We never know. We learn.

We have ideas of what teams will look like, and we project based on returning talent, talking with coaches, watching practices and making educated guesses. But we never really know until we see what's on the field.

We're smarter Saturday night than we were Thursday morning -- mostly. The first week of Pac-12 Football 101, which saw the league go 10-2 in nonconference play, was chock-full of intellectual goodies.

Perhaps the team that enlightened us the most was the California Bears, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to FBS teams by going into Ryan Field and notching a 31-24 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeCal's Jalen Jefferson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJalen Jefferson celebrates his interception that essentially sealed the game for Cal.
It's not that it was the first FBS win of the Sonny Dykes era, or that the offense looked balanced and explosive. It's the fact that they had a 31-7 lead and won 31-24. Dykes liked the idea that his team had to tip-toe through a little bit of fire to pick up the win. He watched his team evolve from soft to salty.

"I never got the feeling from one player or one coach of ‘here we go again,'" Dykes told the Pac-12 blog via telephone after the game. "The guys really believed in each other. And the reason they did is because they have worked so hard. They were prepared. And they knew someone would make a play to give us a chance to win the ball game."

As it turned out, someone made two. On Northwestern's final drive, Jalen Jefferson notched a critical sack on second-and-6 for a loss of 11 yards. On the next play, Jefferson snagged an interception that essentially closed out the game.

"It's been a long few months for us, but we're a tighter team than we were last year," Jefferson said. "A lot of those breaks we weren't getting last year, we got them. We can feel things changing for the better."

Added quarterback Jared Goff: "I think we learned about resiliency. We knew they would fight back and we didn't give up ... we learned how to finish a game."

It was educational, for sure.

We learned some things haven't changed -- at least not yet. While the Bears were protecting the fourth quarter from a Big Ten team, the Washington State Cougars were yielding the fourth quarter to another. And UCLA? Well, Brett Hundley is still getting sacked, and his offensive line still looks leaky. If not for three defensive touchdowns, the Bruins would be staring at 0-1.

We didn't learn much from the FCS games -- other than it was good to see Utah's Travis Wilson back on the field and that Oregon State seems to makes those games sketchier than they probably should be. We don't know a ton more about ASU's defense or Oregon's offense. We didn't learn much about Stanford's rushing attack. Ty Montgomery is really good. But we already knew that.

We learned USC still has the ability to hit the mute button on the outside noise. If there's one team that knows a little something about turmoil, it's the Trojans -- for what they went through last year. That's a team with scary potential.

We learned not very good is sometimes good enough. See Washington and UCLA, whose fans are crawling into bed at this moment feeling both relieved and probably a little jolted.

And the rest of the Pac-12 probably learned a little something about the Bears.

"We're capable of being pretty good, I think," Dykes said. "We have to execute better. We're good in spurts. We have to be good consistently and close people out."

Next week Cal gets FCS Sacramento State with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011. The schedule ramps up with a pair of high-profile games, including Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford.

Looking forward to what we'll know by this time next Saturday.

Oregon 62, South Dakota 13

August, 31, 2014
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Marcus Mariota combined for 310 yards passing and rushing with four touchdowns in Oregon's 62-13 win over South Dakota.

Mariota has 4 TDs and Oregon beats S. Dakota 62-13

August, 31, 2014
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EUGENE, Ore. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns then ran for one more before sitting out the second half, leading the third-ranked Oregon Ducks to a 62-13 victory over South Dakota in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.

Running back Byron Marshall was Oregon's top receiver with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks, who have won 10 straight home openers. Freshman Royce Freeman, a five-star recruit out of Imperial, California, ran for 75 yards and two more scores.

Mariota's 62-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Stanford on Oregon's first series of the game gave him the Ducks' career record for touchdowns with 79 (64 pass, 14 rush and one reception), surpassing Joey Harrington.

Trevor Bouma ran for a 3-yard TD and Miles Bergner kicked a pair of field goals for the Missouri Valley's Coyotes, who went 4-8 last season but were surprisingly plucky against the bigger and faster Ducks.


(Read full post)


EUGENE, Ore. -- ESPN's College GameDay will be in Eugene when Michigan State visits Oregon on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

It's the sixth-consecutive season that GameDay will visit Eugene. The crew was on campus last season when Oregon and UCLA faced off. The Ducks won, 42-14, to move to 8-0 on the regular season.

The matchup is a highly anticipated one, featuring two preseason top-10 teams, led by returning quarterbacks Connor Cook (Michigan State) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon). College Football Playoff implications are on the line as the Big Ten and Pac-12 battle.

 
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Kenny Bassett run for 9 yds for a TD
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Jeff Lockie pass complete to Pharaoh Brown for 4 yds for a TD (Aidan Schneider KICK)
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(Two pt rush, T. Alie GOOD)
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Marcus Mariota run for 1 yd for a TD
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Trevor Bouma run for 3 yds for a TD (Miles Bergner KICK)
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Jasper Sanders run for 45 yds to the Oregn 30 for a 1ST down
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Marcus Mariota pass complete to Byron Marshall for 11 yds for a TD (Aidan Schneider KICK)
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Just inches from a touchdown, Oregon RB Byron Marshall let go of the football before he crossed the goal line.
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Royce Freeman run for 26 yds for a TD (Aidan Schneider KICK)

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Oregon Sinks South Dakota
Marcus Mariota combined for 310 yards and four touchdowns in Oregon's 62-13 win over South Dakota.
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