Ten games involving Pac-12 teams were played Saturday, but only two made an impression nationally.
Oregon and USC provide the barometer for Pac-12 football. Like Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten and Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12, folks across the country tend to measure the Pac-12 based on what the Ducks and Trojans do. (Washington casts a national shadow too, but not like USC and Oregon.)
The two Pac-12 image-makers made very different impressions this week.
The Oregon Impression
Ohio State was virtually everyone’s choice to earn a spot in this season College Football Playoff. But Oregon, which had looked vulnerable in a narrow win over Fresno State in its opener, popped that bubble with a 35-28 victory over the Buckeyes.
And the Ducks did it despite . . . .:
--Despite playing without defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, rated the No. 1 NFL prospect by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and perhaps the biggest defensive difference-maker in the country who was sidelined with an ankle injury.
--Despite playing without linebacker Justin Flowe, who had 14 tackles and forced a fumble in the opener but was in street clothes with an injury on Saturday.
--Despite playing without several other defensive starters who were injured during the game, causing the Ducks improvise. D.J. Johnson had a key 11-yard reception, but also played multiple snaps at defensive end.
---Despite playing in front of 100,482 fans at the Buckeyes’ Ohio Stadium, where Ohio State had won 23 straight games, its last home loss coming in 2017 against Oklahoma, when Baker Mayfield tried to plant the Oklahoma flag on the field.
---Despite having its quarterback complete less than half his passes, as Oregon's Anthony Brown went 17-for-35 for 236 yards.
---Despite giving up 612 yards of offense, the most yardage yielded by Oregon since if gave up 636 yards to Cal in a double-overtime game in 2016.
---Despite being a two-touchdown underdog to an Ohio State team ranked No. 3 in the country.
Suddenly Oregon is in the College Football Playoff discussion, shooting up to a No. 4 ranking in the AP poll released Sunday.
The Ducks became just the second team since 2000 – and the first since 2012 – to record more than 500 yards of offense at Ohio Stadium. Oregon committed no turnovers and allowed no sacks – the first time in three years Ohio State did not record a sack.
“Big game for Oregon; big game for the Pac-12,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said.
Yes, it was a big game for the Pac-12, except that . . .
The USC Impression
Stanford, a team that had been thoroughly dominated by Kansas State the previous week and whose quarterback (Tanner McKee) was making his first collegiate start, sliced apart No. 14 USC on the Trojans’ home field.
The final score was 42-28, but it wasn’t as close as the score suggests as the Cardinal held a 42-13 lead with nine minutes left. The Cardinal’s scoring splurge came one week after scoring only a garbage-time touchdown in the final four minutes to avoid a shutout against Kansas State.
The surprising result was reminiscent of Stanford’s stunning 24-23 road upset of No. 1 USC in 2007 when the Cardinal was a 41-point underdog. It also reminded us of Stanford’s 55-21 thrashing of USC in the 2009 “What’s you’re deal?” game.
In his first collegiate start, McKee outplayed USC Heisman hopeful Kedon Slovis.
McKee was 16-for-23 for 234 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks and an average of 10.2 yards per pass attempt. Slovis was 27-of-42 for 223 yards, one touchdown, one interception (a pick-6 by Kyu Blu Kelly) and an average of 5.3 yards per pass attempt.
McKee’s passer rating for the game more than doubled Slovis’ passer rating, and McKee’s passer rating of 171.87 through two games ranks second in the Pac-12.
The Trojans went from being ranked No. 14 last week to being unranked this week.
Matt Leinart, who won the 2004 Heisman Trophy while at USC, provided the defining statement on USC’s showing and the Pac-12 perspective (even though he misspelled Oregon):
1. What is the impression of the Pac-12 now?
Oregon’s win on network TV did worlds of good for the Pac-12. That one result led to suspicions the conference might be back to its powerhouse status of a decade ago. USC’s stunning loss damaged the conference’s image, but it had less impact than Oregon’s win since USC lost to a Pac-12 opponent.
You would assume the Ducks would be undefeated for at least one more week since next week's foe is Stony Brook, which will travel about 2,500 miles from its Long Island campus to play Oregon in Eugene.
2. Will USC coach Clay Helton survive the season?
It’s way too early to say a coach is destined for the chopping block, but another loss to a team with inferior talent may set off an alarm.
The concern by USC supporters was reflected in a tweet by former USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who had been a supporter of Helton:
USC fans booed the team at halftime, and many of them left in the third quarter.
Losing decisively to a Stanford team that had struggled he previous week may have been more problematic for Helton because it pointed out the coaching-skill disparity between him and Cardinal coach David Shaw.
When Helton’s team had 111 penalty yards and Shaw’s team had 27 penalty yards, it does not paint a pretty picture.
3. Can one play turn a season around?
Stanford coach David Shaw credited Nathaniel Peat’s 87-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, which resulted in the game’s first score, for getting the Cardinal’s offense in gear. (He loves basketball analogies.)
“Sometimes you got to make that first layup, and that was probably more like a three-pointer from distance,” Shaw said. “There’s something about having a lead, especially the young, inexperienced guys you have on the team that kind of get a little bit relaxed and just go out there and play.”
4. What do we make of Colorado?
The Buffaloes, picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, blew out Northern Colorado in their opener and nearly pulled off a monumental upset before losing to No. 5 Texas A&M 10-7.
That looks good on paper, but it should be noted that the Aggies lost their starting quarterback (Hynes King) in the first quarter, and his replacement (Zach Calzada) looked like a fish out of water through most of the game.
Nonetheless, Texas A&M did not take the lead until it scored its only touchdown with 2:41 left in the game. Colorado has yielded just 17 points in its first two games combined, and its 8.5 points per game allowed rank fifth in the country.
5. Is BYU the best team in the Pac-12?
Yeah, we know BYU is an independent that will move to the Big 12 in a few years, but the Cougars are the only team in the country that has played two games against Pac-12 teams. (USC and Stanford are the only teams that have even played one game against a Pac-12 foe.)
BYU is 2-0 against the Pac-12, and its 26-17 over 21st-ranked Utah on Saturday was no fluke.
The Cougars will try to make it 3-0 against the Pac-12 when it hosts Arizona State on Saturday, and they play Washington State and USC later this season. The Cougars' Nov. 27 game against USC is the regular-season finale for both teams and could have an impact in a number of ways.
6. Has Washington been left for dead?
The Huskies were expected to be a Rose Bowl contender this year, but they followed up the disastrous loss to FCS team Montana in their opener with a 31-10 shellacking at the hands of Michigan this week.
Jimmy Lake's football program is a mess right now. Everyone is in agreement about that.
Dare we say this, the coach is in trouble.
Then added this troubling note:
And not only has Lake's team lost, it looks and sounds lost.
In a postgame radio interview, junior wide receiver Terrell Bynum talked about the Huskies lacking emotion, this coming a week after senior edge rusher Ryan Bowman made a similar claim.
The Huskies even had trouble making handoffs to the officials
The Pac-12 top five teams:
1. Oregon (2-0) – The Ducks’ road victory over No. 3 Ohio State trumps UCLA’s home win over then-No. 17 LSU
2. UCLA (2-0) – Despite being idle this week, the Bruins moved up three spots to No. 13 in the AP poll.
3. Arizona State (2-0) – The Sun Devils have done nothing of significance yet, but they are the only other unbeaten Pac-12 team. Saturday’s game against BYU will tell us more.
4. Utah (1-1) – Utes had their nine-game winning streak against BYU abruptly halted on Saturday in Provo.
5. Colorado (1-1) – Nearly upsetting Texas A&M should count for something, whether the Aggies had their No. 1 quarterback or not.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings
1. Zach Charbonnet, UCLA running back – The Bruins didn’t play this week, but he had over 100 yards rushing in both wins. He’s averaging 13.1 yards per carry and a touchdown every 4.25 carries.
2. CJ Verdell, Oregon – His 161 rushing yards against Ohio State were instrumental in the win, and he leads the conference in rushing at 117.5 yards per game.
3. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA quarterback – He leads the Pac-12 in passer rating for a top-15 team. He has thrown four touchdown passes with no interceptions.
4. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State quarterback – The Sun Devils have not faced a threatening opponent yet, but Daniels has completed 73.2 percent of his passes and leads a 2-0 team in rushing with 165 yards and an 8.7 yards-per-carry average.
5. Tanner McKee, Stanford quarterback – Yes, this is an odd pick, and McKee might not be here long. But he is second in the Pac-12 in passer rating, and he was an impressive winner n his only collegiate start.
Cover photo of USC's Gary Bryant Jr. is by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports
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