- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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In honor of the World Cup, the Pac-12 blog is taking a look at the best wins for each school during the last four years. Earlier today we looked at the best wins between World Cups for the Pac-12 North. Now we turn our attention to the South.
Savor these memories, because on Tuesday, we’re going to look at the toughest losses for each team.
Feel free to submit your thoughts on the best win/worst loss for your team over the last four years and I might publish some later this week.
There have been a few good ones in the last four years. The 2010 wins over No. 9 Iowa and the 2012 win over No. 9 USC stand out. So does the Territorial Cup win in an abysmal 2011. But the 42-16 pasting of No. 5 Oregon in 2013 strikes me as the best one. It was the signature victory of the Rich Rodriguez era, it kept the Ducks out of a BCS bowl game and featured one of the best interceptions I’ve ever seen with Shaq Richardson running the tip drill to Scooby Wright.
It has to be one of the Territorial Cup games, right? The Sun Devils owned the Wildcats between World Cups with a 3-1 record, including 2-0 in the Todd Graham era. The 2012 victory, a 41-34 triumph, stands out because it was the inaugural showdown between Graham and Rich Rodriguez and the Sun Devils pulled it off after trailing 27-17 going into the fourth quarter. It was an announcement of sorts to the rest of the league that the Sun Devils of the Graham era aren’t ever out of a game, and that momentum helped propel them to the South title in 2013.
The Buffs weren’t Pac-12 members yet in 2010, so we won’t draw from that season. (And let’s be honest, does anyone really want to relive the 45-17 loss to Nebraska?). Colorado hasn’t had many wins as a Pac-12 member. The come-from-behind win at Wazzu in 2012 was pretty spectacular as Jordan Webb rushed for a 4-yard touchdown with nine seconds left in the game for a 35-34 win. But last season's 41-27 win over Colorado State stands out because it was a win over a rival, it was the first win of the Mike MacIntyre era and it set a tone for what things might hold for the future in Boulder. And let’s face it, watching Mac all fired up on the sideline had to be inspiration enough for Colorado fans.
The last four years are really defined by the end of the Rick Neuheisel era and the start of the Jim Mora era. 2010 started out promising with consecutive wins over No. 23 Houston and at No. 7 Texas. We can also point to Brett Hundley’s come-from-behind win in 2012 in Tempe that helped lock up the South crown. A couple of USC wins also come to mind. But the Pac-12 blog still gets misty when thinking about the 41-21 win over Nebraska last season. How could you not? It was the ultimate tribute to a team that had suffered a heart-wrenching loss with the death of a teammate. Nebraska was all class in helping honor Nick Pasquale, and the Bruins played some of the most inspired football I’ve seen in my 17 years in the business. It was a victory that should make all UCLA fans -- and all football fans -- proud.
That 50-0 smackdown against UCLA in 2011 must have felt good. And the 38-35 win over No. 4 Oregon just one week earlier was of massive national significance. In fact, one USC insider I talked to in the spring told me the worst thing to ever happen to Lane Kiffin was going 10-2 in 2011 – because it set the bar too high for 2012 and his subsequent firing in 2013. That might be true. But it was pretty darn fun to watch those games at the time. However, it’s a game from 2013 we’re picking -- a 20-17 win at home over No. 4 Stanford. The Trojans were in the midst of a tumultuous season, but had won four of five with Ed Orgeron as interim coach. It was the signature win of the brief Orgeron era, was vindication for players who had suffered through a pair of heart-wrenching losses the previous seasons and snapped Stanford’s four-game stranglehold on the Trojans. That win gave USC fans something to cheer about and rally around when there hadn’t been much the last couple of seasons.
Like Colorado, we’re just looking at the three years the Utes have been in the conference (though I was at Qualcomm in 2010 for a pretty good come-from-behind 38-34 win over San Diego State). There have also been a couple of thrilling wins over BYU. But without question it was the home win last season over No. 5 Stanford. The 27-21 win was the signature conference victory the Utes had been looking for, though they were unable to build from it as quarterback injuries sparked a five-game skid that kept Utah out of the postseason for the second straight year. Still, for those 60 minutes, Utah was one of the best teams in the country. The defense was stifling. The offense controlled the tempo against the Cardinal from side to side with bubble screens and the Utes gutted-up with a goal-line stand. It was a victory worthy of a field-storming -- something The MUSS hadn’t experienced much since joining the league.
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2dKevin Gemmell and Erik McKinney