For the first time in a long time, it feels like the Pac-12 had a strong start to the year in winning some key non-conference games and, for the most part, avoiding any dreadful losses.
Washington State defeated then No. 19 Wisconsin 17-14 in Week 2. It was a gutsy win but one the Cougars earned, and gave the Pac-12 a much needed Power Five win. This Washington State team should be ranked, but there is still some disrespect among the media voters for the AP poll.
Washington defeated Michigan State last Saturday, and in the first half there wasn’t even much of a competition. The final box score made the game look a bit closer than it was as Washington won by 11 points, but Washington sat on a comfortable lead over this B1G heavyweight for the entirely of the game. Washington’s win is significant because if the Pac is going to make a go of it in a post-LA schools world, then we are going to need Washington to be a good team along side Oregon. Washington looks like a much-improved team for Kalen DeBoer so far through their non-conference schedule.
Then there was Oregon’s three-touchdown victory over BYU. This win is probably one of the most important non-conference wins for the entire conference. BYU has been a major problem for the Pac-12; last year the Cougars went 5-0 against the Pac-12 in a non-conference disaster. Oregon’s victory put an end to BYU’s recent dominance over the conference. BYU is not a top 10 team and probably wont be any time soon but they are a solid top 25 team and the Pac-12 had to show this team wasn’t better than top of the conference.
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Victory Over the Mountain West
Over the past few years it has felt like the Mountain West was picking off Pac-12 teams, not the other way around. These are games that the Pac needs to win and win regularly if we are going to prove we are worth our “power” conference billing. Oregon State took out Boise State and Fresno State. In the past, these would have been two losses for the Beavers and the Conference, so this is a significant step forward.
Arizona and Utah both took out San Diego State. For Utah this is more than expected, but for Arizona this is a meaningful game as this team is showing they are finally starting to put the pieces together under Jed Fisch. It feels like Arizona is still a long shot for a bowl game, but they are already at 2-1 on the season and the Pac-12 South is far weaker than the North at this point. It is not impossible, but they are certainly trending in the right direction.
Cal isn’t a terribly good team by the looks of it, but they did manage to not embarrass the Conference in their defeat of UNLV. They also played Notre Dame closely, and it was only a failed Hail Mary that sealed their loss.
Perhaps most importantly, the Pac-12 did not lose to an FCS school this year — which is a low bar, but last year Washington and Arizona both lost to FCS schools.
Ignore the LA Schools
Both USC and UCLA are undefeated so far this season, but they have also had easy non-conference schedules. UCLA has played Bowling Green, Alabama State and South Alabama — and they narrowly beat South Alabama. UCLA looks like a good team that will reach a bowl game, but this still doesn’t look like a team that is going to play for a conference championship yet, especially with the new format.
USC’s schedule hasn’t been much more impressive as they have played Rice and Fresno State as their out-of-conference games. They did beat Stanford in the only conference game played to date, but in this new age of the transfer portal and NIL, it appears that Stanford is at a huge disadvantage.
Neither LA school has been truly tested yet and, more importantly when it comes to on-field performance, the Pac-12 looks like it has plenty of talented teams moving forward that the conference can make a name for itself without these two backstabbers. The potential loss of their markets will hurt, but the on-field product is at least developing.
As it stands right now the Pac-12 has four teams in the AP Top 25, and it has been a long time since we last had that many ranked teams. Let’s just hope that trend continues. Colorado and Arizona State both look awful this year, but every conference has their bottom-tier teams. They will not hold the conference down too badly and may even provide a stepping stone for other teams to make bowl games. Hopefully the Pac-12 can continue to redeem itself in another round of non-conference games.
Conference play is up next, and the Pac-12 has shown early that it is far from a dead conference, even if you ignore those LA teams’ results. But with conference play comes the biggest hurdle for the Pac to overcome: cannibalization, which is what usually dooms the Pac-12’s post-season playoff hopes. For now, we can be satisfied with the fact that the conference has some significant non-conference wins under its belt.
Top Photo By Craig Strobeck
Natalie Liebhaber, the FishDuck.com Volunteer Editor for this article, works in the financial technology industry in SLC, Utah.
David Marsh is a high school social studies teacher in Portland, Oregon. As a teacher he is known for telling puns to his students who sometimes laugh out of sympathy, and being both eccentric about history and the Ducks.
David graduated from the University of Oregon in 2012 with Majors in: Medieval Studies, Religious Studies, and Geography. David began following Ducks Football after being in a car accident in 2012; finding football something new and exciting to learn about during this difficult time in his life. Now, he cannot see life without Oregon football.
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