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5 Keys From The Weekend, and 5 Footnotes

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Christian McCaffrey running behind the big Stanford line was a familiar looking sight Friday night. And a highly effective one.
Christian McCaffrey running behind the big Stanford line was a familiar looking sight Friday night. And a highly effective one.
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

There was 1 earlier game, and there's 1 team that has yet to play a conference game, but generally speaking, this was opening weekend for the Pac-12 race.

It was not a good one for the home team, unless you were Colorado (why is Nicholls State playing Pac-12 teams on a regular basis anyway?), as all 5 home teams in the 5 conference games lost. It was a worse game for the vendors in the stadiums, as only the California at Washington game was close, and Husky honks appear to have abandoned their team in droves before kickoff. With the other 5 games all blowouts, there were thousands of empty seats across the conference by early in the 4th quarters.

We can still take some lessons from the wreckage of the weekend, even without a TCU-Texas Tech nailbiter.

1. Christian McCaffrey is a difference maker, even when everyone knows he's coming. And coming again and again. And again, to the tune of 34 touches, for over 200 yards rushing, and over 300 overall.

Footnote: Stanford's opening day loss, and the way Northwestern, unbeaten and sitting at #16 in this week's poll, 2 spots ahead of the Cardinal, just keeps winning, suggests that that supposed outlier might not have been so much about what was wrong with the Cardinal as it was about what is right with the Wildcats.

2. Utah is for real. The Utes, perceived (correctly) to be a defensive team first, with good special teams, are also a good offensive team. I don't care what your take on the shortcomings with the Duck defense is (and there are some significant ones), this is still a vastly better Oregon team than most of those going back well over a century. VASTLY better than most. Yet Utah, by hanging 62 on Oregon, scored more points in Eugene than any visitor ever has, be it in Autzen Stadium, Hayward Field, or anywhere else in town.

Footnote: Anyone thinking the Oregon system is forever broken, keep in mind that the Ducks currently have a QB with a broken finger, a WR that's still out that stretches the field like few in the conference, an RB out who would be an upgrade over the starter on half the campuses in the conference, and now, with Byron Marshall's injury, the player who has been in one season or another Oregon's leading rusher, receiver, and kick returner also out. There's no scheme built to overcome that; when they reload with healthy players, the Ducks will still be one of the toughest outs around.

3. Jim Mora knows what he's doing. Despite what some in Bruin Nation seem to think. And despite having to break in a true freshman quarterback, Mora has the Bruins off to a 4-0 start for the third year in a row. Having already lost 3 defensive starters, 2 of them likely NFL bound.

Footnote: While its true, and last night illustrated it, that Rich Rodriguez's quirky offense and unorthodox defense will not win a National Championship, and likely never even a conference championship, getting blown off the field at some point on a seasonal basis, it will also continue to produce an upset annually, and has gotten the 'Cats closer to those elusive championships than any other strategy available in Tucson could.

4. Reports of the demise of USC are, as usual, extremely premature and exaggerated. The conquest of the desert was swift and thorough.

Footnote: Ball security is paramount. 4 turnovers by the Sun Devils that led to first half Trojan touchdowns made discussion of Todd Graham's blitzing defense and questions about Mike Bercovici immaterial. (CC Washington on that memo about ball security; the Huskies hucked up the ball 5 times, including with the game on the line at the end.)

5. Oregon State's problems with big, physical teams didn't get any less so over the weekend, but at least the extent of the problems they had in the Big House don't seem so far out of line after what the Wolverines did to previously ranked BYU Saturday. And we have seen this (Harbaugh power football) before.

Footnote: For all of those complaining about the strength of schedule averting practices of many members of the SEC and Big XII, consider the case study of BYU, after the Cougars took on 4 upper tier opponents in September, 3 of them on the road. We as fans don't have to like it, but don't pretend there isn't a good reason for it.

Let the bye week begin!

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com