Welcome to college football's 'Hunger Games' -- aka the Pac-12

Utes annihilate Ducks, makes top 10 case

ESPN college football reporter Chris Low breaks down Utah's statement, blowout win at Oregon.

USC was picked to win the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll and defending champion Oregon was picked to win the the North Division. Together, they garnered 38 of 45 votes for the conference title. Arizona State got three votes and UCLA two -- including one from yours truly! -- and Stanford got one (no idea why there's a missing vote).

Utah got no first-place votes and was picked fifth in the South.

Anyone eager to hit the reset button after Stanford whipped USC in the Pac-12 opener and Utah left cleat marks all over the Ducks' now mussed and deplumed visage? While you're there, might as well invite Stanford back into the octagon. The Cardinal offense that managed just two field goals in the opener at Northwestern has averaged 38 points in its last three games, including two road conference wins.

Or maybe everyone was a wee bit too eager to write off those Trojans, who rolled over Arizona State 42-14 on Saturday night.

It would be much easier to look smart as a college football analyst if the sport were more like "The Hunger Games" -- Katniss Everdeen eyeballs a contestant from behind her bow and arrow and he's out. Every week we could draw thick black lines through teams that went down and move on after a few snarky remarks. You know, like we did with Stanford. And then USC. And now Oregon.

A better analogy for the typical college football season, particularly in September and October, is every week of games is like throwing a rock into a still pond. We watch the resulting ripples and proclaim them rife with meaning. Then we go get a sandwich and a cup of chowder, overlooking the fact those minutely interpreted ripples are already gone and the pond is again still, awaiting next week's stone throw.

Utah! UCLA! They posted impressive, decisive, statement-making wins on Saturday. Obviously, their meeting on Nov. 21 in Salt Lake City is now the Pac-12 Game of the Year. Obviously.

Well, maybe, but two months is many chapters away to not expect a plot twist like "Gone Girl."

Oregon is done, right? After losing at Michigan State and getting whipped 62-20 at home, there's no way the Ducks can overcome that, right?

Sure they can. If Oregon wins out, beating a top-5 South Division champion in the Pac-12 title game, it would have a strong case for inclusion in the College Football Playoff, even with two losses. Their case would be particularly strong if they were to beat Utah for the crown and Michigan State were to finish as the unbeaten Big Ten champion, vanquishing defending national champ Ohio State along the way.

Not to belabor the whole, "Recall what the Buckeyes did last year" angle, but, well, do that. Ohio State was 2-1 and ranked 22nd at this point last year. It had QB issues, just like Oregon. J.T. Barrett was 9 of 29 with three picks at home in the two-touchdown loss to Virginia Tech and he wasn't dealing with a broken finger. Cardale Jones was only known at that point for using poor judgment on Twitter.

Oregon's upcoming schedule is (or at least seems) forgiving -- at Colorado, Washington State, at Washington, at Arizona State, California -- before a Nov. 14 visit to Stanford. Wonder if Vernon Adams might be a different QB by the time the Ducks head to The Farm?

Or maybe the Ducks dynasty is starting to crumble for real this time, unlike all those other times, such as last year when Arizona beat Oregon in a second consecutive game. Man, too bad that Marcus Mariota never fulfilled his early promise.

This is not to say that Oregon fans shouldn't panic. That defense does look awful in ways it hasn't in the past, when it was simply misunderstood. Nor is this to say that Utah and UCLA fans shouldn't feel pretty good. Both already have resumes that might have earned them a spot in the College Football Playoff rankings top-four, if the CFP committee were already publishing its cogitations, instead of waiting until Nov. 3.

Yet it was notable that Bruins coach Jim Mora was in his best bad mood after the win at Arizona, starting his news conference by bemoaning his run defense that yielded 353 yards to Arizona, suggesting that replacing three injured All-Pac-12 talents won't be just a case of the proverbial "next man in."

And it was notable that Kyle Whittingham was his typical understated self after posting Utah's biggest win as a Pac-12 member, though this positively rates as yelling from Whittingham, who often speaks in the infrasound range, which is why all reporters who cover him must have recorders built by NASA.

It feels fairly safe to deduce at this point that the Pac-12, in general, is what we thought it was in the preseason -- deep and, not coincidentally, unpredictable. It also feels safe to project that no conference team is going to finish undefeated, even though UCLA, Utah and Cal can still hold out hope.

So hurl the preseason media poll into the trash can and hit the reset button if you wish. Or, to revisit our earlier analogy, enjoy your sandwich and a cup of chowder and we'll chill here by the still pond, eager to minutely interpret the ripples of next week's stone throw.