*** Insta-reaction to Pac-12 developments on and off the field. (The USC-Utah game was addressed previously in Friday Night Bites.)
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1. The Conference of Cannibalism.
The day started with a bananas finish in Oxford (more below) and ended with something we’ve never seen before.
UCLA 67, Washington State 63 was a surreal ending … and the highest-scoring game in conference history … and a comeback for the ages by the Bruins … and an all-time collapse by the Cougars.
But it was perfectly, indisputably real in one regard:
The inevitability of the Pac-12 eating its own.
Add Washington State’s defeat to Arizona State’s loss at home to Colorado to Utah’s reality check in the Coliseum, and you get one undefeated team remaining on Sept. 21.
That undefeated team, of course, is Cal.
As we all predicted.
(Actually, the Hotline did predict Cal would start the season 4-0 — in fact, we have the Bears at 5-0 — but the surrounding carnage has been much worse than we expected.)
For point of comparison, the number of undefeated teams across the Power Five:
Big 12: three
Big Ten: five
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Pac-12 feast on itself, but it might be the most extreme case.
The Hotline will have to check the books to determine which week in every year of the 12-school era the conference was down to one undefeated team.
That’s for another time.
For now, we’re digesting what just transpired in Tempe and to a greater extent, Pullman.
Credit Colorado for rolling up almost 500 yards and 34 points against what had been a stout ASU defense:
Steven Montez played like a senior is supposed to play; and Tony Brown did his best Laviska Shenault impersonation.
A gutsy win by the Buffs, for sure, and a bad loss for the Sun Devils.
Every opponent can’t be Michigan State.
2. How ’bout them Bruins.
UCLA has been the object of jokes and derision throughout college football — and here on the Hotline (guilty!) — for its inept performance through three weeks.
Guess ol’ Charles Edward was just saving up his best material for conference play.
Think about this:
UCLA is 0-3, has just been embarrassed by Oklahoma and is down 49-17 at Washington State late in the third quarter — the perfect time to pack it in.
Instead, the Bruins rip off 50 points in 19 minutes.
That would seem to indicate Kelly and his staff were doing something right, even if it wasn’t visible to us schmoes.
Then again, it takes two for a transformation of that magnitude, and WSU’s defense provided the Bruins with a clear path to victory.
There have been some wild games in the Pac-12 in recent years — some fine examples of pinball football — Cal 60, WSU 59 comes to mind — but this was next-level insanity.
Because of the total points (previous conference record: 127).
Because of UCLA’s comeback: The Bruins scored more points in the second half (50) than they had scored in their first three games combined (42).
Did we mention WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon threw nine touchdowns.
Or that the teams combined for 1,377 yards.
Or that the Bruins were plus-five in turnovers and needed a touchdown with 67 seconds left to win.
Week Four began with four undefeated teams in the Pac-12.
Then Utah went down.
Then ASU tumbled.
Then WSU collapsed.
And now there is Cal.
There is only Cal.
3. Three for the price of two.
The conference collected what we’d consider three quality non-conference victories this weekend.
Cal’s win at Ole Miss, despite the controversial ending, is an important piece in the resume-building process — any win in SEC territory counts.
Washington looked sharp at Brigham Young (Jacob Eason’s first road game in three years was a master class performance).
And Arizona State secured a non-conference result that will help the narrative.
Yes, the Sun Devils were busy with Colorado. But 2,000 miles away, Michigan State hammered Northwestern 31-10 in Evanston.
That result — especially with MSU showing a level of competence offensively that it lacked against ASU — adds instant credibility to the Sun Devils’ victory last week.
With each MSU victory over a respectable conference opponent, the Devils’ win gains weight.
(The same could be said for Cal of any victories by Ole Miss in SEC play.)
Meanwhile, Auburn’s win at Texas A&M gives an ever-so-slight boost to Oregon, in the quality loss department.
What are we left with?
How should we judge the Pac-12’s non-conference season, which is complete save for the two dates with Notre Dame?
It’s clear the conference is better than it was last year, better than the ACC and better, perhaps, than the Big Ten and Big 12 in terms of the number of quality teams.
What it lacks, until further notice, is an elite team — a playoff-caliber team.
That’s significant, because the not-so-new postseason structure means conferences are ultimately judged by what they have at the top.
And the top of the Pac-12 doesn’t appear to be as good as the top of the other leagues.
But that’s the only hole on the resume.
In past years, there was reason to wonder if even the Pac-12’s middle was comparable to the middle of the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.
That’s no longer an issue.
Before we move on to other matters, the head-to-head rundown:
Pac-12 vs. ACC: 0-0
Pac-12 vs. Big 12: 1-1
Pac-12 vs. Big Ten: 3-0
Pac-12 vs. SEC: 1-1
vs. Power Five: 5-2
vs. FBS: 16-10
4. About the officiating …
Two of the Pac-12’s best non-conference wins — the best, in fact — those on SEC and Big Ten turf — have ended in controversial fashion.
In both cases that controversy involved … you guessed it … Pac-12 officials.
We’re all aware of the issue last weekend, when the Pac-12 crew on the field and in the booth failed to flag ASU for leaping over the line of scrimmage on Michigan State’s game-tying field goal attempt.
The conference, to its credit, confirmed the mistake with a statement Sunday night.
The spotlight today was on the ending of the Cal-Mississippi game.
Down eight, the Rebels completed a pass to the goal-line, but the official with the best angle spotted the ball at the half-yard line.
The Rebels were out of timeouts and had little time left, so they hurried to the line, snapped the ball, and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was stuffed to end the game.
We saw nothing on TV that indicated a mistake. Then again, ESPNU didn’t provide an angle from the far side, which would have shown the position of the ball.
Should play have been stopped for review, given that a touchdown was in the balance?
Was the spot correct?
Welp, the storm gained intensity when Mississippi’s interim athletic director, Keith Carter, issued a statement on Twitter:
“We are extremely disappointed by the officiating at the end of the game and are expecting a full explanation from the Pac-12 regarding the call and subsequent non-review of the 3rd down play. We feel strongly that the play should have been reviewed by the Pac-12 officials in the review booth. Even if the play didn’t result in a touchdown, the spot of the ball on 4th down was questionable.”
The Pac-12 may or may not issue a public statement or a private statement (to the SEC).
The threshold for comment under its transparency policy is understandably high, and David Coleman, the VP for Officiating, might determine the play didn’t meet the bar.
If any statement is forthcoming, it likely won’t be issued until Sunday afternoon.
What we know is this:
Pac-12 officials, right or wrongly, fairly or unfairly — in the case of the ASU game, quite fairly — have undermined the impact of two quality wins.
Not on the scoreboard or on the won-loss ledger, but in the public consciousness.
We’d call that … unfortunate.
5. TV alert.
The Hotline relayed the following information Friday night, but for those who missed it …
Here’s the Pac-12 schedule and tentative TV selection order for Oct. 5 (times Pacific)
Arizona at Colorado
Cal at Oregon
Washington at Stanford
Oregon State at UCLA
Pick #1: FOX at 5:30 or 6 p.m.
Pick #2: ESPN at 6:30 p.m.
Pick #3: Pac-12 Networks at noon or 12:30 p.m.
Pick #4: Pac-12 Networks at 5 p.m.
The official selections will be made Monday morning.
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