Pac-12 waters muddled under Ducks
PHOENIX — Three weeks into the season, No. 2 Oregon has proven to be the class of the Pac-12, a legitimate national-title contender.
Below the Ducks, the water gets a bit more murky as some teams have outperformed expectations, others have underperformed and a couple are dealing with injuries to key players.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how the Pac-12’s two divisions are shaping up before the teams jump into their full conference schedules next week.
Pretty much everyone is chasing the Ducks in this division.
Oregon annihilated its two lower-level opponents and notched a marquee win by outlasting No. 7 Michigan State at home.
The Ducks again are top-10 in total offense (573.3 yards per game) and scoring (52.0), and have a Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Marcus Mariota.
“They’re quick enough to make up for their mistakes,” said Washington State coach Mike Leach, Oregon’s opponent this week. “If somebody else makes a mistake, it might go for 15 yards. Oregon makes a mistake, it might go for six.”
The rest of the North is a little more muddled.
No. 16 Stanford is the two-time defending Pac-12 champion and, despite losing 10 starters from last season, was expected to contend for another trip to the Rose Bowl.
The Cardinal have blowout wins over UC Davis and Army so far this season, but also lost a tight game to Southern California.
A loss to a team that would move into the top-10 isn’t bad, but it didn’t look quite as good when the Trojans lost to Boston College the following week.
The Cardinal are still in good shape with a bye this week before facing Washington.
The Huskies are one of the harder teams to figure out.
Washington needed its defense to outlast Hawaii, then its offense to do the same against Eastern Washington before soundly beating Illinois last week. The Huskies face Georgia State this week before starting a gauntlet of Pac-12 games — Stanford, California, Oregon and Arizona State — that will likely determine where they really stand.
Oregon State and California are both 2-0, though both should get big tests this weekend; The Beavers face San Diego State and the Bears, who have doubled their win total from last season, head to the desert to face high-flying Arizona.
Injuries could play a huge role in how the South ends up.
No. 12 UCLA was picked to win the division, but has not exactly been dominant, scraping past Virginia, Memphis and Texas. Worse yet, Brett Hundley, their Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback, injured his left arm and had to leave the game against the Longhorns.
Coach Jim Mora has been mum on his status for UCLA’s next game, Sept. 25 against No. 15 Arizona State.
Hundley could come back for that game, but Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will not.
He injured his right foot against Colorado on Saturday and has been ruled out for the heavy-hitting matchup against the Bruins. His status beyond that game is up in the air — like Mora, ASU coach Todd Graham won’t say — and so are the Sun Devils’ chances if he’s out for an extended time.
Junior Mike Bercovici, who has thrown 24 career passes, will start until Kelly returns.
“There will be no (injury) excuses. We’re going to win,” Graham said. “Anybody else in the country would be in a worse situation than us, because we have two of the best quarterbacks in the country.”
USC looked like a playoff-caliber team when it knocked off Stanford, only to get pushed around by Boston College in its 37-31 loss last week. That dropped the Trojans eight spots in the AP poll, to No. 17.
USC is off this week before facing Oregon State.
Two other teams in the South are undefeated still: Arizona and Utah.
The Wildcats opened the season by setting a school record with 787 yards of offense, but still have plenty of questions after victories over Texas-San Antonio and Nevada.
Utah has suffered some lumps since joining the Pac-12 and was picked to finish fifth in the South. The Utes have been an explosive offense while winning their first two games, though, putting up a combined 115 points in routs over Idaho State and Fresno State.
Utah faces a much bigger challenge against Michigan in the Big House this week, then opens the Pac-12 against Washington State.
“The South appears to be pretty wide open right now,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
So does the North, at least outside of Oregon.