We are witnessing a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North.
Since the Pac-10 expanded to 12 teams six years ago, Stanford or Oregon has won every North Division title, as well as every Pac-12 Conference Championship Game.
Barring a major meltdown in the second half of the season, that’s not going to happen this year. In the past two weeks the traditional heavyweights have both been KOed by Washington and Washington State. Washington, looking more and more like a playoff team, has dispatched Stanford 44-6 and Oregon 70-21, while surging WSU has trounced the Ducks 51-33 and the Cardinal 42-16. The combined scores for Stanford: 22-86; for Oregon: 54-121.
The numbers are ugly enough, but their implications are even more ominous for the folks in Eugene and Palo Alto. Suddenly, the Ducks are 2-4 overall, 0-3 in league play, with one of their wins over hapless UC Davis. They’ve lost four in a row, with Cal, Arizona State, USC, Stanford and Utah still to come. Getting the six wins needed for bowl eligibility seems unlikely.
Stanford, the preseason pick to win the conference—and just two weeks ago projected as a playoff team—has struggled in part because of injuries. The Cardinal offense has gone AWOL, scoring only two touchdowns the past two weeks, and one of those was in garbage time. To make matters worse, Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey left Saturday night’s game with an undisclosed injury. The Stanford defense has been very un-Cardinal like, with a depleted secondary and a surprisingly vulnerable front. With Notre Dame, fast-improving Colorado, Oregon and Cal coming up, David Shaw and his staff must quickly find answers on both sides of the ball.
Washington, meanwhile, is clicking on all cylinders under coach Chris Petersen, and WSU has rebounded from early season losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State (Petersen’s former lair) to reel off three straight. Imagine…the Apple Cup will probably decide the North Division championship!
Uniform Madness: Speaking of Oregon, could've sworn I was watching Cal play Washington in Eugene on Saturday But no, that was Oregon wearing—get this—navy blue and gold uniforms. According to the University of Oregon and the Webfoot Athletic Department, its school colors are green and yellow. No mention of blue. I guess Oregon's apparel deal with Nike means anything goes, because in recent years the Ducks have trotted out gray, black and lavender uniforms. This may sound very old school, but shouldn’t teams have to wear their school colors?
Cal stumbles—Speaking of blue and gold, one week after upsetting previously unbeaten Utah with a heroic goal line stand in the final seconds, Cal was shocked by Oregon State, 47-44, in overtime up in Corvallis. The culprit was a matador defense that allowed the Beavers to rush for 474 yards and an average of 9.5 yards per carry. The Bears missed a golden opportunity to move into contention in the North and allowed Oregon State to earn its first conference win since November of 2014.
Navy Submarines Houston: Going into last weekend most experts had unbeaten Houston slated for a spot in the College Football Playoffs or, at worst, one of the "New Years Six" bowl games. Not so fast. Navy shocked the Cougars 46-40, taking advantage of three interceptions thrown by QB Greg Ward, Jr. The loss effectively ended Houston’s playoff hopes and Ward’s Heisman hopes.
We were privileged to host Navy in the 2004 Emerald Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2012. They’re great people. Kenny Niumatalolo is a terrific coach. And, as Houston found out, Navy runs a triple option offense that’s very difficult to prepare for in one week.
Matthew’s Impact: One of the key players on Saturday was Hurricane Matthew. Both the Virginia Tech-North Carolina and Notre Dame-North Carolina State games were played in driving rain with gale force winds, resulting in a cavalcade of fumbles, drops, blocked kicks, and water slides. No 25 Va. Tech beat No. 17 North Carolina 34-3 despite seven fumbles. There were 10 fumbles in the Notre Dame-North Carolina State game, with the Wolfpack winning 10-3 on a blocked punt return.
Heisman watch: Last week we noted that Washington’s Jake Browning could get into the Heisman conversation if he continued to play at a high level. Well, all Browning did against Oregon was produce a school-record eight touchdowns (six passing, two rushing).
He’s definitely in the mix now along with three other quarterbacks—Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, still the favorite at this point, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Nary a running back in sight, including Stanford’s McCaffrey, who deserved to win it last season.