With it being the one-year anniversary and all, I thought we'd look back this week at the Pac-12 season. I want to know if you feel Utah's inaugural season in the conference went as expected, better than expected or worse than expected.
It's easy to say we were disappointed because of how the season progressed - a decent start, an awful middle and a strong finish - but I think that's too easy. Overall, I anticipated eight-to-nine wins and I was pretty close. Had Utah defeated Colorado in the finale and they meet my expectations (winning the South, winning eight regular season games). Of course, all of that seemed by default, since the South saw the collapse of Arizona State and USC was not eligible.
Still, the prediction, in some ways, included that. We knew, entering the season, that the Trojans couldn't contend for the Pac-12 South because they were ineligible to win it. Also, if you paid attention to the Sun Devils at all the last few years, you'd be hard pressed to go out on a limb predicting great success. Ultimately, Arizona State did what they do best - failed to live up to preseason expectations.
Even so, I can't help but shake Utah's first three conference games after their tough loss to USC. Two were at home, the other on the road, and all were awful. Washington rolled us. Arizona State rolled us and Cal rolled us. Those are teams that, while talented, were not that much better than Utah. These three games were embarrassing. Yeah, you can use the injury excuse, but I think it's much more. I think, for a good portion of the first half of the season, the Utes were scared and played intimidated.
I think they were able to shake it off toward the middle of the season, and certainly they pulled out some semi-impressive wins (going down to Arizona and clobbering the Wildcats, running past UCLA and hanging on to beat Washington State on the road), but that meltdown early in the season still haunts me. What if it happens again this year?
Granted, Utah should be well versed on Pac-12 play by September, and I would hope they're every bit as a confident as the teams they're lining up against, but it's still something that concerns me. Mostly because I always have to worry over something, valid or not.
I think that's my biggest impression of the Pac-12. You can't just skate through the season. In the Mountain West, it was easy to just win via going through the motions and that won't cut it now. Utah won't just roll into Pasadena and push around the Bruins like they did the Rams. They won't dominate Arizona like they did UNLV.
Every game could be a loss. That's scary, and intriguing at the same time.
So, that's my biggest impression. Though I should say it's not like I felt we'd waltz through the Pac-12. I just don't know if I understood the enormity of every contest. In the Mountain West, you only really feared one team could bury you by twenty-plus points, as Cal did this past season, and even that wasn't a given. If you were going to lose, on average, the games would be competitive and down to the wire - not complete blowouts. In the Pac-12? Blowouts aren't rare. They happen often. We saw three and could see three more this season.
I actually talked about this in 2010, so, I'm not sure why I'm too surprised. Maybe I just needed to see it play out for it to sink in. Whatever the reason, the reality is pretty stark: you can blow out one opponent one week and get blown out the very next. Hopefully it's not something we experience often, but I think last year proved, and showed, that it's very possible - if not likely for an inconsistent team.
Washington, who beat Utah 31-14 on the road, would also lose 40-17 to USC and 65-21 to Stanford. Blowouts happen. Maybe more in the Pac-12 than any other BCS league (that'd make a good article).
Ultimately, I came away impressed with Utah's resolve, but also the depth of this conference. It's good from top-to-bottom, even if the media believes otherwise.
What's your impressions after a year in the Pac-12?