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What we learned in the Pac-10: Week 4

9/26/2010

What did we learn this week?

UCLA has gotten off the carpet: The Bruins not only started 0-2, they looked bad in the process. What do we mean? Well, a 35-0 loss at home sort of tells the story. But which other team in the country has now beaten ranked foes on consecutive weekends? First of all, you must credit Rick Neuheisel, no matter how much that pains his myriad critics. He could have lost his team, but instead he refocused the Bruins. The only explanation for that is leadership. The Bruins were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10, but demonstrating clear physical superiority on the road against Texas -- it wasn't the turnovers that did in the Longhorns; it was the Bruins -- suggests that any conference team that takes them lightly might be in trouble.

Stanford's defense is much better: While Notre Dame rolled up respectable yardage numbers against Stanford, the only number that matters is 14. Holding the Fighting Irish to just 14 points at home is impressive by any measure. Before the season began, the way to qualify the Cardinal's ascent to national relevancy was to say, "Well, they've got to play better defense." Stanford is playing better defense. It, in fact, is starting to play good defense. And if that's the case, this team figures to be relevant all season. Rose Bowl relevant? Let's consider that after next weekend at Oregon, OK?

Oregon State -- now -- probably regrets scheduling two top-6 teams on the road: The Beavers played tough vs. TCU and Boise State but in both cases there was little doubt at the end of the game who was the better team. So was it worth it playing such a tough schedule, especially a thankless one vs. elite teams that also happen to come from non-AQ conferences? It's only worth it if the Beavers end up with eight or nine wins. If this team sinks to the middle of the conference, then it's not unfair to think to these early-season humblings of a veteran team weren't positive in any way.

Arizona and California found new ways to feel just like they did last weekend: Arizona looked poised to be despondent. Cal was on the cusp of joyous redemption. It looked like a potential role reversal after Arizona beat Iowa the previous weekend, and the Bears lost to Nevada. Then QB Nick Foles and the Wildcats produced another clutch, game-winning TD drive. And Cal's defense, which had played so well after the disaster at Nevada, yielded it. And then Kevin Riley threw a game-clinching interception. Another thriller for Arizona. Another faceplant for Cal.

Stanford's visit to Oregon could be the Pac-10 Game of the Year: At this point in the season, Oregon and Stanford look like the conference's top two teams, though Arizona is in that conversation. Stanford beat the Ducks last year just when the Ducks looked unbeatable. The Cardinal's visit to Autzen Stadium on Saturday figures to have major Pac-10 and perhaps national ramifications.