The Pac-12 has all but wrapped up their out-of-conference slate (WSU plays Nevada this weekend, USC and Stanford play Notre Dame later in the season), and it was a mix of saw-it-coming (Washington hasn’t been tested, Oregon State is trash) and wait-what-now (3-0 Cal, Stanford loses to SDSU, WSU beats an FCS team). The non-conference schedule means different things to different teams: title contenders need to make a statement by either beating a marquee opponent or beating the hell out of everyone, young teams need to get quality game reps, coaches on the hot seat need to not step in it. So which teams accomplished their goals, and which teams need to put the hustle on entering Pac-12 play.
Schedule: Southern Utah, Nebraska, @Wyoming
Goal: Get reps, show defensive improvement, stay healthy, go 2-1 or better
Accomplished? Yes, and then some. The offense looks fierce, and the defense has energy for the first time since Nick Alliotti retired.
Schedule: @Colorado State, Portland State, Minnesota
Goal: Build off a good finish to 2016, don’t get blown out
Accomplished? LOL no. When beating PSU by a FG is the highlight to your season, you’re in the doldrums. And with a scary opening conference slate (@WSU, Washington, USC, Colorado), they might not win again until playing Arizona or ASU in November. Gary Andersen might not make it that long.
Schedule: @North Carolina, Weber State, Ole Miss
Goal: Find identity under a new head coach, get reps, beat Weber State
Accomplished? Oh yeah. I had Cal pegged as a 2-win team this year, and they’ve already blown by that mark. The biggest surprise has been the quick ascension of the defense, who shut out Ole Miss in the second half to lock down the win. Justin Wilcox is making moves, and that 9/30 game in Eugene no longer feels like a gimme.
Schedule: Rice, @San Diego State, Notre Dame (Week 13)
Goal: Take care of business, find a QB, look like the Stanford we’re all used to.
Accomplished? Oh, goodness no. The offense is Bryce Love and a bunch of not-good-enough, and the Cardinal mixed in a blowout loss to USC for good measure. Stanford has stumbled early under David Shaw before, only to recover and still contend for a conference title; can they do it again this year?
Schedule: @Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State
Goal: Beat the hell out of three bad teams, stick around in the top 10 and in the national title picture.
Accomplished? Eh, kinda. The Rutgers game was sleepy and uninspired, but they took care of business at home. With a conference schedule that misses USC, Washington’s eyes are still on 12-0 heading to the Pac-12 title game.
Schedule: Montana State, Boise State, Nevada (Week 4)
Goal: Don’t lose to an FCS team again, try and avoid the Boise State trap, keep Luke Falk upright
Accomplished? Yes, but not for a lack of trying. Boise State was so kind to hand that win to the Cougs when they really, really didn’t want to take it. And while Luke Falk sat out some of the BSU game, he came back nicely against the Beavers last week. WSU finishes their non-con against Nevada this Saturday.
Schedule: Northern Arizona, Houston, @UTEP
Goal: Look competitive against Houston, win the other two games, look like you won’t be a complete walkover this season.
Accomplished? Sure. The Houston game was ugly, but Houston’s a talented team, particularly on defense. The other two games were blowouts. We’ll know more about the Wildcats this weekend when they play Utah in their Pac-12 opener.
Schedule: New Mexico State, San Diego State, @Texas Tech
Goal: Show signs of life on defense, go 2-1 or better, look decent
Accomplished? Not really, no. The Sun Devils barely beat NMSU in the opener, looked feckless against SDSU, and then got caught in a shootout with Texas Tech, which never ends well. ASU’s first five conference games are Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Utah, and USC. There’s a very real chance Todd Graham is unemployed before November.
Schedule: Colorado State, Texas State, Northern Colorado
Goal: Beat up bad teams, stay healthy
Accomplished? Yes. This non-conference schedule is real stinky, so anything less than three easy wins would have been concerning. The only close game was against Colorado State, and the Buffs held serve in preparation for their conference openers against Washington and UCLA.
Schedule: Texas A&M, Hawaii, @Memphis
Goal: Win all three games and announce your presence as a conference contender. You’ve got one of the ten best QBs in college football, and a roster oozing with talent. No excuses.
Accomplished? The epic comeback against Texas A&M boosted the Bruins - and Josh Rosen - into the national conversation immediately, which made the loss to Memphis both shocking and predictable at the same time, shocking because UCLA was playing so well, and predictable because this is UCLA we’re talking about.
Schedule: Western Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame (Week 8)
Goal: Insert yourself into the national title conversation.
Accomplished? It doesn’t feel like it, but maybe their wins will age better as the season plays out, including the 42-14 win over Stanford. If WMU and Texas show out in their respective conferences - and Stanford rebounds to its normal place in the Pac-12 pecking order - then maybe the playoff committee will look more favorably upon this non-conference schedule. A big win in South Bend would help, too.
Schedule: North Dakota, @BYU, San Jose State
Goal: Go 3-0 against two bad teams and BYU
Accomplished? Yes, though a 6-point road win against BYU looks worse due to the Cougars also getting blown out by Wisconsin and LSU. Still, Utah looks like Utah, and should be favored in its first two conference games (@Arizona, Stanford).
So we know who accomplished their goals, and who fell short. But what did we learn from the non-conference slate that we didn’t already know? Utah is Utah, UCLA is UCLA, Sam Darnold, Royce Freeman, and Dante Pettis are very good, and Arizona State has no defense. We knew all these things in March, and they’re still true. However, we do have a few new truths about Pac-12 football in 2017:
- Cal is playing defense, and might be sneaky decent.
- Oregon is playing defense, and might be sneaky good.
- Until a QB at Stanford stands up and takes the starting job, the Cardinal are beatable even with Bryce Love averaging 12 yards per carry.
- No one is invincible, and there might not be a Playoff-caliber team this year.
- Oregon State is the worst team in the conference, but Arizona State isn’t that far behind.
- Washington State changed up their deal with the devil this offseason, from “lose to an FCS team, but win 9 games” to “cause Boise State to choke, but ________________________”. We’ll see what Mike Leach had to trade to get that win.
Any other new truths about the Pac-12 that we know heading into conference play? Leave them in the comments!