Are we ever going to learn our lesson?
Year-in and year-out, we frown upon early season schedules that appear lackluster on paper, only to be sitting on the couch at midnight, slack-jawed at what we’ve witnessed. Yesterday, week four in an already fascinating season, was yet another example of why college football is the most unpredictable, infuriating, and fascinating sport in the world.
We learned that the Big 12 is a mess, for good and bad. TCU needed -- well, luck, honestly -- to escape Lubbock with a win (welcome back, Kliff Kingsbury…last year sucked without you).
Texas had about 1,000 people in the stands minutes before tipoff, kicking off the certain farewell tour for Charlie Strong, who deserves so much better.
The SEC, after a few weeks of providing theatrics, turned its attention to Gainesville, where they described the battle of Tennessee and Florida as a "Rivalry renewed." Not sure it ever went anywhere, and yesterday still featured a pair of unranked teams, but what you witnessed was the future of the SEC East (because, unfortunately, we are also witnessing the farewell tour of the Ol’ Ball Coach). Florida came out on top, but this was as much about two programs puffing out their chests. This clash is once again really, really fun.
Outside of that game, though, the Pac-12 was on center stage yesterday, and while it didn’t disappoint – Utah, USC, UCLA, and even Cal, came away with statement wins – the rest of the conference was left picking up shattered pieces of a once promising season.
Arizona State? Done. Arizona? Humbled. Washington lost at home to Cal, and now seems as lost as ever.
Then, there’s Oregon.
For the last few season, Oregon’s defense has resembled a Michael Bay movie: two and a half hours of carnage, stuffed full of bad communication, explosions, and moments where you just want to turn away – but in the end, everything came out roses.
No more. At least not right now, and with the way the Pac-12 is shaping up, things don’t figure to get any easier. It’s safe to say the next week’s tilt with an ever-improving Colorado team – a game that in the pre-season was viewed as a sure win – is now the most important in Mark Helfrich’s tenure. He’s not coaching for his job, but he needs to prove he can galvanize the troops, or this season will slip into destruction.
Here’s what you missed yesterday, if you were out enjoying the (final?) nice weekend of this seemingly never-ending summer.
(9) UCLA 56 (16) Arizona 30
O.K., Josh Rosen, we see you. The true freshman quarterback, who earned the starting nod in fall camp, was more impressive than not in the non-conference slate, offering glimpses of what could be from the kid they called "Chosen". But, faced with a real test, how he would handle himself was going to tell us what we can expect from UCLA this season, especially after the rash of injuries they have had.
Rosen and UCLA came into Tucson Saturday night, with Gameday on hand and a raucous ‘Zona crowd prepared to cement their status as kings of the South, and absolutely throttled the Wildcats. The score doesn’t come close to reflecting what this was: a statement, sent across the entire country, that perhaps we were too quick dismiss the other team from Los Angeles. Rosen threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns, never looked rattled, and led his Bruins to one of the most important wins of the season so far.
(18) Utah 62 (13) Oregon 20
Speaking of the score not reflecting the beat down, this one was as eye-opening as anything we’ve seen in college football in a long time. Utah literally did whatever they wanted to Oregon, whether on offense, defense, or special teams.
If this was in Salt Lake City, perhaps the score could be understood. But that it happened in Eugene, when billed as a big game, should be downright frightening for Oregon fans. One of the most successful programs of the past ten years is straddling the line that all great ones do – hanging onto success, while trying to avoid the inevitable slip – and the magnitude of the blowout is not something that can be ignored.
(19) USC 42 Arizona State 10
This one capped off the most bizarre of trifectas – three conference showdowns, three dominating wins by the road team. For USC, it was a bounce back, statement win. For Arizona State, it may be the straw that broke this season's back.
Cody Kessler was terrific, the defense was stifling, and the panic surrounding Steve Sarkisian was silenced, if only for a week.
The game turned with less than a minute to go in the first half, with USC’s 21-0 lead already looking daunting. It was in this moment when Chris Hawkins returned a fumble 94 yards for a touchdown, then the ensuing kickoff was fumbled and recovered by the Trojans.
Juju Smith’s TD a few seconds later essentially ended the game, and the Sun Devils' season.
With the win, on top of what UCLA and Utah did, the Pac-12 South appears to have three juggernauts, all capable of laying claim as the best team in the conference – but also capable of eating each other alive, thus denying the conference a place in the playoffs.
If the first four weeks are any indication – and stop me if I sound like a broken record – then I literally cannot imagine what we’re in for.
Will Charlie Strong last the whole season? Can TCU keep getting away with playing this way? What on earth is the Pac-12 South going to do to each other?
And there wasn’t even mention of Leonard Fournette, who, ho-hum, went for 244 yards, further distancing himself from every other player in the country.
Can it be next Saturday already, please?