Thursday, September 13, 2012
What to watch in the Pac-12
By Kevin Gemmell
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 3.
Todd Graham is one of three new Pac-12 coaches who has started out 2-0 this season.
These guys can coach: A pretty good start to the Pac-12 careers for the four new coaches -- who have a 7-1 record through the first two games. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, ASU coach Todd Graham and UCLA's Jim Mora are all perfect through the first two weeks at their schools. Mike Leach is 1-1 with Washington State. And there's a good chance the newbies will keep winning this weekend. Arizona, UCLA and Washington State are all facing easier competition, though Graham and the Sun Devils will be tested in their first road game of the year at Missouri. Of the 28 FBS teams with new head coaches, only six of them are undefeated through the first two weeks. Half of those six are in the Pac-12.
Speaking of newbies: Rough week for Utah and Colorado, who are both in their sophomore years with the conference. Utah loses to Utah State (and lost a quarterback along the way) and Colorado dropped a game to FCS Sacramento State -- archnemesis of the Pac-12. Let's not get too down on these guys. Oregon State lost to Sacramento State and a year later they are slapping down a ranked Big Ten team. With that said, both teams have quarterback issues -- Utah needs a new one, though will probably play two, and Colorado will dip its toe into the two-QB pool with the news that Connor Wood will get some snaps. Even though it's on the road, is this Colorado's best chance for a win? And Utah, well, they only play their biggest rival. A rivalry, by the way, that will be splintered starting in 2014.
The conference of offense: For all the talk and chatter about better defensive play in the Pac-12 this year, this is still an offense-first conference. Eight teams are averaging better than 30 points per game and six teams are averaging more than 440 yards of offense. UCLA leads the group. The Bruins are averaging 649.5 yards per game.
It's conference time: The first conference game of the year matches a pair of ranked teams. That's all kinds of cool. No. 2 USC travels to No. 21 Stanford in a game that has come down to the final play the past two years. Matt Barkley has a few demons to exorcise against the Cardinal -- the only Pac-12 team he's failed to beat. Stanford, after a strong bounce-back performance against Duke, wants to show it's better than the sluggish Week 1 performance. Great playmakers on both sides of the ball headline what could be another wild matchup.
Added pressure: UCLA and Arizona State are putting up defensive numbers unseen last year -- and a lot of it has to do with new defensive schemes and increased pressure. The Bruins lead the conference with nine sacks and could eclipse last year's total of 14 (ranked 11th in the conference) this week. And that was playing a 14-game schedule, mind you. ASU enters the week behind the Bruins with eight sacks. Last year ASU had 26, which was eighth in the conference. We do love our offense in the Pac-12, but it's time to start giving some snaps to Lou Spanos and Paul Randolph.
Protect the rep: Big weekend last week for the Pac-12 in terms of bumping up the national reputation of the conference. Cal has a chance to build off of that when it travels to Big Ten country to take on No. 12 Ohio State -- the only nonconference game this week against a ranked opponent [edit: from a BCS conference]. But the Bears have to clean up some things on defense. Cal ranks last in the Pac-12 in third-down defense (teams are converting 52.5 percent) and has given up the most touchdowns (6) of any Pac-12 team in the red zone. This is the kind of game that can salvage Cal's season -- and maybe Jeff Tedford's job. With USC on the docket next week, the Bears could be staring down the barrel of a 1-3 start.