Trojans’ bye week is a good thing for fans
The night of Stanford’s latest upset victory over USC is not my fondest memory.
After missing our return flight to Los Angeles that night, fellow editor Michael Katz and I slept over in San Francisco International Airport, sprawling out on a couple of benches beside a 24-hour Subway. Though sleeping beside vats of tuna fulfilled a life-long dream and curiously cleansed my mind of the night’s listless loss, I awoke bleary-eyed the next morning to stark reminders that USC’s season had been turned on its head.
USC fans in the airport were noticeably less chatty than the day before nor as eager to flash the “Fight on!” sign. In line at a help desk trying to finagle my way higher onto the stand-by list for the first flight back to Los Angeles, I overheard a UCLA law student, who went to Stanford for his undergraduate degree, basking in USC’s misery.
He predicted the Bruins would run over the Trojans in the Rose Bowl, and spewed a lot of other noise about a shift in the balance of power on the L.A. college football scene. I tuned out the rest of his monologue when he started describing UCLA coach Jim Mora as the Second Coming.
Everyone needs to relax, as this particular fan likely learned when UCLA unceremoniously face-planted against Oregon State last Saturday, and I embraced that incomparable feeling of schadenfreude.
Though I’m likely in the minority, I welcome the breather from USC football that this bye week affords. Four games in, I’m already beckoning the sideline trainer to come over and administer the oxygen tank. I’m exhausted.
Most of my exhaustion stems from the comical overreactions of college football pundits, hastily passing judgment on the landscape of the sport after each weekend’s results. This Saturday, USC won’t need to put forth a tidy final box score in order to stay in the beauty pageant that is the BCS national title hunt.
For one week, I won’t have to listen to sports media disparage quarterback Matt Barkley, trying to tear down his legacy and argue — with straight faces no less — that he’s not even a late first-round draft pick anymore.
For one week, I can watch Oregon State implode after ESPN’s Pac-12 blog predicted the Beavers will beat out USC to play in the Alamo Bowl. Just to let that ridiculous prediction fester for a moment, I’ll repeat: the Alamo Bowl.
For one week, I can just sit back and judge other teams, so, without further adieu, here’s my bye-week viewers’ guide for three intriguing Pac-12 matchups on Saturday:
Arizona is beating Oregon State this weekend in the 7 p.m. matchup on Pac-12 Networks; book it. And if I’m wrong, I’ll forget to revisit my outrageous prediction next Monday.
Who could have predicted before the season started that the Pac-12’s two leading quarterbacks in passing yards per game entering week five would be Arizona’s Matt Scott and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion?
I could argue Arizona played better against Oregon than the 49-0 final score indicates, as the Wildcats’ offense reached the red zone six times without producing so much as a field goal, but I’m mostly predicting the upset based on a lack of faith in Oregon State.
I’m not convinced the Beavers are an upper-echelon team. In many ways, they’re the northern UCLA, capable of the occasional upset against a No. 20-ish team, but not consistent enough to win every game it should. I expect a hiccup here for what should be an average Pac-12 team at season’s end.
Change the Channel
I’m highlighting Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. Oregon-Washington State game on ESPN 2 not because I think it will be exciting, but for the opposite reason: It’s going to be a blowout. It’s always fun watching Oregon trample teams, and I question how deep into the first quarter fans will tolerate watching the game before reaching for the remote to find something more competitive and less scripted — professional wrestling, perhaps?
Even with season-ending injuries to All-Pac-12 safety John Boyett and four-year offensive guard starter Carson York, this is the best I’ve ever seen the Ducks for one simple reason: quarterback Marcus Mariota, who I firmly believe would have unseated Darron Thomas as the starter this season even if Thomas didn’t foolishly declare early for the 2012 NFL Draft. Mariota is completing 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
As an aside, is it just me, or does Washington State coach Mike Leach’s media sessions remind anyone else of Ron Paul’s debates?
Arizona State’s 1 p.m. visit to California’s Memorial Stadium does not inspire much national intrigue, but the matchup will go a long way toward sorting out the mediocre Pac-12 teams from the basement dwellers. Whichever team loses this contest is likely in for a long season, although the urgency is greater for Cal.
Among all Pac-12 coaches, Cal coach Jeff Tedford’s seat is probably hottest, mostly because, besides Oregon State’s Mike Reilly, he is the longest-tenured coach in the conference. Recent Pac-12 hires are given some latitude while they replenish their rosters with their own recruits who suit their systems.
Tedford has no such leeway, and, despite his success in revitalizing a Cal program that had not experienced a winning season in eight years when he took over in late 2001, fans want more. With a loss, the winningest coach in program history likely heads to the chopping block sooner than later. And bowl eligibility is in question for the Golden Bears as they sit at 1-3.
Admittedly, none of these matchups parallel the grandeur and excitement of Trojan football, but each game does offer noteworthy subplots. We can’t make many substantive conclusions from developments this weekend, but we should still pay attention. Each week brings us closer to crystallizing the 2012 Pac-12 picture.
Either way, enjoy your break, Trojan faithful. The Utes are less than a week away.
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