By REED NELSON
Uh oh. USC lost, and it wasn’t to Oregon. The Pac-12’s gravitational pull is about to be reversed, up will be down, cat’s will mate with dogs, children will request broccoli and I will be employed. People will read again, the Democrats and Republicans are planning an afternoon visit to Six Flags and maybe, just maybe, the Gallagher brothers will decide to settle their differences and Oasis will re-congregate and take their place as the apparent heir to transcendent British Pop-Rock fame.
Only none of that happened. All we got was a sad Matt Barkley and a confused, defiant Lane Kiffin. Even the Stanford fans didn’t miss classes the next day, even though Erin Andrews said they would.
I don’t care if they didn’t miss class because “tomorrow” happened to be, in fact, a Sunday. I was still searching for a sign. Seeing as we’ve made it to the humpday, however, and there have yet to be (as far as I know) any aeronautical pig sightings, no live-action recreations of CatDog and no jobs — check off another box on the “Reasons to Hate USC Checklist.”
All that has happened as a result seems grounded and justified, at least to me. USC has dropped from #2 to #13 in the polls, Stanford has leapfrogged them, climbing from #21 to #9 and Oregon gained a grain of salt’s worth of ground on Alabama and LSU, moving from #4 to #3.
But for the first time this season, the Pac-12 looked good. Like really, really good. Pac-12 teams went 6-3 against non-conference opponents, and of those three losses, only Colorado (The NCAA’s equivalent of Sideshow Bob) and Oregon (-50) failed to cover. Against the spread, their record shifted to 6-2-1.
Arizona State covered on the road against an SEC team, Cal, after 14 days of futility, almost pulled off the upset of the weekend against a heavily favored Ohio State team, and if Rob Beard had managed to make his lone field goal attempt of the game (he’s 0-2 on the season, a stat that bodes well for the start of conference play. Or not.), Oregon would have covered the gaudy 50-point spread as well.
This week, I managed to ride the wave of good fortune to the tune of a 6-3-1 bounceback performance against the spread, bringing my season record to 11-10-11.
Here’s how it happened (wins highlighted in bold):
Washington State 35, UNLV 27 — Don’t look now, but Mike Leach has gotten the Cougars off to a 2-1 start. They even won their second game without starting QB (CROSSTHRU) backup Jeff Tuel playing a down. It turns out that Connor Halliday can wing it. The 6’4 sophomore threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns on 26 of 45 passing. He now has 13 career TD passes in his first six appearances for Washington State. The kid appears to be good and it looks like he has an arm, which is good for Leach, bad for Tuel. What’s bad for Leach, however, is that he is now 0-2-1 against the spread. This might seem to be a superficial record, but while a point-spread is just an arbitrary value assigned in the hopes of evening the playing field in gambling circles, it also can be a good bookmark on a team’s dominance, progress and ability to finish out games. Alabama, for instance, were envisioned by the Gods of Caesar’s Palace, forged in the sports book at the MGM and tested, like Spartans, by wild creatures in the dingy caves of the Golden Nugget. Put simply, they cover. They beat an opponent, then crush its soul, cartel style. Their actions let us know that Alabama is not only better than an opponent like Arkansas, but better than a handicapped Arkansas team. They are the scratch golfers, they spot strokes and they make up for it. When it comes close, they play like ‘Bama. In no way am I comparing WSU to Alabama. Mike Leach might win a hot dog eating contest over Nick Saban, or an Athlete Abuse Showdown (Too soon?), but that’s about it. The comparison comes from WSU’s inability to assert themselves against awful competition. They beat Eastern Washington by just four. They then failed to cover against UNLV, a team that got trounced by WSU 63-10 last year. Aside from Colorado, Washington State looks like the Pac-12 team that has zero competitive foothold moving forward. My pick: UNLV (+8). Wash.
#4 Oregon 63, Tennessee Tech 14 — Oregon remains perfect on the season, and a perfectly awful 0-3 against the spread. A missed field goal prevented Oregon from covering the 50 points, but still… Tennessee Tech? Show the shillers some love, Chip! My pick: Oregon (-50). 49 ain’t 50.
#12 Ohio State 35, Cal 28 — In the first two weeks of the season, Cal looked, to be kind, awful. Zach Maynard looked like he was absorbing absolutely none of supposed “Quartback Guru” Jeff Tedford’s tutelage. Keenan Allen went from being Heisman dark horse to an interesting side note during the telecast:
“… and a pass from Maynard sails wide of Keenan Allen.”
“Hey John, did you know that Maynard and Allen are half-brothers?”
“Sure are, played together their whole lives.”
“Well isn’t that something… Andddd that brings up third-and-sixteen for the Bears from their own eight.”
But this week something clicked. Maynard threw for 280 yards and a touchdown, completing 70 percent of his passes, Allen caught nine of those passes for 87 yards and Cal was tied with Ohio State with less than four minutes to play. Maybe they aren’t quite THERE yet. And no doubt USC is going to direct some Bay Area related rage toward the poor Bears this weekend, but a seven point loss to Ohio State in Columbus? There’s no shame in that. My pick: Cal (-16.5).
Washington 52, Portland State 13 — Washington needed to come out and lay the smackdown upon a poor, overmatched foe after last week’s debacle in Baton Rouge, and luckily for them Portland State was offered up as the sacrificial lamb. Keith Price led the Huskies to 45 first half points (31 in the second quarter) and a second half nap. My pick: Washington (-27).
Missouri 24, Arizona State 20 — The Sun Devils made the game interesting courtesy of 13 unanswered fourth quarter points, but it wasn’t enough to topple the James Franklin-less Tigers. A kid called Corbin Berkstresser filled in for the QB, and while his passing numbers were abysmal (21-41, 4.8 ypc) he ran the ball well (or sort of well) and (this is key) managed to not throw costly interceptions on back-to-back possessions like ASU’s Taylor Kelly. Missouri’s 17-point third quarter lead was too much for ASU, but with the fourth quarter surge, they managed to cover the 5.5 point spread. My pick: Missouri (-5.5). Never lay off the gas, Mizzou…
#21 Stanford 21, #2 USC 14 — It wasn’t the tactical offensive explosion we all expected (just the opposite in fact) and, for fear of giving this game too much time and consideration, one that somehow hinged on Matt Barkley’s egregious errors and USC’s porous offensive line rather than Matt Barkley’s steady play and the acrobatics of the receiving corps. Josh Nunes wasn’t perfect, but he managed to throw one more TD than Barkley, which is all the Cardinal needed. My Pick: USC (-9).
Fresno State 69, Colorado 14 — This is getting sad. Making fun of the Buffs again would just be rude. Like backing your car over the pedestrian you just hit rude. Colorado, we feel for you. But I’m still not picking you until you actually win a game. My pick: Fresno State (-8.5). Somebody grossly underestimated the stench coming from Colorado’s locker room.
Utah 24, #25 BYU 21 — In a game that I will address more tomorrow, know that I’m embarrassed of the fans. Proud of the team: the defense played great, Jon Hays is slowly gaining my confidence and trust, and Utah knocked off the Team Down South without their best offensive player, RB John White IV. But the fans somehow became the story in what was an otherwise-brilliant Saturday night performance by the Utes. How did the fans become the story? I’ll set the stage: Utah sacks BYU QB Riley Nelson for the second time in three plays, bringing up 4th and 19, :40 to play. On said 4th-and-bajillion, Utah cornerback Mo Lee inexplicably bites on a bluffed skinny post and Nelson hits WR Cody Hoffman for 47 yards down the sideline. Any self-respecting (thus pessimistic) Utah fan immediately flashed back to 2007, when Max Hall (jerk) hit Austin Collie (jerk) on a 4th-and-18, ultimately leading to a 7-point BYU win, clinched by a TD with 7 seconds to play. So, understandably, I was nervous, even on 4th-and-19. I was like a child who just got denied access to Disneyland after the Hoffman catch. Unlike ’07, however, BYU had just seconds on the clock and would be kicking from the 32. The 32. That’s a 57-yard field goal for those playing the home game. But BYU has nine seconds left. Nelson dropped back, and gets hit! The ball hangs up in the air for the same amount of time it would take one to view the entire Godfather Trilogy (or about 4 seconds, but who’s counting), and hits the turf as time kind-of expires. Only it doesn’t. The fans rush the field, as Riley Nelson cockily wags a Mutumbo Finger. One play left. It’s BYU. There’s one play left. But the fans are on the field, so it takes a moment to usher them all onto the accommodating (but not Student Section In Its Entirety accommodating) sideline. BYU lines it up and… It’s blocked! Not awful ’07 but amazing ’09! Only Mo Lee, in his second inexplicable action in less than :40 of game clock (and about half-an-hour of heart-wrenching real time) decides not. To pick up. The ball? And the fans rush the field. Again. For the second f@$#% time. A flag. The universal yellow sign for “Go F$%@ yourself.” And the ref meanders out. 15-yard penalty on the fans. I’m serious. Live ball foul. 15-yards, retry the field goal. BYU lines it up, it looks good… And it clanks wide left. It clanks to the roar of fans rushing the field for the third time. The fans robbed me of some exultation, and for that I’m angry. But in the Holy War, BYU had every opportunity to steal the victory from clutches of Utah’s unholy little fingers (a label I wear proudly), and somehow, some way, they didn’t. If it wasn’t against BYU I’d cry divine intervention, but as Austin Collie so eloquently put it in ’07, “”Obviously, when you’re doing what’s right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it. Magic happens.” What happened, BYU???? I’m sorry I couldn’t resist. My pick: Utah (+2).
#24 Arizona 56, South Carolina State 0 — Arizona has scored 50 points in consecutive weeks for the first time since 1924, four years prior to the sale of sliced bread. Seriously. Chew on that one. Even if South Carolina State is South Carolina State, their first 50 point outing came against a ranked Big 12 opponent, Oklahoma State. Find me a year when Arizona didn’t play a patsy like SCSU and I’ll find you a somewhere that isn’t hot and miserable in Tuscon. They play a bad team every year, this year they just treated them as such. My pick: Arizona (-33).
#22 UCLA 37, Houston 6 — UCLA looks like real players in the Pac-12 South. Because USC lost, they now control their own conference destiny via there November matchup against the Trojans. Win out and they’re in. More good news for UCLA: They don’t play Oregon. That UCLA-USC game could be a doozy. Oh yeah, UCLA won and Brett Hundley is really good. Poor Rick Neuheisel. He finally recruits the prodigal QB and gets booted months afterward. Oh well. Mora Jr. is fast proving that he’s more than just firing off pot shots at USC. My pick: UCLA (-10).
- I rarely bet week one. It’s nerve racking. Like an iceberg-just-pierced-the-side-of-your-iron-bodied-ocean-vessell kind of nerve racking. So I just enjoy week one, kick it off in week two. Disregarding the spread, I’m 26-7 this year, but in the first three weeks of the season, that’s like saying you’re shooting pennies into a wishing well at a 79 percent clip. Jump