It’s only two weeks into the season and we’ve already seen some great games in the Pac-12. A few teams have already shown that they learned from last year’s mistakes and are much improved while other teams are showing that we might have given them a little too much credit. Let’s take a look at two teams whose stock is trending up and two who need to start turning things around.
Low – Washington Huskies
You might wonder why I included a 2-0 team in the “low” part of this article but if you’ve caught even a part of the Huskies’ two games so far, you should have your answer. For a team that had high expectations flowing in from every direction, it seems like one week the offense shows up, the next defense. In their season opener against Hawaii, Washington barely escaped with a win, 17-16, failing to score in the second half. Some of these troubles could be chalked up to the absence of starting QB Cyler Miles who was serving a one game suspension which kept him out of this first game of the season.
First week issues can be attributed to first game jitters and off-season rust but it’s much harder to use those same excuses during week two. While the Huskies’ offense decided to show up with the help of Miles, the defense wasn’t even in the building, giving up a total of 573 yards. Granted, Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams Jr is a D-1 caliber athlete, the Husky defense was still terrible. They forced only two turnovers the entire game though they did recover both of them. In the end that game was a shoot-out that Washington was, for the second week in a row, lucky to win.
Washington plays Illinois this week, a 2-0 Big Ten team who, so far this season, has taken care of business as they should have. It’ll be interesting to see if Washington can pull out of this slide.
Lower – Washington State Cougars
You have to wonder how long the Washington State athletic department and the Cougar faithful are willing to wait before head coach Mike Leach’s seat goes from very warm to blazing on fire. In his third season at Washington State, Leach’s team is off to a 0-2 start which, incidentally, is the worst start to the season that he’s had in his two previous years in Pullman. At this point in the (two week old) season, it’s hard to see the Cougars getting much better as the tough part of the schedule is yet to come.
In the loss to Rutgers, Washington State’s offense kept them in the game by trading scores with the Scarlet Knights. The Cougar defense, however, was almost non-existent which eventually led to the game-winning Rutgers’ touchdown with 3:24 left in the game. This loss highlights another troubling trend as it seems as though the Cougars have a hard time finishing a game. Leach runs an Air Raid offense for which 3:24 should have been plenty of time to score.
Washington State didn’t do much better in week two, losing 24-13 to Nevada. Both the offense and defense struggled most of the game and the Cougars didn’t lead even once.
As stated before, the Cougar’s hopes for the season aren’t looking very bright since they have yet to get to the meaty part of their schedule. They play FCS Portland State this week (5 PM, PAC-12 Network) which is a winnable game but then they play Oregon at home the following week to kick off Pac-12 conference play which then takes them to Stanford before bringing USC to Martin Stadium.
High – Cal Bears
Two weeks into the season Cal has already surpassed its 2013, 1-11 record which is a reason for Bear fans everywhere to celebrate. In his second year at Cal, Sonny Dykes’ team is starting to show the changes and improvements he’s made. The team is playing well but needs to get better at finishing games strong.
Opening their season against Big-10 opponent Northwestern, the Bears played very well for most of the game and were up 31-7 in the third quarter. A three-and-out followed by an interception thrown by QB Jared Goff led to a score of 31-21 by the start of the fourth quarter. The Wildcats then hit a field goal to bring the score to 31-24 and were threatening to score again when QB Trevor Siemian’s pass was intercepted by Jalen Jefferson. The Bears held on to beat the Wildcats.
A week later against Sacramento State, Cal seemed determined to show the Hornets and anyone who was watching how good they could be. The Bears quickly jumped to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter and refused to relinquish it, winning 55-14. Quarterback Jared Goff had a great game, going 17-of-22 with 229 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. If Goff keeps playing the way he has been and the Cal defense can step up, the Bears just might be coming out of their hibernation.
Sometimes it’s true that you have to hit bottom before you can start climbing to the top.
Higher – Oregon Ducks
After last week’s game against Michigan State, Oregon’s stock couldn’t be much higher. The Ducks beat arguably one of the best defenses in the nation, coming out on top 46-27. The previous week, Oregon beat FCS South Dakota 62-13 just like they should have.
The game last week had the entire country’s eyes glued to it as it was the first Top 10 match-up of the year between teams with two very different philosophies. The Ducks jumped off to a 11-0 lead early in the second quarter but were down 18-24 by the time half time came around. After a field goal by Michigan State, which brought the score to 27-18, the Ducks started kicking it back into high gear.
Defensively, Oregon began to make some much needed stops which got the offense back onto the field quicker to start scoring some points, which they did. By the end of the third quarter, the score was 32-27 Oregon. The fourth quarter was all Oregon as the Ducks’ defense played extremely well and never gave the Spartans a chance to score. Michigan State’s only opportunity to put points on the board in the fourth quarter was taken away by an interception by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
This game showed the college football world that Oregon can win games fought down in the trenches. The defense also shouted from the rooftops that they weren’t to be taken lightly and, together with the offense, will certainly help Oregon make it to the inaugural College Football Playoff’s.
Another Saturday filled with college football awaits us tomorrow!
Top Photo by Kevin Cline