Football is winding up in the desert Saturday night, but one thing is obvious: This is a big, big day for Pac-12 football. In fact, you might have to go back more than a few years to find a bigger one.
The league played four teams ranked in the Top 25 of the coaches poll, and won three of them: Oregon State beat No. 13 Wisconsin, 10-7; UCLA toppled No. 16 Nebraska, 36-30; and Arizona outlegged No. 18 Oklahoma State, 59-38.
Washington fell heavily at No. 3 LSU, but that wasn’t totally unexpected. Only the magnitude of the 41-3 defeat was a bit of a surprise.
The league actually struggled more with Football Championship Subdivision teams — the old 1-AA — more than it did with ranked opponents. Colorado lost to Sacramento State, Washington State went to the wire before beating Eastern Washington; and Cal had its hands full before a late outburst against Southern Utah.
Here’s what was most impressive about the league’s showing: The biggest victories were achieved by teams that are seen as merely part of the vast middle in the league. Oregon State was picked by the media to be No. 6 in the North Division, while UCLA and Arizona weren’t viewed as much more than middle-rung teams in the South. This wasn’t USC and Oregon making headlines; in fact, those two allowed a total of 54 points to modest opposition.
The Stanford and Arizona State wins Saturday night over Duke and Illinois, respectively, aren’t considered landmark by any means, but they were dominating, no-questions-asked victories. The ASU triumph made it a 3-0 day for the Pac-12 over the Big Ten.
Best win of the bunch? I’d vote for OSU’s win over Wisconsin, and not because the Badgers were the highest-ranked victim. This was a victory for a team that couldn’t stop the run a year ago, against one of the Big Ten’s purebred programs. To hold Wisconsin to 207 net yards — and 61 on the ground by vaunted Montee Ball — was a huge accomplishment, the kind that gets the nation’s attention.
For the Pac-12, the day was an about-face from what happened Friday night, when Utah was upset at Utah State in overtime.
Oh yeah, there’s just one catch. The rankings mean little this early in the season; they’re only vague rumors, really. So it’s important that the teams victimized by Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona recover and have strong seasons, or the glow the league is feeling right now will dim. But right now, it’s incandescent.