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Pac-12 Confidential

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

July 30, 2014 at 3:39 PM

How the Pac-12 will be won and lost: The trap games

Last week at the Pac-12′s football media kickoff in Los Angeles, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked what his team needs to do to get better. In answering, he touched upon a phenomenon that’s going to apply to virtually every team in the conference in 2014.

“We played phenomenally against every ranked opponent,” Shaw said. “And we lost to two unranked teams that we’re supposed to beat.”

One of those, he noted, was nobody’s idea of an unranked team — USC. The other was Utah, which, despite being one of just three Pac-12 teams not to get to the post-season, beat the Cardinal and had the other division champion, Arizona State, down until the final couple of minutes.

So . . .

“If you want to be one of those great programs in the nation, you’ve got to be bring it every single week,” Shaw said. “You can’t say, ‘We just played Oregon and Washington back to back, boy, those are tough, we can’t get up for the third week.’ There’s no excuse. You have to get up for the third week.

“The moment you take your foot off the gas pedal, you’re going to take one on the chin.”

Yes, it’s the stuff of coaching cliches. But it also has the ring of truth in a league that just might be more competitive and better balanced than at any time in history.

A year ago, there were several non sequiturs in the league — Washington State’s upsets at USC and Arizona, both as two-touchdown underdogs; Utah’s stunner over Stanford that dumped the Cardinal out of the national-title chase; and Arizona’s thumping of Oregon (even if it came with Marcus Mariota still mending from a knee problem).

You can almost count on more of the same this year. A few of the obvious potholes out there for the projected upper teams in the league:

Arizona State — The Sun Devils have a four-game gauntlet of UCLA-USC-Stanford-Washington starting with the last Saturday in September. Then they host Utah Nov. 1. Guard the trap door, Sparky.

Oregon — The Ducks’ game in Salt Lake City Nov. 8 comes a week after Oregon’s arch-nemesis, Stanford, visits Eugene. Beware.

Stanford — Between rugged road games at Arizona State and Oregon, the Cardinal hosts Oregon State Oct. 25. Given that it’s not a dramatic home-field advantage at Stanford, and the fact OSU has lost the past two meetings by a combined 12 points, the Cardinal needs to be ready.

UCLA — Bruins host Utah Oct. 4, a game sandwiched between a road date at Arizona State and a crucial home game Oct. 11 with Oregon.

USC — A theory holds that the game after playing Stanford is tough because of the physical pounding. For the Trojans, that’s at Boston College Sept. 13. Notwithstanding the fact BC played in a bowl (AdvoCare V100, getting trounced byArizona), you’d think the Trojans would have enough to survive. But they might want to be wary of Arizona in Tucson Oct. 11. It comes after USC hosts ASU, and ‘Zona upset the TroyBoys in the desert two years ago and troubled them in a 38-31 loss last year.

Washington — The Huskies go to Colorado Nov. 1, which, given that they’ve allowed only 10 points in the previous two meetings, might cause you to smirk. But it falls between games in Seattle with South powers ASU and UCLA, so they might need to be on alert.

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