Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Pac12 Football---Not So Bad After All





Based on preseason predictions, the Pac12 was supposed to be Oregon and USC up there on the Mountain Top, looking down on the ten inferior teams in the rest of the conference. .

But things have changed. One of the Mountain Top Two is a bit shaky. Also, the rest of the conference may not be so bad.

Up on that Mountain Top, Oregon still looks as strong as ever. With that super-speed offense, they can outscore anybody. But USC has a problem. Its defense, ragged and sloppy at times against two mediocre, non-conference teams, may, in a conference game or two, put the team in a hole that its superlative passing game can't dig them out of. USC is definitely vulnerable.

Pundits downgraded the rest of the conference as wimpy, charging that only Stanford and Utah were half decent. Those two, everyone thought, would fight it out for the No. 3 spot.

Wrong.

Stanford is 2-0, but an ugly 2-0, barely beating cream-puff San Jose State 20-17, and scoring 50 on Duke, which is like bullying a kitten. This early in the season, Utah is already in trouble. They lost to unimpressive, Mountain West arch-rival Utah State and also lost QB Jordan Wynn, who re-injured his bad left shoulder and decided to quit football. Without Wynn, the Utes have to rely on inexperienced senior Jon Hays. So the Utes aren't going anywhere.

The battle for the No. 3 spot in the Pac12  may be a four-way tussle, but between four surprise teams--UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State.

The third best team in the conference just might be UCLA, which has two victories, one a shocker over mighty Nebraska. It turns out that UCLA's offensive explosion against poor Rice was no fluke. What's propelling the Bruins is a revamped, pro-style offense, headed by RB Jonathan Franklin, who boasts a pair of 200-yard games, and freshman Brett Hundley, the team's best QB since Cade McNown back in the late 1990s.

Coach Jim Mora has transformed UCLA. Spread-offense guru Rich Rodriguez has done the same thing for Arizona, something, by the way, he couldn't do in his short stay at Michigan. Arizona is 2-0, including a 59-36 spanking of tough, Top 20 Oklahoma State, spurred by RB Ka'Deem Carey's 4TDs and QB
Matt Scott's 320 passing yards.

There was another notable Pac12 coaching debut. Under new head man Todd Graham, Arizona State, which opened with a 63-6 thrashing of Northern Arizona, topped that by destroying Illinois 45-14. The Sun Devils have found a suitable replacement for QB Brock Osweiler. Taylor Kelly completed 18 out of 24 for 249 yards.

Oregon State may be the biggest surprise, with a 10-7 win over Big Ten kingpin Wisconsin, which features Heisman trophy candidate Montee Ball. This is the same Beaver outfit that was ticketed for the conference cellar.

The rest of the Pac12 is not at all menacing. The Cal Bears, under the misdirection of coach Jeff Tedford, don't have much growl in them. After falling to a so-so Nevada team, they needed a fourth quarter rally to escape an embarrassing loss to lowly Southern Utah. With Ohio State and USC looming, Cal, guided by erratic QB Zach Maynard, is headed for a 1-4 hole.

The jury is still out on Washington, which was ground up by LSU. The verdict is in, though, on Washington State and Colorado. Both are just plain lousy.