We covered what we learned about the Utah Utes already in their 41-10 win over Weber State. Now, let’s step back and take a look around the conference. It was not a great opening week for the Pac-12, with teams going 8-4. Utah was the lone team to face an FCS foe in week one. The Pac-12 faced only three Power Five opponents (unless you count BYU then it was four) and won only one of those games. Debuts were spoiled. Teams at the top struggled to put away inferior competition while some teams at the bottom came out strong. Read on to see what we learned about each team in the Pac-12 (read here for Utah).
The Pac-12 College Football Playoff hopes took a big hit - but are they dead?
Regardless of the narrative around the country, the Pac-12 is not eliminated from the College Football Playoff. The Washington Huskies losing to the Auburn Tigers certainly hurts, but 13 of the 16 teams to make the College Football Playoff lost a game. A loss early in the season is better than a loss in November (unless you are Alabama then it does not matter). At least the Huskies kept the game close. Remember, they played essentially a road game across the country against a top 10 team and lost by less than a touchdown in a game they easily could have won.
More than just UW’s loss though, the Stanford Cardinal (more on them below) and the USC Trojans (the second and third highest ranked teams in the Pac-12) took awhile to put away Mountain West teams. Neither looked like a Playoff contender in week one. USC got gashed for over 300 rushing yards by the UNLV Rebels. Losses by the Arizona Wildcats to the BYU Cougars and the UCLA Bruins to the Cincinnati Bearcats also did not help the conference because it weakens the middle of the conference.
The conference is not dead though. Teams will improve as the season goes along. If the Pac-12 Champion can go 12-1, they will make the Playoff. The margin is just razor thin now for Washington. Further, the conference still has multiple chances to score marquee non-conference wins. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will likely move into the top 10 following their season-opening win over the Michigan Wolverines. They play three very winnable games before hosting Stanford, so it is very possible they will be in the top five at that point. A Stanford win would be huge for the Pac-12. Notre Dame also plays at USC to end the season. The good news for Utah is the conference does not look as tough now as it did before the season started, so a Pac-12 South Championship looks a little more realistic.
Pac-12 Heisman campaigns got off to a rough start
With the San Diego State Aztecs loading the box to stop running back Bryce Love, the Stanford Cardinal offense had to turn to the air to move the ball. Love was held to just 29 yards in the game on 18 carries.
While Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate produced better numbers than Love, he was held under 200 yards passing and rushed the ball only eight times. The loss to BYU likely hurts his candidacy even more than the middling numbers.
Colorado and Arizona State looked good, so did Wazzu and Cal
In 2016, the Colorado Buffaloes started the season with 44-7 win over their rival the Colorado State Rams en route to a Pac-12 South championship. It remains to be seen just how bad Colorado State is this year (their passing defense is looking pretty awful though), but Colorado made a statement with a 45-13 win on Friday night in Denver. Outside of 2016, the largest margin of victory that Colorado has had over Colorado State since joining the Pac-12 is 14. Colorado quarterback Steven Montez was dealing, throwing for 338 yards and four touchdowns. Things really ramp up in difficulty for Colorado next week when they renew their rivalry with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They will play at Nebraska against new coach Scott Frost. It is still too early to call Colorado a good team, but they certainly made quite a statement.
The Arizona State Sun Devils, another team pegged to finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 South got off to a dominant week one performance against the UTSA Roadrunners. Quarterback Manny Wilkins and wide receiver N’Keal Harry are likely the best QB-WR duo in the conference. Sophomore running back Eno Benjamin looked great in the first start of his career. Things get tougher next week with the Michigan State Spartans coming to town, though the Utah State Aggies gave them everything they could handle on Friday night in East Lansing.
I expected the Washington State Cougars to take a huge step back this season, but they started off 2018 with a 41-19 win at the Wyoming Cowboys. Gardner Minshew had a nice day throwing the ball in Mike Leach’s offense. Just how good the Cougars are will remain a mystery until their week four trip to USC on a Friday night (as they host the San Jose State Spartans and Eastern Washington Eagles in the next two weeks).
The California Golden Bears were the only Pac-12 team to beat a Power Five opponent in week one, knocking off the North Carolina Tar Heels at home. UNC did have 11 players suspended, and the 24-17 score sounds closer than it was (UNC had one first down in the first half and scored two fourth quarter touchdowns after the game was decided). Cal returned the most starters of any team in the conference, and it showed with them jumping out to a 24-3 lead in the third quarter (they led 17-0 at halftime). The Cal defense performed much better than the offense though, forcing four turnovers. The quarterback position is not settled as Cal trotted out three different players to throw the ball.
Both Kevin Sumlin (Arizona) and Chip Kelly (UCLA) arrived on their respective campuses with hype. Both of their teams fell flat on their respective faces in week one. Sumlin is likely to right the ship in week two hosting Southern Utah, but Kelly’s Bruins have to head to Norma, Okla. to face the Oklahoma Sooners and quarterback Kyler Murray. Kelly will almost certainly be staring down the barrel at an 0-2 start. For Arizona, they were out coached and out played by a hungry BYU team. Tate only carried the ball eight times. It seemed like Noel Mazzone (a coordinator I do not think highly of) and Sumlin tried to shoehorn Tate into an air raid offense rather than let him do what comes naturally to him. For UCLA, the surprising thing was that the offense got worse under Kelly while the defense improved. Maybe defensive coordinators have figured out Kelly’s offense. College football has changed a lot since he left for the NFL after the 2012 season. Starting quarterback Wilton Speight, the Michigan transfer, got hurt early in the game, so highly-touted freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson played much of the game. His potential is sky high, but he has a long way to go in terms of consistency. Outside of a 74-yard run from freshman Kazmeir Allen, UCLA totaled 50 yards on their other 30 carries. Kelly still has a long way to go to fix that rushing attack, and he does not have a quarterback the caliber of Josh Rosen to keep defenses honest and ease the pressure on the running game.
Oh and Jonathan Smith made his head coaching debut with his alma mater the Oregon State Beavers and lost 77-31 at the Ohio State Buckeyes. I have to say, Oregon State was more competitive than I expected, and running back Artavis Pierce looked explosive, but they lost in predictable blow out fashion on the road to a top five team.
Still too early to tell on Oregon
The Oregon Ducks are the lone team we have not talked about yet. They won 58-24 over the Bowling Green Falcons at Autzen Stadium. They dominated the way they were expected to, but like Utah, they started in a 10-0 hole. Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert averaged over 13 yards per attempt (which is fantastic) and threw five touchdowns (and totaled six in the game), but he completed less than 50% of his passes and tossed two interceptions. Oregon got explosive plays in the the passing game (totaling four passes of at least 40 yards including an 83-yard touchdown pass to Taj Griffin), but the Oregon running backs did not break any runs longer than 15 yards (Herbert had a 37-yard scamper). Overall, it was a good performance from Oregon, but it should have been considering the opponent, who is expected to be near in the bottom in the Mid-Atlantic Conference after finishing 2-10 last year. Oregon’s pathetic non-conference schedule continues with home dates against Portland State and San Jose State. The Ducks will not have to break a sweat until they host Stanford in week four.