Pac Tracks: Opening weekend goes to the Dawgs

I was holding out hope for the conference right up to first kickoff, last Thursday night, when Weber State suddenly opened a 10-0 lead over Utah in Salt Lake City.

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What?

Losing Utah early, at Pac 12 campaign headquarters, would be like Orrin Hatch losing Ogden to a hippie.

This couldn't be happening. Utah was the only Pac team to win a bowl game last year.

Utah rallied to win, 41-10, but it struck me as an omen for coming weekend attractions.

And it all unfolded, as I thought it might, like a cheap lawn chair.

The most critical opening weekend in recent Pac 12 history left Larry’s League in semi-critical condition.

The Pac may have been eliminated from both the College Football Playoff, and the Heisman race, before Labor Day.

Washington, the team’s brightest hope according to Phil Steele, Lindy’s and Cindy at the Starbucks near the Space Needle, played well but lost to Auburn, 21-16, in Atlanta.

It WAS a moral victory and a hard-fought loss, but it was a defeat.

Washington blew a huge chance to raise Pac hopes because the Huskies outplayed Auburn in the second half but couldn’t close this ATL real estate transaction.

They turned three deep Red Zone trips into a missed field goal, a fumble and a clanked three-pointer off the right upright.

“It comes down to details when you’re playing evenly matched teams,” Washington Coach Chris Petersen said after the game.

Washington played well enough to earn back slaps from the SEC crowd but the Huskies will now have to (probably) be perfect the rest of the way to earn playoff consideration.

More of what I think of four-year starter Jake Browning:[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

The Huskies’ quarterback, once again, played just well enough to lose a must-win situation. Washington has now lost its last three marquee game against: Alabama, Penn State and Auburn.

I think Browning is a fine, fine collegiate quarterback, but still wonder if he lacks the next-level talent to push his team to the very top. Think about this: of the four-year starting quarterbacks Chris Petersen has coached, Kellen Moore at Boise and Browning at Washington, which one would you want to lead a final drive for the national title?

It is an interesting question: Moore lacked some attributes like NFL size and arm strength, but he was killer in the clutch. Remember that game-winning drive to beat Virginia Tech?

So, after one weekend, the SEC is 13-1 and the Pac 12 is in a pothole.

As for the Heisman race, the Pac’s top two contenders came up with bagels.

Bryce Love was held to 29 yards on 18 carries in Stanford’s win over San Diego State, while Arizona’s Khalil Tate was held in check by first-year coach Kevin Sumlin, who has apparently decided to turn the best running quarterback in college football into a pocket passer.

That move resulted in a stunning rebuke-defeat at home to Brigham Young, a team that finished 4-9 last year.

Can you believe some very smart national writers (not me) picked Arizona to win the Pac 12 South this year?

“We’ve got to learn from this,” Sumlin said, “All is not lost.”

The Pac introduced five new coaches this year…three of them lost their opener.

Pac Tracks

All is not lost: Stanford, despite getting nothing out of Love, was overall impressive in a 31-10 win over San Diego State. Coach David Shaw, finally realizing Friday was not going to be Love’s night, unleashed the rest of the offense on the Aztecs. Quarterback K.J. Costello found receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside for three long scoring passes on a night that could have previewed a hyphenated Heisman campaign. Arcega-Whiteside had a monster night with six catches for 226 yards…Colorado also looked much improved in an easy win over Colorado State. Buffs quarterback Steven Montez (338 yards, four touchdowns) could be this year’s sleeper MVP…And how about Cal beating North Carolina for a second straight year?...You heard it here first, or second: Oregon will win nine or 10 games if it can keep quarterback Justin Herbert in one piece. That’s because Herbert is a rising star and the Ducks’ stinky schedule has four wins penciled in: Bowling Green (check), Portland State, San Jose State, Oregon State…JT Daniels, the super frosh from USC, also gives Trojan fans hope for a smooth transition from Sam Darnold. And kudos to first-year Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards, who won his debut (49-7) over UTSA. “We wanted to prove that Herm is a good coach,” defensive back Chase Lucas said. The Sun Devils can really prove it this week as visiting Michigan State comes to town.

Chase McGrath

Here's the kicker: Congratulations to USC sophomore Chase McGrath, who tied a school record with five field goals last Saturday against UNLV.

McGrath, a former walk-on who was named TMG Newsmaker of the week last year after his double OT performance against Texas, is so entrenched now he has been awarded a full scholarship!

I was more impressed with McGrath sticking around for my entire lecture Wednesday night as I visited USC’s Annenberg school of journalism.

McGrath approached me after class and we talked about 15 minutes about being a kicker. One interesting thing McGrath said was that he embraces pressure and even social media when things go bad. Last year he said he got ripped by some anonymous drone after missing a field goal in the Cotton Bowl. McGrath responded by “liking” the comment. Very counter-intuitive, I thought. Kickers are different.

McGrath also challenged me not having USC in my preseason top 16 and also told me JT Daniels is going to be GREAT. The two were prep teammates at Santa Ana Mater Dei.

Final thought: UCLA Coach Chip Kelly on this week's game at Oklahoma: "If you can't get excited about going to play Oklahoma at Oklahoma, then you are in the wrong spot. That's why you came here. We knew coming in that you'd play a very difficult schedule. It is what it is."[/membership]

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