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Monday, October 1, 2012
Pac-12: Looking back and forward

By Kevin Gemmell

As we inch closer toward the second half of the college football season (I know, crazy, right?) it's time to look back fondly (and not-so-fondly) at the first five weeks. Across the blog network we're taking a look at three good things so far, three bad things so far and three things to keep an eye on this month.

Good things so far
  1. Still perfect: The Pac-12 still has two undefeated teams as we flip the calendar. And both of those undefeated teams have scored victories over ranked opponents -- Oregon over Arizona and Oregon State over Wisconsin and UCLA. It's one thing to jump out to a perfect start, and another to do it with wins over Top 25 teams from BCS conferences. Oregon has the best shot of any team in the conference of making a run at the national title game, and so far, they have kept to the script. Oregon State's resurgence has been a welcome addition to the dense fog that hangs over the North.
  2. Speaking of risers: UCLA and Arizona State have been pleasant surprises in the South. Like Oregon and Oregon State, both schools are getting good quarterback play (more about that below). But their ascension brings some intrigue to the South Division -- once thought to be the exclusive property of USC (more about that below, as well). The ranked Bruins have a signature win over a ranked Nebraska squad and their only loss was to Oregon State -- which in hindsight doesn't look all that damning. The Sun Devils are about one solid win away from cracking the Top 25.
  3. Quarterbacks: There's a reason we're talking about these four schools. All four are finding success with young quarterbacks -- three of which are first-year starters. Oregon's Marcus Mariota has shown poise and efficiency since winning the high-profile job. Taylor Kelly is playing mistake-free, efficient ball for the Sun Devils and UCLA's Brett Hundley is one of the most dynamic young quarterbacks the conference has seen in quite some time. And then there is second-year starter Sean Mannion at Oregon State, who is playing with the maturity of a third- or fourth-year guy.
Bad things so far
  1. USC's downturn: All is not lost for the Trojans -- the nation's preseason No. 1 team. But with their road loss to Stanford, the path to finished business is a lot tougher than it was before. That Nov. 3 date with Oregon becomes that much more crucial now for the Trojans, who can't afford another loss if they hope to reach the national championship game. Inconsistent play on both sides of the ball has so far left a cloud over what was expected to be a special year for USC.
  2. Heisman candidates underperforming: The Pac-12 once had three players in the top four of the ESPN.com Heisman poll. That number has slid. Matt Barkley's play over the past couple of weeks has completely knocked him off of everyone's ballots, De'Anthony Thomas isn't getting enough touches to leave a lasting impression and Johnathan Franklin -- after his hot start -- has come back to earth. He has failed to score a rushing touchdown since the season opener. The results of the weekly poll come out tomorrow, and I'll say that Kenjon Barner is now No. 2 on my ballot.
  3. Conference perception: Stanford beats USC -- well, USC was overrated. Washington beats Stanford -- well, Stanford was overrated. Oregon struggles in the first half against Washington State -- well, Oregon must be overrated. This is the national perception of the Pac-12. But here's a thought from someone who lives and breathes the conference: Maybe the Pac-12 is just a good, deep conference. I think the blog zealots would agree with that statement. That maybe Stanford just matched up very well with USC. That maybe the Cardinal buckled against a Washington team that's pretty good. That maybe Washington State had a really good game plan against the Ducks. And that Oregon didn't struggle -- but that Washington State played really well in the first half. So long as there is a nine-game conference schedule, good Pac-12 teams will continue to knock off good Pac-12 teams. It might hurt the national perception, but it also makes for great football. I'll take that.
Oct. Storylines
  1. Separation games: There are quite a few good ones, starting with Thursday night's matchup of USC-Utah. Both teams are coming off a bye. Considering the issues Utah has had early (you could certainly lump them in with USC as one of the season's disappointments so far), this game doesn't have as much luster as we once thought -- but it's still worth tuning in for. And how about the Trojans the following week? Stanford beat USC. Washington beat Stanford. You know the math. As flawed as that statement is, Oct. 13 should be a pretty good showdown in Seattle. And there are a couple of nonconference games to eyeball this month, including Oregon State at BYU and Stanford at Notre Dame. And I can't wait for Oct. 27th's UCLA at Arizona State South Division showdown.
  2. Civil War momentum: We've already talked about Oregon and Oregon State being the undefeated teams. Can they stay that way? And will the Civil War actually end up being the must-see game in the Pac-12 this year? After this week's game with Washington, the Ducks have a bye and then are at ASU and home to Colorado to close out the month. The Nov. 3 game still looms. The Beavers have an unpredictable WSU team this weekend, followed up by a trip to Provo, a home game to Utah and then a trip to Seattle. The Beavers appear to have the more intriguing October docket.
  3. October rivalry: The Big Game in October -- still sounds weird. But the Bears and Cardinal will renew their rivalry in just three weeks when Stanford crosses the bridge on Oct. 20. The Bears are off to the worst start of the Jeff Tedford era, which might be rapidly coming to an end. They host a hot UCLA squad this week and then travel to Pullman on Oct. 13. The Oct. 20 showdown with the Cardinal (who may or may not be ranked pending the outcome of Arizona this week and Notre Dame the next) could be the deciding temperature gauge on Tedford's seat.