Don’t you dare say the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff dream is dead after Week 1. 

Don’t disrespect the Arizona Wildcats like that. 

Without ash to rise from, the phoenix would just be a bird getting up. Arizona is a phoenix, and it will rise. 

Or, something like that. Don’t look now but all that offseason tinkering in Tucson took immediate hold. The Arizona Wildcats didn’t just look exciting, they looked physical at the line of scrimmage. I expected Arizona in Year… 1? — Jedd Fisch called last year Year 0, which I will accept here even though I otherwise hate we’ve allowed this vernacular to take hold in college football — to be a League Pass-like team, which is to say if you can watch them, you will and it will be wildly entertaining because it will be wildly unpredictable. 

I might have been one of the Wildcats’ biggest defenders this offseason. I’ve picked them to fare better than their in-state counterparts. I’ve regularly propped up the transfer talent as some of the best to move teams in all of college football. But even I didn’t think they’d beat San Diego State on the road. That was a full-throated stomping. Arizona was up 31-10 at one point, christening the new home of a team that went 12-2 a year ago by planting a big “Block A” flag at midfield. 

(Oh, by the way, going into California and looking that good that early will only do wonders for recruiting in the region — a significant foothold the Wildcats want to maintain on the trail.) 

Arizona looked strong at the line of scrimmage. Not great — the Aztecs gained 4.3 yards per run (adjusted for sacks) and posted four tackles in the UA backfield — but still much better than a year ago. The red zone production was immediately improved. The quarterback spot looks reliable. The skill talent looks dangerous. 

Bettors who took the over are feeling pretty, pretty good right about now. 

Of course, it’s one game.

“We need to absolutely get better,” Fisch said Monday. “We want to do everything we can to make our last game our worst game.”

To that end, playing the Aztecs on the road in Week 1 is going to help tremendously. 

So much more than playing, say, Northern Arizona. 

Teams make their biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2. You go from kinda-sorta hitting your own to cracking heads. When that live action truly becomes live, teams find out where their strengths and deficiencies lie. You go from there. 

Arizona got a pretty good look at where it stands. San Diego State won’t be winning 12 games again this season, but it wasn’t a cupcake either.

The Pac-12 went 9-3 in Week 1. It feels like we can draw lasting conclusions from, what, half of those games? Less? 

Is Arizona State fine? We’ll find out on Saturday. A 40-3 victory over the Lumberjacks looked encouraging in some respects, but you have to take it with a big, giant rock of salt when the battle at the line of scrimmage is so obviously tilted.

Apply the same logic to the Oregon-Georgia game. Oregon will probably be fine. Don’t bury Dan Lanning. Don’t write off Noah Sewell. Georgia might play two close games all regular season. That team is insane. It’s playing with an infinity stone already — room for improvement but still able to beat the snot out of a hulking green power.

USC and UCLA scored a combined 111 points, put up a combined 1,164 yards of offense, and only gave up three defensive touchdowns between them. “With Utah and Oregon losing, the axis of power in the Pac-12 shifts to Los Angeles!” Eh. Both games had warts. Both opponents were overmatched. 

I ask you this question: what’d you watch on Saturday? 

If you had access to the USC-Rice game, did you watch the whole affair? Switch back and forth? Check out after the first quarter? 

What about the Arizona game? Whole thing? It was certainly easier to focus on the Cats once it was obvious where the game in Atlanta was headed.

What about the Utah game? Were you glued to your television as the Utes and Gators battled back and forth all night? We didn’t get a billion points like UNC-App State — entertaining in its own right — but we did get the best game of the weekend. 

Two teams battling for very real stakes. Utah for its Playoff life right out of the gate. Florida for its respect in the Southeastern Conference to return after last season’s debacle. 

Utah is going to be better for it in Week 6 having played Florida in Week 1. That was a fist fight between two excellent teams. 

“A lot of football left,” coach Kyle Whittingham said on Monday. “I like this team a lot and I think we can win a bunch of games this year.”

But because the Utes didn’t win the first one, they’re going to be questioned for having played it at all. 

The argument against College Football Playoff expansion is that it’ll devalue the regular season — which is inarguably the greatest regular season of any sport played in North America. 

I’d argue the exact opposite. 

I’d argue that an expanded CFP field will give us more Utah-Florida games in the future. (What a misdirect with the way this opened, huh?) Utah was tested, Utah had its flaws exposed, Utah had its strengths highlighted, and now one of the best coaching staffs in the country can get in the lab and make adjustments going forward. 

Lanning and his staff can do the same in Eugene. They played one of the best teams in college football — maybe the best. If you think that won’t make the Ducks better going forward, I don’t know what to tell you. 

Sure, if Duke played Georgia and got its wheels blown off, the season would probably be derailed then and there. Oregon won’t fall apart because things went wrong in Week 1. 

“Every one of our goals is still right here in front of us,” Lanning said after the game. Coaching platitude? Sure. Something no one in the fanbase wanted to hear after that performance? Justifiably so. Still true? Absolutely. 

“Our players feel the exact same way,” Lanning continued. “Tough locker room because we have competitors. Not a bad locker room. A tough locker room because we have competitors that want to win. Those guys are hungry to go get better. I think if you asked our players, they would go right back out to the practice field today because they want to compete. There was no quit in them, but certainly getting to go against a good team, it’s a great gauge of where you’re at. (Georgia is) a good team.”

In future years, with 12 Playoff spots on the board instead of four, you’ll see more teams scheduling competition like that to gauge where they are. 

While it’s true the loser of a marquee early-season game wouldn’t be as penalized in a 12-team CFP environment as it would be in a four-team one, to think that’ll change the intensity level of the play on the field is a little misguided. 

Those Florida and Utah players fought like hell because they are competitors and because the dude standing across from them was their equal. 

More good football is better football, even if the perceived stakes are less. The NBA regular season isn’t as fun because they play too many games, not because a certain number of teams make the Playoffs. 

Give me more games where a Power Five team goes on the road and challenges itself in its opener. The population of a small country packed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday to see Florida-Utah. The population of the gas station down the street was inside the Rose Bowl to see UCLA play Bowling Green.

No two-loss team has ever made the College Football Playoff. In a 12-team field, we could see a four-loss team make it. That’ll lower the stakes of certain games, sure, but it’ll also invariably lead to juicier non-conference matchups early. Yes, please.

Washington’s savior? Perhaps, but absolutely what Washington needed

I have to make a confession. 

I’m rooting for Kalen DeBoer.

Washington opened its season with a 45-20 win over Kent State. The offense was inspiring. The defense looked promising. Maybe most encouraging was the response of the team after the game to their head coach. 

“I just trust him,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said of DeBoer.

DeBoer got the game ball in the locker room, an emotionally charged moment where the bond built between team and coach was laid bare. 

“I wasn’t expecting it,” he said. “I’m so proud of these guys. There’s just great relationships being built right now, and there’s great trust. It’s something that none of us take for granted. AC (Alex Cook) said some things in the locker room that I know mean a lot to me, just about the leadership that not just myself but the staff are providing and trying to show these guys.

“Even before we had a chance to do that, these guys were willing to open their arms up to us and let us in and let us coach ‘em up. That’s hard to do, especially with the roller coaster they’ve been on.”

I don’t know if DeBoer is building a championship team in Seattle — Pac-12 or otherwise. I do think he’s building a team that will be successful and will be one that makes the fanbase proud. To be able to say that after one offseason and one game is pretty impressive, albeit maybe a little knee-jerky. The scenes on Montlake Saturday night were just pretty clear. This team loves its coach. He loves them back. That’s worth a heck of a lot.

Oregon State is going to challenge some teams

The most impressive win of the weekend belonged to the Beavers. I moved them up to No. 3 in my Power Rankings. The defense was ahead of where I thought it would be in its reintroduction under the direction of Trent Bray. 

Boise State had a 25% success rate. Twenty-five percent. The Broncos were outscored 24-0 in the first half, outgained 258-116 in the first half, and limited to 23 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Oregon State’s defense forced four turnovers in Boise’s first 36 plays. 

“There’s a lot to like,” coach Jonathan Smith said Monday. “The effort, the physicality was there.”

I trust the running game will get sorted out. Too much cohesiveness. If you’re concerned about the offense, I offer you this: On first downs, Oregon State averaged 8.1 yards a play. The pass game for 8-for-11 for 150 yards on first down. 

This team has some stuff. 

That USC game in Week 5 just got a whole helluva lot more interesting.

The Road to Las Vegas (Around the Pac-12)

Arizona State 40, Northern Arizona 3

Messiah Swinson looks like he’ll be a dude in the ASU offense going forward. Sun Devil coaches said they wanted to get the tight end more involved, but fall camp talking points from coaches about involving the tight end in an offense are a little like New Year’s resolutions to go to the gym. We say it, then we don’t do it. 

Swinson caught three balls for 50 yards to lead the Sun Devils. 

“He’s got people bouncing off of him,” said quarterback Emory Jones. “He’s a big target. That’s somebody I like throwing the ball to, a big target you can just put it up in the air for.”

That playmaking ability is going to be key for Jones going forward. Swinson offers a 6-foot-8, 255-pound target. The Dr. Pepper Challenge students could complete passes to him. 

“That’s why we brought him here,” coach Herm Edwards said after the game on Thursday. “He didn’t catch a lot of balls in the last system he was in. I told him, ‘You’re gonna catch balls here now.’”

Colorado 13, TCU 38

There was an immediate and obvious jump in energy when JT Shrout replaced Brendon Lewis. I don’t want to pile on here because the latter, by all accounts, worked his butt off this offseason. But Colorado has two quarterbacks and one is obviously better for the offense going forward. 

UCLA 45, Bowling Green 17

A blocked punt recovered and returned for a touchdown on the Bruins’ opening possession of 2022 was not on my bingo card. Dorian Thompson-Robinson broke off a third-and-3 called-pass on the next drive for a 68-yard touchdown scramble. Thompson-Robinson threw an interception on the next offensive possession. Wideout Jake Bobo muffed a punt on the UCLA 11-yard-line a little over two minutes later. 

The Bruins looked remarkably disorganized for an opener. You expect hiccups early. You don’t expect such veteran players to make such rookie mistakes. The only fifth-year starting quarterback in Pac-12 history still made a freshman throw. A senior wideout couldn’t field a punt cleanly. A coaching staff beset with NFL experience sent out two players wearing No. 9 on the punt return team, then had to burn a timeout so they could put Bobo in a new jersey. 

They were so much more talented. Hence the margin. They also had nine penalties and two turnovers and gave up two sacks and trailed 17-7 at one point.

UCLA might just be hilarious in 2022. 

USC 66, Rice 14

Win the middle. 

Win the middle and you’ll win the game. Nick Saban talks about the middle third a ton. He’s won a few games, hasn’t he?

USC outscored Rice 52-7 in the second and third quarters on Saturday. Last season, USC was outscored by 49 points in the second and third quarters. That was the fourth-worst mark in the Pac-12. The league champion outscored opponents by 74, the second-best mark. Every Power Five champion ranked either first or second in their league in point differential during those two frames. 

“This is definitely a statement,” said wideout Jordan Addison afterward. “That’s what we wanted to do. Week 1, we had to show everybody that this wasn’t just no hype. We’re ready to play.”

USC has the horses to just boat-race teams in the second and third quarters. Yes, it has the pure talent and offensive genius on the sideline to script up wonderful first quarters, but the true strength of this team will be revealed once it and its opponent settles in. USC’s offense seems like the kind that’s going to be relentless. The amount of skill talent coach Lincoln Riley has available to him feels illegal, and the ability to rotate and keep guys fresh is going to pay dividends on offense this season.

Maybe they’re in a ton of shootouts. Maybe the defense takes some time. But it’s clear that teams are going to have to match points with this Trojan squad. You just aren’t going to keep them off the scoreboard. When the middle third rolls around, you better have an iron-clad plan of attack.

Stanford 41, Colgate 10

Like father, like son. Stanford’s hoping, at least. It’s entirely unfair to E.J. Smith to start invoking his father, so I won’t, but the Cardinal running back couldn’t have asked for a better start to his 2022 season. 

On the first play from scrimmage for Stanford on Saturday, Smith took a handoff 87 yards to the house. The breakaway speed was impressive. 

“I said it on the headset, but that’s how you start the season,” said coach David Shaw. “We know that E.J. is strong and physical. He’s got that finishing speed, too. Great way to start the season.”

Not to be outdone in the game, quarterback Tanner McKee had a nearly flawless first half, completing 19 of his 21 pass attempts for 234 yards and two touchdowns. This offense has some potential. A shootout on The Farm Saturday against USC feels like a wonderful way to spend the evening. 

Washington State 24, Idaho 17

Woo boy, Washington State got all it could handle in Week 1 from Idaho. The offense, imported from Incarnate Word in the offseason, sputtered a bit in its debut. The defense held down the fort. Seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss, two forced turnovers. It was a strong debut for that side of the ball, but we — well, I did, at least — expected the Cougs to be pretty feisty around the line of scrimmage. The standout ends, Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson, each had a sack. 

The game ball goes to Daiyan Henley, though. Henley transferred in from Nevada this offseason, following his defensive coordinator to the Palouse and give the Cougs a veteran starter at linebacker.

In his debut, he led the team in tackles with eight, posted three tackles for loss, and had the game-sealing interception. 

Weekly Superlatives

Offensive Player of the Week: Jacob Cowing, Arizona

The former UTEP receiver had eight catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns in his Power Five debut. Cowing has an immediate connection with Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura. When he decided to transfer to Arizona, it felt like he had one of the best chances of anyone to make an immediate and substantial impact. And, sure enough, that’s exactly what he did.

Defensive Player of the Week (three-way tie): Shane Lee, USC; Daiyan Henley, Washington State; Jaydon Grant, Oregon State

Lee had a pick-six, two TFLs, and a team-leading eight tackles. Grant was targeted five times by Boise State and he gave up just one catch for 4 yards. He also had two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and an interception. 

Play of the Week: Michael Wilson’s leaping touchdown catch for Stanford vs. Colgate

Photo of the Week: USC running back Raleek Brown strikes the Heisman pose after his first career touchdown.

The photo comes from USA TODAY Sports’ Kirby Lee. The best photographers always find a way to be in the right place at the right time. 

Sep 3, 2022; Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans running back Raleek Brown (14) poses after scoring a touchdown in the first half against the Rice Owls at United Airlines Field at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Game of the Week: Utah vs. Florida

Absolutely everything I hoped it would be. The ending was brutal, the game was marvelous.

Quote of the Week: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart

“He’s gonna do a really good job at Oregon. He’s relentless. They’ll bounce back from this and he knows we have better players. He’ll never say that but he knows we’ve got better players.”

Week 2 Game I’m Most Looking Forward To: USC at Stanford (Sept. 10, 4:30 p.m. PT, ABC)