Who would have thought the first week of the 2015 season would be the one where we saw nearly half of the conference being thrown into the wood chipper after 60 minutes of play. The five losses by Pac-12 teams, including three by teams favored in their game a touchdown or more certainly set the conference prestige down a notch. But you have to be realistic when you have three freshmen quarterbacks playing in their first game, not to mention three more in their first year as a full-time starter.
- #7 Oregon (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 1)
Week 1: Defeated Eastern Washington; 61-42.
We now know that senior quarterback Vernon Adams can run this offense. We also now know that Mark Helfrich should think about sitting his new starting quarterback once the game gets out of hand to prevent injury, as much as that isn’t in Oregon’s DNA.
Their first chance at sticking a feather in their cap in terms of building a solid resume for the College Football Playoff takes place this Saturday as the Ducks head to East Lansing as 3.5-point dogs against the fifth-ranked Spartans. In order to come away with a road win, their defense will have to improve upon its earlier showing against an FCS opponent.
- #8 USC (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 2)
Week 1: Defeated Arkansas State; 55-6.
Picking between the Trojans or the Bruins for this spot in the rankings is truly splitting hairs at this point.
Cody Kessler looked the part against Arkansas State throwing four touchdown passes without turning the football over. But the Trojans offensive line, thought to be much improved coming into 2015, allowed five first half sacks to the Red Wolves.
The defense held serve against a quick-paced offense that has made four straight bowl appearances, forcing four turnovers while giving up over 400 yards of total offense to the Sun Belt school.
The Trojans celebrated their first game free of the NCAA scholarship shackles by playing 13 freshmen. But you can do that when you land the best recruiting class of the 2015 cycle.
- #13 UCLA (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 3)
Week 1: Defeated Virginia; 34-16.
You can’t expect your true freshman quarterback to play any better in his first start than how Josh Rosen did against a Virginia defense that finished ranked inside the top-35 in total defense and yards allowed per play in 2014.
The top quarterback recruit in the country certainly lived up to the hype he has been receiving by throwing for over 350 yards, completing 80-percent of his passing, while not turning the football over to the likes of safety Quin Blanding, one of the best in the country at the position. The offense as a whole seemed much more explosive with Rosen replacing three-year starter Brett Hundley as the Bruins totaled 8 plays of 20 yards or more in the contest as they head to Las Vegas this weekend, 29-point favorites against UNLV.
- #22 Arizona (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 6)
Week 1: Defeated UTSA; 42-32.
The Wildcats get a lot of credit for making due without the best player on their team and glue to their defense. Losing Scooby Wright was landmine they weren’t prepared to step on as they played a tight game against UTSA for the second time in as many years.
Coming into the game as 30-point favorites, while sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon threw four touchdown passes, both the offense and defense were inconsistent for Rich Rodriguez.
This week they head to Reno as two score favorites, with NAU to follow. With the news that Wright’s injury will not be season ending, the Cats will get a chance to recoup against two inferior opponents with the chance their star defender could return by the time UCLA comes to town at the end of the month.
- Cal (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 7)
Week 1: Defeated Grambling State; 73-14.
Remember those 8 explosive plays that the Trojans ripped off against Virginia? Cal upped the ante to 10, albeit against an inferior opponent. Jared Goff threw for 309 yards and 3 scores in the first half en route to a 59-point victory over Grambling State in a game that had the Bears leading 52-0 at halftime.
For the Bears to keep improving under Sonny Dykes, the defense has to become at least adequate, and it certainly passed the eye-test. Much of the story of the first half was the Bears defense forcing four turnovers and three sacks through the first thirty minutes of their opener.
- Arizona State (0-1, 0-0, Previous Rank 4)
Week 1: Lost to Texas A&M; 38-17.
The Sun Devils loss in Houston was not only a disappointment for the program, but also for those hoping to show the improvement of the members of the Pac-12 South division going up against a member of the vaunted SEC West division.
In our Three Tines of the Game preview last week we discussed the importance of ASU getting its offensive tackle situation squared away against the likes of the most dominating pass rush tandem in the SEC. That really didn’t happen as Myles Garrett drew Jadeveon Clowney comparisons recording two sacks and a forced fumble in his complete destruction of redshirt junior Evan Goodman.
But it wasn’t just Garrett, as the Sun Devils allowed nine sacks in total on a night that won’t be soon forgotten by fans that made the trip out to the Texas Kickoff last Saturday. Moving forward, the Devils will now fack back-to-back opponents that run a heavy dose of option as part of their offensive scheme. Both Cal Poly and New Mexico are also schools that are not Power Five conference opponents, so Todd Graham and company will have a bit of breathing room as they continue to try to improve on special teams, work on solidifying both tackle spots, while maturing at the receiver position all before meeting up with USC for their Pac-12 opener later this month.
- #24 Utah (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 8)
Week 1: Defeated Michigan; 24-17.
After missing each other last season, Utah State heads to Salt Lake City for the 112th chapter in the Battle of Brothers. Coming off a big win against Michigan in Jim Harbaugh’s first game coaching his alma mater Kyle Whittingham can hang his hat on the fact his Utes won a game against the best opponent any Pac-12 team played during the week.
While the defense wasn’t necessarily as brutish as the 2014 edition, it proved tough enough to withstand a Michigan team trying to play physical in the trenches. Quarterback Travis Wilson looked efficient, completing over 72-percent of his passes, while trying to punish the Wolverines for stacking the box on running back Devontae Booker. Now if he could just learn to stay on his feet to avoid big hits from defenders, Whittingham would probably sleep a bit better at night.
- Stanford (0-1, 0-0, Previous Rank 5)
Week 1: Lost to Northwestern; 16-6.
While Sun Devil fans try to decide if the loss to the Aggies was one of the worst during Todd Graham’s time in Tempe, there was no doubt that the loss to Northwestern was in fact the worst during David Shaw’s spell at Stanford. In fact, Shaw’s overly conservative play calling on the road was brought into question during a Tuesday teleconference that drew a salty response from the usually soft-spoken head coach.
After a disappointing 2014, the Cardinals were preseason favorites to give the Ducks a run for the division if not the Pac-12 Championship as long as they got off to a good start, something that really came back to bite this team last season.
Three sacks allowed, less than five yards per completion, and 85 yards rushing tell the story that Northwestern did a great job of shutting down an offense that was projected to turn the corner in Kevin Hogan’s senior year. Expect to see a much better showing this week by this unit against Central Florida.
- Washington (0-1, 0-0, Previous Rank 10)
Week 1: Lost to Boise State; 16-13.
True freshman quarterback Jake Browning was able to mount a second half comeback against the 23-ranked Broncos, but fell just a field goal short of sending the game into overtime.
The Huskies defense and special teams look to carry them this year and were in mid-season form against Boise State, but Chris Peterson is going to have to help Browning with some semblance of a run game if he wants to near the eight wins he totaled in his first season with the Huskies.
- Oregon State (1-0, 0-0, Previous Rank 12)
Week 1: Defeated Weber State; 26-7.
This certainly looks to be a whole new flavor of Beavers football as we watch the personality of this team transition from Mike Riley to Gary Anderson. Most notably at the quarterback position where yet another true freshman quarterback, Seth Collins, looked very dynamic (albeit against an FCS school) after getting the call to run the offense after halftime.
The move from Riley’s pro-style offense, to more of a spread scheme under new offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin certainly ushers in a new era offensive football in Corvallis. An offense that will certainly be tested this week against a very physical defense in the Big House on Saturday.
Between the coaching upgrade, and the new-look talent, it’s safe to say that Oregon State is on the path to improvement. Whether or not that happens this season is yet to be determined, and shouldn’t be against an opponent like Weber State.
- Colorado (0-1, 0-0, Previous Rank 11)
Week 1: Lost to Hawaii; 28-20.
The loss to Hawaii is certainly a setback for a coach looking to gain momentum going into his third year with the school, entrenched in one of the toughest divisions in the country. Yes they could have come away with a win late in the game if it weren’t for questionable coordination by the official. But you have to scrutinize Mike MacIntyre’s team for why they were in that situation in the first place.
For a quarterback that was supposed to take a big step forward in his third season as a starter, you just can’t lay an egg to Hawaii like Sefu Liufau did. You’d imagine being sacked four times while not throwing a touchdown pass was not how he envisioned his box score would read back in the summer. He’ll get a shot at redemption this week as the team welcomes UMass to Boulder.
- Washington State (0-1, 0-0, Previous Rank 9)
Week 1: Lost to Portland State; 24-17.
I’m not one to argue with Vegas. But I’m questioning how the Cougs are 2.5-point favorites against Rutgers this week after last Saturday’s horrific showing against Portland State.
After being outscored 24-7 in the second half, Portland state snapped its 14-game winless streak against Pac-12 teams as the Vikings new head coach Bruce Barnum has mother nature to thank in a game that was both rainy and cold.
If this is in fact Mike Leach’s best team yet since he took over in 2012, the Cougs have a long season ahead of them if they don’t get squared away quickly as they travel across country to play the Scarlet Knights on Saturday.