I'm still reeling from the most unexpected weekend in PAC 12 football action that I can ever recall seeing.
For the first time ever, ESPN's College Gameday attended a PAC 12 game that did not involve USC or Oregon ... and were treated to a blowout in Tucson that pretty much confirmed most of the existing anti-PAC biases that exist outside of the west coast.
Meanwhile, in Tempe, another LA team was crushing the home town Devils. In fact, at halftime of the respective games, UCLA / USC had a combined 77-14 lead over ASU / Arizona.
In Seattle, Cal was ending a 6 year losing streak to the Huskies.
Down the road in Eugene, the Ducks were getting out-ducked by the Runnin' Utes of Utah. In fact, I think Travis Wilson just scored another touchdown.
Such chaos is simultaneously delightful and unsettling if you are a fan of college football drama. Just as the meek shall one day inherit the earth, the oppressed shall one day take back the PAC. Today may be that day. With one week of conference games in the book, its clear that no fewer than nine teams woke up this morning with legitimate hopes of winning their division.
Here is a quick run down of each team's position:
Cal (4-0) - with a road win over one of the two toughest Defenses that they will see all year, Cal has legitimate reason to be optimistic about their path to the North crown. As the only undefeated team in the North, they also may still harbor playoff hopes.
Stanford (3-1) - the good news for Stanford is that they have two conference wins. The bad news is that they had a very sloppy looking opening night loss to a Big 10 team. The playoffs are probably out of the question, but they are well-positioned in the South with their only road games left for the entire season being at WSU and at Colorado.
Washington (2-2) - a close loss to Cal doesn't look too bad right now and they are the only team with a P12 loss that hasn't been blown out at some point this year. Their D and ST will keep them close in every game which keeps their shot at winning the North a not-to-be-dismissed viability.
Oregon (2-2) - the talent is there, but what looked like a blip against Michigan State now looks like a trend. The North is clearly in play for Mark Helfrich, but there are no playoff hopes for his team.
OSU (2-2) - lots of fight here, but this team doesn't really look ready to challenge for the conference.
WSU (2-1) - oh, hey Cuogs!
UCLA (4-0) - The Bruins have been able to ease into their schedule with their true freshman QB. The loss of three stars on D and a quickly escalating schedule make their road to the playoffs look murkier, but still in play.
Utah (4-0) - Utah is now a top 10 team based on team efficiency and their road to both the South and the playoffs is clearly in view (btw, click on the link and see where Washington ranks relative to some old rivals).
USC (3-1) - They will get their shot at the two teams ahead of them which means that the South could still easily be had, even if the playoffs look like they may be a bit hard to reach.
Arizona (3-1) - I hate to say the playoffs are out of the question, but they look that way. The South is not.
Arizona State (2-2) - The playoffs are definitely out, but not the South. UCLA this week will be a critical pivot point for Todd Graham.
Colorado (3-1) - There isn't a playoff scenario for the Buffs, but they are riding a little momentum. I don't want to say that they can't contend for the South until we see what they can do once they play their first conference game.
Arizona St @ UCLA (-13.5)
I've noted this already, but there can be zero doubt that Arizona State is a desperate team right now. This was a club that opened the season as the chic pick to win the South but has come out flat in each game that they've played on their schedule. This includes some fairly one-sided defeats at the hands of ranked TAMU and USC teams as well as a flat win over an FCS team. It's all been very un-Todd Graham like.
When you break down the ASU team, the thing that jumps out at you is the discombobulation on offense. QB Mike Bercovici was expected to blow up this year. However, the gunslinger with a bit of a wild arm has not been able to establish any meaningful synergy with his receivers and he has been clumsy in the pocket. His defense hasn't done him any favors as they've continuously gotten burned with their aggressive blitzing and undisciplined play.
UCLA, on the other hand, has been the model of consistency even when not every one of their wins have been pretty. Their run game has been pretty much unstoppable as their offensive line has surged to become one of, if not the best, in the PAC. Their defense has shown resilience in the face of the losses of CB Fabian Moreau, LB Myles Jack and DT Eddie Vanderdoes. The question for the Bruins is at QB. Josh Rosen has not strung together two "good games" in a row and the team seems to go as he goes.
On paper, you have to like UCLA here. The Bruins shouldn't have trouble neutralizing the ASU pressures with their running attack and their defense looks well poised to take advantage of a struggling ASU receiving corps and offensive line. At least, on paper.
In fact, I don't like UCLA here. Rosen will have never seen anything like the kinds of disguised pressures that Todd Graham is going to throw at him and I think he's going to struggle - just as he did versus BYU. On the other side, it just seems to me that Bercovici is due to break out in a big game. Add to that the fact that the Devils are hanging by a thread in the South and you can see why ASU might have a little extra motivation. I'm going with the straight-away upset.
Gekko's Pick: ASU 41, UCLA 28
Rest of the PAC
Oregon (-8) @ Colorado
Look, I like the spunk in this Colorado team. They've been winning a little bit and they've got a pretty good rushing attack going. In addition, they have the better QB in this matchup. That much is clear. In fact, the current QB situation at Oregon leads one to believe that Vernon Adams may have, in fact, made a very bad decision in deciding to transfer out of EWU.
But that is neither here nor there when it comes to this weekend. I expect that Adams will get the call again, but will be asked to do very little as a passer. The Ducks will have a huge advantage running Royce Freeman against a Colorado D that looks to be missing star LB Addison Gillam. I see the Ducks riding that advantage to a little redemption.
Gekko's Pick: Oregon 49, Colorado 35
Arizona @ Stanford (-17)
Is there a team that is suffering from more wild swings of national perception than Stanford right now? If there is, I can't think of it. A week ago, this game would have been no more than a 5 point spread. Today it is 17. While I get the fact that Arizona is likely to be without both Anu Solomon (day to day) and Scooby Wright (out for "several weeks"), 17 seems like a pretty steep line to me. I like Stanford to win in a controlled, methodical manner. But I also think that the Wildcats will keep this under the spread.
Gekko's Pick: Arizona 24, Stanford 31
WSU @ Cal (-19)
Wow. I get that Cal is undefeated and that they have shown a bit more of a defensive backbone than what they ever showed a season ago. But 19 points? Against Mike Leach? Does anybody remember what happened a season ago when these two teams hooked up and a high school football game broke out?
I'm having a hard time believing that Cal is going to be able to create a 19 point advantage in this one. In fact, I'm not even completely convinced that Cal will win at all. I see no reason that this won't be a tit for tat type of affair with each team taking their turn to score on the other whenever they get the ball. Like last year, I see this game hinging on a few extra turnovers and special teams plays. That is where Cal will win it.
Gekko's Pick: WSU 45, Cal 52
BYES: USC, Washington, Oregon State, Utah