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Pac-12 Has A Poor Opening Weekend

Oregon St.'s 29-28 overtime loss to FCS foe Sacramento St. was the Pac-12 conference's most embarrassing moment of the weekend, but there were several other close calls. Washington barely beat FCS defending champion Eastern Washington 30-27, and had serious deficiencies on both their lines exposed in the process. USC barely beat Minnesota 19-17 at home, and was unable to score in the second half. And both the Huskies and Trojans needed late interceptions to stave off defeat to opponents that were sizable underdogs.

And on the biggest stage, the ABC national game Saturday evening, #4 LSU beat #3 Oregon surprisingly easily, taking a 40-27 win. The Tigers broke open what was a close game in the first half, twice opening 20 point leads.

Both UCLA and Colorado dropped road games, the Bruins 38-34 in Houston, and the Buffs 34-17 at Hawaii. Both were underdogs, but both also put a lot of emphasis on their first games of the season, only to find themselves down 17 points at half time.

Washington St. routed Idaho St. 64-21, but lost quarterback Jeff Tuel until at least some time in October to a broken collar bone in the process. Marshall Lobbestael completed 14 of 19 passes, including 2 for touchdowns, for 230 yards to lead the Cougars to the easy win, but the Bengals aren't nearly the team that several of their Big Sky brethren that stirred up so much trouble for FBS teams are. And while Lobbestael may be the best backup qb in the league, Washington St. coach Paul Wulff, needing to pile up some wins in the comparatively easy first half of the schedule, would probably chosen anyone else on campus to do without than Tuel.

Only in Arizona and the Bay Area are things looking good after opening weekend, though the struggles USC had may have improved the outlook in Salt Lake City, where Ute fans, contemplating next weekend's Pac-12 opener in the LA Coliseum, were a little nervous after Utah was only able to defeat Montana St. 27-10. Hoping for a more impressive start, the Utes can also infer that they may have faced (and beat) a better team than they realized, after seeing what Sacramento St. did to Oregon St., and how close Eastern Washington came against the Huskies.

Nick Foles threw for 5 touchdown passes to 5 different receivers as the Wildcats destroyed Northern Arizona, which went nicely with Arizona St.'s 48-14 run away Thursday night from UC Davis to make it a hot time all around in the desert.

Stanford, coming off a 12-1 season, demolished neighbor San Jose St., coming off a 1-12 season, 57-3, as Andrew Luck completed 17 of 26 passes, for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns, and also ran for another score.

California had the conference's best win of the weekend, a 36-21 win over Fresno St. at Candlestick Park. Transfer QB Zach Maynard threw for 266 yards and 2 touchdowns, and ran for 53 yards more, but he also threw an interception, and completed only 16 of 35 passes.

Oregon once again lost a high profile game to a top notch out of conference opponent, the fifth time in a row that's happened, dating back thru losses to Auburn in last year's National Championship game, Ohio St. in the 2010 Rose Bowl, and twice to Boise St.

All games where the opponents had featured tough defenses, and in the last 4 cases, had extra time to prepare for the Chip Kelly offense. Against LSU, Heisman (now less) hopeful La Michael James was held to 54 yards and just one touchdown on 18 carries. James helped his team and himself with an additional 6 catches for 61 yards, making him the Ducks' leading receiver. It's not usually a good thing when a running back is a team's leading receiver, though, and it wasn't enough to make up for a series of Oregon turnovers.

But while Oregon had trouble getting their offense going, the real problem was that the Ducks handed the ball over 3 times, twice in their own red zone, and it led to 20 Tiger points. 6 of them directly, on a fumble by Kenjon Barner on a kick return, that Tyrann Mathieu scooped up for a score at the start of the second quarter. Barner, usually a reliable returner himself, struggled in Cowboys' Stadium in place of the Ducks' suspended speedster Cliff Harris.

UCLA lost QB Kevin Prince, the Bruins contribution to the escalating health care cost crisis, to a concussion. It will be interesting to see when, or even if, we see Prince, who seemingly has either gotten hurt, or been hurt, in more games than he has been healthy, again. Richard Brehaut completed 17 of 26 passes, for 264 yards and 2 touchdowns, and rallied UCLA from that 17 point halftime deficit, to pull within 3 points, and again 4 points.

The problem was Rick Neuheisel's defense allowed Houston QB Case Keenum to complete 30 of 40 passes, for 310 yards and 2 touchdowns, and run for 30 more yards. The Bruin defense did much better in the second half, but by then they had already dug a hole too deep to climb out of. Especially when their kicker missed both a field goal and an extra point.

The most baffling box score belongs to USC though. How QB Matt Barkley managed to complete 34 of his 45 passes, a USC record, for 304 yards, half of them to WR Robert Woods, which set a new Trojan record for catches in a game, for 177 of those yards, and 3 touchdowns, and the Trojans still scored only 19 points, and after being shut out after halftime, still only barely beat the Gophers, is hard to fathom.

Watching Colorado suffer their 19th. consecutive out-of-state loss, the issue that I noticed the most is the lack of overall team speed first year coach Jon Embree inherited. Make no mistake, the Buffs' best players are good, and most are fast. But too often, Hawaii players put head-turning speed moves on their individual opponents. That isn't anything Embree and his staff can fix except via recruiting, and that will take time.

Outside the conference, most of the games weren't matchups that were likely to produce telling results. But there were a couple that were bad news for the otherwise mostly dominant SEC, which went 10-2.

Rumors of Boise St.'s demise after the graduation of their dynamic wide receiver duo from last year, and coach Chris Petersen's decision to not play another starting receiver until eligibility concerns involving several Dutch players are resolved, were dispelled when the Broncos rolled through the Georgia Dome, blasting Georgia 35-21, at least as long as Kellen Moore is still quarterback. Moore completed 28 of 34 passes for 3 touchdowns, giving him 77 touchdown passes against only 10 interceptions since the start of the 2009 season.

This win could be relevant to all conferences looking for the added dollars a second team getting a BCS at-large berth, which Boise St., who will be favored in every game until then or someone beats them, would bring, because the Broncos have positioned themselves to make a serious run at one of those at-large berths.

The other SEC loss is of some particular interest to Oregon St. fans. BYU, the Beavers' Oct. 15 opponent, scored twice in the 4th. quarter to pull out a 14-13 win on the road in Oxford over Ole Miss. Jake Heaps connected on 24 of 38 passes, for 225 yards and a touchdown, and Kyle Van Noy returned a fumble 3 yards to set up the game winning extra point. Of particular note, the Cougars controlled the ball for more than 9 minutes more than the Rebels.