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 told the Pac-12 blog. "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 that 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. Don't know a ton more about ASU's defense or Oregon's offense. Didn't learn much about Stanford's rushing attack. Ty Montgomery is really good. But we already knew that.

We learned that 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 that 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.

The Capital One Cup Impact Performances Of The Week include John Crockett of North Dakota State, Cody Kessler of USC, Dak Prescott of Mississippi State and Rashad Greene of Florida State.

Trojans rise above distractions

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
LOS ANGELES -- The text popped up on Su'a Cravens phone as he prepared to leave for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to play Fresno State on Saturday.

It was from Josh Shaw, one of Cravens’ best friends on the team and the player he thought he would be lining up beside in the defensive backfield this season.

“He just told me to be a leader,” said Cravens, a sophomore starting safety at USC. “Just be a leader and take over the secondary.”

Three days after Shaw, a USC senior cornerback, admitted to lying about how he suffered two high ankle sprains the past weekend and was suspended indefinitely, USC took the field for their season opener and a break from off-the-field distractions in one of the wildest weeks the program has ever experienced.

It began Monday when the team revealed that Shaw, one of the team's captains, had injured himself while jumping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, who was struggling in the pool. Shaw said his nephew did not know how to swim.

On Wednesday, Shaw hired a criminal defense attorney and admitted to team officials the story was a complete fabrication. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department is eyeing Shaw for a potential role in a domestic dispute.

[+] EnlargeSu'a Cravens, Steve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC safety Su'a Cravens, who was jumped by Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian after Saturday's convincing win, said this week's off-field issues "didn't compare at all to [last season]."

“I wasn’t expecting it,” Cravens said. “I’m pretty sure nobody on the team was expecting it. We all thought he was a hero at one point. It’s unfortunate what happened, but we have to keep going.”

The Trojans did more that keep going. They took a week’s worth of frustration and anger out on Fresno State during a 52-13 blowout, which could have been worse if the Trojans hadn’t taken out their starters before the start of the fourth quarter.

USC set a Pac-12 record by running 105 offensive plays in the no-huddle offense Steve Sarkisian unveiled during his head-coaching debut with the Trojans. USC also totaled 704 yards and 37 first downs, the most the Trojans have had since 2005, when USC was riding a 34-game winning streak and Sarkisian was the assistant head coach.

It felt like old times at USC. The Trojans were dominant from opening kickoff and scored 52 points before the end of the third quarter. USC hadn’t scored that many in a game at the Coliseum since Pete Carroll was the coach.

As much as USC would like to turn back the clock to that time, it was the struggle of the past season -- when USC went through three head coaches -- and dealing with the sanctions and bowl bans the previous three campaigns that planted the seeds for a team that could persevere through controversy and outside distractions.

Most of the players in USC’s locker room are used to being punished for the mistakes of others and being asked about issues out of their control. In the big scheme of things, this week should not be that entirely shocking for them.

So Shaw concocted an elaborate lie about how he suffered his injury that lasted less than 24 hours. So USC senior running back Anthony Brown quit the team and decided to call Sarkisian a "racist" a week later on social media before deleting his post and making his account private hours after it became public.

It’s certainly embarrassing but perhaps not quite as distracting for a team as having your coach fired in the middle of the night at an airport, and then, less than three months later, watch his replacement quit just before your bowl game.

“It didn’t compare at all to [the past season],” Cravens said. “We got a completely different coaching staff five games into the season. Of course, it sucks what happened to Josh, and it’s unfortunate what A.B. said in the press. But we got bigger things to handle. That was the game today. And next week we got Stanford, and that’s all we’re thinking about.”

These Trojans might not be as talented as the national championship squads Sarkisian coached a decade ago, but they have proven themselves to be perhaps the most resilient group the school has ever seen.

After Lane Kiffin was essentially fired outside an airport tarmac, the Trojans responded by beating Arizona the following week and winning six of their next seven games. When Ed Orgeron quit after not being named the permanent head coach, they beat Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

On Saturday, they ushered in the Sarkisian era with one of the most dominating offensive performances the school has ever had, after one of the most difficult weeks the school has ever experienced.

“I think when everybody is talking bad about SC and saying it’s a clown college, or they’re so distracted, and it’s a joke at this school, we just laugh,” Cravens said. “We’re going to play our game no matter what happens.

“People may think they know what’s going on at SC, [but] what they don’t know [is] it’s a band of brothers getting ready to play the game. Think what you want. We’re SC. We’re the SC that y’all have known. We’re the SC that’s ready to fight against everybody we play every weekend. I think we showed that today.”

Cody Kessler, who passed for a career-high 394 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score, shook his head when asked if the distractions got to the team. So did Leonard Williams, who had seven tackles and an interception.

“You saw last year that we went through so much, and we’re tight because of it,” Kessler said. “Coach Sark makes it about us. And we practice Monday through Friday and never once did these guys get rattled, and it showed tonight.”

Sarkisian saw what last year’s team went through when he was named the team’s head coach before the bowl game. He knew how tight the team was and only felt the need to bring up the Shaw and Brown incidents twice before returning the focus back to football.

“I don’t know if it brought us closer, but it reinforced what we’re about,” Sarkisian said. “They went through a lot last year with the transition, and there were moments where these guys had to cling together. And ultimately, it showed.”

The focus on Saturday finally returned to football at USC. If the Trojans continue to play the way they did against Fresno State, it might actually remain that way for a while.

Cravens: Shaw, Brown on my mind

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30

LOS ANGELES -- While most USC players tried to change the subject when the names of Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown were brought up after Saturday's 52-13 victory over Fresno State, starting safety Su'a Cravens admitted he was thinking of both seniors and how their final seasons could have been different if they had handled their situations another way.

“I know [Brown] probably regrets saying what he said,” Cravens said of the running back who quit the team Aug. 21 and later called coach Steve Sarkisian "racist" in social-media posts since deleted. “It’s unfortunate. I know Sark personally, and Sark is a great coach, and there’s no way shape or form it's true what [Brown] said. I think he was just upset with the situation. If he could rethink that whole thing, he wouldn’t have said it. It’s the frustration of being in your senior year and really not playing. A.B. is my friend, and it’s unfortunate what he said.”

“[Shaw] apologized publicly to the coaching staff and to the entire football team and administration," Cravens added. "We all know what kind of guy Josh is, and he doesn't need to apologize to us for us to know that he’s sorry for what he did.”

What exactly happened with Shaw continues to be a mystery to most outside of the team -- the cornerback has been suspended after he admitted to lying about how he suffered a pair of ankle sprains -- and as much as Cravens would like to see the one-time defensive captain return, he understands that’s out of his hands.

“We got to see what happens legally, and if Coach Sark lets him back onto the team,” Cravens said. “We don’t know what happened. I’m sure if some guys did know what happened, they wouldn’t say because they might have to be witnesses in a courtroom. I don’t know. As far as I see it, he fabricated his story, and that’s all I know.”

LOS ANGELES -- Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns and No. 15 Southern California ended a trying week with a 52-13 win over Fresno State in Steve Sarkisian's debut as the Trojans' head coach.

The Trojans ran a school- and Pac-12 record 105 plays while racking up 37 first downs and 702 yards of total offense to Fresno State's 16 first downs and 315 yards.

In all, 10 different Trojans caught passes in Sarkisian's up-tempo offense.

For USC, the victory comes at the end of a distracting week for Sarkisian, punctuated by a tale of heroism by suspended defensive captain Josh Shaw that turned out to be a lie. Backup running back Anthony Brown also quit the team and called Sarkisian a racist, an allegation the coach and other players vehemently denied.

For the Bulldogs, the loss was their third straight in the series to USC.

(Read full post)

USC 52, Fresno State 13

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns in the USC Trojans' 52-13 win against the Fresno State Bulldogs.

USC WR Nelson Agholor had the ball bounce off his face mask and into the air before he made a 34-yard reception.

Video: Sarkisian's remarks on accusation

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
USC Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian addresses the accusations made by senior running back Anthony Brown, calling Sarkisian a racist man after quitting the team.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian discusses senior cornerback Josh Shaw's lie about how he suffered his ankle injuries last weekend, ensuing police investigation and a possible return to USC.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 1

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
Here is our quick guide to the season's first Saturday of Pac-12 games:

No. 7 UCLA at Virginia
Time: 12 p.m. ET
Hashtag: #UCLAvsUVA

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsSigns point to a convincing victory for UCLA and coach Jim Mora in Virginia.
The Bruins begin their much-anticipated season with a trip to Charlottesville in what has the makings of a relatively easy UCLA win. Virginia enters the game having lost 10 straight games against FBS teams -- a streak that began with a 59-10 home loss to Oregon the past season. Conversely, expectations couldn’t be much higher for the Bruins, who start the season No. 7 in the AP poll, their highest preseason ranking since they started the 1998 season at No. 6.

California at Northwestern
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Hashtag: #CalvsNU

A year ago, Cal was a few tipped passes from opening the Sonny Dykes era with a win against what was then a ranked Northwestern team. It was all downhill from there, but now that Cal is healthy, has a new defensive coordinator (Art Kaufman) and has another offseason to adjust to the new coaching staff, there is a renewed sense of cautious optimism in Berkeley.

Portland State at Oregon State
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network

Oregon State against an FCS team … what could possibly go wrong? After losses to FCS teams in season openers two of the past three seasons, there is no chance the Beavers aren’t up for this one. Also, quarterback Sean Mannion renews his quest to eclipse Matt Barkley’s Pac-12 career passing record (12,327 yards) -- he needs just 1,892 yards to take sole possession.

UC Davis at No. 11 Stanford
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network

Stanford’s rematch from a 2005 loss to Davis serves as just the fourth meeting between the Cardinal and an FCS team since the Division I-AA subdivision was created in 1978. Stanford will need its highly touted offensive line to gel quickly before next week, when it hosts USC and the Trojans’ formidable front seven.

Fresno State at No. 15 USC
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Kickoff can’t come soon enough for the Trojans after one of the more bizarre weeks for a team … ever? Turmoil, of course, isn’t new to this group of players, which was able to band together for a strong close to 2013, despite changing head coaches twice during the season. An impressive showing for USC would go a long way toward changing the story back to football in coach Steve Sarkisian’s debut.

No. 25 Washington at Hawaii
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network

Coach Chris Petersen has a favorable early schedule to ease into his new job, starting with this trip to the Islands. Considering how much the Warriors struggled a year ago -- they started 0-11 before winning the finale -- this one doesn’t figure to be much of a contest. Quarterback Jeff Lindquist will start for the Huskies as Cyler Miles serves a one-game suspension.

South Dakota at No. 3 Oregon
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network

Oregon’s starters face more difficult challenges every day against their scout-team counterparts. It would be a surprise if the Ducks don’t score 35 first-half points and quarterback Marcus Mariota plays deep into the third quarter with No. 8 Michigan State looming next week.

LAPD: Still looking at Josh Shaw

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29

Los Angeles Police Department spokeswoman Nuria Vanegas told ESPN's Shelley Smith on Friday that as part of an investigation into a possible burglary at the Orsini apartment complex, the LAPD continues to look into whether USC cornerback Josh Shaw and his girlfriend were involved in a domestic dispute last Saturday night.

"Nothing has changed," Vanegas said.

According to Vanegas, it is not a domestic violence investigation.

"That is a crime," she said. "A domestic dispute is not."

Shaw is not a suspect or considered a person of interest in the burglary investigation.

Earlier this week Shaw said he suffered two high ankle ankles jumping to rescue a nephew who was drowning in a pool at the complex. He admitted to team officials Wednesday that the story was a complete fabrication.

USC has suspended Shaw indefinitely.

(Read full post)