As we turn the corner into the 2012 regular season’s home stretch, there is still much to be decided on the college football landscape. However, in the Pac-12, there are clear surprises (Oregon State, UCLA and, to a lesser extent, Arizona – especially after its upset of USC last Saturday) and disappointments (the aforementioned Trojans, Cal and – even with their home upsets of Stanford and the Beavers – Washington). Here’s a quick look back on the past three weeks of Pac-12 action, centered around my 12th Annual Picking the Winners Pac-12 preview, which appeared prior to the season on USCFootball.com. To recap my initial picks:
I logged an 11-6 overall mark during this three-week period, suffering a pair of losses in each week – thanks mainly to those surprise teams I mentioned above. Let’s take a look back.
USC over Washington, 24-14 (picked at 37-23); Arizona State over Colorado, 51-17 (picked at 31-14); UCLA over Utah, 21-14 (picked at 23-21); California over Washington State, 31-17 (picked at 35-24): While it was nice to come within five points of my originally picked spread on three of my four wins, I felt that a couple of those scores were a bit misleading. USC was capable of trampling Washington, only to go uber-conservative in the second half and hold off the Huskies. Meanwhile, prior to the season, my UCLA selection felt more like an upset pick. By the time the game rolled around, the Bruins’ seven-point victory was surprising only in that they didn’t steamroll a struggling Utah team giving a freshman his first start at QB.
Meanwhile, my two losses were attributable to two of the college football season’s biggest surprises. Oregon State’s whipping of BYU, 42-24, came with reserve quarterback Cody Vaz at the helm in Provo after Sean Mannion went down with an injury the previous week. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s 20-13 overtime win against Stanford – while tainted by a shockingly bad no-TD ruling on Stanford’s fourth-down play at the goal line in overtime (called by Pac-12 officials – I know, you’re stunned to hear it) – served notice that the Irish may stick around in the BCS for a while. That notice was confirmed by ND’s impressive win at Oklahoma this past Saturday.
Stanford over California, 21-3 (picked at 28-24); USC over Colorado, 50-6 (picked at 45-10); Oregon over Arizona State, 43-21 (picked at 38-27): None of my three wins on the weekend of Oct. 20 truly shocked anyone. I mean, sure, Stanford’s physical dominance over Bay Area rival Cal was a minor surprise. And USC’s offense finally broke out a bit against a horrific Colorado defense. However, Oregon’s first-half domination at Arizona State – in the Ducks’ first real road game of the season – was the thing that surprised most people. ASU was simply overwhelmed by UO from the get-go and crumbled in a series of offensive mistakes when trying desperately to keep up. I’d like to thank Chip Kelly for taking his foot off the gas and allowing the score to more closely resemble my preseason call more than it should have.
On the other side of the ledger, a meeting between possibly my biggest surprise team and my biggest disappointment went accordingly, with Oregon State thumping Utah, 21-7, in Corvallis. Without specifically looking at the results, I’d guess these two teams may have combined for more of my losing picks this year than any other pair. Of course, the Huskies have also been a bit of a disappointment, and that continued as UW was absolutely hammered, 52-17, by Arizona in Tucson.
Oregon over Colorado, 70-14 (picked at 63-14); Stanford over Washington State, 24-17 (picked at 35-20); Utah over California, 49-27 (picked at 30-17); Washington over Oregon State, 20-17 (picked at 41-14): Again, kudos to Chip Kelly for laying off the hapless Buffs in the second half (Oregon led 56-0 at halftime) to nearly mirror my preseason prediction! I don’t know if I’ve ever come so close to nailing the scores of blowouts so often as I have in 2012 – and, trust me, getting close when picking an obvious blowout is much harder in the preseason than nearly nailing what many expect to be a close game. Utah finally came through for me this week, with the help of perennial disappointment Cal. When will the Bears finally say enough’s enough with Jeff Tedford? And Washington continued Steve Sarkisian’s record of pulling off a big upset or two every year (on the way to a .500 record) by beating Oregon State in Seattle. Husky fans also became the first group of fans not from Oregon ever to rush a field after beating the Beavers.
My two losses for the week featured the L.A. schools, as UCLA’s 45-43 win over Arizona State is emblematic of the improved Bruins’ new resolve, while USC’s self-inflicted debacle of a 39-36 loss at Arizona has many (including me) questioning what Lane Kiffin needs to do to grow into the scope of the job as Trojans’ head coach. There’s no questioning his recruiting prowess – something that will keep the upper reaches of USC’s depth chart stocked with good players through the next two seasons of sanctions – but his game preparation, game planning and in-game adjustments continue to baffle at times. Only time will tell if Kiffin is able to mature into what the USC program needs him to be.
Record through nine weeks: 44-21