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Originally published September 16, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Page modified September 16, 2012 at 10:17 PM

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USC's loss is bad news for Pac-12's relevance

While Stanford's upset win proves the league has depth, it knocks the conference's early-season favorite out of the national spotlight.

Seattle Times colleges reporter

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The SEC has three good teams this year. Alabama, LSU, and Georgia. South Carolina and... MORE
USC being good always helps the conference nationally, but Oregon (sorry, fellow UW... MORE
Bud, I couldn't disagree more. One loss to a VERY good Stanford team does not do... MORE

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Talking to reporters Saturday night at the Stanford-USC game, Commissioner Larry Scott marveled at the depth the Pac-12 had shown the first two weeks of the season.

A couple of hours later, Stanford had further validated that depth by beating USC, and, as inspired as its effort was, you wonder whether there weren't some pangs of dismay in the league.

USC is one of the nation's bellwether programs, one that gives the league credibility all by itself, and it was ranked No. 2. It was headed, seemingly, for an early-November showdown with Oregon that was going to get the country's attention. Now the Trojans, who fell to No. 13, are just another glitzy outfit that can't seem to play smash-mouth football.

Then there's this week's USC-Cal game on the Pac-12 Networks that was supposed to be the one that would entice DirecTV into the fold. Now that might be the third-best game of the day, behind Oregon State-UCLA and Arizona-Oregon.

What We Learned

Stanford is a pretty good facsimile of the SEC. Pac-12 naysayers are fond of pointing out how the physical, run-and-stop-the-run style of the SEC trumps the perceived finesse of the Pac-12. Well, Stanford's M.O. would have played well in Athens or Knoxville, as the Cardinal rushed for 202 yards and held USC, which has two 1,000-yard rushers from 2011, to 26.

All this while Josh Nunes threw for more yards per attempt and per completion than Matt Barkley.

"(The players) were in the tank after the game," coach Lane Kiffin told the LA Daily News. "The guys are really down. This is a big game, especially for the older guys."

On the other side, Stanford coach David Shaw was telling reporters, "We tried to make them one-dimensional. That sounds crazy, to put it in the hands of that quarterback and those receivers. But we knew we could play smart, sound football."

Barkley's Heisman chances are flickering at best. It's the big games that decide the stiff-arm trophy winner, and Barkley recedes to the also-rans with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Brendan Bigelow can play. The one-time University of Washington commit from Fresno had 11 carries as a freshman a year ago for Cal, and two more in the first two games. Then the Bears unleashed him on Ohio State, and he responded with 160 yards on four carries, including a dazzling, whirlybird 81-yard run on which he showed both great balance and high-end speed.

Despite a 35-28 loss, Cal had the best nonleague performance of the weekend, coming back from a 13-point deficit to lead at the Horseshoe and showing heart after a sleepy first two games.

Utah and BYU have another one for the scrapbook. A series with some wild recent games added another one, as the Cougars came back from a 24-7 deficit to lose by three.

But not until BYU's Riley Nelson threw an incompletion on what the Utes thought was the final play, only to see one second put on the clock. Not until the Utes blocked a 51-yard field goal, thinking this was really the end of the game, only to see BYU get one more play when fans rushed the field prematurely. Not until Riley Stephenson's 36-yard field goal bounced off the left upright.

Perspective is coming, as always. When BYU throttled Washington State in the opener, it appeared BYU was a top-25 team. Now we know better. And you also have to leaven Oregon State's upset over Wisconsin a bit after Utah State took the Badgers to the wire in Madison, missing a field goal to lose by two.

Never mind a game, Colorado may not win a quarter. How bad were the Buffaloes (0-3) in losing 69-14 at Fresno State? Less than halfway through the second quarter, against a team from a non-automatic-qualifying BCS league, Colorado trailed 48-0. Fresno State had 516 yards of total offense in the first half.

Washington State allowed 58 points or more six times in its abysmal 2008 season, consistently the worst football I've ever seen. But the Cougars never surrendered more than 42 points in the first half.

That year they had a winless Washington team to fall back on. Who's that team for Colorado?

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


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