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Originally published September 4, 2012 at 8:03 PM | Page modified September 10, 2012 at 2:55 PM

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Rough start for Pac-12 football teams

A lot of teams were talking tough during the offseason — then the reality of playing games slapped them in the face on the season's opening weekend.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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Such a comfort, college football's offseason.

Without a scoreboard to deliver harsh judgments, it's mostly nine months of spin. We had our greatest recruiting season ever. We've come a long way in spring practice. Our quarterback is light-years from where he was in 2011 at this time.

And, the time-honored, Our guys came back in the best shape of their lives.

Then they start playing the games again. Such a cold slap.

In Berkeley, the stadium was all dressed up after renovation — it's supposed to be drop-dead beautiful — but California didn't get the celebratory memo, losing to Nevada, 31-24.

Boldly, Colorado talked bowl game in the offseason — for the Buffs themselves, not Colorado State, which held CU to 58 yards rushing and won 22-17.

And in Provo, the mystique around Mike Leach got separated from the meat and potatoes of talent and depth and program continuity, and Washington State was exposed in a 30-6 loss to Brigham Young.

It could have been a thoroughly dreadful 2012 debut for the league, but Stanford rescued a 20-17 win over neighboring San Jose State and Arizona, taking on water all night against a Mid-American team playing three time zones west, gasped to an overtime victory over Toledo.

It's the tailgates that are fun, while the games can be sobering.

If I'm a Cal fan, two things I want to know: How confident should the Bears be in their quarterback when he gets himself suspended for the first three series for missing a summer tutoring session? Zach Maynard is the putative leader of the team, and a guy whom Jeff Tedford, the coach, had said bore little resemblance to the quarterback who was mistake-prone in 2011.

And two: When a Nevada team that in 2010 hung 52 points on you is first on your schedule, and you've got an entire offseason to demystify the Pistol offense, should it still be like deciphering Ph.D. level trigonometry?

"They did pretty much the same things," Tedford said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches conference call, when I asked him about the 2010 game. "They did a couple of different things blocking the (defender) responsible for the quarterback, but they did a lot of similar things."

Jon Embree, the Colorado coach, sounded down as he discussed his opener. It can't be easy, trying to flush the chagrin of the 2011 season — when you were the worst team in the league — preaching that things are different now, and then, like last year, finding a way to lose.

"That and the rivalry," Embree said glumly, "all the things that go into it, it makes it a tough loss."

Then there was Leach's return to the game. Such was the hoo-ha attached, including a game-day USA Today sports cover story, that it obscured some realities — like, he didn't inherit an infinite number of quality players and then he kicked three of the better ones off the team. Still, the offensive failure was surprising.

"I didn't think we played with very good tempo," he said Tuesday in a meandering summary. "We got pressured, we missed receivers. I think we had receivers wandering around. I think we had a certain amount of performance anxiety; we had a lot of guys who had never played a college football game. Sometimes we tried to do too much. And we didn't deal with disappointment real well at times."

Postgame, Leach had called his players' psyche "fragile." So I asked him if that's cause for a pat on the back or to send them, en masse, to "Leach Beach," the players' name for the coach's sand pit and its conditioning horrors.

"We're not patting a lot of them on the back," he said.

Of course, a first game need not be terminal; everybody has 11 more chances to get it right.

Tedford could even say his team was as good as the ticket office. Turns out that because construction estimates of bench seating in three areas didn't match actual seat availability, Cal sold as many as 100 seats that didn't exist in Memorial Stadium.

The Bears prefer to think the game never happened, either.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com


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