Pac-12 Misery Returns; Local QBs Shine

So much for the Pac-12's resurgence.


UCLA's upset win over LSU and Oregon's impressive takedown of Ohio State gave us all some hope that maybe, finally, the Pac-12 was going to be relevant again in major college football.


This despite some early disappointments, such as Stanford's poor showing against Kansas State, Cal's loss to Nevada, and Washington's stinker vs. Montana.


Well, that huge thump you heard Saturday night was the Pac-12 plummeting to earth after getting beaten by four non-Power Five teams. UCLA lost to Fresno State, Utah fell to BYU, Arizona State shot itself in the foot with 16 penalties and four turnovers against San Diego State and Arizona lost its 15th straight to, you're reading this right, Northern Arizona. Earlier in the day, Colorado managed a whopping 63 yards in total offense in a 30-0 shutout loss to Minnesota.



So far this season, the Pac-12 has lost six games to Power Five teams—Purdue (Oregon State), Kansas State (Stanford), Texas A&M (Colorado), TCU (Cal), Michigan (Washington) and Minnesota (Colorado), plus five games to the Mountain West—BYU (Utah, Arizona and Arizona State), Fresno State (UCLA) and San Diego State (ASU), and two to lower division FCS teams—Montana (Washington) and Northern Arizona (Arizona).


Other than the two ballyhooed upsets (Oregon-Ohio State and UCLA-LSU), its only win over a Power Five team has been Stanford’s 41-23 victory over SEC doormat Vanderbilt.


Unfortunately, there are precious few opportunities remaining for the Pac-12 to improve its standing. Only four non-conference games are left on the schedule: Stanford and USC play Notre Dame, and WSU and USC face BYU.


Consider that after three weeks of play, the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 all have six unbeaten teams. The Pac-12 has only one—Oregon.


That means that, realistically, the only chance the conference has to get a team in the College Football Playoff this year is for Oregon to win out or lose one game, or for one-loss Stanford, UCLA or USC to win out.


All I can say is, “Go Ducks!”


How did we get here? How did the Pac-12 become the weakest Power Five conference, falling perilously close to the Mountain West and AAC?


1) Lack of exposure: The Pac-12 often is relegated to late night kickoffs, which limits the national TV audience, or Pac-12 Network games, which reach only about 15 million viewers.


2) Talent Drain: More and more of the West Coast's top recruits are going to schools in the South or Midwest that provide them with a better chance to win, to get into the playoff, and allow their parents to see their games on the tube. It’s no accident that Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson all have quarterbacks from the West Coast.


3) Limited Resources: SEC and Big Ten schools are annually getting $10 to $20 million more in revenues than Pac-12 schools because of much bigger TV rights fees. This translates to better facilities, bigger recruiting budgets, and higher coaching salaries.


4) Bad hires: A partial list might include USC head coaches Steve Sarkisian and Clay Helton, UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel and Jim Mora, Arizona’s John Mackovic, Mike Stoops and Kevin Sumlin, Colorado’s Jon Embree, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen, and incompetent commissioner Larry Scott. The jury is still out on Chip Kelly at UCLA, Herm Edwards at ASU, Jimmy Lake at Washington, and new commissioner George Kliavkoff.


Bay Area QBs Shine: It was a great weekend for Bay Area quarterbacks. Stanford’s Tanner McKee had his second straight impressive outing, leading the Cardinal to victory at Vanderbilt, and Cal’s Chase Garbers enjoyed a fine day against Sacramento State. San Jose State’s Nick Starkel directed the Spartans’ 17-13 win at Hawaii.


Stanford has scored 83 points in the two games McKee has started.


In the NFL, the 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo kept the Trey Lance crowd at bay with a strong performance in a 17-11 win over Philadelphia. And the Raiders’ Derek Carr shredded Pittsburgh’s defense in a 26-17 win. Carr has begun the season with two brilliant games, passing for over 800 yards against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. (Yes, I know the Raiders have moved to Las Vegas, but they’ll always be a Bay Area team to millions of fans).


However, our “Bay Area Quarterback of the Week” honors must go to Fresno State’s Jake Haener (above), who led the Bulldogs to a thrilling 40-37 win over UCLA. Haener, from Danville’s Monte Vista High School and the son of KTVU anchor Julie Haener, led Fresno State on a 75-yard touchdown drive in the closing 54 seconds to beat the Bruins. He could barely stand at the end of the game as the result of several brutal hits he’d absorbed in the fourth quarter.


Afterward, UCLA coach Chip Kelly said Haener’s performance, which included 455 passing yards, was one of the best he’d ever seen.


“That’s as good a performance I’ve seen a quarterback make in my career,” said Kelly, who in addition to his stints at Oregon and UCLA also coached several years in the NFL. “He put the ball on the money. I don’t know if he ever really threw a bad ball. He did a great job of looking at some of the disguises, checking protections, knowing if it was hot, getting the ball off.

“I saw him immediately after the game just to congratulate him and he was really banged up, but that’s a heck of a competitor and a heck of a football player.”


Haener transferred to Fresno State from Washington after languishing on the Huskies’ bench for two years.


I bet they wish they had him now.


Power(s) Struggle: Suddenly, the national powerhouses are looking mortal. Alabama had to withstand a failed two-point conversion to beat Florida 31-29. Clemson continued to have trouble scoring and barely beat 28-point underdog Georgia Tech 14-8; Ohio State led Tulsa (a team that lost to UC Davis) by only seven points with three minutes remaining; Oklahoma escaped with a 23-16 win over embattled Nebraska.


Maybe we'll finally get some new participants in the College Football Playoff.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com