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Pac-12 Review: Near perfect parity

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One of the wackiest weekends in conference history portends one of the wackiest seasons in conference history!

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona is better than Cal is better than Washington State who is better than Utah who is better than UCLA who is better than Arizona State who is better than USC who is better than Stanford who is better than Washington. That victory chain is insane, and we're basically two weeks into the conference schedule. And would it really surprise you if Washington beats Arizona in November? If Colorado can find a way to win a game (inevitable, I suspect) then you will probably be able to create a circle of mediocrity and/or depth a la the ACC a few years back.

There have been 14 games played between Pac-12 teams so far this year. Nine teams already have at least one win and at least one loss. ELEVEN have been decided by seven points or fewer. Two have been won and lost on hail marys. One game went to double overtime. Multiple games have come down to final second field goals.

With the possible exception of Colorado, literally any Pac-12 team can beat any other team at any time, regardless of location. Every single team in the conference has obvious strengths and glaring flaws. It's entirely conceivable that a team with a 6-3 conference record sneaks into the title game. Study up on tie-breaks, stock up on doomsday supplies, and prepare for unpredictable football.

Arizona 31, Oregon 24

Sometimes the underdog wins because weird things happen. Random special teams plays, weird turnovers, trick plays, etc. That wasn't the case in Eugene on Thursday. Arizona won this game by being the better team, even if was only marginally.

Oregon's defense is a good-not-great defense, and that's usually enough when paired up with the typical Oregon offense. But thanks to offensive line injuries, this isn't the typical Oregon offense. And if Marcus Mariota keeps taking hits at the rate he's suffered through lately, then maybe Mariota will actually get hurt.

Meanwhile, what to make of Arizona? The Wildcats are 5-0, and save for a blowout over UNLV, all of their wins have come by seven points or less. It's hard to conceive that they can continue to win every close game, but the defense seems to be improving as younger players are more experienced, they have probably already beaten the two best offenses in the conference, and they don't play Stanford . . . so who knows?

Notre Dame 17, Stanford 14

There is one important stat to take away from this game: Removing sacks from the total, Stanford rushed the ball 31 times for 49 yards. That's 1.6 yards/carry. Stanford averaged only 3.7 against the same USC defense that got ran over by Boston College. Stanford is currently 81st in the country in yards/run despite facing UC Davis and the voluntarily undersized Army Black Knights.

Stanford is no longer an elite rushing team, and their offense simply cannot function without that ability. That's why Stanford mounted exactly one drive that went further than 38 yards, and why they had seven 3-and-outs. Stanford cannot function without a running game, because they have a head coach too stubborn or too unaware to not call running plays when they aren't working.

Arizona State 38, USC 34

USC controlled most of the game, but allowed three pass plays of 46, 73 and 77 yards to lose the game. So, if you're looking for reasons to be optimistic, note that for at least one day the Trojans were susceptible to big plays through the air.

Note that USC had significantly worse hail mary defense than Cal did, which didn't stop Seven-Win-Sark from blaming luck for the play in question.

Also note that Cody Kessler struggled to do much of anything impressive against a bad ASU defense, and that the Trojans were in a position to win mostly thanks to a strong running game and special teams.

Most of all note that I am still not optimistic about beating USC because I can't be rational about that team.

Utah 30, UCLA 28

Two things are hard to believe about this game:

1. That UCLA's offensive line is this bad. Three of their linemen were starters for at least half of last year. But when a player with the escapability of Brett Hundley is sacked 10 times, you know it's time for drastic measures.

2. That Utah could run the ball 55 times against UCLA's defense and still average 4.4 yards/carry. When you have a defense as explosive as UCLA does, I suppose keeping the ball on the ground isn't the worst idea, but it only works if you can consistently eat up chunks of yards.

It took both of those developments above for Utah to barely escape with a road win, so I'm still inclined to think that UCLA has a brighter future. But major kudos to Utah for somehow finding a strategy to steal one on the road.

Oregon State 36, Colorado 31

The difference in this game was one (pretty bad) Sefo Liufau interception that gave Oregon State a short field touchdown. Otherwise the game was basically a dead heat, just like every other game in this damned conference. You never know when a batted ball or a random fumble will turn out to be one of the decisive plays that swings an otherwise even match-up. How do these coaches ever get any sleep at night knowing the margins their careers ride on every week?

Next Week

Friday

Washington State at Stanford, 6:00, ESPN

Saturday

Oregon at UCLA, 12:30, FOX
Washington at California, 3:00, Pac-12 Network
USC at Arizona, 7:30, ESPN2

Every single one of these games should be spectacular.

  • Washington State's offense vs. Stanford's defense should be a mini-preview of how well year 2 of the Bear Raid will fair in the Big Game, and will also be a test case to see if Stanford will actually open up the playbook and score on a bad defense.
  • The battle of the broken offensive lines, with the loser cursing early elimination from the playoff race!
  • Cal is playing, which means for 4 hours cats and dogs will be living together!
  • USC is totally going to beat Arizona because nobody in this conference is allowed to be happy for longer than a two week period!