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Originally published October 1, 2013 at 4:07 PM | Page modified October 3, 2013 at 10:05 PM

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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

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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.

Arizona (3-1)

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.

California (1-3)

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.

Colorado (2-1)

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.

Oregon (4-0)

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.

Stanford (4-0)

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.

UCLA (3-0)

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.

USC (3-2)

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.

Utah (3-1)

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.

Washington (4-0)

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 bwithers@seattletimes.com


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