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Pac-12 plot twist: Washington State jolts Stanford, changes the North

Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire

The Pac-12 has delivered what it always promises to: the late night, landscape-altering upset while the rest of the country is fast asleep, under the impression that Navy over Houston was the wildest thing that happened that day.

That was so “4:15 Pacific time on Saturday,” light years ago as far as the Pac-12 is concerned.

There was certainly a case to be made that the Washington State Cougars would upend Stanford in Palo Alto, but history leaned against the visiting team. Stanford was reeling from a shellacking at the hands of Washington just a week prior, and if you believe in the intangible factors in football such as an elite team seeking vengeance or refusing to lose two in a row, then Stanford was your team.

However, if you were paying attention — really paying attention — you may have noticed the signs. Washington had exposed the Cardinal on September 30, proving that opponents can beat Stanford with a blend of effective running and passing. The Cougars, coincidentally, had been playing their best and most balanced offensive football of the Mike Leach era.

College football’s bewitching hour, #Pac12AfterDark, told us that if ever there was a time for a Pac-12-style upset, it was at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time on The Farm.

The Cougars delivered, pounding Stanford as convincingly an unranked team could do to the preseason conference favorite. The 42-16 beatdown reverberated through the Pac-12, pointing the compass in a different direction in the North Division.

“We’re kind of starting to emerge as a team,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said afterwards. “I thought we played real hard. I thought we played together. We went out there and took the challenge.”

Indeed they did. Quarterback Luke Falk threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns, improving upon Jake Browning’s performance just over a week ago against Stanford. Browning tossed three touchdowns and accumulated 210 passing yards against the Cardinal. The Washington-Wazzu combo from Browning and Falk represents a shocker. It’s jarring to see one of the Pac-12’s most consistent defensive powers get embarrassed twice in a row. It was, in fact, the first time under David Shaw that Stanford has lost in two consecutive weeks — the Cardinal has lost consecutively on prior occasions, but never in a span of just two weeks. (Stanford lost on November 1 and 15 in 2014.)

You can bend the numbers however you’d like. It was Stanford’s worst home loss since 2007, and this marks the first time since Andrew Luck was quarterback that the Cardinal have failed to eclipse 300 yards in back-to-back weeks.

In short: The book on Stanford in 2016 has been written.

It was clear, heading into the season, what Stanford’s focus would be: Hand the ball to Christian McCaffrey, the Heisman runner-up who could seemingly do anything the coaches would dare ask of him. What many failed to consider was: Who else is there?

The increasingly evident answer? Nobody.

Stanford has yet to score more than 30 points in a game this season. Even the 22 it managed in a thrilling win over UCLA were inflated, boosted by a meaningless (except for anyone who cares about Las Vegas lines) defensive touchdown with zero seconds remaining.

With no outbursts from McCaffrey, there is essentially no Stanford offense. Making matters worse, the running back exited the game in the second half and didn’t return.

As for Wazzu? This seems to be par for the course.

The Cougars may have lost to FCS Eastern Washington to open the year, but they are as capable of an upset as any. WSU lost to an FCS team in 2015 and became a very tough out in the Pac-12.

They are capable of turning the Pac-12 into, well, the Pac-12, after dark edition.

They have remade the North Division, rising to the top tier with their rivals at the University of Washington.

Stanford and Oregon ruling the roost in the Pac-12 North? Not after Saturday night, and a signature upset by a Pirate who cut down the Trees.

Mike Leach is made for the Pac-12. If he continues to get the best out of Washington State, he could win a first division title in the league.

Pac-12 plot twist: Washington State jolts Stanford, changes the North

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