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Assessing the Pac-10 Weekend: "Thank Goodness for the Ducks"

Stanford claimed the early lead in the Pac-10 race with a 35-0 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl.

(Tree photo by Andy Wooldridge.)
Stanford claimed the early lead in the Pac-10 race with a 35-0 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl. (Tree photo by Andy Wooldridge.)

Oregon St., and their fans, were spectators to the weekend's action, and it has to have been one of the least impressive 7-0 weeks that the Pac-10 Conference has even had. The aggregate Conference record was 8-1, 7-0 out of conference, and 4-0 against 4 other BCS conferences.

However, half of the wins came after midnight in the more populous half of the country, and another after 11 PM. Two more, in Berkley and Pullman, were irrelevant to most of the country, and almost invisible. And three were against FCS opponents.

Not that those can be taken for granted; South Dakota's win at Minnesota, and James Madison's victory in Blacksburg over Virginia Tech (more on that later) brings the season tally of FBS victims to four. And all are from BCS conferences. But had it not been for a 16 point fourth quarter comeback to pull out a 23-22 win over Montana St., WSU would have been the fifth on that list. And Paul Wulff probably would have been unemployed by the beginning of the week.

"Quack That"

Only Oregon's visit to Tennessee counts as a "quality" win in most onlookers' eyes, hence the "Thank Goodness" from the point of view of conference credibility. And even that looked shaky for a couple of hours. The Vols threw everything they had, including a defensive coordinator in Justin Wilcox who knows Oregon, and how to beat them (see the last two year's Duck games against Boise St.), over 100,000 rabid SEC fans, heat and humidity found only in the southeast, and not replicatable, and a big, physical pair of lines, at the Ducks.

Add a Kenjon Barner fumble, and Oregon was down 6-0 on two field goals before they ever ran an offensive play. And then the thunderstorm struck, forcing a 70 minute delay.

It was reasonable that it would take a while for Oregon to get their feet under them, given all that. But coach Chip Kelly is only adding to his reputation for having his team respond to any variety of circumstances.

45 unanswered points later, the Ducks were celebrating with their fan contingent, long after 90% of the crowd had left for the parking lot a second time, with no intention of returning.

Three explosion plays for touchdowns of over 70 yards, by three different players, in all three phases of the game, called the SEC's attention to what the Pac-10 already knew; the best way to beat Oregon is NOT to challenge their speed.

‘Furd Leads The Race Early

Stanford took the early lead in the conference race, with their second solid if initially not spectacular 35-0 effort on both offense and defense. It seemed to take Andrew Luck a while to really get things rolling.

But if the Cardinal are better than expected, then how bad are the Bruins? Its two consecutive big disappointments for UCLA, and in the two games before Houston and Texas that looked winnable. By the way, UCLA is 115 out of 120 FCS teams in scoring. Houston is #1, ahead of even Oregon.

Hard to figure too, as Coach Rick Neuheisel is continually coaching after each misadventure, but the Bruins in general, and Kevin Prince in particular, don't seem to be getting it.

Another concern for the conference is the season opener drawing a crowd that only about half filled the Rose Bowl.

Rude Welcome for the Buffs

Cal answered some questions as well with a 52-7 rout of future Pac-12 member Colorado. But both bay area schools have yet to demonstrate if either their offense or defense can consistently or quickly perform against quality opponents, so while encouraging, the jury is still out.

Any Win Is A Good Win?

Add Arizona to that list as well, as their 52-6 demolition of The Citadel was the second consecutive solid performance on offense and defense. But then you are supposed to beat The Citadel by 46.

Nick Foles is completing 82 % of his passes so far though, and if the stiffer competition to come can't rattle him, the Pac-10 quarterback of the year might not be one of those being promoted for the Heisman.

Arizona St. still hasn't faced a FBS opponent, and but had to play well into the game before gaining control again this week.

Even Washington had to overcome an early 10-0 deficit to Syracuse to win easily. Heisman hopeful Jake Locker had a good game, and Chris Polk produced a 52 yard touchdown run, but it was Jermaine Kearse, who hauled in three touchdown passes for three consecutive Husky scores, one from 57 yards out, and nine overall, who changed the game, and earned a Pac-10 Player of the week honor in the process.

However, the slow start, the limited expectations for ‘Cuse, only a limited regional viewership, and the poor showing, a 35-14 loss to Air Force in which the Falcons ran off 4 unanswered touchdowns, by the same BYU team that took Washington down a week ago, all combined to keep the Huskies' win from the "impressive" list.

And while USC's defense finally showed up, after a 12-15 start, quarterback Matt Barkley disappeared, completing only 8 of his last 20 throws. As a result, Virginia, was in the game thru the last play before losing 17-14, and staved off the playing of "Conquest", which was he most unimpressive, uninspiring playing after a win I've ever heard, until the postgame.

Coach Lane Kiffen readily admitted USC has a lot of work to do to live up to the potential they are only occasionally demonstrating before they visit Minnesota. Interestingly, if Minnesota couldn't handle USD, what will happen against USC?

Even games not involving Pac-10 teams, most notably James Madison's win over Virginia Tech, which hurts Boise St.'s RPI, and therefore Oregon St.'s, worked against the conference.

Side note to Duck fans dissing Boise St., with Ohio St. potentially making a run to the National Championship game, instead of the Rose Bowl, the one-time Rose Bowl rule could well come into play, with Boise St. getting a berth opposite the Pac-10 representative (that Oregon is the leading candidate to be).

All is not gloom, however, as four Pac-10 teams are ranked in both the AP and Coaches' poll, led by Oregon, the only top 10 team. And Oregon St. is back in at the bottom of the AP top-25. Cal climbed into the Coaches' poll, at 24th. Two others received votes.

Everyone in the top 10 won except Boise St., who, like Oregon St., had a bye.

We knew week two wouldn't be a strong week, national attention wise, though, because of the schedule, in a week with several matchups of top 25 teams, and some other marquis contests.

This week brings a big opportunity to make up for it on the national level though. The schedule, in addition to Oregon St.'s home opener against Louisville, also includes Iowa at Arizona, Arizona State at Wisconsin, Nebraska at Washington, Cal at Nevada, Wake Forest at Stanford, Houston at UCLA, USC at Minnesota, and Washington State at SMU. Only Oregon has an FCS opponent, as Portland St. plays their second Pac-10 game of the year.

That's six games against BCS conference teams, plus three more that were bowl teams last year.

Everyone will have a better idea about the Pac-10 by sometime Saturday night.