Pac-12 Whiparound: Perfection

Stanford fans reached nirvana last Saturday, as Week 3 in the Conference of Champions went absolutely ideally. The Pac-12 went 10-1, with the sole loser being USC, an outcome that Cardinal fans would take every week from now until eternity.

  Since Week 1, the Pac-12 has gone on a 20-3 run, restoring some semblance of order and credence to the high esteem with which it begun the 2015 season.  And while there weren't any headline-grabbing out of conference slayings this week, Cal showed well on national TV and Stanford proved, if nothing else, that once again the Pac-12 is going to be an incredibly competitive conference in both the North and South. 
    If there was one unifying theme, it was offense.  Every school scored at least 24 points last Saturday, and 10 of the 12 scored thirty or more (topped by Arizona's 77 against Northern Arizona).  Unfortunately, defense has not been brilliant, especially among groups who promised improvement to their fan bases.  Finally, the least interesting topic (injuries) once again stands as the dominant storyline headed into the first full-fledged week of conference play.  In many of the games this week, the healthiest team may not be the superior team, but it could very well be the winning team.  But before looking ahead, let's take one more look back at the week that was.....

Arizona State 34, New Mexico 10:  Like Kevin Hogan, Sun Devil quarterback Mike Bercovici seemed to get activated by running the ball.  After a dismal first half that saw New Mexico hold ASU to ten points, the Sun Devils opened things up and pulled away by the end of the game.  A lackluster non-conference run thus ends at 2-1 for an ASU team with explicitly voiced national championship aspirations. Injuries have currently hit the Sun Devils hard,  much like that School Down South.  ASU currently features  five players listed as questionable for Saturday's huge Pac-12 lid-lifter against the Trojans, and there are some key names on that list.  All-Everything player Kalen Ballage is now hoping, along with Coach Todd Graham, that he will be available to play this Saturday against USC. Also questionable are return man and running back Da'Chavon Hayes and second-leading receiver Devin Lucien, who suffered an undisclosed injury against New Mexico.

Another reason for ASU's offensive instability has been its tackle situation, where Evan Goodman, Billy McGehee and Sam Jones have split time among the three spots.  Injuries have nagged at all three, and that's certainly hindered the gelling process.

Next Up:  Sat. vs. USC 7:30 PM ESPN: 
Arizona State better have its offense as ready as possible, as The Bakersfield Bandit brings his high-powered Trojan offense into the desert. Kessler offers a much different challenge than the triple option teams ASU has played the last two games, as does the up-tempo style of the Trojans, which is very much in line with the way the Sun Devils like to operate.  Look for points and desperation to be at extreme highs in this one, as neither can really afford to lose here if they hope to challenge for the Pac-12 South title. 

Oregon 61, Georgia State 28: 
Duck fans got a look at the alternate universe in which Jeff Lockie won the quarterback dual, and thanks to the lackluster opponent, it looked a lot like the Vernon Adams Reality at this point.  Still, it seems that Oregon will happily take Adams back under center at Autzen this Saturday.  Adams can't help a struggling Duck defense, however, as even Georgia State was able to score points and move the ball. Oregon has allowed 10 TD passes, 316 passing yards per game, and 7.5 yards per attempt in three games.  On the plus side, they've also snared five interceptions, but that ratio doesn't seem likely to serve the Ducks well as Pac-12 play begins. The Duck defense allowed 5.7 yards per play to Georgia State, a number that needs to drop of Oregon's going to hang with a schedule that features Cal, Washington State, USC, and Stanford, among others.

Next Up:  Sat. vs. Utah 5:30 PM: 
The Ducks hope to get Adams back, but he's currently listed as questionable.  The Utes defense hits hard, so it may turn out beneficial that Lockie got to play in the Georgia State game.  Utah doesn't seem equipped to expose the Duck defense, and the Oregon offense and the Autzen Asylum should be enough to get the Ducks off to a good start in conference play. 

Washington 31, Utah State 17:  Quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies enjoyed a second helping of home cooking by the lake. Browning averaged nearly 12 yards per attempt, and a 14-point third quarter fueled by two Browning TD passes put the game out of reach.  However, the Huskies are going to need to improve on the 2.1 yards per carry average they had against the Aggies if Browning's going to have a shot at continued success.  Even against lesser competition, Washington seems vastly improved from its opening night game against Boise State.  At the very least, Coach Chris Peterson seems to have made the right long-term choice at quarterback.

Next Up:  Sat. vs. Cal 2 PM Pac-12 Networks: 
The Dawgs' three-game homestand concludes with a challenging but winnable game against Golden Goff and the Sonny Dykes Big Top Offense.  Playing at home will help, but the Washington defense will be taxed and it may be up to Browning to keep pace.  Is that too much to ask of a true freshman quarterback?  Stay tuned.

Colorado 27, Colorado State 24:  Don't underestimate the value of this victory.  The Buffaloes had to win this game after taking an unexpected mulligan at Hawaii.  A 1-2 start against their non-conference slate would have sparked serious doubt about Mike MacIntyre's program, and now the Buffaloes have some momentum and an extra rehearsal week before Pac-12 play begins.  Both Colorado's pass and rush defense rate in the bottom half of the Pac-12 through three games.  By now, everybody should know how little stock I like to put in exclusively non-conference stats, but defense is going to be a key for the Buffs if they are to survive beyond their final serving of cupcake this weekend.

Next Up:  Sat. 10:30 AM vs. Nicholls State Pac-12 Networks: 
Colorado goes Oregon, Arizona State, Arizona in the three games after this Saturday so they best come correct on Saturday.  Nicholls State is likely overmatched here, and Buffs enter the contest fairly healthy, with only two players listed as questionable, running back Michael Adkins II and Junior Linebacker Addison Gillam. Adkins is the team's leading rusher so far, but it's in two weeks that the Buffs should really need him.

California 45, Texas 44:  After three weeks, nobody needs to be sold on the Cal offense.  That group is formidable, home or away, and figures to be all season as long as Jared Goff continues to take snaps from center.  However, part of the bill of goods included a revamped defense, and through two weeks, the Bears looked to be as advertised.  However, that all changed last Saturday night in Texas as the Longhorns shredded Cal's defense will stunning absoluteness.  Texas had 650 yards of offense and averaged 7.8 yards per play.  All aspects of the Golden Bear defense imploded, as the Longhorns ran for a staggering 286 yards and passed for 364.  Texas was undone ultimately by a missed extra point and its own defense's inability to slow down the Golden Goff or Cal's underrated running attack. Khalfani Muhammad ran for 164 net yards on the day, keeping Texas honest enough for Goff to shred them.

Next Up:  Sat. at Washington 2 PM Pac-12 Networks: This game is part of the great divide between that those who believe Cal can be improved or a legit contender in the Pac-12 North.  Those in the latter camp have this game as a win.  I feel like this one's going to be trickier than many suspect.  Washington is a scrappy, if inexperienced bunch.  Add to that the sudden questions about Cal's defense and this game is far from a lock. Washington lost some elite playmakers on defense but still sports the conference's best scoring and rush defenses as well as the fourth-best pass defense.  They've not seen anything like Goff and Co. though, so unless weather plays a role, it's going to be difficult for the Huskies to hang for four quarters in this one.  Still, shaky wins tend to be followed by devastating defeats....

Stanford 41, USC 31:  Stanford needed the best game Kevin Hogan had ever played to win, and that's exactly what it got. The victory resuscitated the bright outlook most had for the Cardinal's season, as well as suddennly casting the Trojans into a cauldron of despair and scrutiny, much like Stanford experienced in Week 1 following its now even more inconceivable offensive no-show in Evanston.  This game ultimately came down to three factors:  Hogan, an improved second half from Stanford's defense, and some brutal USC penalties from unexpected veteran sources like center Max Teurk.  The loss put USC into desperation mode heading into its Pac-12 South opener and set Stanford up for a huge three-game homestand only if it eludes the Beaver Trap waiting on Friday night in Cow Valley.

Next Up for Stanford:  Friday 9/25 at Oregon State 7 PM Fox Sports 1:  A road game in Corvallis, short week, and an uncertain quarterback status coming off a huge win.  Beware, Cardinal fans.

Next Up for USC:  Saturday at Arizona State 7:30 PM ESPN:  Seperation Saturday in the Pac-12 South, with both Arizonas hosting the L.A. schools. The SC defense will need to get it together defensively against a Sun Devil team gathering doubters rapidly based on a lackluster set of showing in the non-conference.

Washington State 31, Wyoming 14: Luke Falk threw for 303 yards on 37-of-45 passing as the Cougars made it into their bye with a pair of nice rebound wins after the debacle of a home opener against Portland State. Questions still remain about Washington State's defense, but The Grinch (D coordinator Alex) has two weeks to solve them.

UCLA 24, BYU 23:  The Bruins survived The Rosen One's first struggles as well as the Holy Rolling Cougars and Tanner Mangum's passing, mainly thanks to Paul Perkins blowing up for 219 yards on 26 carries.  The news this week that UCLA has lost Myles Jack for the season comes as the Bruins prepare for a showdown in the desert against Rich Rod's Wildcats.

Next Up:  at Arizona 5 PM ABC:  UCLA loses Myles Jack and Arizona gets Scooby Wright back in time for this throwdown in Tucson.  Don't be fooled, however. Arizona's staggeringly depleted defense (three other linebackers besides Wright are out/questionable) is going to have to scratch and claw to survive The Rosen One and P Squared.

Arizona 77, NAU 13:  No analysis needed.

Next Up:  vs. UCLA 5 PM ABC:  See Above

Utah 45, Fresno State 24: 
The Utes set themselves up for a monster Pac-12 opener by setting Devaontae Booker loose in the Central Valley, and Booker responded with 156 yards. Through three ugly games, Utah's got three ugly wins, which is beautiful to Utes fans.

Next Up: Saturday at Oregon 5:30 PM Fox:  The Utes will need to continue the scoring if they're going to hang with Oregon in Autzen Stadium.  The Ducks' Vernon Adams is up in the air in terms of starting, but either way, the most intriguing matchup may be the undercard, with Utah's seventh-rated (Pac-12) offense taking on Oregon's league-worst scoring defense (33 PPG).

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