The Pac-12 is a weird, weird conference.
First, the conference hasn’t had a winning bowl season since going 5-0 in 2008. Last year’s realignment — ostensibly to allow for a conference championship game for more moolah and visibility — ended up as sort of a failure in its first year.
With USC — clearly the only team in the Pac-12 South with a legitimate shot at beating Oregon — grounded by mom and dad, the inaugural title game ended up a lop-sided snoozefest between the Ducks and the Bruins. Think about that. You had a 6-7 UCLA team fresh off a 50-0 loss to a crosstown rival applying for a waiver to play in a bowl game with the Rose Bowl on the line.
Even though this season is young, plenty of surprises have already shaken up the conference this year, potentially setting up a much wilder and more exciting end to this season. And so far the place for excitement is Palo Alto, Calif. While no one really anticipated the Cardinal dropping off a cliff with All-Galaxy quarterback Andrew Luck headed to the NFL, Stanford proved they can’t be counted out of the race for the conference title this year with their win over Matt Barkley and the Trojans.
This week’s water-cooler talk centered on the damage done to Barkley’s promising Heisman campaign, but the most telling thing of Saturday’s game was Stanford’s defense — they were good for five sacks, two interceptions and, more importantly, they left a gaping hole in USC’s perceived invulnerability. Oregon fans didn’t know whether to be happy Trojans lost or scared of the Cardinal.
Then there’s our friends in Corvallis. The biggest question mark for the Beavers is whether their old-school 10-7 win over then-No. 13 Wisconsin was a fluke. Because of last week’s bye and Week One’s matchup against Nicholls State postponed (or potentially canceled) due to a tropical storm, Oregon State’s only seen the field once this year. All eyes will be on them as they slog through a tough road trip against UCLA and Arizona these next two weeks.
We really don’t even know much about Oregon after three weeks. Marcus Mariota’s played only one full game under center, and Oregon’s defense has been allowed to take the second half off three straight weeks. If Cal plays Oregon as tough as they played Ohio State last weekend, things could get hairy for the Ducks in Berkeley, just like they did two years ago.
Perhaps the only thing we do know is that no one’s scared of playing Colorado. John Henderson of The Denver Post warned that this year’s Buffs could be headed for their worst season in program history. And that was before their 69-14 obliteration at the hands of a Fresno State team recovering from their own blow-out loss to Oregon. What could the spread possibly be when Colorado comes to Autzen on Oct. 27 — 80? 200?
At least new Washington State head coach Mike Leach has bought into the topsy-turviness of nonconference play. In the Cougars’ win over UNLV on Saturday, Leach looked like an impatient teen playing Madden, choosing to pass the ball several occasions while up eight with just minutes left. The move didn’t come back to bite him, but even the announcers were confused with his game management. It didn’t help Leach’s reputation as a a ballsy, potentially crazy man, but I’ll admit it makes for exciting TV.
So, pull up a chair and get ready for year two of Pac-12 play: Where up is down, down is up, and a Utah/BYU game can end three times before it’s really over.