversion and failed again. SDSU easily could have put themselves in a position to win this game but instead handed it to an unconvincing Washington squad that struggled to run the football with any effectiveness.
Maybe it wasn't the easiest win. It was a vanilla victory. The Huskies have work to do both offensively and defensively if they ever want to defeat the likes of Louisiana State, Oregon or USC.
Does Washington have a shot next week vs. LSU?
Arizona 24, Toledo 17 (OT)
A truly bizarre game. RichRod's offense dominated in every conceivable way except with the whole 'scoring points' part, and the result was that Arizona needed overtime to win a game that they arguably dominated. I guess that's what happens when you twice drive the ball inside the 10, only to miss functional extra points. Football is weird.
UCLA 49, Rice 24
What a weird game. On the one hand, at times UCLA struggled executing the basics of football against a bad team. On the other hand, at times UCLA made Rice look even worse than they probably are. It’s tough to take anything away from this game, so I’m choosing not to.
I will say this. Early in the game, I wasn’t much impressed with Brett Hundley as a passer. He looked unsure and inaccurate. But at some point he calmed down and looked much more dangerous. He led an impressive drive in the 3rd quarter in which he functionally threw two touchdown passes (one was a horrible drop) and converted two 4th downs. It’s only Rice, but if I were a UCLA fan I would be encouraged seeing that performance from a sophomore making his college football debut.
Mora has definitely changed the mindset. The team felt like it was playing to win, not playing not to lose. This is best encapsulated by the decisions to go for it on fourth downs (and it paid off), as well as the decision not to run out the clock at the end of the first half. (That worked out too, although not exactly as planned).
Is Brett Hundley the real deal, or will he struggle against tougher opposition?
Oregon 57, Arkansas St. 34 ; USC 49, Hawaii 10 ; Arizona St. 63, Northern Arizona 6 ; Utah 41, Northern Colorado 0
At least Oregon and USC played
BCSFBS teams, and teams with relatively recent success to boot! But I don't think anybody harbored any hopes that these games would be remotely competitive. (In case you missed it, Oregon was up 50-3 before shutting things down.
The day I start thinking about analyzing BCS teams blowing out FCS teams is the day I quit writing about football
Did you learn anything meaningful from the four games above?
Friday, September 7th
Utah @ Utah St.
Saturday, September 8th
Southern Utah @ Cal
Sacramento St. @ Colorado
Eastern Washington @ Washington St.
USC vs. Syracuse
Wisconsin @ Oregon St.
Fresno St. @ Oregon
Washington @ LSU
Nebraska @ UCLA
Illinois @ Arizona St.
Duke @ Stanford
Oklahoma St. @ Arizona
It's an interesting mixture of marquee opponents and FCS fodder. Cal, Colorado and Washington St. have fortuitously timed easy games and all three badly, badly need a win. Washington, Oregon St., UCLA and Arizona are all taking on tough teams and none will be favored. The most intriguing game in terms of matching up equal teams might be ASU vs. Illinois.
Question 1: Of Cal, Colorado and Wazzu, which team is most in danger of losing to their FCS opponent?
Question 2: Of UW, OSU, UCLA and Arizona, who is most likely to beat their ranked opponent?