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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

September 22, 2011 at 2:13 PM

Cross-check: Assessing strength via the opponents

As any Washington football fan can tell you, there are concerns along with the promise. Even as Keith Price has thrown for 11 touchdowns, worries exist over a defense that has done a lot of waving at ball-carriers and receivers.

And there’s another cause for frown wrinkles, one that’s not exclusive to Washington. It’s wrapped up in the performance of the opponents to date. Eastern Washington hasn’t won a game yet, Hawaii hasn’t distinguished itself, and there’s the possibility Nebraska may be overrated.

So, before the conference race heats up Saturday, we step back and try to glean a little more into each record than might be represented in the wins and losses. Think of it as a bit of cross-checking – a glimpse into how each school’s opponents have fared.

Don’t think of this as a sentence. Each program, after all, controls its destiny. And some of these scheduling assessments can become sort of circular arguments. But perhaps this exercise sheds a little more light on what’s to come.


The Proven
Stanford (3-0): Beat San Jose State 57-3, beat Duke 44-14, beat Arizona 37-10. San Jose State played close games with UCLA and Nevada, but Stanford treated the Spartans like a truck-driving school. The Duke team that the Cardinal dispatched beat Boston College last week.
Utah (2-1): Beat Montana State 27-10, lost to USC, 23-14, beat BYU 54-10. The Utes could have tied USC at the wire with a field goal, and despite the disappointment, rocked neighboring BYU as an underdog. BYU isn’t scoring points (40 in three games), but Utah presents a pretty healthy picture in a bye week before hosting Washington.
Cause for Concern
Arizona (1-2): Beat NAU 41-10, lost to Oklahoma State 37-14, lost to Stanford 37-10. Where’s the vast middle class in college football? The Wildcats haven’t seen any of it yet, and they won’t this weekend against Oregon. So far, it’s apparent the ‘Cats can’t hang with the best.
Oregon State (0-2): Lost to Sacramento State 29-28 in OT, lost to Wisconsin 35-0. It can’t cheer OSU faithful that Sac State, after its benchmark win over OSU, went out and lost to Southern Utah 35-14 and Weber State, 49-17. That suggests the Beavers may not be any good (and Sac State better quit scheduling teams from Utah).
UCLA (1-2): Lost to Houston 38-34, beat San Jose State 27-17, lost to Texas 49-20. Houston beat Louisiana Tech by a point, and Texas beat BYU by a point. If I’m a Bruins fan, I’m probably most concerned that this team hasn’t put out a solid performance yet.
Inconclusive
Arizona State (2-1): Beat UC-Davis 48-14, beat Missouri 37-30 in OT, lost to Illinois, 17-14. Missouri’s (2-1) other two opponents don’t reveal much, nor do 3-0 Illlinois’. But the Sun Devils’ failure in a tossup road game suggest they’re not quite there yet
Cal (3-0): Beat Fresno State 36-21, beat Colorado 36-33 in OT, beat Presbyterian, 63-12. Fresno State, like Washington, played Nebraska to a 13-point loss. But then it beat North Dakota, 27-22. And though the Bears gave up real estate to Colorado by the furlong, that result was more positive than negative, in light of facing an amped-up CU team with Cal’s historic struggles on the road.
Colorado (1-2): Lost to Hawaii 34-17, lost to Cal 36-33 in OT, beat Colorado State 28-14. Hawaii lost some cachet when it got buried at UNLV last week. And although CSU hasn’t been impressive, at least Colorado took care of business amid a hard schedule against a perceived lower-level opponent.
Oregon (2-1): Lost to LSU 40-27, beat Nevada 69-20, beat Missouri State, 56-7. LSU looked impressive in stuffing Mississippi State last week on the road, so there was no shame in losing to the Tigers, other than that it reinforces the feeling that the Ducks are in over their head against a physical, fast defense. Nevada beat San Jose State in its other game (by the way, if there’s a school in need of an athletic director, it might be the Wolf Pack. Nevada’s first four games: At Oregon, at San Jose State, at Texas Tech, at Boise State).
USC (3-0): Beat Minnesota 19-17, beat Utah 23-14, beat Syracuse 38-17. The Minnesota game is still the head-scratcher for the Trojans. The Gophers (1-2) lost to New Mexico State by a touchdown (albeit in the game in which coach Jerry Kill collapsed). Trojans remain a bit of a tough read, not having ventured on the road yet.
Washington (2-1): I was tempted to drop the Huskies into the “cause for concern” category, simply on the weight of Eastern Washington’s struggles and Hawaii’s pratfall last week in Vegas. But the Warriors stayed on the road on the mainland after their loss at Washington, which could have been a factor. Moreover, assuming Nebraska is still a force, the Huskies get points for generally hanging in for much of the game, particularly in the face of some dubious officiating.
Washington State (2-1): Beat Idaho State 64-21, beat UNLV 59-7, lost to San Diego State 42-24. San Diego State (3-0) may be legit; we’ll know more after its game this week at Michigan. For now, I wouldn’t disagree with WSU coach Paul Wulff, who said this week, “I’d be surprised if we face a better back than Ronnie Hillman this year.” As for UNLV, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a more lifeless, limp outfit than showed up against WSU, but the Rebels have played better in their other two games against Wisconsin and Hawaii.

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