Sunday, November 25, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 13
By Ted Miller
What did we learn in Week 13? Read on.
It's UCLA at Stanford for the Pac-12 title (and who had that in August?): In the preseason, it was treated -- here and every other place -- as a near-certainty that USC and Oregon would play for the Pac-12 title. They were overwhelming favorites in the South and North divisions, respectively. The expectation was the game would have national title implications. Ah, expectations. The Pac-12 title game will have no relevance in the national title picture, and neither the Ducks nor Trojans won their division. Instead, UCLA captured the South over its hated rivals and Stanford ended its "Oregon Problem" by winning in Eugene. Of course, this set up an odd situation. Stanford beat UCLA 35-17 on Saturday, which made sure the two teams would play for the conference title on Friday, six days after their regular-season game.
Going 7-5 with USC's offensive talent ? A sign that Lane Kiffin needs an offensive coordinator.
Kiffin needs an offensive coordinator: If USC coach Lane Kiffin, as an objective observer, reviewed the Trojans' crucial failure on its second-to-last possession against Notre Dame, he would conclude the play calling was clueless and indefensible. He would fire his offensive coordinator. But the problem is that he is his offensive coordinator. Three failed runs up the middle from the 1-yard line with precious time ticking away? Going for it on fourth down when the Trojans, down by nine at 22-13, needed two scores? A fourth-down pass to fullback Soma Vainuku, the player with perhaps the worst hands on USC's offense? Kiffin needs to stand in front of a mirror and ask, "Did this offense have a good year, based on the talent on hand?" If he says, "Yes," then athletic director Pat Haden should fire him for being an irredeemable lunkhead. If he says, "No," then Kiffin should go out and find an A-list coordinator to call plays and promise him autonomy. And about that defense, Lane ...
Oregon's three-year run ends, but not in a horrible way: Oregon rolled to its fifth straight Civil War victory, 48-24 -- the Beavers scored a TD in the waning moments -- and improved to 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Pac-12. But the Ducks have been officially unseated as Pac-12 champions after a three-year run due to their loss to Stanford last weekend, which gave the Cardinal the tiebreaker. For much of the season, Oregon seemed in position to play for the national title, but the loss to Stanford and subsequent results elsewhere ended that. Still, the Ducks are again a top-five team and likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl to play the Big 12 champion, perhaps finally getting a chance to play Kansas State. Not exactly a bad season. But yes, it could have been better.
A double-digit, fourth-quarter lead doesn't mean much in a rivalry game: While there's a movement among some coaches to say every game is the same, there's plenty of circumstantial evidence that players bring something extra to rivalry games. Take two examples on Friday. Arizona State trailed Arizona 27-17 entering the fourth quarter and little was going the Sun Devils' way. But they then scored 24 unanswered points and won 41-34. Washington led woeful Washington State 28-10, yet a team that had lost eight in a row didn't fold. The Cougars scored 18 consecutive points to force overtime, then kicked the winning field goal as the Huskies wilted.
Washington (still) hasn't arrived: As more than a few of you noticed, the Pac-12 blog wrote the Cougars off when they were down 18 to Washington to enter the fourth quarter. Perhaps the Huskies give too much respect to Pac-12 blog tweets, a possibility that scares me as much as you. Washington was set up for a wonderful finish: Five consecutive regular-season wins. A nice bowl game. A chance to earn a high position in the 2013 preseason rankings. But the Huskies got sloppy and seemed to lose their edge. A good team doesn't lose to a team with nine defeats. Ergo, the Huskies are still trying to become legitimately good again.