Columns & Blogs

Andy Furillo: Love Pac-12 football for what it is – wildly entertaining

Cal quarterback Jared Goff runs off the field after an NCAA football game against San Diego State on Sept. 12, in Berkeley. Cal won 35-7.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff runs off the field after an NCAA football game against San Diego State on Sept. 12, in Berkeley. Cal won 35-7. The Associated Press

There’s no need for Pacific-12 Conference football fans to stress anymore about having the best conference in the country. Clearly, it isn’t.

Stanford losing to Northwestern and then knocking down USC, Arizona State getting crushed by Texas A&M, Washington’s loss to Boise State in the Chris Petersen Bowl, Oregon’s loss to Michigan State – these early-season developments sapped the preseason suggestion the Pac-12 is ready to challenge the Southeastern Conference as the best in the country.

And there’s no need to get mad about it, like many of us who post our angry thoughts on fan websites along the West Coast. It’s OK that the SEC is No. 1 in football. It’s what they do down there. Like Kansas with wheat and Iowa with corn, they raise football in the southeast and export it to the NFL. We should thank them for football the same as we do Alaska for its halibut.

On Saturday, the schedule shows four TV gems, so there is no reason to clog the freeways on gorgeous early-fall weekend outings to the lakes or rivers or mountains, to ride bikes or hike or swim, to shoot birds or tequila or to rope cattle.

At the end of the season’s first month, the Pac-12 now can get back to being what it has always been – wildly entertaining. On Saturday , the schedule shows four TV gems, so there is no reason to clog the freeways on gorgeous early-fall weekend outings to the lakes or rivers or mountains, to ride bikes or hike or swim, to shoot birds or tequila or to rope cattle.

The best of Saturday’s disagreements in the living room A.C. looks to be UCLA at Arizona, with the winner awarded pole position in the Pac-12 South. Next of the best, Utah plays at Oregon in an interdivisional doozy. USC travels to Arizona State in a must-win for the Trojans in Tempe, and there will be intrigue in Seattle, where Cal quarterback Jared Goff will welcome into conference his Washington counterpart, the freshman out of Folsom, Jake Browning.

Stanford played Oregon State on Friday night. Colorado, meanwhile, unleashes Ralphie on Nicholls State, which last week lost to Incarnate Word, and not one more of those on that game. Observant or not, Washington State is taking this Sabbath off.

Before Pac-12 Networks analyst Nigel Burton broke down the weekend, the former Jesuit High star, Washington safety and Portland State coach was asked to assess his employer’s conference. He found Stanford’s loss to Northwestern unfortunate, but downplayed Arizona State’s lousy showing in the opener against Texas A&M. Boise State, he noted, had a lot of people coming back from a Fiesta Bowl championship team and figured to beat young Washington at home.

Not so much has really changed in my mind. I think the Pac-12 is still, if not the premier conference, then definitely a strong second.

Nigel Burton, Pac-12 Networks analyst

No, Burton was not despondent. He pointed out the league went 10-0 in nonconference games last weekend, even if three came against lesser programs such as Georgia State, Wyoming – and Texas. Utah had a nice Week 1 win over Michigan, and UCLA beat a very good BYU team last week, and who cares if it was only by one point at home and in danger of going the other way until a late interception by Bruins linebacker Myles Jack.

“Not so much has really changed in my mind,” Burton said. “I think the Pac-12 is still, if not the premier conference, then definitely a strong second.”

Looking at Saturday, UCLA fans of course are disconsolate over the loss to injury of three defensive starters, including Jack, who tore up a knee this week in practice. Another of the injured is Eddie Vanderdoes, the defensive tackle out of Placer High who looked All-World in the first 40 minutes of the opener against Virginia. Then he wrecked a knee trying to help up 310-pound defensive lineman Kenny Clark, who was celebrating a touchdown catch.

UCLA, ranked ninth in this week’s Associated Press poll, may have the depth to get past the injuries. “They don’t go from Myles Jack to a guy who can’t tie his shoes,” Burton said. No. 16 Arizona also suffered a huge injury when linebacker Scooby Wright went down, but it looks as if he’ll be back, although maybe not this weekend. Burton thinks the Wildcats can win if they open holes for running back Nick Wilson and keep the Bruins off quarterback Anu Solomon.

In No. 13 Oregon’s game against No. 18 Utah, the Ducks’ home-field advantage may be too much for the Utes, regardless of the health of the teams’ injured quarterbacks. Burton also favors Oregon coach Mark Helfrich in the battle of wits.

No. 19 USC dropped from No. 6 after being out-muscled last week by Stanford. It can’t go under again at Arizona State and expect to win the Pac-12 South, with Oregon and UCLA in its future. The waves of Trojan talent should be enough to beat Arizona State and, in Burton’s view, it’s questionable offensive line.

Burton believes his alma mater will take Cal in a close one. He likes the physical toughness of the Washington defense, and he is wary of Cal’s after the Bears gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns to Texas last week.

By the time El Niño arrives to swamp us all to sea, we’ll know for certain how the Pac-12 compares to other conferences, and whether its best can beat out the SEC’s for a title shot against Ohio State or Michigan State from the otherwise less-than-imposing Big Ten. Until then, we’ll have to settle for weekends like this one. They can be pretty good.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

  Comments