Fool’s Gold: First impressions and false impressions from Week 8 in the Pac-12
We know for a fact that Oregon is the team to beat in the Pac-12 — the Ducks solidified at that much Saturday in a thorough beating of the previous No. 1 team, UCLA.
But USC, Utah and the Bruins still have something to say about the rest of the Pac-12 pecking order.
Week 8 offered some answers, but how much of what we learned will be fact and how much of it will be fiction? Read below.
1. Impression: Oregon is the unquestioned leader of the Pac-12
After that beatdown of UCLA, how can you even question it? The Oregon offense was ruthless against the Bruins, holding up under pressure and opening crease after crease for a talented group of running backs.
UCLA entered the game undefeated, ranked 9th in the country and coming off back-to-back wins over ranked conference opponents, but it wasn’t even close against the Ducks. The Bruins kept it close early, but Oregon rang off 28 points in the 2nd quarter to give itself a mighty cushion. And much is being made of a clutch 2nd quarter onside kick that gave the Ducks an extra possession, but truthfully they didn’t need it. UCLA head coach Chip Kelly said as much after the game, blaming a defense that could not stop Oregon from scoring instead of one opportunistic play.
With a down-and-up schedule down the stretch that features easy road games at Cal and Colorado before tougher home matchups with Washington and Utah, the Ducks are hoping to head into the Civil War at Oregon State in Week 13 undefeated in conference play and having clinched a berth in the league title game.
Verdict: First impression is correct. Oregon is the unquestioned leader of the Pac-12.
2. Impression: The Ducks can make the College Football Playoff
But the fun might stop there.
Oregon’s path to the Playoff was stunted in a Week 1 49-3 loss to Georgia. It’s hard to imagine voters giving the Ducks the benefit of the doubt in December when they looked so bad in September. With the Bulldogs and either Tennessee or Alabama vying for two likely SEC spots in the final four — and Ohio State and Michigan headed toward a crash course that could leave the loser on the outside looking in — the Ducks have to pray that Clemson and TCU trip up. Even that might not be enough.
Should Oregon close out the regular season on an 11-game winning streak and then impress in the Pac-12 title game, preferably with a second win over a top-12 UCLA or Utah team — or, better yet, should they catch USC in the title game — the Ducks will have a compelling argument. Especially if Bo Nix continues to play at a Heisman level.
But I’m not counting on voters being all that forgiving.
Verdict: False impression. Oregon’s blowout loss doomed its Playoff chance.
3. Impression: UCLA was exposed in the loss to Oregon
After thoroughly beating Washington and then one-upping itself in an even more emphatic win over Utah, the UCLA football team revitalized its fan base, got national attention, turned Chip Kelly haters into fanboys and vaulted the Bruins into their first top-10 ranking since 2015.
All that goodwill went away in a 15-minute period on Saturday in a 45-30 loss at Oregon, which scored 28 2nd-quarter points.
It’s not that UCLA lost to the Ducks, it’s how they did it. Listless on defense, lacking rhythm on offense and altogether caught off-guard. Had they done this against a lesser team, like the Huskies, I’d feel inclined to sound the alarm. But Oregon is certainly one of the most explosive teams in college football with arguably the best offensive line in the land, so, while wounded, UCLA can’t feel like this is the end of its season.
I am watching very closely at the Bruins’ game against Stanford next Saturday night, though. The Cardinal have played the Bruins better than any other conference team over the past dozen years. UCLA can’t afford to wilt under the pressure.
Verdict: False impression. Credit Oregon, but UCLA has a chance to recover.
4. Impression: Ranked teams should feel safe this week
This feels exactly like the kind of trap week that has tripped up the Pac-12’s best teams in the past.
Now, with all 4 ranked teams playing for the first time in weeks, the conference is at its most vulnerable to cannibalism. With 3 of the 4 top-14 teams playing on the road, now is not the time to be passive. No. 14 Utah (which plays at Washington State on Thursday), No. 8 Oregon (which plays at Cal), No. 10 USC (which travels to Arizona) and No. 12 UCLA (which hosts Stanford) better be on high alert.
None of the 4 should be particularly threatened by the opponent, but strange things seem to happen year after year in Pac-12 play, and we haven’t seen one of those weird gophers come up and bite the better team’s ankle.
It’s bound to happen.
Verdict: False impression. At least 1 of these ranked teams will lose.
5. Impression: Oregon State and Washington picked a good week for a bye
Improving to 6-2 and becoming bowl eligible with wins on Saturday against Colorado and Cal, respectively, both the Beavers and Huskies head into the final stretch with their sights set even higher.
It’s been an impressive start for both teams, which have survived disappointing 2-game losing streaks to right the ship in impressive fashion. But in very different ways.
Washington has leaned on its top-flight passing game under Michael Penix Jr., as he continues to lead FBS quarterbacks in passing yards. Oregon State, meanwhile, has won 3 straight behind backup quarterback Ben Gulbranson, who stepped in for the injured Chase Nolan and has righted the ship for the Beavers.
Now, with both teams needing a chance to rest up and get healthy, they found it at the perfect time.
Verdict: First impression. Both are set up for a nice finish.
6. Impression: Utah, USC have the most to lose Saturday
Coming off the best Pac-12 game of the season and then a bye week, both the Utes and Trojans have to respond from Week 8 byes with focus and finesse against inferior opponents this week.
(Utah travels to Washington State, which is 1-3 in the Pac-12, for a Thursday night kickoff. USC travels to Arizona, also 1-3 in the league, on Saturday.)
The Utes’ 43-42 Week 7 win over USC took a lot out of both teams, both physically and emotionally. In some ways, getting a bye after a game like that is a bad thing — for Utah, you’d want to build on the momentum; for USC, you’d want a chance to get back in the win column as soon as possible.
But the Trojans, in particular, needed the breather, if only to get Jordan Addison and Eric Gentry back and healthy.
Not that we expect it, but an upset loss for either would be disastrous.
Verdict: First impression. Both are at least a TD favorite, so a loss would severely damage their bowl destination.