Sunday, October 7, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 6
By Ted Miller
What did we learn in Week 6? Read on.
Oregon is the clear favorite -- in the Pac-12 and for national title game: At the beginning of the season, USC was the Pac-12 favorite and the conference's clear national title contender. After six games, that has firmly changed, and the distance between Oregon and everyone else in the conference appears vast. While it's dangerous to do the transitive property -- a frequent note of ours -- just consider what Oregon did to Arizona and then Washington. And what those teams have done in their other games. Oregon will be a strong No. 2 in the national polls this week, which means it is in excellent position to play for the national title for the second time in three years. And, of course, win a fourth consecutive conference title.
After two subpar performances, Matt Barkley got back on track to the tune of 303 passing yards and three TDs against Utah.
Matt Barkley and USC ain't dead: Some seemed eager to write off USC and Barkley, both in the national and Pac-12 picture. That might be a mistake. The Trojans looked stout on both sides of the ball in a 38-28 win over Utah, and Barkley completed 23 of 30 passes for 303 yards and three TDs with no interceptions. The visit to Washington could be interesting on multiple levels.
Neither are Josh Nunes and Stanford: More than a few Stanford fans were calling for coach David Shaw to panic and bench quarterback Josh Nunes in favor of backup Brett Nottingham after the loss at Washington. Shaw stuck with Nunes, who shook off a slow start and led a fourth-quarter rally in the exciting 54-48 overtime win over Arizona. Nunes completed 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. He also rushed for three scores and 33 yards, an area of the game that has proved much better than expected. Now Shaw can focus on his suddenly uncertain defense.
And maybe the same goes for Zach Maynard, Jeff Tedford and Cal: Maligned California quarterback Zach Maynard threw an interception on the Bears' first possession, which set up a quick 7-0 UCLA lead. Same old Maynard, same old Cal, right? And that made Tedford's seat even hotter. But just when it seemed things might spin apart irrevocably, Maynard and the Bears rallied. In perhaps the best game of his career, Maynard completed 25 of 30 passes for 295 yards and four touchdowns in a 43-17 win over No. 25 UCLA. Heck, he even ran for a score. The Bears are still only 2-4 and 1-2 in Pac-2 play, so they need at least four more wins to earn bowl eligibility. Still, a week ago that idea didn't seem worth entertaining. Now it might be.
It's too bad that Matt Scott and Rich Rod get only one year together: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott is putting up huge numbers this year. He threw for 491 yards and three TDs at Stanford -- completing 45 of 69 throws -- a brilliant performance that nonetheless only earned the Wildcats another excruciating loss. The Wildcats will scare everyone on their schedule because of Scott, who seems like a perfect fit for new coach Rich Rodriguez, even if the primacy of keeping Scott healthy is preventing him from being much of a factor in the running game. But the team will still be challenged to become bowl-eligible due to an overmatched defense.
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is still growing: Maybe he got more hype than he should have for the first three weeks. Maybe he'll be criticized more than he should for his three-interception performance against Washington State. As is usually the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Mannion is still a young quarterback -- and a quarterback who hasn't been used to winning much at the college level. Even lower-tier teams are going to bring everything they've got at the Beavers because they are a top-15 team and undefeated. But he handled the mistakes well and was clutch on the final scoring drive, completing 5 of 7 passes for 64 yards on a march that ended with a Tyler Anderson touchdown run.