What we’ve learned after a month of Pac-12 football
Oregon, as expected, is good. Lane Kiffin, and USC, are not.
Times college football reporter
A month into the football season, Pac-12 officials have fluffed a big moment at Arizona State, Oregon is probing new frontiers in its bullet-train offense, and Lane Kiffin has been kicked off the bus. You’re still aboard, however, so let’s recap the conference entering October.
What we thought: ’Zona would be better on defense than the 499-yards-a-game pacifists of a year ago. But the ’Cats would miss quarterback Matt Scott.
What’s happened: The defense looks way improved. And B.J. Denker looks nothing like Scott.
Signature play: Denker, throwing a waterlogged, 15-pound football across his body at Husky Stadium.
Arizona State (3-1)
What we thought: Sparky still had to prove he could ball with the league power brokers.
What’s happened: ASU got smoked at Stanford but rocked USC to stay viable in the pedestrian South. Next, it gets Notre Dame.
Signature play: Linebacker Anthony Jones flops on the ball after Wisconsin QB Joel Stave downs it and flummoxed officials let the clock run out, preserving ASU’s win.
What we thought: Bears would fling it early and often in Sonny Dykes’ spot-it-and-snap-it offense.
What’s happened: QB Jared Goff has a big future and Cal has run 380 plays in four games. But the defense, giving up 6.9 yards a snap, has gotten pillaged.
Signature play: Portland State’s third-quarter, catch-fumble-scoop-and-score was ruled an incomplete pass on review, or PSU would have led by 10 and Cal could be winless.
What we thought: Shy of both facilities and money, Buffs had nowhere to go but up, but it wouldn’t be a brisk ascent.
What’s happened: They started with a 14-point win over Colorado State, something fired Jon Embree failed to get done last year. But a 44-17 loss at Oregon State is sobering.
Signature play: In a battle of the league’s premier receivers, Paul Richardson and OSU’s Brandin Cooks, CU’s Richardson had one catch for 2 yards at the half in Corvallis.
What we thought: Ducks had weapons all over the roster, but newbie coach Mark Helfrich was the unknown.
What’s happened: Oregon has mulched everything in its way and won’t be tested until Oct. 12 at UW.
Signature play: Virginia forces a third-and-five on Oregon’s first series. Then QB Marcus Mariota drops back and bolts 71 yards up the gut for a TD to ignite a 59-10 win.
Oregon State (4-1)
What we thought: Beavers had defensive concerns up the middle in their front seven, but would be hard to stop behind a seasoned offensive line.
What’s happened: Eastern Washington exposed the defense in an opening-game ambush, but OSU has rebounded with QB Sean Mannion — national leader in passing yards at 403.6 a game — pitching it all over.
Signature play: Fourth-and-nine from its 22 with less than four minutes left and trailing Utah, 38-37, OSU rolls the dice and Mannion hits Richard Mullaney on a short post route for 13 yards. Soon, it’s celebrating an overtime win.
What we thought: Cardinal might have a defense for the ages but could lack elite speed for a national-championship quest.
What’s happened: After an ordinary start, Stanford has turned it up against two outgunned Pac-12 opponents. Still, there’s no Stepfan Taylor in the backfield.
Signature play: OLB Trent Murphy sniffs out a short pass against WSU, leaps, intercepts and takes it to the house — the second time he’s done that in two games at CenturyLink Field.
What we thought: An iffy secondary might be the only thing keeping the Bruins from a third straight Pac-12 title-game appearance.
What’s happened: UCLA hasn’t yet faced anything resembling a competent passing game. But it will, especially in the Oct. 19-26 crucible at Stanford and Oregon.
Signature play: With UCLA down to Nebraska, 21-3, QB Brett Hundley scrambles out of a potential sack on third-and-12, gets 13 yards and the Bruins go on to score the first of 38 straight points in a 41-21 turnaround.
What we thought: Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee, who caught 118 passes a year ago, would be a combination of A.J. Green and Julio Jones, and the Trojans had a real shot at the Pac-12 South.
What’s happened: Lee couldn’t throw the ball to himself (we don’t think), and USC is 0-2 in league for the first time since Pete Carroll’s first season in 2001.
Signature play: Pat Haden, the athletic director, intercepts Kiffin on the team bus early Sunday morning and refuses to give him a transfer back to campus.
What we thought: Utes would update their offense to the 21st century with Dennis Erickson coordinating, but the defense might be sketchy.
What’s happened: QB Travis Wilson has blossomed, while the Utes continue to struggle inside the league and beat BYU outside it. Thursday night’s game with UCLA looms large.
Signature play: Safety Michael Walker tips Mannion’s pass, not enough to keep Cooks from lunging back to snag OSU’s game-winner in OT.
What we thought: Huskies might be on the brink of something big (or at least something other than 7-6) as they transition to a fast-paced offense.
What’s happened: Washington embarrassed Boise State, outswam Arizona and is right where it wanted to be. But the next three opponents — Stanford, Oregon, ASU — could rearrange the season.
Signature play: Bishop Sankey left, Bishop Sankey right, Bishop Sankey through the A gap.
Washington State (3-2)
What we thought: Cougars might have a sneaky-good defense, but the offense had major strides to make.
What’s happened: Pretty much that. Interceptions (10) have been a nightmare, and worse, Connor Halliday’s health is in question.
Signature play: Toni Pole gets a big rush up the middle on Cody Kessler, WSU corner Damante Horton picks it off and goes 70 yards for a touchdown in a 10-7 upset of USC. And Lane Kiffin should have begun updating his resume.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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