Let's all hope that last week ends up being the least exciting, meaningful week of the season, because I'd hate to think something more boring is on the horizon. Only Arizona St. at Utah had clear impact on the conference title race, but any drama to that game was sapped away when Jordan Wynn went down to an injury against Washington. Meanwhile, Oregon and Stanford both won in blowouts, four of the worst teams in the conference played each other, and two of the most entertaining teams in the west had bye weeks, thus depriving us of their thrilling all-offense-limited-defense combinations. Come back, USC and Washington!
We'll start this week's recap with the game I was most looking forward to watching. Hey, nobody ever said I was rational!
UCLA 28, Washington State 25
One team had six scoring drives, the other team had just four. Can you guess which team won the game? UCLA's chances looked bleak when an on-going gypsy curse felled another quarterback on a freak injury, but it was Kevin Prince who ended up out-dueling fellow back-up Marshall Lobbestael in a tense, back-and-forth thriller. A thriller between two teams not likely to make a bowl game, but who are we to complain?
On the other end from ASU, all grouped together at the bottom to conserve warmth and dignity are 3 schools with zeroes in their Pac-12 win column. We expected Colorado to struggle as they begin to re-rebuild. Utah apparently isn't as great as they told us they were. (Oh, that's right...Mountain West). And Arizona surprisingly is 0-4 in conference after OSU got them. That's right, OSU. Of course there is that place that doesn't count (figuratively speaking. Well, and literally, too). And in between those ends, there is U.C.L.A. at 2-1, one game back of the Sun Devils. And we get to play them sometime, too.
UCLA is the only team with a reasonable shot to pass Arizona St. and play in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game! What chance do you give of that actually happening?
During the debacle of the last three seasons, I forgot what it felt like to play well enough to win a game yet give it away with mistakes and missed opportunities. Dropped passes, poor throws, terrible defense at the most inopportune times, yep I remember this.
Washington St. needs three wins for a bowl. Assuming losses to Stanford and Oregon, can they get there? This is what they have left: vs. OSU, @ Cal, vs. ASU, vs. Utah, @ Washington.
Oregon St. 37, Arizona 27
I'll admit that as bad as Arizona looked in losing their last four games, I thought they would look better when the quality of the opposition went down. But I think we just have to realize that the Wildcat offensive line and defense is just that bad.
We also need to consider if this loss is the beginning of the end of the Mike Stoops era. His team was beaten by a team without a win, and the loss was made possible because of horrible clock and game management in the last two minutes of the 4th quarter. And remember, Stoops came to Arizona with the reputation for defense. Right now Arizona is 116th in the nation in yards allowed/play, 115 in yards allowed/game, 118th in yards/run, 109th in yards allowed/pass attempt and 117th in points allowed/game. Just for reference there are only 120 teams in FBS football
For Oregon St. this game was a huge step forward. True, they won this game in part because of four Arizona turnovers and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. But they also rolled up 400 yards of offense and Sean Mannion was reasonably effective.
But while the team put pieces together, and responded to adversity, a good sign, this isn't a good team yet.
Good teams don't throw pick 6s when protecting double digit leads in the second half. Or need to take a second timeout after already using one.
And while penalties were greatly reduced from the 13 that were a major contributor to blowing last week's game, down to just 5, and including the bogus one on Poyer on the last drive, good teams don't take a touchdown off the scoreboard with a holding penalty away from the play.
Was Oregon State's win proof that the Beavers are getting better, or that Arizona is even worse than we thought? Or both?
Many times, you didn't know Saturday whether Mike Stoops even knew whether he wanted to kick the field goal or go for it on fourth down.
Stoops fate might be sealed as well. In a game that might have been the most pathetically-executed and confidence-lacking performance I've ever seen, Stoops oddly calm behavior following the game looked as if he knows he could be on his way out.
Yeah, I thought before this season that Arizona would be mediocre, and I thought that even a 5-7 record would allow Stoops to keep his gig. At some point, however, poor execution, failure to get the best of of his players (even if they aren't that talented) and poor decision-making (on the special teams side, especially) all comes down to coaching.
Should Mike Stoops be fired at some point between now and the 2012 season?
Arizona St. 35, Utah 14
Utah, like Cal, played an inspired, amped-up half of football in front of a loud crowd. But their defense couldn't keep the intensity up and the offense gave the ball away five times as the game quickly unraveled in the 2nd half. Jon Hays wasn't a disaster in his first start, but he didn't make anybody forget about Jordan Wynn either. Utah's schedule the rest of the way is very kind (their game at Cal is arguably the toughest game left!), but the Utes will have to improve to take advantage.
The most important takeaway from Rice-Eccles Stadium? The Sun Devils are capable of playing a good game on the road against a hostile crowd. One week before a highly-anticipated showdown against the 9th-ranked Oregon Ducks in Eugene, Brock Osweiler and the Devils now have the confidence to take on the enemy in hostile territory.
Admit it, you're already trying to rationalize Arizona St.'s success with a "They'll be looking forward to the Pac-12 championship game when they play Cal!" scenario, aren't you?
What in the hell was that? How could the Utes play the exact same game two weeks in a row? Am I freaking Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, forced to live the same pathetic and torturous college football Saturday over and over again?
Did Utah piss off some turnover god during their epic rout of BYU a few weeks ago? DO WE HAVE GREG BRADY'S HAWAIIAN TIKI SOMEWHERE ON THE SIDELINES?
Can Utah be competitive without a healthy Jordan Wynn?
Stanford 48, Colorado 7
There's really nothing meaningful to say about this game. Credit to Stanford for not messing around with clearly inferior opponents. Discredit to the schedule makers for giving Stanford the most boring first half schedule possible.
Rule of Tree hasn't recapped the game yet as of my deadline, but we'll just assume that they're probably happy about things, eh?
Should a team be ranked in the top 5 in the country if their best win is either UCLA or Arizona?
It was tough to watch, but it wasn't totally unexpected. And actually, I'm not so unhappy about how it went, either. We did a better job against the run than most teams have vs the Tree, and we moved the ball better than I expected.
UCLA and Arizona get the week off. We'll see if that means a better level of play in conference. Oregon State and Utah both play the final non-Notre-Dame non-conference games in the Pac-12, thus ending our chances to embarrass ourselves until bowl season.
USC at Cal
Utah at Pittsburgh, 9:00 am, ESPNU
Colorado at Washington, 12:30 pm
BYU at Oregon State, 1:00 pm
Stanford at Washington State, 4:30 pm, Versus
Arizona State at Oregon, 7:15 pm, ESPN
Well how about that - a Pac-12 game in every time slot! Many may not have the right TV set-up to watch Utah, and neither of the afternoon games seem especially compelling, but at least the option is there. Cal/USC should be a pretty entertaining, competitive game (I hope), but the clear game of the week, and apparently the nation, is Arizona St. at Oregon. It's the only game all season in which the Ducks could conceivable loss at Autzen, and it's their first real challenge since losing to LSU. Meanwhile, Arizona St. can build credibility just by playing Oregon close. And lest we forget, this game could decide home field advantage in the Pac-12 championship game. There's a sentence you didn't think you'd be reading two years ago!
Burning questions: Will either Oregon St. or Utah salvage some Pac-12 pride with non-conference wins? Is there any chance Colorado gives Washington a fight, or did Stanford extinguish any life in the Buffs? Will Wulff bring back Tuel-time for Stanford? And does Arizona St. really have a chance in Eugene?