College Football Roundup
Last year we witnessed a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North Division. Prior to 2017, either Stanford or Oregon had won every North Division title, as well as every Pac-12 Championship game. But that all changed when Washington -- led by coach Chris Petersen, quarterback Jake Browning and an NFL calibre secondary -- took the league by storm, won the 2016 conference crown and advanced to the College Football Playoff.
At the same time the Huskies were growling, Washington State, under the indomitable Mike Leach, was also staking its claim as a power in the north. In fact, the two Washington schools dispatched Stanford by scores of 44-6 and 42-16 and Oregon by 70-21 and 51-33. Point made.
We're only two weeks in, but this season looks to be even more interesting.in the North. The two Washington schools are unbeaten and nationally ranked, and Oregon seems revitalized by new coach Willie Taggart (below), a Jim Harbaugh disciple. The Ducks racked up 77 points in their opener, then hung on to beat a tough Nebraska team, 42-35. Quarterback Justin Herbert is the real deal, and running back Royce Freeman also will be playing on Sundays. And Taggart improved his defense by enticing Colorado's esteemed defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Eugene with a $1 million plus contract. Don't look now, but Oregon just may be "back."
Stanford, meanwhile, was very impressive in a 62-7 season opening win over Rice but faltered at USC. The Trojans amassed over 600 yards in total offense to win 42-24. The Cardinal will need to shore up its defensive line and get better production from the quarterback position to stay with the Huskies, Cougars and Ducks.
The other big story in the North Division is across the Bay at Cal, where new coach Justin Wilcox has the Bears off to a surprising 2-0 start. When Wilcox was hired, I wrote "the Bears got it right this time." He had a terrific resume on the defensive side of the ball -- with successful stints at Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State -- and hired two excellent coordinators in OC Beau Baldwin and DC Tim DeRuyter, both former head coaches. Wilcox and his staff have brought the program some much needed discipline and a strong defensive orientation, and it's already paying off. Cal upset North Carolina in the curtain-riser and then came from behind to beat a tough FCS Weber State team.
Eight in the top 30: The Pac-12 is getting some well-deserved respect from AP voters. The conference has five teams in this week's top 25 and (including "those receiving votes") eight in the top 30: No. 4 USC, No. 6 Washington, No. 19 Stanford, No. 21 WSU, No. 25 UCLA, No. 26 Utah, No. 28 Colorado and No. 30 Oregon.
This week's games: Stanford needs to avoid a letdown on the road against a strong San Diego State team Saturday night. The Aztecs are led by one of the most under-rated head coaches in the country, Rocky Long. Last week, SDS upset Arizona State in Tempe. They have a fantastic running back, Rashaad Penny, who torched the Sun Devils for three touchdowns on a 99-yard kickoff return, 95-yard run, and 33-yard pass reception. Stanford will need to play much better defensively in San Diego than it did in Los Angeles.
Cal is looking for its third straight non-conference win at home against Mississippi, a program well-known in recent years for multiple NCAA violations and a coach who liked to employ escort services on the road. The Bears -- and the Pac-12 -- would love nothing better than to upend an opponent from the SEC.
USC hosts Texas in a rematch of the fantastic 2006 national championship game, won by Texas in the final seconds. It should be different this time because of the quarterbacks. The Trojans have Sam Darnold and Longhorns don't have Vince Young.
Heisman watch: It's way to early to draw any conclusions, but at this stage the three favorites are all quarterbacks--USC's Darnold, Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and last year's winner, Louisville's Lamar Jackson. Here's a quick look at last week's stats: Darnold was 21 for 26 for 316 yards and four TDs against then No. 14 Stanford; Mayfield completed 27 of 35 for 386 yards and three scores in a 31-16 win over No. 2 Ohio State, a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated; and Jackson did his usual thing by accounting for six touchdowns, passing for 393 yards and rushing for 192 against North Carolina.
Game Times: Kudos to Pac-12 officials for trying to shorten the lengths of their games. Early results are encouraging. Now if they can just get rid of those 7:30 pm kickoffs!