I won’t say everything came up roses for the Pac-12 this past Saturday in college football. Washington was, as expected, smoldered at LSU, 41-3. Colorado managed to lose to Sacramento State. Utah lost to a good WAC team in Utah State on Friday night. But those thorns are overshadowed by an otherwise tremendous day for the conference that’s played like the nation’s best for the first two weeks of the season and it was highlighted by a 3-0 sweep of the Big Ten in games that were not only comparably matched, but probably should have favored the boys from the Midwest.
UCLA moved to 2-0 by beating Nebraska and the physical style the Bruins have shown these first two games (including a opening victory over Rice, a team who turned around and beat Kansas on Saturday). Jonathan Franklin ran over the Cornhusker defense and piling up 214 yards on the ground. If UCLA is going to run the ball like this when conference play starts they’re going to be looking at a good bowl bid.
Oregon State was similarly physical against Wisconsin, although for the Beavers it came on the defensive side. As a Badger fan, I came into the game concerned, especially about Oregon State’s ability to spread the field with quarterback Sean Mannion. I was completely unprepared for how well the Beaver defense dominated the line of scrimmage in holding Monte Ball to 61 yards. Mannion played efficiently and without the interceptions that hurt him in his freshman season and Oregon State won a 10-7 game that was not as close as the score sounds.
The sweep was completed when Arizona State put the smackdown on Illinois, 45-14 in a late-night game for most of the country. This one wasn’t a case of superior muscle, but control of the air. Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 75 percent of his passes, including ten to receive Chris Coyle. Illinois played without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but given the margin of victory that can’t be seen as an excuse. It was an excellent win for Todd Graham’s program against an Illini team that looked good in its season-opening win over MAC contender Western Michigan.
When the Pac-12 stepped beyond the boundaries of a Big Ten that looks absolutely terrible (more on that tomorrow), the results were still solid. Rich Rodriguez made his first big impact at Arizona, with a 59-38 win over Oklahoma State. I don’t want to get carried away with this win—it was mostly the result of too many mistakes from freshman Cowboy quarterback Wes Lunt, but it was still 59 points against a team that won the Big 12, won the Fiesta Bowl and had a good chunk of its defense back. Stanford pounded Duke 50-13, a result that looks good when you consider the Blue Devils played well in an opening week win over Sun Belt contender Florida International.
And the Pac-12’s Power Two came through. Oregon ran over Fresno State—an upper-tier team in the WAC—as Kenjon Barner enjoyed a 200-plus yard day en route to a 42-25 win. And even though USC was challenged by Syracuse into the third quarter, the Trojans eventually pulled away 42-29. If you were watching the ESPN crawl line on Saturday you may have noticed that Matt Barkley threw for six touchdown passes. Impressive enough, but it doesn’t accurately tell the story of the Trojan offense. Syracuse did a good job keeping the Trojan passing game underneath, as 23 Barkley completions only went for 187 yards. But the quarterback stayed efficient and the running game took over. Silas Redd, the Penn State transfer rushed for 107 yards on 15 carries and showed exactly why USC swooped like vultures on the carcass of the Nittany Lion program after the NCAA sanctions.
A few quick thoughts from the other conferences as we wrap up college football Week 2…
SEC: Missouri & Texas A&M have to be worried about their ability to complete for the long haul after losing their conference openers to Georgia and Florida respectively. Both had all the emotion in the world on their side and while their opponents were good, it wasn’t as though they represented the league’s elite (though Georgia could change that perception). Each was beaten at the line of scrimmage. Florida ran the ball effectively and it’s the reason they beat the Aggies 20-17. And what was a good Georgia-Mizzou game for three quarters turned into a 41-20 rout for the Bulldogs as the visitors’ offensive line began to assert itself late. Now the SEC’s new teams have to move forward with those physical weaknesses and lacking the emotion that was present at both campuses on Saturday.
Big 12: I know Texas won big over New Mexico, but the Longhorn rush defense did not look good. If I’m Mack Brown I’m worried about this. The Longhorns have to stop the run if they want to compete and get in the top three of this league. One team that will have no problem running over them is Kansas State, who did exactly that to Miami between running back Jeremy Hubert and quarterback Collin Klein in a 52-13 blasting.
ACC: Is N.C. State’s 10-7 escape against UConn a sign that it’s just another slow start for the Wolfpack and that they’ll turn it around in due course? A sign that maybe we underrated the Huskies? Or is this, along with Week 1’s loss to Tennessee, a sign that N.C. State won’t break past the mediocrity of the bowl borderline.
Big Ten: Kudos to Northwestern for a clutch 23-13 win over Vanderbilt. And Purdue played well in a 20-17 loss to Notre Dame, although the Irish were undoubtedly jet-lagged. Still, since I pointed out the Big Ten’s losses above, and am going to break down the complete flaws of my home conference tomorrow, I may as well say something nice here.
Big East: When you watch the Wisconsin offense struggle, you think of how offensive coordinator Paul Chryst left to take the head-coaching job at Pitt. The Panthers might be ready to give him back. After an opening loss to Youngstown State, Pitt couldn’t stop the run in a 34-10 loss to Cincinnati on Thursday.
Mountain West: I’m utterly disgusted with my preseason darkhorse pick of Wyoming to win the league, after the Cowboys lost 34-31 to Toledo. If there’s a challenge to Boise State this year—which still looks likely—the candidate to watch is Nevada. The Wolfpack narrowly lost to South Florida 32-31, and that follows an opening win over Cal.
The Best Of The Rest (Conference USA, WAC, MAC, Sun Belt): Once conference play gets going each of the leagues will get their own section in this weekly wrap-up. The most interesting thing in this part of the world was the doings in the WAC. Utah State’s win against Utah on Friday night, coupled with Louisiana Tech’s 56-49 shootout win over Houston (the same Houston who lost to Texas State) suggest that maybe the Aggies are the real favorite in this league.