Not only was 2012 a rough year for my USC Trojans, but it also proved to be my worst season ever in the dozen I’ve been writing my Annual Picking the Winners Pac-12 Preview. My final record of 59-32 (.648) fell just below my final marks in 2002 (55-25, .688) and 2006 (51-25, .671). While the Trojans certainly played a pivotal role in my 2012 downturn, other surprises also hampered my efforts: other disappointments included Cal (picked at 7-5; finished 3-9) and Utah (picked at 9-3; finished 5-7), while surprises included UCLA (picked at 6-6; finished 9-4) and Oregon State (picked at 3-9; finished 9-3). Here’s a quick look back on the final weeks of Pac-12 action, centered around my preview, which appeared prior to the season on USCFootball.com.
Click here to recap my initial picks: Stanford Powers Its Way to Surprising Conference Crown
Oregon State over Arizona State, 36-26 (picked at 16-10); Stanford over Colorado, 48-0 (picked at 41-23); UCLA over Arizona, 66-10 (picked at 23-13); Utah over Washington State, 49-6 (picked at 34-30): Incredibly, I got an Oregon State pick right for one of the few times in 2012! In my other three wins, only Stanford’s walloping of Colorado was remotely close to my preseason pick, while UCLA and Utah put up surprisingly easy wins. The Bruins’ devastation of Arizona was incredibly complete and — at season’s end — was a signpost for a UCLA program that looks on the verge of becoming a more consistent presence in the conference race.
My two losses — Oregon’s 62-51 track-meet win at USC and Washington’s Friday night win at reeling Cal — were not overly surprising at this point. The Ducks were peaking heading into the Coliseum, while the Trojans were filled with self-doubt after their embarrassing loss at Arizona the week before, while the Bears, by this time, were well on their way to Coach Jeff Tedford’s eventual firing.
Arizona over Colorado, 56-31 (picked at 38-17); USC over Arizona State, 38-17 (picked at 43-10); Oregon over California, 59-17 (picked at 31-24); Stanford over Oregon State, 27-23 (picked at 37-7); Washington over Utah, 34-15 (picked at 34-21): While three of the weeks winning picks were reasonable facsimiles of the final outcomes (Arizona, USC and Washington), Oregon came on in the second half — as usual — to blow away Cal and Mike Riley’s impressive 2012 Beaver squad came oh-so-close to winning at Stanford and putting themselves in position to play for a Pac-12 North title.
My only loss this week was — again — predictable by the time the game rolled around, as UCLA trounced Washington State in a not-as-close-as-the-score 44-36 win. I, like many, got a little wrapped up before the season in the idea that Mike Leach could turn Wazzu into a weekly threat much more quickly than it appears he will be able to.
Arizona State over Washington State, 46-7 (picked at 31-27), Washington over Colorado, 38-3 (picked at 38-21): It was an unimpressive week, what can I say?
My 2-4 record for the week included USC’s first loss to UCLA in six years, 38-28 in Pasadena. Not only did the Trojans embarrass themselves in defeat, but the game may have also marked the final college snap for QB Matt Barkley, whose shoulder injury kept him out of the following week’s loss to Notre Dame (spoiler alert!) and has him questionable for next week’s Sun Bowl game against Georgia Tech. While Oregon State’s 62-14 whipping of Cal and Arizona’s 34-24 win over Utah counted as losses on my resume, neither was a shock at the time. What was a shock? The Stanford defense absolutely owning Oregon’s heretofore unstoppable offense in a 17-14 overtime win in Eugene — for all intents and purposes ending the Ducks’ three-year run atop the conference.
Utah over Colorado, 42-35 (picked at 30-16); Stanford over UCLA, 35-17 (picked at 30-24), Nov. 24; Oregon over Oregon State, 48-24 (picked at 44-24); Oregon State over Nicholls State, 77-3 (picked at 45-10), Dec. 1 makeup of postponed Sept. 1 game: While the Beavers had a great season, they still don’t have the athleticism to match up with a Chip Kelly-coached Duck team. They did, however, get an opportunity to celebrate a good season by getting a makeup date with Nicholls State following that Civil War loss — and their celebration ended up with a 77-point performance. The Cardinal whipped UCLA in Pasadena in a game that most believe the Bruins didn’t go full speed in, between a little bit of a hangover after their win against USC and the logic of not wanting to travel to Eugene again for the Pac-12 title game.
Of course, when UCLA put up a much better performance the following week at Stanford in a heartbreaking 27-24 loss in that championship battle, many felt those beliefs confirmed. I’m counting the Pac-12 championship among my losses as — like most — I had a USC-Oregon tilt penciled in there before the season. Other losses in the final week of the regular season included the Trojans’ incredibly predictable home loss to No. 1 Notre Dame, Arizona State’s wholly unpredictable come-fr0m-behind win in Tucson to snag the Territorial Cup from Arizona, and Washington’s unforgivable fourth quarter/OT choke job in the Apple Cup in Pullman.
Here are the final Pac-12 standings with my preseason predictions in parentheses:
Stanford 11-2, 8-1 (10-2,7-2)
Oregon 11-1, 8-1 (11-1, 8-1)
Oregon State 9-3, 6-3 (3-9, 2-7)
Washington 7-5, 5-4 (7-5, 5-4)
California 3-9, 2-7 (7-5, 5-4)
Washington State 3-9, 1-8 (4-8, 2-7)
UCLA 9-4, 6-3 (6-6, 4-5)
USC 7-5, 5-4 (13-0, 9-0)
Arizona State 7-5, 5-4 (5-7, 3-6)
Arizona 7-5, 4-5 (5-7, 3-6)
Utah 5-7, 3-6 (9-3, 6-3)
Colorado 1-11, 1-8 (3-9, 0-9)