Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The PAC 12 Mess








What's the best football team in the PAC 12?

Most years, answering this question would be a cinch. You'd just pick a team from a small group that generally includes USC, UCLA, Oregon and Stanford. But this year the answer to that question is just as simple. It's--who the hell knows? Right now the PAC 12 is a mess, virtually unrecognizable, with the heavyweights turning into lightweights and vice versa. Ask ten people to pick the best PAC 12 team and you'd might get ten different answers.

Some would single out Arizona. At 5-0, it's the lone undefeated team in the conference, having leapfrogged from nowhere to No.10 in the AP poll, a record-shattering jump. That lofty ranking is mainly based on the Wildcats beating Oregon, then No. 2 in the polls, in Eugene. In addition, there was a bloodbath in the Top Ten, with many high-ranking teams tumbling, triggering a wholesale reshuffling, opening the door for a hot newcomer like Arizona. But, these days, beating Oregon is no big deal. Their offensive line, normally a strength, is a shambles and QB Marcus Mariota is banged up, more than he's letting on  Still, some would call Oregon the PAC 12's best. This, however, is a wobbly team that barely escaped a Washington State upset.

The other significant Wildcat victory is beating Cal, 49-45, via Hail Mary. That's Cal's lone loss. If Cal didn't lose that game on that fluke play, the Bears might be the PAC 12's undefeated darling and somewhere in the Top 25. But the fact that Cal is among the league leaders is further proof that the PAC 12 is one giant mess. Cal is a one-dimensional team, sporting an offense that's a scoring machine but saddled with a defense that, as usual, is among the worst in college football. In nipping WSU in Pullman Saturday night, the Cal defense was pounded for over 800 yards. Cal is a good team? Don't think so.

Is pre-season favorite Stanford, which has the best defense in the PAC 12, the league's top team? Not really. With close losses to SC and Notre Dame, Stanford has plummeted down the polls. Its problem is an offense that's allergic to the end zone. Stanford was wildly overrated. So was USC. After a blistering start, trashing Fresno State, the Trojans have faltered, first getting throttled by Boston College, a so-so ACC team. Then, last Saturday, the Trojans were blindsided by an Arizona State Hail Mary, pushing them out of the Top 25.

Speaking of overrated, what about UCLA, another pre-season favorite? Many were ready to crown them PAC 12 champs. That was before the roof fell in Saturday night, with a shocking home loss to heavy underdog Utah. Horrible coaching--both in calling plays and defensive sets--and miserable pass protection, buried the Bruins, whose nimble QB Brett Hundley was brutalized via ten sacks. Is this the best team in the PAC 12? No way.

Actually, the PAC 12 has no best team. Parity reigns. With the exception of awful Colorado, any PAC 12 team can beat any other team on any given Saturday. Suddenly second-tier teams are dangerous and perennial powerhouses are powder puffs. Nobody has a clue who's going to beat who.

This Saturday, visiting, unranked, shaky USC is favored to beat No.10 Arizona. That makes no sense. And check this out. Cal, projected to win no more than two games, has already won four and is favored to win a fifth, this Saturday, over Washington in Berkeley. Not only that, Cal tops the PAC 12 North division. Remember this is the Cal team with the unbelievably bad defense.

None of this makes any sense. But, these days, that's the PAC 12.