September Rewind: PAC-12

One month into the season and for most it has been four-five games into a 12 game schedule. With conference play just beginning for most, there’s still a ton to be determined as we head towards the coming months but with the smaller sample size that CFB offers in contrast to the NFL, it’s not too early to take a look at a few things. Whether it was non-conference games, early league games or individual performances, we can begin the process of taking a look at the landscape of college football one month into the season.

The PAC-12 has shown depth or a bunch of good but not great teams depending on who you ask. Things got wild in September as USC and Stanford both dropped road games while Colorado was brutally bad in the non-conference slate only to turn around and beat Washington State. We’ve had Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham join the league this year while the Trojans came off probation. With more action from this league tomorrow night, lets look at the first month in the PAC-12.

What We’ve Learned:

Jeff Tedford May Be a Dead Man Walking

Jeff Tedford has had quite the run at Cal to this point with a 80-52 record and even one split conference title. With that said things haven’t been great the last couple years and it appears 2012 is well on its way to being another disappointing season for the Golden Bears. The only win on the season to date is over an FCS opponent and though all their losses have come to respectable opponents, they blew a chance at a big win against Ohio State and the offense has looked anemic in their past two defeats to USC and Arizona State. The offense ranks 76th in the country and the defense is even worse at 82nd. Zach Maynard hasn’t produced the way you would expect a veteran senior quarterback to produce and with seven games left, looking at the schedule it’s hard to think they’ll get five more wins to qualify for a bowl. Things look gloomy in Berkeley.

New Coaches Bring New Expectations

Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA all were relatively mediocre teams last year with two unceremoniously limping to bowl games while Arizona missed all together. Washington State of course has been struggling for years but made headline news when they revived the coaching career of Mike Leach, the former Texas Tech coach who lost his job due to a difference of opinion on his treatment of player Adam James. September has shown that for the southern division members, the changes have been productive. UCLA and Arizona State are both 4-1 as the Sun Devils have thrived behind a strong defense that ranks 11th in the country. UCLA has seen a drastic improvement in their offense as Brett Hundley and Jonathan Franklin have both come out of the gates on fire. Arizona is one defensive stop against Oregon State from being 4-1 themselves as Rich Rod’s spread attack with Matt Scott has brought some excitement back to Tucson. In fact only Mike Leach at Wazzu hasn’t had success in his first month on the job. As the PAC-12 schedule goes on some of these coaches are likely to come back down to earth but it’s hard for these fanbases in the south to be upset about the hires right now.

Mike Riley Still Has a Few Tricks Up His Sleeve

For all the stuff that was said about Jeff Tedford at Cal, times that by two with Mike Riley at Oregon State. The Beavers had been 8-16 the last two years combined and only won three games a year ago. This year they were expected to finish no higher than 4th in the PAC-12 North and those who had a good feeling about Washington State (*raises hand*) had the Beavers in the basement. The PAC-12 media was in the same boat predicting the Beavers to come up the rear and to everyone’s surprise the Beavers have responded. They caught everyone’s eye right away with an “upset” of Wisconsin at home to open the year though that soon turned to “Wisconsin is overrated” talks and the Beavers again became an afterthought. However after two road wins at UCLA and Arizona, nobody is ignoring them anymore as they’ve been ranked in the polls for the first time this year. We’ll see how far Riley and the Beavers can take this surprising start.

What We’ve Confirmed:

Oregon’s System Keeps on Chugging Along

There was little doubt from anyone Oregon would be the team to beat in the PAC-12 North this year even with the losses of Darron Thomas and LaMichael James. However some wondered if there would be an adjustment period at the beginning of the year with Marcus Mariota being broken in as the new quarterback and Kenjon Barner taking over the lead role in the backfield. Simply put those questions never made sense to me and the Ducks quickly put them to rest themselves as Mariota has looked just fine in the early going and the combination of Barner and phenom De’Anthony Thomas has kept defenses on their heels all season. The Ducks continue to roll up the yards averaging 550 per game, good for 7th best best in the country. They’ve scored 40+ in every game and 50+ three times already and perhaps most frightening about the Ducks for opponents is their defense looks like it could be the best in the Chip Kelly era. Time will tell if these trends hold but the Ducks again look like the PAC-12′s best.

David Shaw is Just Fine Without Andrew Luck

I wrote about David Shaw more in depth a couple weeks ago after their upset victory over USC but Shaw has quietly shown in his first year without star QB Andrew Luck that he can get the job done. Despite a new QB and the loss of their leading TE the Stanford Cardinal have quietly kept themselves in the discussion for the PAC-12 north title and even with a loss to Washington last Thursday are one win over Oregon (albeit a long shot) from getting back into the race. The Cardinal went out and signed an offensive line class in the offseason that was raved about by scouting services for the depth and top-end talent it brought in. Defensively they’ve had mixed results with the run D still being among the best in the nation but the back end of the defense has struggled at times, never more evident than their missed tackles on Washington’s game-winning score. For things to stay on the right track for Stanford they’ll need to tighten that up but as of now David Shaw has passed the test early without Washington.

What We Still Want to Know:

Can USC Recover and Get Back in the Title Chase?

The Trojans were allegedly a juggernaut coming into 2012 with the return of Matt Barkley to school to play with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Their offense was going to throw TDs all over the field and Oregon was the one team who they had to worry about. As September has shown that narrative hasn’t played out exactly as planned as the Trojans dropped their third game of the year to Stanford and sit in a tie for 2nd in the PAC-12 South. At this point the road to the national championship is clear: Win out and Pray. There’s no guarantee they’d be the highest one-loss team if there’s only one unbeaten and another loss takes them out of the running completely. The areas of concern are the same as those coming into the season. Their run game is suspect as Silas Redd hasn’t fulfilled the savior role he was counted on to fulfill and the secondary is still mediocre. Everyone figured their passing game would overcome these problems but as we’ve seen, all it takes is an off game from Barkley and company and USC is not close to a juggernaut.

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