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Pac-12 Recap: USC is definitely not “back”

The Los Angeles area schools fell flat as the Pac-12’s two opportunities to make a splash on the opening weekend of the 2016 season.

NCAA Football: Alabama vs Southern California Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Cal got the Pac-12 off to a good start last week with a comfortable win against Hawaii, but the first weekend of the season wasn’t particularly kind to the conference with a couple of south division teams losing some high-profile games. Let’s get right to the first Pac-12 recap of the 2016 season.

SOUTHERN UTAH (0) at UTAH (24)

Utah opened the season in typical Utah fashion. The Utes look to be business as usual defensively, though they will definitely face stiffer tests as the season progresses, but the offense looks … not so great; they had just 3 points late in the first half. They did not have a particularly good day running the ball (they averaged just 3.7 yards per carry as a team). Junior QB Troy Williams had an OK-ish start, but his level of play has to pick up if Utah wants to compete for the South division championship. Williams completed less than 60% of his passes with the lone bright spot being that he did not throw an interception. Taking care of the football is something the Utes will have to do expertly because they are going to have to keep scores down if they want to have a season anywhere near as good as 2015. Even special teams was a mixed bag for Utah as kicker Andy Phillips made just one of his two attempts and the miss was from a distance less than 40 yards. The punter was great as usual as he averaged 55 yards per punt.

UC DAVIS (28) at OREGON (53)

It took a while for Oregon to get going in this matchup against Ron Gould’s Aggies as they did not score a touchdown until late in the first quarter, after allowing a UC Davis touchdown on their first possession. Of course, Oregon being Oregon and all, they converted a two-point conversion to avoid the embarrassment of being tied with UC Davis after the first quarter of a home game. They continued to go for two-point conversions en-route to 33 unanswered points. All in all, the Ducks attempted five two-point conversions and failed two of them, so that had to have bruised their collective ego a bit.

Graduate transfer QB Dakota Prukop put forth a passable performance completing 21 of 30 throws for 271 yards and three touchdowns, but it was the Ducks’ ground attack that led the way with 251 yards on 37 carries and four touchdowns. Giving up 28 points to UC Davis isn’t a good look for their defense and the Ducks will have to improve as they move into conference play if they want to compete for the conference championship. Next week brings about another easy test as they Ducks take on the hapless Virginia Cavaliers.

As another pacific northwestern Pac-12 team showed, though, it can always be worse than beating an FCS program in less than impressive fashion…

EASTERN WASHINGTON (45) at WASHINGTON STATE (42)

I saw a lot of pundits pick Washington State as their sleeper/darkhouse/surprise team in the Pac-12 this season and they certainly provided a surprise in week one when they lost at home to an FCS program again. Come on, Cougs … seriously? Again? This is far from a death knell, as Washington State proved last season when they won 9 games and a bowl after losing to Portland State on the opening weekend of the season, but it certainly puts a dark cloud over the momentum the program picked up during 2015.

Does losing this game make Washington State a bad team? Not necessarily as Eastern Washington is no slouch, even as an FCS program, but this loss says a lot about Mike Leach’s system. When you employ Leach’s air-raid offense you do it for the excitement of having an explosive offense capable of putting up 40 to 50 points per game. The downside to that is that the majority of your games are going to end up being shootouts that can go either way and it just so happens they’ve come up on the short end of the stick two years in a row against FCS teams.

What does point to this being a worse season for the Cougars is that they gave up 45 points just once last year and that was against Washington in the Apple Cup game. In fact, they held opponents under 30 points six times last year. Based on this game they’ll be lucky to do it more than once this season. One more crazy statline and I’ll move on from the Cougs … Eastern Washington QB Gage Gubrud had as many incompletions as he had touchdowns and interceptions combined. Five touchdowns and one interception to go along with completing 34 of 40 passes.

Buckle up, Cougs fans, it’s going to be a wild ride for you folks.

OREGON STATE (23) at MINNESOTA (30)

As painful as it must have been for Oregon State’s fanbase to lose this one after leading going into the third quarter it should be taken as a positive sign that they were this competitive on the road against a team that was favored by 13 points. A positive sign for the Beavers is that starting QB Darrell Garretson threw three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Their running back Ryan Nall had a nice game as well racking up 71 yards on just 13 carries. The rest of their runners had just 16 yards on 21 carries. Perhaps the Beavers would have won the game if they handed the ball to Nall a bit more instead of these other backs or airing it out 40 times.

The Beavers have a lot to learn and a lot of work to do, but their first game went better than it probably should have.

KANSAS STATE (13) at STANFORD (26)

This one went about as you would expect. Lots of Christian McCaffrey and a dominant defense is the recipe it’ll take for the Cardinal to win the Pac-12 this season and it was the recipe for success against Kansas State. McCaffrey had 32 touches for 243 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in this contest while the defense held the Wildcats to just 92 yards rushing on 2.9 yards per carry.

The QB play wasn’t great (Ryan Burns went 14-18 for just 156 yards and one touchdown), but it doesn’t have to be when the defense and McCaffrey are clicking. As is the case for everyone in the conference, save for U$C, the games will only get tougher down the road and there is still room for improvement if the Cardinal want to contend for a playoff spot.

COLORADO STATE (7) at COLORADO (44)

This was a good start to the season for the Buffs as they scored a huge win over their in-state rival, but it was exactly what Colorado was supposed to do. The best bit of news from this one is that QB Sefo Liufau played well coming off of an injury riddled 2015. The biggest area of concern for Colorado going forward is that their run defense was porous. Removing the Colorado State QB’s 2 rushes for minus-24 yards pushes the Rams yards per carry total close to six, which is not so hot for the Buffs.

This will be one of the easiest games all year for Colorado, but it was a win they had to get and they got it in decisive fashion. Well done, Buffs.

USC (6) vs Alabama (52)

The talk before this one revolved around whether or not USC was officially “back” and it was emphatically answered by the Crimson Tide. It seems as though the prevailing thought among national media was that once the sanctions were over the Trojans would resume normal service and become a dominant national force like they were under Pete Carroll, but college football doesn’t wait for anyone. It isn’t so simple as to snap your fingers and become a powerhouse again. Are the Trojans talented? Sure, they still pull in highly ranked recruits every recruiting cycle, but has it mattered over the last 10 years? Aside from one pretty good season under Lane Kiffin, the one where they weren’t even eligible to go to a bowl game, they’ve been an average team. Their program has lacked direction and an identity on both sides of the ball since Carroll left for the NFL.

More players and less sanctions alone aren’t going to magically make USC a powerhouse again. Better coaching, more fight and implementing a clear identity would be a decent way to start. Unless they change things systemically USC will continue to be more hype than substance on a yearly basis.

By the way, wouldn’t it be nice if we could finally beat these guys this season?

UCLA (24) at TEXAS A&M (31)

The anointing oil has been out for QB Josh Rosen since before he ever threw a pass for the Bruins, but I’m not sure it’s been warranted to this point. As a five-star prospect, future top pick of the NFL draft, savior of a program type player as he’s been billed this is the type of game he was brought in to win for UCLA. Let’s face it, this isn’t Texas A&M from a few years ago when they had a ton of momentum and were ranked in the top five at times. The Aggies have had a lot of turmoil and turnover within their ranks and they’ve lost momentum over the last couple of seasons. They still have talented players and Kyle Field is a tough place to play, but UCLA was supposed to win this game and Rosen wilted when he should have risen to the occasion. Sure, 343 yards passing is nice, but one touchdown to three interceptions is abysmal.

UCLA has been recruiting well for a while now and they’ve been a popular pick to take that proverbial next step, but they just haven’t done it and you have to wonder if they will anytime soon.

RUTGERS (14) at WASHINGTON (48)

Washington enjoyed a nice, easy start to the season against Big 10 doormat Rutgers but there are things to work on for the Huskies, too. Sophomore QB Jake Browning produced a solid performance completing 18 of 27 passes for 287 yards to go along with three touchdowns and one interception. The UW defense dominated the hapless Scarlet Knights to the tune of allowing just 2.8 yards per carry, but the Washington run game has to improve. Against a bad Rutgers squad the Huskies managed just 91 yards on 30 carries. They were aided by two special teams touchdowns and a stout defense, but can they rely on consistent return touchdowns once the competition stiffens later on during the season? The defense is probably going to be the best in the conference, and they might have to be the best if they’re going to win games without a solid run game.

NORTHERN ARIZONA (13) at ARIZONA STATE (44)

It looked nice on the scoreboard, but I don’t think the Sun Devils are going to be very good this season. They allowed 425 yards to the Lumberjacks and ASU QB Manny Wilkins didn’t have a great game throwing the ball. He completed 20 of 27 passes for just 180 yards and one interception. The Sun Devils ran the ball really well as they compiled five rushing touchdowns and 276 yards, but will they be able to do that consistently against better teams? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a lot more difficult to run when you don’t pose a viable threat passing the ball. Just ask Les Miles and LSU how that usually goes.

BYU (18) at ARIZONA (16)

The Wildcats capped off a forgettable first weekend for the Pac-12 south with a narrow defeat against the BYU Cougars. BYU controlled the game throughout with more than 37 minutes time of possession and 415 total yards compared to Arizona’s 328 yards. Anu Solomon had a difficult time attempting to beat the pressure applied by BYU’s front and he ended the night with two interceptions and zero touchdowns. The good news for Arizona is that no one else in the south looked great either.

NEXT WEEK IN THE PAC-12

Utah State (1-0) at USC (0-1), 11 on Pac-12 Network

Idaho (1-0) at Washington (1-0), 2 on Pac-12 Network

Idaho State (1-0) at Colorado (1-0), 2:30

BYU (1-0) at Utah (1-0), 4:30

UNLV (1-0) at UCLA (0-1), 5 on Pac-12 Network

Texas Tech (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 7 on Fox Sports 1

Washington State (0-1) at Boise State (1-0), 7:15 on ESPN2

California (1-0) at San Diego State (1-0), 7:30 on CBS Sports Network

Virginia (0-1) at Oregon (1-0), 7:30 on ESPN2

Grambling State (1-0) at Arizona (0-1), 7:45 on Pac-12 Network

The best matchups from week two’s slate of games appear to be Cal at SDSU, Wazzou at Boise State, Texas Tech at Arizona State, and BYU at Utah. I’ll take the Pac-12 to go 7-3 next week with Utah, Arizona State and Washington State as the losers.

What did you guys think of the Pac-12’s first weekend of football? What are your predictions for next week? Sound off in the comments below!