As we get into the Pac-12 season’s telling games of November, something becomes apparent: Even though the college season seems to race by in a blink of an eye — especially compared to the plodding NFL, with its four exhibition games — there are twists and turns and switchbacks, and assumptions that seemed inviolate after a month have been round-filed.
To wit, at least half the teams in the Pac-12 have a very different outlook than they did a month or three weeks ago (or in Oregon State’s case, a lot more recently than that).
Some of the dramatic shifts we’ve seen, north to south and up to the Rockies:
Washington — Huskies began 4-0, got as high as No. 15 entering October, and had a turning-point defeat at Stanford, a hard-fought loss to Oregon, and then a total meltdown at Arizona State. The Nov. 15 game at UCLA represents a chance to define the season, or at least save it.
Washington State — After a 22-point win at Cal Oct. 5, the Cougars were 4-2 and, you’d think, a better than 50-50 bet to get bowl-eligible. Then they unraveled late against Oregon State and have been a mess since. They next get Arizona in Tucson Nov. 16, and it ought to be a great time to play the Wildcats — between games with UCLA and Oregon, and remember, the Wildcats are already bowl-eligible. If I were Mike Leach (and I can’t really feature that), I’d be sinking a lot of investment into that game.
Oregon State — Talk about a winding road. Beavers were left for dead by some after losing to Eastern Washington, then reeled off six wins in a row. I suspect their coaches realized there was trouble on the horizon in physical teams that could rush the passer. Now OSU has lost to Stanford and USC, and must deal with Arizona State, Washington and Oregon. That’s looking a lot like two more losses, maybe three.
Oregon — No intrigue here. The Ducks just eviscerate everybody.
USC — The Trojans’ season has taken the strangest trajectory, after it looked early like it might devolve into a three- or four-win season. How in the world did Washington State, which can’t stop anything lately, shut down USC so completely Sept. 7 (I know, I know, Lane Kiffin, but that can’t explain all of it)? Since Kiffin got whacked by AD Pat Haden in the wee hours of Sept. 29, USC has won three of four under Ed Orgeron to move to 6-3. If you assume wins over Cal and Colorado, that gets them to eight, and if they can knock off either Stanford or UCLA and win a bowl game, suddenly USC has a 10-win season. It also has a fighting chance to win the Pac-12 South, although that’s an uphill climb because of the loss to ASU.
Arizona State — Funny team, the Sun Devils. It took officials botching the Wisconsin finish to win that game, and they were never in it at Stanford. Then they lost to a pretty undistinguished Notre Dame outfit. But they’re playing better than anybody else in the South right now, with the possible exception of USC, having kicked both the Huskies and Cougars to the curb. A better read comes Saturday at Utah, which can be dangerous.
Utah — Utes have been a tough read game-to-game, never mind over several weeks. Coming off a devastating 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State, they upset Brigham Young on the road. Then they gave UCLA a hard time and beat Stanford in what seemed a defining victory. At least until they turned around and lost in double digits to Arizona and USC on the road. Their fortunes seem to ride beyond reason on the health of quarterback Travis Wilson.
To sum it up, the saga of changing fortunes is incomplete in every case. For everybody, weeks remain to rescue a season, or see it slip away.