OHIO STATE surelycame away with a healthy respect for Pac-10 football after being whipped by USClast Saturday, but the Buckeyes only saw the $100 bill on top of the Pac-10'sstack. The rest of the country saw that there are nothing but singlesunderneath. At least, that's the way it seems after last weekend, which, withthe notable exception of the top-ranked Trojans' 35--3 victory, was an abysmalone for the conference.
This is an article from the Sept. 22, 2008 issue
The Pac-10 wasthe loser in seven of its other nine games against a mostly unimposing group ofopponents, including an 0--4 mark against teams from the Mountain WestConference. "It was a nightmare," Arizona State coach Dennis Ericksonsaid. He was referring to his 15th-ranked Sun Devils' stunning 23--20 overtimedefeat by UNLV, which had lost 30 of its previous 37 games, but he could havebeen describing the overall performance of the conference.
There wereblowouts, such as UCLA's 59--0 humiliation at BYU, the Bruins' worst loss in 79years. And there were nail-biters, such as Arizona's 36--28 loss at New Mexico,which went down to the Wildcats' final possession. Pac-10 teams lost early: No.23 California's 35--27 defeat at Maryland began at noon EST, which felt like 9a.m. to the Bears' body clocks. And they lost late: Arizona State's game endedat 1:15 a.m. EST, after most college football fans had gone to bed, which meantthey missed UNLV freshman Phillip Payne's leaping one-handed touchdown grab totie the game with 18 seconds left and the blocked field goal try in overtime byMalo Taumua that sealed the Rebels' win.
Even the Pac-10'stwo victories among those nine games did little to help its reputation. OregonState's 45--7 win over Hawaii would have been more impressive a year ago,before quarterback Colt Brennan and coach June Jones left campus; and16th-ranked Oregon, a seven-point favorite over Purdue, fell behind 20--3 andescaped with a 32--26 double-overtime victory only after the Boilermakers'Chris Summers missed a 44-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
Last week'sconference results make the road to the BCS title game look awfully smooth forthe Trojans. It's hard to imagine how USC, which has only one nonconferenceopponent remaining (Notre Dame), could stumble in the Pac-10, not after theteams presumed to be its main threats—Arizona State, Oregon and Cal—looked sovulnerable. Of course, the Trojans should know better than to take the rest ofthe Pac-10 for granted, particularly after the shocking 24--23 upset thatStanford handed them last year, but the bottom of the conference doesn't seemlikely to hit the lottery again this year.
Understandably,the rest of the Pac-10 is in no hurry to start thinking about dealing with USC,except for its next opponent, Oregon State, which plays the Trojans inCorvallis on Sept. 25. Oregon coach Mike Bellotti was more interested infinding the positives in the Ducks' comeback in 90° heat at Purdue. "It wasa great test for us," said Bellotti. "Not just with it being atough-weather game, but with the ability we showed to come back from the holewe put ourselves in."
That deficit wasnothing compared to the apparent gap between USC and its Pac-10 brethren. Theymay be in the same conference as the Trojans, but they don't appear to be inthe same league.