There is a terrifying element to groupthink that tends to blind people to rational thought and cogent analysis. Not only is that evident in our collective political discourse over the past half-decade, but it rears its ugly head every fall college football camp.

Is it optimism that tells us this is the year for good ol’ alma mater? Is it blind faith? Hope of all hopes? Is it fingers crossed, rabbit’s feet and shamrocks? What is it that makes a fan base, a conference, even a national media all buy into the same narrative?

And what happens when the prevailing thought process doesn’t come true? Did something go awry? Or was everyone wrong in the first place?

With No. 13 Utah all but out of the national conversation and unranked Oregon out of the picture altogether, what does it mean for the Pac-12? Better yet, what does it mean for all of us who hitched our stars to their wagons?


Never before has a conference been quite so demoralized from the opening week of the college football calendar.

It feels like we out west were shot in the back before we even learned the main character’s name. It feels like we were ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the first inning. It feels like we were booted from prom after one song. And even worse, it was Justin Bieber.

We expected so much more out of Utah, ranked No. 7 to open the season, and Oregon, ranked No. 11. Joy, victories, relevant games in mid-November.

But unrealistic expectations — if indeed that is what these were — can be quite damaging.

And there were signs. Signs we all ignored.

Sign No. 1: Utah’s front seven

The Utes haven’t been this young up front in quite some time, and even if the players are talented, they are at size and experience disadvantages.

Left to right, Florida’s offensive line boasts a redshirt senior, a senior, a redshirt junior, a senior and a redshirt junior. All but one had experience with the Gators last year.

Utah’s defensive line and linebacker corps feature 5 sophomores and a senior transfer in a new system.

Sign No. 2: Only 4 of the 32 CFP teams had 4 or more losses the season prior

Forget going from worst to first — that will never again happen in college football. Even going from upper tier to first is a long shot.

Had the Utes not lost back-to-back nonconference games last year, or if they had perhaps beaten Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, then maybe it would’ve made sense to peg Utah for a CFP spot. As it stands, teams that lose 4 games one season don’t often end up on a magic carpet ride the following year.

Washington, which improved from 7-6 in 2015 to 12-1 and a Playoff spot in 2016, is the only Pac-12 team among that 4-team group.

Sign No. 3: The Ducks’ defense was downright bad last year

You look at the individual talent on the Oregon defense, and it’s a lot easier to judge the Ducks by the sum of their parts rather than the whole.

But the stats don’t lie. Oregon ranked 9th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense last year at 27 points, and that includes allowing Utah to score 38 twice and Oklahoma 47 points in the Alamo Bowl.

They can have as much star power as the red carpet at the Emmys, and it wouldn’t matter. That’s one of the reasons the Ducks turned to new head coach Dan Lanning in the first place.

Sign No. 4: Bo Nix

Folks down south tried to warn us.

The Oregon quarterback had a rough debut, throwing 2 interceptions in a 49-3 season-opening loss to then-No. 3 Georgia.

Nix hasn’t been particularly generous in the past, maintaining a passable 39-16 TD/INT ratio with Auburn before he came to Oregon. But in spurts, he’s played like a chicken with his head cut off.

When he’s bad, he can sometimes be downright awful. Saturday was the 5th time in his career that he threw multiple interceptions, but the second time he’s done so in a game with no passing touchdowns.

The last time? With Auburn, Nov. 28, 2020, in a 38-23 loss at Alabama.

So maybe he’s just got a thing against top-3 defenses.


If the question is, “Can the Utes and Ducks still be great?” the answer is yes, if they fix things and in a hurry.

In Utah’s case, that primarily means the red-zone offense and defensive front seven, one that allowed 283 rushing yards to the Gators. The Ducks, meanwhile, have to clean up every facet of the game after getting throttled by the Bulldogs.

But that’s not the only question.

What does greatness mean in college football?

To me, the Utes were pretty darn great last year in going 10-4 with the program’s first Rose Bowl berth. Oregon was pretty great in 2019, going 12-2 with a Rose Bowl win. Is that not great?

Why do we let an impossible standard set by teams in the stratosphere define what is and what isn’t success? This is like real derangement here. It’s social media run amok. It’s the beauty standards of Instagram, minus the cropping tools. Newsflash: Those aren’t real lips.

Are we really going to sit here and hold the Pac-12 up to the SEC? As we learned quite rudely on Saturday, the Pac-12 isn’t in the same ballpark as the cream of the SEC crop. Or the Big Ten. Sure, lament the fact that the Pac-12 hasn’t been blessed with a Clemson like the ACC or with an Oklahoma like the Big-12.

But you know what the ACC is without a Clemson? You know what a Big 12 is without an Oklahoma?

They’re the Pac-12.

And you know what the Pac-12 is without a Utah or an Oregon?

Oh. Oh, no. Oh, heavens, no.

… Are we the Mountain West?