For many years, the West Coast bias has run rampant…and with good reason. After adding two teams to the Pacific 10 Conference with Utah and Colorado and finally adding a Championship Game, 2011 was supposed to be the Year of the Pac. NOPE. With Southern Cal serving a post season suspension and Arizona State taking a huge nosedive to end their season, UCLA ended up backing into the Championship Game after being humiliated 50-0 at home by cross town rival USC and unceremoniously lost to the North contender and eventual Conference champion, Oregon. The Bowl season was an utter disaster with the Conference finishing 2-5 with the only bright spots being Oregon beating Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Utah beating Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Washington came out on the losing side of one of the most exciting bowl games 67-56 to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl and Stanford missed a crucial field goal at the end of regulation to Oklahoma State and then lost in overtime. Those games were at least close…UCLA lost to Illinois in the all important Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and Arizona State was decimated and downright humiliated by Boise St. in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Hope Springs eternal on the left coast and with the launch of the Pac-12 Network and the big money contract behind it, four Pac schools went out to hire a new coach to remedy their current standing. Mike Leach went to Washington State, Jim Mora, Jr. to UCLA, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham hit the desert at Arizona and Arizona State respectively. But will that change the dynamic of the conference? After the first month of 2012, seven teams have received votes and six are in the TOP 25, I offer up the new power conference.
Oregon is undefeated and ranked #2 in the country in both the AP & USA Today/Coaches poll. They survived 1st half scares by Arizona and Washington State but turned on the gas in the 2nd half of both games and handily won those match-ups. Their schedule looks to get a little tougher with Washington & Arizona State in the upcoming weeks and going on the road to USC and the “Civil War” will be played this year in Corvallis.
Speaking of USC, they were ranked as high as #2 but went on to lose to Stanford in week 3. They have had a rather weak schedule and are currently ranked 12/13 and their upcoming schedule seems to be a cakewalk playing at Utah and Arizona and hosting Colorado. But it will get tougher visiting Washington and UCLA and hosting Oregon and Notre Dame – all ranked teams. Their National Title hopes were put out to dry by Stanford and they must win out to impress the voters as well as the computers.
There is a new energy in Corvallis… always looked on as the little brother of powerhouse Oregon an hour southeast, Oregon State is also undefeated with big wins over Wisconsin, UCLA and Arizona. Their upcoming schedule looks to be quite friendly only having to go on the road for three more games and they are all in the near vicinty; Provo, Seattle and Palo Alto. They host upstart Arizona State and the aforementioned Oregon, but everybody knows just how hard it is to go in to Reser Stadium and walk out with the W. The Beavers are a force to be reckoned and although only 3-0 due to an opening game postponement against Nicholls St., I believe they should be ranked a lot higher than 14/17, or maybe that is just the #beaverjuice talking.
Stanford has taken its fan on a roller coaster ride this year…and October just started! They opened up the season with a squeaker win against the cross-town team from San Jose State, they went on to destroy Duke and beat then #2 USC. Their first road game of the year had them travelling to Seattle and having the undefeated #8 ranking shoved down their throats by the Huskies. The roller coaster ride looks to continue for the Cardinal faithful as they host Arizona and Washington State but still have to travel to Notre Dame, Oregon and UCLA. They are currently ranked at #18 on both polls and should remain in the Top 20 after Arizona visits this weekend.
What a brutal stretch for the Huskies! They traveled to Baton Rouge in Week 2 and only managed a field goal against the Bayou Bengals, but then beat up Stanford at home. The next two weekends will not be any easier when they travel to Autzen Stadium to take on the #2 Ducks and then host #13 USC – the top two pre-season ranked teams in the conference. If they can manage a win against either of those teams, they will be ranked for the rest of the season as the month of November will be considerably easier hosting Cal, Colorado and Washington State while only having to travel to Salt Lake City to face the Utes. They are currently ranked at #23 in the AP and #26 in the USA Today but I don’t expect them to get past Oregon or USC and will have some to work to do.
UCLA beat Nebraska with a redshirt freshman quarterback…let that sink in a little bit. Chandler, Arizona’s own Brett Hundley passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns in his Rose Bowl debut. They have since beat Houston and Colorado. They weren’t ready for the power of Sean Mannion and the Oregon State Beavers and lost their opening game of the Pac-12 season. After throttling Colorado in Boulder, the Bruins are looking to power beyond the #25 and #28 rankings in the AP & USA Today polls. The middle of their schedule looks a little lean with games at Cal and Washington State while hosting Utah and Arizona. Their last two games will define their season against cross-town rival USC and Stanford. I predict that they will finish with 8 wins and qualify for a mid-tier bowl game.
As a proud alum and season ticket holder of Arizona State for the past decade, I have seen it all before. The heartbreaking end zone interception in Missouri, the absolute domination of Illinois and Utah, the ability to win on the road in Berkeley, but I am not sold, not just yet. The Sun Devils always start off strong, but always tank down the stretch. Last year they started 6-2 and were assured a spot in the Pac-12 Championship had they not lost their last four games. The icing on the cake was getting demolished in the Las Vegas Bowl by Boise State. There is reason to be somewhat optimistic, the addition of new head coach Todd Graham. If they win in 10 days at Colorado, they will need to hunker down for a difficult stretch against four ranked teams; at home vs. Oregon and UCLA then going on the road against Oregon State and USC. The tail end of their schedule lightens up as they host Washington State and travel to enemy territory and take on the University of Arizona in Tucson for the Territorial Cup.
One of the nation’s oldest and most heated rivalry, this post -Thanksgiving Day game is always a tough fought battle and ironically most often won by the team with the worse record. Playing the spoiler is what rivalry games are all about…no?