More on the Saturday that was in Pac-12 football . . .
First of all, a couple of you have dinged me for touting the league’s performance, claiming that the Pac-12 doesn’t play any defense and because of it, nobody in the conference could stay on the field with Alabama or LSU.
Come on, folks. A few of you would complain about noise next door at the six-year-old’s birthday party.
I haven’t contended that any of the five ranked Pac-12 teams this week – USC, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA or Arizona – would win the national title.
Oh, and what was that number of total yards Wisconsin amassed at Oregon State, 207? Badgers must be a bad offensive team.
Somebody else questioned the Oregon defense, which has allowed 59 points in two games. I’d contend that the nature of its two games doesn’t reveal a lot about the Duck defense, other than a tendency to ease off the gas pedal. The Ducks were ahead in the opener against Arkansas State 50-3 and 35-6 at halftime against Fresno State. At that point, the edge comes off the motivation, so let’s reserve judgment on that unit (and given the Ducks’ schedule, we might have to reserve for quite awhile).
I’ll concede that the magnitude of the Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona victories over Wisconsin, Nebraska and Oklahoma State won’t truly be measured until the season plays out. Early rankings are notorious for being ill-defined.
But you can only do what’s immediately in front of you, and what the Pac-12 did Saturday was beat three teams all ranked in the teens – and all by squads that entered the game unranked.
That’s a significant accomplishment, and although the issue can’t be resolved definitively, I can at least pose the question: Was it the best regular-season Saturday in history for the league?
First of all, let’s recognize this: A conference doesn’t often get the opportunity to play several ranked teams out of its league on one day (especially in the six-titles-in-six-years SEC, where the non-league fare consists of a lot of Florida A&Ms and Tennessee-Martins). There are seasons when that window never happens.
I’d contend that the best day in the history of the league was New Year’s Day, 1985, when the Pac-10 won three bowl games – No. 18 USC over No. 6 Ohio State in the Rose, 20-17; No. 14 UCLA over No. 13 Miami in the Fiesta, 39-37; and No. 4 Washington over No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange, 28-17.
But non-league, regular-season? By one measure – unranked teams beating ranked teams — Saturday was as good as it gets. That’s never happened, as best we can tell. Dave Hirsch, vice president of communications for the Pac-12, researched it back to 1978 and I slogged farther back, from 1960 to ’78, and it’s unprecedented. (It also was even more difficult before 1968, when the AP poll included only 10 teams.)
Before the weekend, in the 52 years back to 1960, there were 16 Saturdays in which the Pac-12 (actually the Pac-10 and Pac-8) won games against two ranked foes. One of those is Sept. 16, 2000, which I’d submit as the overall best non-league, regular-season day the conference has ever had (taking into account that were some blemishes two days ago, like Colorado’s pratfall to Sacramento State and Washington’s no-show at LSU).
On Sept. 16, 2000, an unranked Stanford team won at home against No. 5 Texas, which finished 9-3 (and lost to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl); No. 14 UCLA won at home over No. 3 Michigan (which also finished 9-3); and an unranked Arizona State team won at home against Colorado State, which was No. 25 in the coaches poll but unranked by AP. So you could say the league beat 2 ½ ranked teams that day.
Overall, that was a more distinguished day by the Pac-10 than the one just past. The only loss was sustained by Cal at Illinois, 17-15, and among the other four victories was a 17-14 Washington win at Colorado in Rick Neuheisel’s return to his former program.
Of the 15 other Saturdays dating to 1960 on the two-ranked-teams-upset roster, there were just two – Sept. 17, 2005 and Sept. 27, 1969 – in which the upsets were both by unranked teams. So the opportunity doesn’t happen very often, and clearly, on this day the Pac-12 took advantage of it.