True, the Pac-12 didn't face the most challenging slate of games this week. Still, two teams that have suffered tough losses this year managed to record wins over competent challengers, and as a result the Pac-12 raised its out-of-conference record to 29-4. All that's left? Colorado has a potential make-up against Fresno St, and Arizona St., USC and Stanford all have to play a wobbly looking Notre Dame. Oregon, Washington, Arizona, UCLA & Utah have already finished their non-conference schedules undefeated, and those ranks will grow if the Irish don't improve.
It's hardly comparing apples to apples, but here are non-conference loss totals for major conferences so far:
On one hand, the Pac-12 plays fewer non-conference games than most conferences. On the other hand, it's not like the Big-10 and the SEC use that extra 4th non-conference game to play a tough opponent. Is it possible that, top to bottom, the Pac-12 is the best conference in the nation this year?
Stanford 42, Arizona St. 28
After Stanford recorded comfortable but unconvincing wins over San Jose St. and Army, I really thought that Arizona St. would, if not win, at least give the Cardinal a game. Alas, I suppose it was wishful thinking. Stanford dominated every phase of the game to take a 39-7 lead before taking their foot off the gas. And then, when ASU got within 11, Stanford went on a nine play, 5:47 long drive to kill the clock and the game. More than half of Arizona St.'s 417 yards came after the Devils were already down 32 points. Sigh.
The worst part is, I'm not even prepared to say that ASU was overrated. I expect them to beat USC at home next week.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said all week that Stanford is the measuring stick for success in the Pac-12. And through the first three quarters Saturday, the Cardinal mercilessly whipped the Sun Devils with that ruler like a nun who just heard an expletive.
Utah 20, BYU 13
For all of their woes during the transition to major conference football, the Utes can say one thing: They've owned BYU. They grabbed their 4th straight Holy War win behind a few big plays on offense and a defense that occasionally bent but never broke. Meanwhile, there are no more Utah fans because Utah's propensity for playing close games has killed them all.
USC 17, Utah St. 14
USC basically won this game because of field position. In terms of total yards and yards/play, this game was a complete wash. But Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies were constantly starting drives deep in their own territory (5 times inside their own 20, twice inside the 5, only once better than their own 31 yards line) and that's a lot to ask against an increasingly fearsome looking USC defense.
Meanwhile, Cody Kessler at least demonstrated that if you leave receivers completely wide open down field, he's able to hit them. I would advise against that. Still, USC fans should be worried about only averaging 3.0 yards/run against an iffy Utah St. defense.
Conquest Chronicles wonders how long USC can keep winning ugly:
"I think this is the best defense we have played so far," Kessler said post game, adding "We are just a few plays away from having three or four more touchdowns, but at the end of the day we are 3-1, we got the win and that's all that matters heading into Arizona State."
I wonder if Utah St. really has a better defense than Washington St. That was certainly true last year, but the Cougars did a much better job in coverage against the Trojans than Utah St. did.
Oregon St. 34, San Diego St. 30
Another game that could've gone either way, but that ultimately swung towards the Pac-12 after a furious comeback and one of the more painful quarterback errors you'll ever see. With the lead, the ball, and 2:30 left on the clock, San Diego State was in great position to win, before a screen pass went all wrong and ended with Oregon St. returning an interception for a touchdown and a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
San Diego St. probably isn't as bad as the team that was crushed by FCS Eastern Illinois, but this is still a disturbing performance from the Beavers. The defense is bad, we know that. But injuries on the offensive side of the ball are hindering what might otherwise be a fearsome offensive attack. If Mike Riley's team doesn't get healthy they might finish with a losing record for the second time in three years.
Washington 56, UCLA 59, Wazzu 42, Less Good Teams 0, 13, 0
The Huskies, Bruins and Cougars all tuned up for the beginning of Pac-12 play by destroying three teams that, combined, have zero wins over FCS-or-better competition. Although I perhaps should give due credit to Idaho St. for their win over Dixie St.
We learned nothing interesting from these games. Let's talk about something interesting.
HOORAY CONFERENCE GAMES ARE BACK!
Colorado at Oregon State, Noon, Pac-12 Network
Arizona at Washington, 4:00, Fox
Stanford at Washington St., 4:30, ESPN
USC at Arizona St., 7:30 ESPN2
Cal at Oregon, 7:30, Pac-12 Network
It's a little perplexing to me that three games are all airing at once, but whatever. To be honest, it's not the greatest slate of conference games. Colorado and Oregon St. may very well be battling to avoid the title of 'worst team in the conference,' while Stanford and Oregon will both surely record depressingly familiar blow-outs.
That leaves two intriguing games. We know a bit about Washington, but next to nothing about Arizona. Can the Wildcats head north to Seattle and pull an upset? This would perhaps be the first big test for UW's secondary . . . if Arizona has a quarterback they can trust. I'm leaning towards Washington, but there's lots of uncertainty here.
Down in the desert, Arizona St. will look to bounce back from getting pantsed in Palo Alto, and a win would be a near death blow to USC's South title chances and probably to the Kiffin era - this USC team isn't talented enough on offense to overcome a two game deficit in the loss column to both ASU and UCLA. But after watching the Devils get strangulated for three quarters by Stanford's defense, you can't help but think that USC could potentially do the same.