Recapping the best and worst of Week 3 action across the Pac-12 …
Theme of the week: Blowouts
Of the nine wins collected by Pac-12 teams on Saturday, only one (Colorado over Colorado State) was closer than two touchdowns. The average margin of victory? Try 28.7 points. And in several cases, the margin could have been vastly worse. UCLA scored 45 points in the first half against North Carolina Central; Washington State scored 43 in the first against Northern Colorado; Washington slammed Michigan State with 35 in the first; and Oregon posted 34 in 30 minutes on Hawaii.
Theme of next week: The AP poll
The dearth of upsets in Week 3 means the Pac-12 will begin round-robin play on Sept. 23 with eight teams ranked in the AP top-25 poll (for the second consecutive week). That should ensure a barrage of ranked-against-ranked matchups throughout October and loads of primetime TV slots for the conference. Only the SEC has ever placed eight teams in the AP rankings.
Theme of the month: September success
The Pac-12 went 9-2 this week and has an overall mark of 29-5 in non-conference play, with two games remaining (Stanford and USC against Notre Dame). The winning percentage of .852 tracks as one of the best in recent history for any conference. In 2011, the Big 12’s non-conference win rate was .900, while the SEC hit .879 just five years ago. What’s more, the Pac-12 is 7-3 against Power Five opposition, and only one of the five losses (Stanford to Sacramento State) qualifies as an upset. The other four (ASU to Fresno State and Oklahoma State, Arizona to Mississippi State and Cal to Auburn) all came with the Pac-12 as the underdog.
Theme of the season: Bowl math
The conference is contractually tied to seven bowl games and often struggles to produce enough eligible teams to fulfill its commitments. This year, it could have more participants than slots available. Eight teams are halfway to eligibility with nine games remaining. That provides an immense cushion given that losses are sure to pile up over October and November. The Pac-12 hasn’t produced eight eligible teams since the 2017 season, when nine cleared the bar and two, Washington and USC, reached the New Year’s Six.
Game of the week: Colorado 43, Colorado State 35 (OT)
The Buffaloes trailed 28-20 late in the fourth quarter but went 98 yards for the tying touchdown, then won in the second overtime. Overall, CU received loads of help from the Rams, who committed an astounding 17 penalties for 182 yards — Herm Edwards is impressed — and compounded their problems with four turnovers. Add the emotions from the in-state rivalry and pre-game banter, and the duel made for terrific theatre. #Pac12AfterDark at its finest.
Team of the week: Washington
The Huskies had a significant platform to show off their postseason bona fides with a road game in Big Ten country, and they took maximum advantage. The 41-7 blowout of Michigan State served notice in the Eastern Time Zone that Washington should be considered a playoff candidate and quarterback Michael Penix (four touchdowns, 473 yards) is an A-level Heisman Trophy contender. The absence of MSU coach Mel Tucker, who was suspended early in the week, doesn’t detract from UW’s impressive performance.
Player of the week: Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders
Sanders struggled for much of the night against Colorado State, in part because his favorite target, Travis Hunter, was knocked out of the game on a cheap hit. (The two-way star is expected to miss several weeks with an undisclosed injury.) But when it mattered most, Sanders delivered in masterful fashion: He led the Buffaloes on a 98-yard, game-tying touchdown drive in the final minute, then threw two touchdowns in overtime to claim the victory. His totals: 348 yards, four touchdowns.
Best half: Washington’s Michael Penix
The surgical senior unleashed perhaps the finest half of his career on Michigan State, completing 20-of-25 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns in the first 30 minutes as UW established a commanding lead. The display surely left a lasting impression on Heisman voters in the Midwest region. We are continually amazed that Penix is able to move so effectively in the pocket with an ICBM launcher attached to his left shoulder.
Worst loss: Stanford
The Cardinal managed a come-from-ahead defeat against Sacramento State, coach Troy Taylor’s former team. Stanford led midway through the fourth quarter but collapsed down the stretch in a 30-23 defeat, the second loss to an FCS foe in school history. (The other: to UC Davis in 2005.) Get ready for a long year on The Farm.
Worst win: Cal
We note that with a significant dose of sarcasm, because no victory can be considered an unfortunate event (especially as bowl math is concerned). But Cal trailed Idaho 17-0 in the first half before snapping out of its slumber and reeling off 31 consecutive points. On a day when their peers manhandled lesser foes, the Bears looked wobbly by comparison.
Best disappointing performance: Oregon State
The Beavers beat San Diego State 26-9, led by at least two possessions throughout the second half and averaged an impressive 7.7 yards per play. But it’s a testament to their elevated standards under coach Jonathan Smith that the performance left us wanting more. (Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei never seemed comfortable and threw two interceptions.) The Hotline assuredly isn’t alone in that sentiment, given the Beavers were 24.5-point favorites.
Worst offensive performance: Arizona State
The Sun Devils were without injured quarterback Jaden Rashada, who’s out at least a month (and could end up redshirting). But that doesn’t fully explain a 29-0 loss to Fresno State in which they committed eight turnovers — eight! — and were shut out at home for the first time since 1988. Feel free to blame ASU’s administration for just about everything that’s wrong with the program, but this performance is on the coaching staff.
Worst field storming: Colorado
We understand all the excitement in Boulder, but the Buffaloes were 23-point favorites over an in-state, Group of Five opponent that lost its season opener 50-24 (to Washington State). Maybe set the bar a little higher.
Stat of the month: Pac-12 quarterbacks
The top five passers in the conference, in our estimation, are USC’s Caleb Williams, Washington’s Michael Penix, Washington State’s Cam Ward, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders. Through three games, they have combined to throw 51 touchdowns with only two interceptions.
Stat of the season: Arizona
The Wildcats have allowed 37 points in regulation thus far, an average of 12.3 per game. That rate will surely increase once conference play begins, but it compares favorably to the defensive performance the previous two seasons, when Arizona allowed an average of 28.3 points across six non-conference games.
Stat of the decade: Washington State
The Cougars scored 43 points in the first half and 64 overall against Northern Colorado, their highest totals since posting 55 (first half) and 69 (total) in a victory over Arizona in 2018.
Stat of the era: Utah
With their businesslike victory over Weber State, the Utes improved to 22-0 in non-conference home games since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. Since this is their final year before moving to the Big 12, they will depart with perfection in tow.
Games of next week: Colorado at Oregon and Oregon State at Washington State
The biggest story in college football heads to Eugene. We suspect CU coach Deion Sanders will make optimal use of the summertime salvo fired by Oregon’s Dan Lanning, who quipped, “Do you remember them winning anything?” after Colorado bolted for the Big 12. Meanwhile, the undefeated Beavers and Cougars collide in Pullman for a ‘Pac-2’ showdown that oozes off-the-field intrigue. So rich are the storylines for both games that a third matchup of ranked, undefeated teams, UCLA at Utah, will receive modest attention.
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