Sunday, September 15, 2013
Pac-12 measures up on big weekend
By Ted Miller
Marcus Mariota and Oregon were just one of many Pac-12 teams to make a statement on Saturday.
On Tuesday, we wrote: "The Pac-12 will establish its national identity on Saturday. Simple as that."
On Saturday, the Pac-12 went 8-1 in nonconference games and established the conference's national identity: Legit.
The Pac-12 went 3-1 in matchups with the Big Ten, beating two ranked teams. UCLA scored 38 consecutive points to win 41-21 at No. 23 Nebraska. No one really knows how to explain what happened at the end of No. 20 Wisconsin's visit to Arizona State, but the scoreboard read 32-30 in the Sun Devils' favor when the clock struck zero.
Washington beat Illinois 34-24 in a game played in Chicago. USC bounced back from an embarrassing home loss to Washington State by dominating Boston College 35-7. Oregon made Tennessee look like an FCS team in a 59-14 win. Cal lost 52-34 to No. 4 Ohio State, but it was a decent performance, at least by the Bears' offense.
There were no upsets against overmatched foes -- Arizona, Stanford and Washington State took care of business -- and, in the only conference game, Oregon State and Utah played a barn burner, with the Beavers prevailing in overtime.
Colorado never got a chance to join the party in a revenge game against Fresno State because that game was called due to heavy flooding in Boulder.
The meaning of everything?
Well, Oregon showed its legitimacy as a national title contender under new coach Mark Helfrich, and QB Marcus Mariota established his Heisman Trophy bona fides. That's at the top of the heap.
The Ducks also did enough to eclipse Stanford in the eyes of the Pac-12 blog as the conference's top national title contender. The Cardinal muddled around a bit against Army. While Oregon had preseason questions, it has answered them with a strong 3-0 start.
Meanwhile, in the Pac-12 South Division, both UCLA and Arizona State made statements, though the Bruins’ was a bit more impressive on the road. And the Trojans did enough against BC to create a lingering "maybe" over their previously flagging season.
The Bruins could push close to the nation's top 10 this week. They seem poised for a 5-0 start before playing at Stanford and Oregon on back-to-back weekends starting Oct. 19.
Arizona State will be in the Top 25 this week, and that will make the visit to Stanford on Saturday the first Pac-12 matchup this season between ranked teams. A big opportunity for the Sun Devils.
USC gets the Sun Devils in two weeks. If the Trojans beat a strong Utah State team on Saturday and then win at Arizona State, well, suddenly the "Fire Kiffin" talk might die down.
Washington gets a breather on Saturday with Idaho State. Then the Huskies play host to Arizona on Sept. 28 in a potentially big game for both squads. The Wildcats, who have been sitting out the relevancy games with a soft nonconference schedule, will have their own chance to have a "hello world" moment.
But the general meaning is this: In the preseason, the Pac-12 looked like a conference that could have national title contenders. Now there's no doubt Oregon and Stanford are in that mix.
It also looked like the conference was as deep as it has been in years. That's been confirmed. The perceived bottom teams -- Colorado, Washington State and California -- are clearly good enough to give anyone some trouble. It wouldn't be shocking if any of those three rallied for bowl eligibility.
Now the focus switches to conference games, though both USC and Stanford still have games with Notre Dame ahead.
Things can change quickly. Teams perceived to be at the top today could fall. And teams toward the bottom -- hello Oregon State -- could rise.
But the nation took out a measuring stick this weekend, and the Pac-12 measured up.