Well, here we go again.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have expected some sort of clarity this year in the Pac-12. The preseason storylines told us as much, yet we didn’t listen. It would be Oregon and USC and that’s the way it would be, thank you very much.
But…Oregon was loaded again with Vernon Adams transferring in. Stanford was finally going to return to its brutish ways and sprinkle in a little extra wattage with Christian McCaffrey playing ostensibly every position on the field. UCLA could be a contender with freshman phenom Josh Rosen under center.
That other team down the road, USC, had a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Cody Kessler and full scholarships again. Utah was a bit of an enigma, mostly written off as a dark horse with upset potential but little more.
Down south, Arizona State was the popular preseason pick with Mike Bercovici and a wealth of other offensive weapons returning. It’s in-state rival, Arizona, had Anu Solomon back for his sophomore season after a spectacular debut in Tucson. And let’s not forget about Cal, who is led by Jared Goff, currently projected as the top quarterback to go in next year’s NFL draft.
In retrospect, order, or any form of levity, should not have been expected. Not even a hint of it. #Pac12AfterDark is already a thing again. The only two teams without a loss are Utah and Cal, though Cal’s schedule has consisted of little more than glorified JV teams.
Last week, when Utah destroyed Oregon, in Eugene, and UCLA embarrassed Arizona, in Tucson, and USC pasted Arizona State, in Tempe, was essentially what would happen if you stuck the Pac-12 in a microwave and just sort of waited and watched.
But here’s the thing: The Pac-12 is perpetually in a microwave, spinning and sparking and catching on fire and basically burning the conference to the ground every single week. Week 5 was no exception to this.
Arizona State, a week after being thoroughly dismantled by USC, at home, held on to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Stanford put up 55— 55! —on Arizona en route to a 38-point win over the Wildcats. Washington State looked competitive for a change, giving Cal a run for all 60 minutes, though the Cougars eventually fell, 34-28. Even Colorado kept it close for a while against Oregon, which is a tally in the moral win column for the Buffs.
Now all roads to the Pac-12 title lead through Utah. Or is it Berkeley? The Bears haven’t looked particularly convincing, but they’re 5-0, which is more than all but one other team in the conference can say.
The Utes, though, have been the agent of chaos nobody really saw coming. UCLA, with an unknown in a true freshman at quarterback, was the hot pick for that role. But Utah handed Oregon its worst home loss since the ‘70s. The Utes struggled a bit against Michigan in the season opener, but that win looks stronger and stronger every week. They handled Fresno State with no issue and then obliterated Oregon. Utah has improved with each passing week, while the rest of the conference nosedives and climbs again.
Next week is supposed to be calm. In all but one game — Cal vs. Utah —there will be a heavy favorite and a vastly outmanned underdog. Which means it will probably be the most chaotic of the year.
After all, this is the Pac-12 we’re talking about.