This is the one. This is where the Pac-12 could do what the Pac-12 does best — this is the weekend where things could get really, really weird.
Never mind that Colorado — Colorado! — is ranked while Oregon has plummeted back to a not-so-neon-green mortality, everybody’s favorite college football event — #Pac12AfterDark — could feature a rather seismic upset: Washington State over Stanford.
Two weeks ago, this would have seemed, while not quite impossible, something certainly close to it. Stanford had allowed 36 points the entire season, to three fair-to-decent teams, no less. Washington State had allowed 42 in a loss to an FCS team and 31 in another loss to Boise State.
The Cougs were the disappointment of the conference; the Cardinal remained the model of consistency.
And then came week four, and everything we thought we knew was scrambled, rearranged and flipped upside down. Washington delivered a massive blow to Stanford’s playoffs hopes in the form of a 44-6 blowout that was equal parts vindicating for the Huskies and revealing for the Cardinal. Because while Stanford was indeed 3-0 prior to the loss, it hadn’t yet scored more than 30 points. What would happen when the defense didn’t hold up?
A 44-6 rout happened.
“I was in a bit of shock,” Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “I had to watch film on the flight, just to see what went wrong. Because I was unsure as to how things happened… It was a lot like a dam breaking loose. You want to plug one hole and try to make an adjustment there, but then water came out of another one, and then another, and then another.”
Stanford was exposed. It allowed eight sacks while being dominated on the other side of the ball by a pair of true sophomores named Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin, who combined for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns. It was the worst defeat since Jim Harbaugh donned the headset.
On the other hand, there is Wazzu, careening into this matchup with more momentum than it could have hoped for.
The Cougars ran up 51 points on Oregon in an 18-point win, but it is the source of those points that was most surprising. Washington State, long known as a pass-happy, air-it-out program, turned to the ground. Using a three-back approach, the Cougars ran for 280 yards and six touchdowns, marking their second straight 200-yard rushing performance.
“If you do everything you can to stop the passing game — and it’s hard not to fall into that trap — they’ll hurt you with the run,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “If you want to play two high safeties and a very vanilla off-coverage, they can gash you with the run. They’ve got good running backs. You have to defend both the run and the pass. That makes it very difficult, especially when they can be very good and very explosive in both.”
Washington State may not boast quite as potent an offense as its in-state brethren, but it’s close. Quarterback Luke Falk is as big a threat as any quarterback in the conference, particularly with Gabe Marks catching passes. And with the newfound discovery of a three-back approach that has proven more than effective these past two weeks, Stanford, which was gashed for 214 yards and three touchdowns on the ground a week ago, appears quite vulnerable.
Is the upset likely? According to Vegas, which has Stanford favored by as many as 12.5 points, no.
But this is #Pac12AfterDark. This is where the Pac-12 gets weird.