Sunday, September 2, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 1
By Kevin Gemmell
The Pac-12 went 8-3 in Week 1, and we know a lot more about the teams in this conference than we did when we all woke up Thursday morning. Here's five of them.
1. It won't happen overnight: An uninspired performance from Washington State -- which fell at BYU 30-6 -- puts a bit of a damper on all of that excitement the Cougars had following the hiring of Mike Leach. The vaunted "Air Raid" offense failed to take flight as the Cougars managed just 224 yards of total offense, including minus-5 yards rushing. More stunning is that a Leach-coached team failed to even get into the end zone. Quarterback Jeff Tuel completed 30 of 45 balls for 229 yards, but averaged just 5.1 yards per pass and he also had two interceptions. There have already been some not-so-quiet calls for Connor Halliday to step in at quarterback, but the Pac-12 blog thinks that would be too knee-jerk. However, Tuel's leash might be a lot shorter in the coming weeks.
Marcus Mariota was one of four Pac-12 rookie quarterbacks with impressive debuts.
2. The rookies shine: There were four Pac-12 quarterbacks making their first collegiate starts in Week 1, and all four came out winners. Brett Hundley tossed a pair of touchdown passes and ran for another in UCLA's win over Rice; though his team didn't look particularly sharp, Josh Nunes tossed a touchdown pass against San Jose State in his first game replacing Andrew Luck; Taylor Kelly at Arizona State was an efficient 15-of-19 for a touchdown; and of course, Marcus Mariota was stunning in his Oregon debut, tossing three touchdowns on 19-of-23 passing. This isn't to say that all four are going to develop into the best quarterbacks the conference has ever seen, but it's an encouraging start for all four programs. At least we know more about them now than we did a week ago.
3. Barkley, Thomas throw down the Heisman gauntlet: This is going to be a fun debate that will rage throughout the conference -- and probably nationally -- for weeks to come. Matt Barkley, the front-runner, tossed four touchdowns on 23-of-38 passing. Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas was equally impressive, with four catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns to go with three carries for 64 yards and a score. Both would have padded those stats with additional playing time (Thomas more, since he played about the length of a Robot Chicken episode), but both also made the case, at least in Week 1, for an end-of-the-year trip to New York. The battle lines have been drawn.
4. Behind Oregon, the North is in limbo: What do the power rankings look like now in the North? Oregon showed why it is head-and-shoulders above the field with its 50-point first half against Arkansas State. But behind them, chaos. Stanford and Washington both won, though neither looked overly impressive in doing so (the Pac-12 blog thinks Washington looked better than Stanford, though). Then Cal fell in an upset, Washington State looked sluggish and Oregon State has yet to play a snap. They get to make their season debut against Wisconsin. That haze around the second-tier teams in the division just got hazier.
5. Enjoy the honeymoons: Three of the four new coaches in the conference delivered wins to their programs in their debuts. Jim Mora picked up his first collegiate coaching victory, Rich Rodriguez needed overtime, but his offense picked up plenty of yards in the process, and Todd Graham had a pretty easy go in his debut at Arizona State. Leach should pick up win No. 1 against Eastern Washington. Things get tougher for the rest of the field in Week 2 with UCLA hosting Nebraska, ASU hosting Illinois and Oklahoma State coming to Arizona.