Why Oregon will win: Two years ago, Kevin Hogan made his first road start at Autzen and won. Anu Solomon is making his seconds career road start. The difference was Stanford had a defense to back up Hogan. Arizona’s defense isn’t on that level yet. This has track meet written all over it. And maybe it will be. But eventually home-field advantage will make an impact. And the first time Arizona makes a mistake, the Ducks will pounce. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why Stanford will win: I’m not sold on either team’s offense but I think Stanford has faced tougher competition. Everything that has gone wrong with the Cardinal this year is fixable and coachable. If Stanford can clean up some of its procedural issues, it's going to put up points. The Cardinal have all the ingredients to be an effective red zone team. The defense needs no fixing. It’s No. 1 in the country for a reason. I like the Cardinal here in a one-possession game. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams play great defense, but Notre Dame is getting more superior play at quarterback with Everett Golson than Stanford is getting from Kevin Hogan. I particularly like Golson’s improved maturity as a passer, which makes his running ability even more dangerous. Further, home-field advantage can’t be discounted. It was a factor for the Cardinal last week in Husky Stadium and it will be a factor again in front of Touchdown Jesus, only this time Stanford will come up short. -- Ted Miller
Why Oregon State will win: Sean Mannion and his receivers will have been itching to get back onto the field since their loss in Los Angeles and they're going to want to make a statement. Colorado, still fuming from their double-overtime loss, is going to press a bit early, giving the Beavers a chance to get out to a quick start and, even if receiver Victor Bolden isn't in the game, allow Mannion a chance to gain some confidence with his other receivers. Colorado is also giving up 5.0 yards per rush. Look for Storm Woods to have a breakout game on the road and Mannion to button up this offense and make this a true business trip for the Beavers.-- Chantel Jennings
Why Colorado will win: The Buffs are back at home. Their offense is brimming with confidence after putting up 56 points in last week’s double-overtime loss at Cal. Meanwhile, Oregon State is reeling after Sean Mannion struggled while USC racked up 461 yards of total offense on them. Colorado enters a truly brutal stretch to close the season after this -- at USC, vs. UCLA, vs. Washington, at Arizona, at Oregon, vs. Utah -- so I expect Mike MacIntyre’s squad to come into this one with an unmatched sense of urgency. Because of that, expect more big things from Nelson Spruce, who has broken Colorado’s single-game reception record two weeks in a row (19 catches last week). -- David Lombardi
Why USC will win: In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, USC made it easy to forget about its trip to Boston College with a sound defeat of Oregon State, while Arizona State's defense showed an inability to tackle against UCLA. Hard to go against the Trojans at home with those two games fresh on the mind. -- Kyle Bonagura
Why UCLA will win: Now that the Bruins have proven they are who we ... well, at least can be who we thought they were, there's far less reason for concern. Utah, however, has some major offensive worries following a home loss to Washington State in which the Utes simply couldn't move the ball. It was hard to look at them like a bowl team, let alone one that would go to UCLA and win. -- Kyle Bonagura
Why Washington State will win: Both teams score points in bunches, and I like Cal’s superior balance, but this one will come down to which defense can make a few stops. While, statistically, the defenses are comparable, what the Cougars did against Oregon and Utah suggests it has a better chance to throw the decisive blow (or two). -- Ted Miller
For months, we've been hearing the word "autonomy" when it comes to the five wealthiest conferences in college sports, aka The Power 5. Wednesday was the first day that autonomy structure went into effect, the the Power 5 outlined some of the changes it plans to make.
Per the Associated Press, some of those changes include:
- Funding athletic scholarships that would cover the full cost of tuition.
- Guaranteeing multiyear scholarships for athletes.
- Lifetime scholarship guarantees that would allow former athletes to return to school at any time and complete their degrees.
- Providing long-term health care and insurance to former athletes.
No rule change can occur until the start of the 2015-2016 season and the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will meet later this month to discuss how best to implement the changes. These reforms are consistent with a letter the Pac-12 sent out in May proposing several changes to the current structure.
“Student-athletes make tremendous contributions to their schools on and off the field and we want to boost the assistance they receive,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott in a release sent out by the conference on Wednesday. “Better meeting their evolving needs will allow us to preserve, and improve upon, the existing collegiate experience that has provided millions of student-athletes access to higher education and transformed the lives of so many young men and women.”
What might have been
There was a chance that Jameis Winston might have ended up in the Pac-12. For those who remember the 2012 recruiting season, the Stanford Cardinal were hopeful that Winston might break his commitment to Florida State and end up on the West Coast.
Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News wonderfully weaves in a Gwyneth Paltrow reference -- because, why not? -- when running the subject by coach David Shaw.
Here's what Shaw told Wilner:
There are so many what-ifs during recruiting. There are players on lots of teams who could have ended up here ... It’s two different environments; it’s two different places. I don’t know what would have happened.
It's an interesting read from Wilner with a couple more quotes from Shaw.
- Look for the Wildcats to key in on Marcus Mariota (I'm no defensive mastermind, but that seems like a decent plan).
- Some defensive lessons learned for ASU.
- Sonny Dykes isn't sure what to make of his defense yet.
- Colorado loses Elijah Dunston for the year with a knee injury.
- An interesting chart from Pete Roussel comparing the top teams in the country, including Oregon.
- Neat story about the history between Colorado's Nelson Spruce and OSU's Richard Mullaney.
- A Stanford-Notre Dame preview.
- UCLA DC says Bruins ran out of gas last week.
- Justin Davis talks about getting back on track after his injury.
- Plenty of Utes heading home to California.
- Washington offensive line coach Chris Strausser talks shop.
- After a slow start, WSU's defense is making a comeback.
A hilarious segment from USC with their players and coaches reading each other's tweets.
Awesome Mac quote.
#CUBuffs coach Mike MacIntyre was asked why OSU had trouble moving ball against USC "The USC dudes on the other side. They got some dudes."— Kyle Ringo (@KyleRingo) October 1, 2014
Todd Graham has talked about putting up fences to keep Arizona guys in state. Billboards will have to do while the fences are under construction.
But hey, everyone is a winner because if there's a weekend in which Montgomery's bowling-ball TD is the fifth-most-impressive play, that must mean the weekend was jam-packed with great football. Take that, SEC.
Now, on to our favorite part of this feature: viewer and reader reactions. We asked the Twitterverse to best express their reaction or description of Adams' play in 140 characters or less.
From the UCLA supporters:
@ESPN_Pac12blog just goes to show you that the ASU offense can't tackle any better than their defense— John (@Tribs824) September 30, 2014
From the Arizona State contingent:
@ESPN_Pac12blog Heartbreaking, frustrating, vomit-inducing (I could go on)— Devon Miller (@DevonMillerAZ) October 1, 2014
@ESPN_Pac12blog completely ruined my night— Jason Brown (@illustrated_1) September 30, 2014
The Bruins aren’t too shabby themselves in the special teams department. Ishmael Adams leads the conference in kickoff return average (28.2 yards per return) and has returned one for a touchdown. He also has a pair of interceptions returned for a touchdown. He provided both non-offensive touchdowns for the Bruins last week.
“You look at our league, it’s scary each week,” Graham said. “You look at the punt returners and kick returners, every week you’ve got dynamic guys. It’s a challenge. Those are momentum shifts that are catastrophic. When you have them, they are great momentum changes. They are immeasurable.”
The Bruins have scored five non-offensive touchdowns this season. Three have come by way of interception, one was a fumble return and the last was the Adams kick return. Utah also has five -- four on special teams and one defensive.
So the chore facing UCLA coach Jim Mora and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham this week is to find ways to neutralize Clay and Adams in the kicking game. Whether that’s directional kicking, kicking away from them all together or simply putting faith in their coverage units, both coaches recognize the explosive potential of the other’s return man.
“We kickoff to whoever,” Mora said. “We have one of the best kickoff coverage units in college football. We have not given up a single yard yet in four games in punt return.
“Now, [Clay] is special. I don’t know if we’ll be able to say that after this game. We don’t really change what we do. We have tremendous respect for him. But we don’t want to go too far away from what our core principles and foundation are.”
The odds of winning go up dramatically when scoring a non-offensive touchdown. But that doesn’t always mean victory is assured. Like the Bruins last week, the Utes also scored a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown. Yet despite the 58-yard punt return from Clay and an 11-yard pick-six from Eric Rowe, they still fell 28-27 at home to Washington State, which erased a 21-0 first-quarter deficit.
“It’s a major impact in the momentum and flow of a game,” Whittingham said. “For whatever reason, it’s a bigger boost and a bigger lift when you score a non-offensive touchdown. It has more of an impact on your team. It seems like more of a momentum type play than a touchdown from your offense. It can really turn a game and help you out. But we obviously came up short last week.”
Turnovers should be on both coaches’ minds this week. Recall last year the Bruins narrowly escaped Rice-Eccles with a 34-27 victory after Travis Wilson threw six interceptions. Granted, not all of them were his fault. There were drops and tips and missed routes. But “interceptions” aren’t a receiving category.
And whether it’s on special teams or defense, Whittingham is well-aware of what Adams is capable of.
“You try to not to get the ball in his hands,” Whittingham said. “We have a directional punter in Tom Hackett; he’s able to put the ball in various locations on the field. We hope to keep it out of his hands. We don’t know if we can do that all the time, but we hope to minimize it. He’s a dangerous player. He’s very explosive. You’d be crazy to just kick right to him. That doesn’t make sense.”
"I'll have the pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment please."
It's depth-chart Wednesday. As we do every week, here are the links to the teams playing this week followed by any significant notes. Washington is on bye this week, so we'll update the Huskies next week. The other 11 teams are in action. UCLA is the only team that doesn't do a weekly depth chart. Enjoy!
- Arizona State (page 15 of the game notes, though it's still listed as of Sept. 22)
- California (page nine of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 9 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 23 of the game notes)
- USC (page 15 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
- At Arizona, despite being listed the first four weeks as a potential starter at strong linebacker, Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea is officially off the depth chart after announcing his transfer. He didn't record a tackle in the first four games (depth charts are so awesome!).
- At Cal, Y receiver Stephen Anderson has dropped the "or" next to his name with Darius Powe.
- At Colorado, Jimmie Gilbert moves into the starting spot at right defensive end.
- At Oregon, it looks like there are two scenarios for whether Jake Fisher returns this week. It's either Fisher at LT, or Tyrell Crosby. If Crosby moves, Matt Pierson moves from left to right tackle. In special teams, Thomas Tyner is listed as the first kick returner and Charles Nelson is listed first at punt returns.
- At Oregon State, Siale Hautau moves in at left tackle for the injured Jalen Grimble (see story below). And it looks like Trevor Romaine is back to full-time kicking status.
- At Washington State, Sulaiman Hameed moves up to start at strong safety, while Darius Lemora moves to free safety.
The Heisman Pundit has released its weekly straw poll. As always, it is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters. And despite a bye week, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn't slipped a bit. Here are the results of this week's poll. Mariota received seven of the 10 first place votes.
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- 23 (7)
- Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia -- 18 (3)
- Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M -- 7
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- 5
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska -- 4
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin -- 2
- Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State -- 1
Yours truly joined ESPN Radio 1080 The Fan in Portland last night if you're aching for some pod.
- The Daily Star guys discuss the Arizona-Oregon showdown.
- A closer look at some of ASU's defensive woes.
- Cal's pass defense better figure things out quickly.
- Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce have quite the chemistry.
- Oregon's defense must be ready against Arizona.
- Defensive tackle Jalen Grimble is out three to four weeks for the Beavers.
- Stanford looking to get its offense moving before Notre Dame trip.
- Some post-practice video of Jim Mora.
- Tre Madden's recovery has been frustrating.
- What to expect from Utah-UCLA.
- Chris Petersen isn't pulling the plug on Cyler Miles.
- Some more Halliday for Heisman love.
USA Today wants to know which team has the best helmets? ASU and Oregon are in the discussion.
Speaking of the Ducks, their unis for this week.
Arizona at No. 2 Oregon
- Oregon has scored 50 points off turnovers, the most in the Pac-12.
- Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's 13 touchdowns without an interception are the most in the country. He went 10 games without a pick to start last season and had 25 touchdowns before finally throwing one ... against Arizona.
- Arizona leads the Pac-12 and is sixth nationally averaging 593.8 yards per game.
- Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in yards per play (8.14).
- Arizona QB Anu Solomon's 1,454 passing yards in the second most among freshmen in the country.
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame
- Stanford ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring defense (6.5 points per game), total defense (198.o ypg) and passing defense (74 ypg). The Cardinal defense has allowed just two touchdowns in four games.
- The Stanford defense's average starting field position (21.6-yard line) is the most advantageous in the country.
- Stanford's Peter Kalambayi is the only player in the Pac-12 with more than two sacks and an interception.
- More penalties have been committed against WSU (41) than any other team in the Pac-12 -- 24 of those have come with the WSU defense on the field.
- Cal ranks No. 5 in the country in scoring offense (47.5 ppg).
- WSU QB Connor Halliday has attempted 60 more pass than anyone else in the country. He's also the national leader in completions (201), passing yards (2,318) and passing touchdowns (20).
- Cal's Jared Goff isn't far behind Halliday. He's ninth in the country averaging 337 yards passing per game and his touchdown/interception ratio of 17 to 3 is among the best in the country.
- Against FBS teams, Cal and WSU have combined to score 72.5 points per game and allow a total of 75.5 points per game.
- Oregon State ranks No. 16 in the country in total defense (306.5) and No. 2 in the Pac-12.
- Oregon State (18) and Colorado (17) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in total first downs received from opposing penalties.
- Colorado's 138 first downs ranks No. 2 in the country behind only Texas A&M.
- After catching 19 passes and three touchdowns against Cal, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce leads the country in receptions (56), receiving yards (697) and receiving touchdowns (10).
- The 123 yards Oregon State QB Sean Mannion threw for against USC last week was the least he'd ever thrown for in a game he started.
- USC's turnover margin (plus-seven) is sixth-best in the country; ASU (plus-one) is tied for No. 52.
- ASU is the least-penalized team in the Pac-12 (5.5 per game).
- USC QB Cody Kessler's 10 touchdowns without an interception are the second-most in the country behind only Mariota.
- ASU WR Jaelen Strong has accounted for 33.3 percent of the Sun Devils' receptions, the second-most in the Pac-12.
- ASU RB D.J. Foster averages 5.02 yards per carry before contact, which is the most among Pac-12 running backs.
- Both defenses -- Utah (75.5 yards to goal) ranks No. 8 and UCLA (75.1) is No. 11 -- have an average starting field position that ranks among the country's best.
- Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four return touchdowns -- only two other players have at least two.
- Utah's Andy Phillips is one of two kickers in the country who has made at least five field goals from 40-plus yards.
- With 47 tackles, three for loss, a pick-six and a forced fumble, UCLA LB Eric Kendricks is making a strong case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
- UCLA RB Paul Perkins has 214 yards rushing after contact, the second-most in the Pac-12 behind only ASU's D.J. Foster (224).
No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.
Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.
Inactive Week 4: Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Anu Solomon, Arizona.
To see last week’s rankings, click here.
After a week off following a too-close-for-comfort win against Texas (during which quarterback Brett Hundley was injured), UCLA silenced critics that questioned the team's strength with a conference road win at then-No. 15 Arizona State. Hundley and the Bruins looked like the top-10 team they were heading into the season, and the AP voters agreed. The Bruins jumped from No. 11 to No. 8 in the latest poll and can continue to climb with strong performances against Utah and Oregon in the coming weeks.
Montgomery goes bowling
Every wonder what it’s like to be a human blocking sled? Well, Washington sophomore defensive back Trevor Walker discovered that on Saturday as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery literally bowled him into the end zone. One defender approached Montgomery around the 8-yard line. He collided with Montgomery and flew out of bounds (that’s not how tackling is supposed to happen). Then Walker met up with Montgomery at the 5-yard line before being bulldozed into the end zone. I think we can all agree -- that’s how linemen and some fullbacks play. Wide receivers? Nah. Unless your name is Ty Montgomery.
Washington State mounted a surprising comeback in the second half against Utah after going down 21-0 early and still training by 17 at the half. But an 81-yard touchdown by Washington State receiver Vince Mayle tied everything up in Salt Lake City (the extra point gave the Cougars their final margin for victory). With just about five minutes left in the game, QB Connor Halliday hit Mayle on the slant. Mayle got by one defender before a fellow receiver threw a perfect block to spring him, untouched, another 55 yards into the end zone.
Call me Ishmael
With UCLA leading by just three points and the first half nearly coming to a close, UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams managed to pick off Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici at the 5-yard line and returned it 95 yards for the score. Later in the game Adams would return a kick off 100 yards for a score, which is also ridiculous, but, the Bruins already had a hefty lead at that point and the Pac-12 writers decided to give the edge to the pick-six that totally deflated the ASU team before heading into the half.
Hail Mary 2.0
After Arizona beat Cal last week on a Hail Mary, USC threw one of its own against Oregon State. With the clock expiring before halftime and the Trojans only leading by four points, USC quarterback Cody Kessler scrambled around the pocket for a bit before he launched a 48-yard pass to the end zone where it found the hands of sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers. USC would go on to win the game by 25 points, but this play was certainly deflating for a the Beavers, who had shown signs of possible upset material early in the game.
Let’s go Lasco
Cal junior running back Daniel Lasco recorded the first “receiving” touchdown of his career on Saturday, though most of his work was put in on the ground. He snatched a pass from Cal QB Jared Goff before taking off down field. Before he even reached the 20-yard line there was a point in which there were five Colorado defenders circling in on him. He plowed through that group somehow before outrunning another two guys and finding the end zone. Not only was it ridiculously impressive to beat seven defenders head-to-head in a single play, it was also record setting -- the 92-yard receiving touchdown was the longest passing play for a TD in Cal football history.
USC's impact visitor list, Stanford's statement in the Evergreen State, UCLA's major opportunity and a sophomore quarterback at his best under the bright lights are a few of the highlights from the recruiting weekend in the Pac-12 conference.
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It's time to take our weekly stroll through The Eliminator. Not that one. This one. (But kudos to you if you know the reference).
The good news is, no Pac-12 teams were officially "eliminated" this week, per our Mark Schlabach. But a few teams were relegated to the "on the fence" category. One-loss Stanford and USC were already dangling. This week they are joined by Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- all who dropped their first games of the season over the weekend.
Here's Schlabach's take on the Huskies:
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points at home two weeks ago and then mustering little offense in a 20-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday, we're guessing the Huskies won't be occupying this spot for very long. Washington coach Chris Petersen was so desperate to generate some sort of offense against the Cardinal that he tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his team's 47-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. It was stuffed for no gain, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for the go-ahead touchdown five plays later.
Three Pac-12 teams officially remain in contention. That's Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Of course, one of those teams won't be undefeated by the time Friday morning rolls around. The Ducks and Wildcats are set to square off Thursday night in Eugene.
More playoff projections
If you believe Yahoo's Pat Forde, then we're finally going to get to see the matchup we've dreamed about for years in the College Football Playoff: Oregon vs. Alabama. Forde projects the Ducks as the No. 2 seed and Alabama as No. 3 team. His take on the Ducks:
Oregon has won six straight Pac-12 home openers, and none of them has been close. Average score in routs of California (2013), Arizona (2012), Cal (2011), Stanford (2010), Cal (2009), and Washington (2008): 46-13. And three of those opponents were ranked at the time. Next: Sorry, Arizona, you’re the opening Pac-12 cannon fodder in Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 Auburn. There's also some good stuff on Notre Dame-Stanford.
Yours truly joined Bill Riley and Sean O'Connell on ESPN700 in Salt Lake City yesterday if you're aching for some pod.
- Both sides still remember what happened last year between Arizona and Oregon.
- A Q&A with ASU's Mike Bercovici.
- Some thoughts from Sonny Dykes on Cal's academic task force.
- The Buffs picked up a commit from a two-way athlete.
- Oregon motivated by last year's errors against Arizona.
- Sean Mannion said the USC film was painful to watch.
- Handing out Stanford's grades for the week.
- Some post-practice video with Brett Hundley.
- USC feeling a lot better about itself heading into its showdown with ASU.
- Utah has some offensive issues to fix before UCLA.
- News and notes from Chris Petersen's Monday meeting with the media.
- Highlights, of which there are many, from Mike Leach's Monday press conference.
It's been a long, long time since we've seen a Cal locker room celebration. This was awesome.
As we move past the quarter mark of the 2014 season, it's a good time to examine which upstart teams have legit staying power. There have been lots of unexpected risers, from Mississippi State to BYU to East Carolina. But which early-season surprise team is most likely to sustain its success?
Insider's panel of experts debates that as well as other key questions: Which team -- outside of Michigan -- has been the biggest disappointment? Who's the leading candidate for comeback player of the year? And which Week 6 favorite should be on upset alert?
1. Which early-season surprise team can sustain its success?
Travis Haney: Mississippi State. I'll couch this by saying I think Alabama and Auburn are still the superior teams in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs have the physical girth up front to compete in every remaining game. Plus, Dak Prescott is the real deal at quarterback. If coach Dan Mullen's team will ever have a chance in the SEC West, as wild and deep as it is, this is the year.
If it can manage to go 6-2 in the league, it would be a real sign of success. I doubt there's an Auburn 2013 in the field, but Mississippi State can make a lot of noise and, as I said in the preseason, at least shape the division race. This is a huge week. To validate what's happening, the Bulldogs have to follow up the euphoria of Baton Rouge with a win at home against Texas A&M.
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Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August
Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.
What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.
Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?
It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.
The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame
If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.
While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.
Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.
Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.
Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.
Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.
The middle stepped back instead of forward
Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.
You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.
Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.
Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.
That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.
At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.