Pac Tracks: Rankman recaps spaghetti western, "The good, the bad, and the Trojans."

An otherwise respectable Labor Day telethon weekend, for the benefit of Larry’s Kids, was undermined by two damning defeats that can, and will, be used against the conference in various courts of football law.

One game was on national television and seen by millions; the other was viewed by loggers in the Pacific Northwest--call it Tuscaloosa and Timber!

Going back to Cal’s brave win at the Battle of Sydney Harbor, the Pac 12 exits Labor Day with a 7-5 starting record.

Not great, bad. The Pac North went 4-2 and the South went 3-3.

As you know, though, some defeats are worse than others.

USC’s crushing loss to Alabama hit the Pac 12 flagship station where it counts—right below the Bible Belt.

And, while no one saw it, Washington State’s Saturday night loss to Eastern Washington will reverberate from Pullman to Keith Jackson's porch.

Stinging defeats, such as these, have a residual impact. They hurt the real contenders, Stanford, Oregon, Washington, as they try to make their cases.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Any win over USC and Washington State, from this point on, will be greeted by outsiders with a “yeah, but…”

As in “yeah, but Alabama beat USC by 46.” And “Yeah, but Wazzu lost to 1-AA Eastern Washington.”

USC could possibly claw back from the abyss so long as Alabama keeps playing like it belongs in the NFC West. The Trojans have to somehow turn things around and then draft off the Crimson Tide’s greatness.

Alabama has already become a rescue home for wayward former Trojan coaches. Lane Kiffin has reclaimed his career from the clutches of humiliation and is now turning it back on the program. After Saturday night’s win, Alabama’s offensive coordinator posted a celebration Twitter with the hashtag #3:14AM-LAX

That’s the time-and-date reminder of his 2013 firing after a 62-41 loss at Arizona State.

That’s classic Lane, a 41-year-old, 13-year-old, who lives for these kind of paybacks.

Then came Sunday word that Steve Sarkisian, fired with cause last year after his battle with the bottle, was headed to Alabama to interview for a position on Nick Saban’s staff.

What next--USC sending Traveler to the Tuscaloosa Veterinarian Clinic for hoof disease?

“That’s on me,” first-year full time USC coach Clay Helton said after the Fiasco Near Fort Worth.

Ironically, that’s nearly the identical quote Sarkisian uttered on Oct. 8 of last year, after the weeknight loss to Washington at the Coliseum dropped USC's record 4-2.

Sark reportedly went on a weekend bender and was relieved of his duties the following Monday.

Pac 12 opening ceremonies this year have been broken into three categories


Cal over Hawaii, Stanford over Kansas State, Colorado over Colorado State, Utah over Southern Utah, Washington over Rutgers, Arizona State over Northern Arizona, Oregon over UC Davis.

Comments: Cal’s drop-off after Jared Goff may not be as severe as we thought with the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. He almost threw for the travel miles from Berkeley to Sydney in Cal’s 51-31 win. The only question is why Sonny Dykes had Webb in the game to the final whistle. Colorado's Buffaloes whacked their rivals in Denver and may be proving, finally, they belong in the Pac 12.

Stanford looked sturdy in a quality win over Kansas State, Washington took care of business vs. Rutgers (covered the spread) and Utah pitched a 24-0 shutout against an inferior opponent.

Arizona State broke in a new quarterback, Manny Williams, in a 44-13 win over Northern Arizona that was closer than the score looked.

In Eugene, rent-a-Duck quarterback transfer Dakota Prukop was solid in his debut and appears will be a capable points distributor. The new defense under Brady Hoke allowed 28 points to UC Davis, but anything less than catastrophe this year will be considered progress.


Minnesota over Oregon State, Brigham Young over Arizona, Texas A&M over UCLA.

Oh, what could have been: Oregon State actually had a late lead on the road before losing, Arizona lost on BYU kicker Jake Oldroyd’s field goal with four seconds left, and UCLA lost in overtime at TAMU.

All three losses were close and away from home (Arizona-BYU was neutral-site in Glendale), so there are positives in that.


USC totaled only 194 yards against Alabama, averaging a measly 3.5 yards per completion and 2.1 yards per rush. First-year starter Max Browne was deer-in-headlights. We’ll find out Saturday against Utah State how much of that was Alabama and how much of it was reality.

And if Saban and Texas aren't afraid to throw true freshmen quarterbacks into the fray, what might Helton have to lose in playing Sam Darnold?

Finally, we’ll never figure out Washington State's Mike Leach. He’s always the most prepared Pac 12 coach on Media Day, filling our notebooks with quirky quotes and eccentric brain droppings.

Wazzu the team, though, can't get out of the starting blocks. Leach is now 0-5 in openers at Wazzu, in descending order: Eastern Washington, Portland State, Rutgers, Auburn and BYU.

His opening act is definitely getting old.[/membership]