Pac-12 rewind: Arizona, Oregon State shine while Riley’s offense delivers and Penix thrives, but Utah’s playoff hopes take huge hit

A recap of the Week One action across the Pac-12 …

Theme of the week I: Soft top, stout middle

The Pac-12 handled its business against the second- and third-tier opponents, with a perfect mark against both Group of Five teams (5-0) and FCS (4-0) competition — the same caliber of foes that gave the conference so much trouble in 2021. (The COVID hangover seems to have been purged from the collective’s bloodstream.)

But the Pac-12 faltered against the Power Five with Colorado’s second half no-show against TCU, which isn’t considered a contender in the Big 12; Oregon’s start-to-finish face-plant against Georgia; and Utah’s gut-wrenching loss at Florida.

The last team to produce a perfect league season was Oregon in 2010.

Game of the week: Florida 29, Utah 26

The highly-anticipated opener was even better than advertised with four touchdowns — and four lead changes — in the final 16 minutes and an interception in the end zone by the Gators that ended Utah’s shot at victory.

The teams combined for just two turnovers and 10 penalties, creating a high-level matchup in a tense atmosphere that might not be topped for drama during the Pac-12’s non-conference season.

Team of the week: Arizona

If you remove all wins over FCS opponents and all instances in which the Pac-12 was victorious as a heavy favorite, there are only two options in this category: Arizona and Oregon State.

But the Beavers were at home against Boise State while the Wildcats were on the road facing San Diego State in the first game in Snapdragon Stadium.

Also, the Beavers won seven games last year; the Wildcats won one.

We were thoroughly impressed with both teams, but Arizona’s performance in the 38-20 win marked a more significant step for the program than did OSU’s result.

Debut of the week: USC coach Lincoln Riley

The anticipation built steadily over the course of 279 days. And when the new era of USC football finally began, it looked … pretty damn good.

The Trojans resembled Riley’s former team, Oklahoma, in a 66-14 victory over Rice that included three touchdowns by the defense (via Pick Sixes), two scores by transfer receiver Jordan Addison and highly-efficient play from star quarterback Caleb Williams.

That said, Rice is a third-tier FBS program. We’ll have a better sense for USC’s progress on Saturday when it visits Stanford. The Cardinal has won five of the past eight meetings and steamrollered the Trojans in Week Two last season. Two days later, Clay Helton was canned.

Offensive player of the week: Arizona receiver Jacob Cowing

We expected Cowing, a transfer from UTEP, to make an immediate impact. But his debut Saturday at San Diego State was next-level stuff: eight catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

Cowing is reportedly the first receiver since Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree (in 2007) to produce three touchdowns in his Power Five debut.

Whatever production he delivers in conference play, one thing seems clear: Cowing’s presence will create opportunities in the aerial game for Arizona’s other wideouts.

Defensive player of the week: Oregon State safety Jaydon Grant

The seventh-year senior — you read that right — was a central figure in OSU’s decisive victory over Boise State.

Grant forced a fumble and corralled an early interception that set up the Beavers’ first touchdown. He also had four tackles and broke up two passes as OSU built a 24-0 halftime lead and cruised to its first season-opening victory since 2015.

QB of the week: Washington’s Michael Penix Jr.

Seven of the starting quarterbacks in Week One came through the transfer portal in the past nine months, a sign of the times — and the wobbly play that hampered Pac-12 success last season.

Penix, who spent four seasons at Indiana before moving to Montlake, was as impressive as any of them.

His familiarity with coach Kalen DeBoer’s system — they were together at Indiana for two years — was evident Saturday as Penix completed 26-of-39 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns.

UW’s offense showed a level of sophistication and diversity that we haven’t seen in ages. Will it last? The Week Three duel against Michigan State should be telling.

Stat of the week: Blowouts

Of the 12 games played across three days, 10 were decided by double digits and seven by 20 points or more, including the losses by Colorado and Oregon.

The exceptions were Utah’s last-minute defeat at Florida and Washington State’s 24-17 escape from Idaho in which the so-called ‘Coug Raid’ looked disjointed for long stretches.

All the lopsided affairs suggest Week Two could be packed with drama.

And speaking of Week Two …

Games of next week: Arizona, ASU and Washington State

The Pac-12 has three more chances to prove itself against Power Five competition with the Wildcats hosting Mississippi State (and Mike Leach), the Sun Devils visiting Oklahoma State and the Cougars venturing to Wisconsin.

One win is essential. Two would be an upside surprise for the conference.

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