PHOENIX — The Pac-12 season got off to a rousing start with Stanford outlasting Southern California in a game that had streamers and fans flowing onto the field at Stanford Stadium.
The conference gets into full swing this week with five games, the marquee-grabber a game that has the potential to top the Stanford-USC opener.
Two of the fastest teams in the country meet Saturday night in Eugene when No. 3 Oregon plays No. 22 Arizona in a game that could feature 200 plays, scoring in bunches and plenty to miss if you step away to get some popcorn.
“They’ve got a lot of fast guys playing fast,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said Tuesday. “I think we’re very similar philosophically. You see some of the same plays and looks, like some of the same concepts on certain things offensively. We’re very similar in the way we like to push the game.”
Headlined by that game, it should be an interesting week in the Pac-12, even with No. 9 Stanford and Washington getting byes before playing on Sept. 27.
The Rose Bowl will host two of the Pac-12’s more surprising teams, Oregon State and No. 19 UCLA.
The Bruins (3-0) have been an offensive juggernaut under new coach Jim Mora, ranking second in the nation with 622 yards per game. UCLA opened with an expected lopsided win over Rice, followed by a somewhat unexpected win over No. 17 Nebraska and kept it rolling by trouncing Houston last weekend.
The Beavers (1-0) have had a strange season so far.
Their opener against Nicholls State was postponed because of a hurricane, giving them an unexpected week off. They used it to prepare for one of the biggest non-conference victories in school history, 10-7 over No. 13 Wisconsin. Then came another week off for their bye, meaning Oregon State has played one game while many teams already have three.
“We’re way behind all in the number of games in college football with the postponement in the first game and the bye week in the third week, so it’ll be nice to get into the rhythm of a season,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said.
Two teams struggling to find an identity will meet in the Pacific Northwest.
Colorado (0-3) has labored in its second season under coach Jon Embree, opening with three losses that seemed to get more disheartening each week.
The Buffaloes started the season with a loss to rival Colorado State, lost to Sacramento State of the Football Championship Subdivision the second week and were blown off the field against Fresno State last week,
allowing over 500 yards just in the first half of a 69-14 loss.
Washington State (2-1) has a better record, but hasn’t exactly clicked under new coach Mike Leach, opening with a lopsided loss to BYU followed by just-get-by wins over FCS Eastern Washington and UNLV.
“I think we’re similar teams from the standpoint of we don’t quite have a tent over our circus right now,” Leach said.
A battle of strengths will take place in the desert: Arizona State’s rapid-fire offense against Utah’s rugged defense.
The Sun Devils (2-1) opened with two easy victories over FCS Northern Arizona and Illinois before numerous mistakes, including four turnovers and a disastrous day on special teams, led to a 24-20 loss to Missouri.
Utah (2-1) had a rough stretch after rolling over Northern Colorado in its opener, losing to smaller rival Utah State and losing quarterback Jordan Wynn, who retired after suffering a fourth shoulder injury.
The Utes bounced back last week, hanging on for a 24-21 win over rival Brigham Young in a wild game that featured two missed field goals by the Cougars with 1 second left and Utah’s fans storming and re-storming the field before it finally ended.
“A game like that, a rivalry game, against BYU, definitely carries momentum and we’ve got to take that with us down to Arizona,” said Utah quarterback Jon Hays, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in place of Wynn. “The team’s definitely riding on a high right now after that type of win.”
While No. 9 Stanford gets a week off after its win over USC before facing Washington, the 13th-ranked Trojans will look to bounce back against California (1-2).
One of the preseason favorites to win the national championship, USC (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) was manhandled by Stanford’s defense and running game in the 21-14 loss, its fourth straight to the Cardinal.
Always under the microscope, the Trojans dropped nine spots to 13th in The Associated Press poll and have already been written off by some in the national-title chase even though it’s just three games into the season.
“We understand that’s what comes with being at SC,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. “You could feel that coming the first two weeks with all the articles and interviews that you’re not playing well because you not winning by 40 or whatever points. We knew if we didn’t win, this was going to be the reaction. That’s fine. I have no problem with that.”
Arizona-Oregon will be all about reaction times.
Rodriguez is one of the innovators in the no-huddle trend that’s sweeping across college football and Oregon coach Chip Kelly has nearly perfected it with his athletic flock of Ducks.
Their offenses aren’t quite mirror images, but close enough to set up a fast-paced, who-can-do-it-better showdown that should keep the scoreboard operators busy at Autzen Stadium.
“It’s maybe a clouded mirror in a sense that there’s some things that they do that we’ve done in the past and we have in our package, and there’s probably some things that we do that they have in their package and maybe don’t do as much,” Rodriguez said.
Whatever they do, it’s sure to be entertaining, not to mention moving fast.