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Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Pac-12 assessments at the quarter pole

By Kevin Gemmell

We’re four weeks into the season and the Pac-12 has (mostly) made short work of its nonconference foes. Now the fun starts. League play kicks off conference-wide this week. But before we look forward, the ESPN blogosphere is looking back at some of the best and worst through the first four weeks of each conference.

Best game: In terms of excitement, it’s tough to beat an overtime shootout. And that’s what happened when Oregon State traveled to Utah in Week 3. After building a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter, it looked like the Beavers would cruise. But Travis Wilson would lead the Utes back and they’d eventually grab a 38-37 lead. The teams swapped touchdowns in the closing three minutes to force overtime, where the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection gave the Beavers a 51-48 victory.

Brandin Cooks
Brandin Cooks leads the nation in catches, receiving touchdowns and first-down receptions. Yeah, that's good enough to get our best player vote.
Best player: For as shaky as Oregon State’s defense has been, its offense has been sensational. So we’re going to give the nod to Cooks, who has 10 more receptions than anyone else in FBS football. Through four games he leads the nation in catches (43), receiving touchdowns (7) and first-down receptions (23). Mannion gets honorable mention, since someone has to throw the ball. But Cooks is head-and-shoulders above the rest of nation’s receivers right now. Another honorable mention to Washington’s Bishop Sankey, who has emerged over the last nine or so games as one of the country’s elite running backs.

Best performance: How about the Washington State defense -- that’s right, defense -- for its performance in the 10-7 win at USC. Damante Horton nabs a pair of interceptions, including a game-changing pick-six. Daquawn Brown makes his first career start and has a team-high 11 tackles and two pass breakups. Toni Pole blocks a kick, the front seven gets 7.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. You can say USC’s offensive inefficiency played a role. And you’d be right. But give credit where it’s due. Mike Breske had the boys ready to go and the Cougs came to town and pushed their way to a win.

Best surprise: Though his team has played in only two games so far this season, it’s hard not to feel good about the comeback of Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson -- and really the rebirth of the Buffs under Mike MacIntyre. Richardson has 417 yards in just two games, which puts him eighth in the country. Had Colorado played its game against Fresno State (which was postponed due to flooding), it’s likely we’d see Richardson toward the top with Cooks. As for the Buffs in general, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. They still have a long way to go. But you can definitely see an air of confidence about this team that’s been lacking the last couple of seasons.

Biggest disappointment: Head’s: Oregon State's defense. Tails: USC's offense. Go ahead and flip. Either way, you're right. Both have been disappointing. Anytime a BCS conference team loses to an FCS team, it’s disappointing. Anytime one of the country’s proudest football institutions is averaging 22 points per game through four games, it’s disappointing. Anytime a team -- once ranked in the top 25 (I guess that actually applies to both schools) -- is allowing an average of more than 35 points per game, it’s disappointing. Both teams are 3-1. And probably counting their blessings that (1) USC's defense has been that good and (2) Oregon State's offense has been that good.