What Pac-12 North football leaders did Saturday was impressive. What happened in the South was downright chaotic.
Give it up for Stanford and Oregon. A week removed from the Pac-12 game that everybody has been waiting for, each of them had tests that they could have bombed. The Ducks seemed in for a fight at Washington. The 1991 national champions were being honored, it was the last game before renovation at the old lakefront playpen and there was an air (maybe that was just a hope) of upset in Seattle. So: Ducks, 34-17, their eighth straight victory over the Huskies.
Stanford, meanwhile, was facing one of the league’s bottom-feeders in Oregon State. But the Cardinal was listless early, as Coby Fleener dropped an early touchdown pass, and the Beavers actually trailed only 17-13 and had the ball in the third quarter. In the end, Stanford did what Stanford does, winning 38-13 and setting the stage for the long-awaited game in Palo Alto next week, a delicious collision of power versus speed.
In the South, though, UCLA’s victory over nine-point favorite Arizona State puts the Bruins in the driver’s seat in the division, although they might want to make sure they have insurance. They have the tougher road ahead, with a game at Utah, then one-win Colorado, and finally, USC. Arizona State, meanwhile, is at WSU, and then home to play Arizona and Cal.
The ASU loss drops the Sun Devils to 4-2 and makes it much more likely (if there was much question to begin with) that the Pac-12 title game will be hosted by the North winner Friday, Dec. 2. And while UCLA’s win makes the South race more interesting, it will serve to dull the luster on the eventual winner (ASU, for instance, has three losses now) and make it more likely the North host will be a double-digit favorite. That’s probably not what the league office had in mind for its inaugural event.
Saturday’s events seem to have worked in Stanford’s favor on two fronts. First, No. 3 Oklahoma State had to stave off Kansas State in the final seconds from the OSU 5-yard line to win 52-45, which might weaken the Cowboys’ position in the polls vis a vis Stanford.
Then there was the knuckle-sandwich game in Tuscaloosa. I wouldn’t guess a 9-6 outcome would have the voters clamoring for a rematch, which was one of the outside possibilities that could have scuttled other contenders for the national-title game. Coming in, I thought something on the order of a 27-24 or 31-27 howler might leave open the possibility that the Tide and LSU could meet in a national-title rematch. Seems unlikely now.