ASU-Oregon: Pac-12 back on the scene

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
6:33
PM ET

A couple of weeks ago, ESPN "GameDay" analyst Kirk Herbstreit said it seemed to him the Pac-12 was "out of sight, out of mind."

Some out west fumed. Others were just annoyed because he was right. That whole "truth hurting" thing at work again.

The Pac-12 opened the season on a big stage, with then-No. 3 Oregon's marquee showdown with No. 4 LSU in Cowboys Stadium, and the 40-27 Ducks defeat immediately deflated the two-time defending conference champions and Pac-12 as a whole.

At least in terms of national perception. You can debate the nuances of the game, but Oregon was punished in the polls, dropping to 13th in the AP poll and 14th with the coaches.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Pac-12 has done little of note to change that deflated perception.

Sure, Stanford is in the top 10, but its only victory over a winning team came at 3-2 Duke (and, yes, this humble scribe is lucky he actually checked the Blue Devils' record). The Pac-12 is 4-7 against AQ foes with no wins over teams that are presently ranked.

A conference game matching two ranked teams? Hasn't happened.

At least until Saturday, when No. 18 Arizona State visits No. 9 Oregon. And guess what? Herbie and the "GameDay" gang will be there. The Pac-12 will be in sight and in mind and on a big stage, even if a 10:15 p.m. ET kickoff ensures that some on the East Coast might end up face down and drooling on their sofas.

[+] EnlargeDennis Erickson and Chip Kelly
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireSaturday's ASU-Oregon matchup could be an important statement game for not just Dennis Erickson's and Chip Kelly's teams, but for the Pac-12, too.
It's certainly an opportunity for one or the other to make a statement.

The Ducks have won 14 consecutive conference games and 19 in a row at home. But they've not beaten anyone of note since whipping Stanford more than a year ago. The resurgent Sun Devils, with wins over Missouri, USC and Utah and a tight loss at No. 16 Illinois, are a foe with enough bona fides that skeptical pollsters will take note. (And, by the way, pollsters, great job penalizing the Ducks so severely for playing a marquee nonconference foe, one that is presently ranked No. 1 and whom the Ducks outgained 335 yards to 273. College football will be SO much better if teams decide such games aren't worth the risk.)

As for ASU, a win at Oregon as a 16-point underdog could transform what looked like a potentially good season into a potentially great one. The Sun Devils, with no Stanford or Washington on the schedule, likely would be significant favorites in all their remaining games.

And, of course, we could end up seeing a rematch Dec. 2 in the Pac-12 championship game. If that's the case, the winner very likely will be playing for home-field advantage Saturday, which is a not insubstantial stake.

As it is, the Pac-12 starts the second half of the season with a game of import, one that college football fans everywhere will at least raise an eyebrow at. LSU fans will be rooting hard for the Ducks. Illinois, the Sun Devils. Big Ten fans in general might watch to see which team will become a Rose Bowl favorite.

It's nice to matter again, eh?

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