Sunday, December 2, 2012
What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 14
By Ted Miller
What did we learn in Week 14? Read on.
David Shaw appears to be building a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse at Stanford.
Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl: I know that sounds simple -- hey, it's a statement of plainly available fact -- but think about your August self. "Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl" is not what you thought you'd be learning as the calendar flipped into December. Stanford had a chance to be good. Perhaps even top-15 or so good. But USC was the Pac-12's best team. Or Oregon. Stanford was a solid No. 3, but to suggest the Cardinal would climb any higher? That was just crazy talk. Well, lookie here at what coach David Shaw and his staff created: a Stanford team that has become a top-10 program while still being the most elite educational institution -- by a wide margin, by the way -- playing Football Bowl Subdivision football. Further, if you take a glance at the depth chart, starting with promising redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan and loads of young talent on both sides of the football, you sense that Stanford will be back in the top 10 and eyeballing BCS bowls in 2013.
Whether it played some possum or not a week ago, UCLA is a program on the rise: The UCLA team that lost 35-17 at home to Stanford just more than a week ago was not the same team that went toe to toe with the Cardinal on Friday night on The Farm. In the first meeting, the Cardinal dominated in every way. In the second meeting, the Bruins decisively won the statistical battle but came out on the short end of a small number of key plays -- the most notable being the 80-yard interception return of the game's lone turnover, and Kevin Hogan's 26-yard TD pass on third-and-15 to tie the score in the fourth quarter. The explanation from everyone -- Shaw as well as Bruins coach Jim Mora -- was the Bruins just played better. OK, fine. In the end, it doesn't really matter if the Bruins didn't show all their cards in the first game. What does matter is how good the Bruins looked on both sides of the ball when they went all-in. While UCLA fell short of the Rose Bowl in Mora's first season, the Bruins will be on the radar to get another shot in 2013. They will be the Pac-12 South Division favorites.
The bowl season will provide the final verdict on the Pac-12: I know this seems fairly obvious, but the Pac-12 blog always thinks big picture, which we don't believe has revealed itself, at least within a national framework. Understand: The Pac-12 blog doesn't fret the fates of any individual conference team -- whether you believe it or not, Kevin and I have no rooting interest or favorite program -- but it does think about where the conference ranks nationally. And, yes, the Pac-12 blog enjoys it when the Pac-12, as a collective, appears stout and talent-laden and sparkly. The past few weeks, however, the big picture has taken a hit. If things had fallen a certain way, one that seemed entirely possible at the beginning of November, the Pac-12 would have: (1) played for the national championship; and (2) had seven ranked teams. Oregon's home loss to Stanford ended the national title hopes, and Washington and Arizona losing rivalry games knocked two teams out of the national standings. Further, if USC would have beaten Notre Dame, as was entirely possible based on the comparable talents of the players on the field, the Trojans would have jumped back into the polls and the conference would have posted a marquee nonconference win. Still, that scenario might not have included two BCS bowl teams, as the Pac-12 likely has now with Stanford (Rose) and with Oregon expected to go to the Fiesta. Win both of those and post a winning record in the other six bowl games, and the conference likely finishes second to the SEC in the national perception pecking order. That would give the season a definitive stamp of success.