As we all know, much of the preseason Pac-12 chatter focused on three programs: Oregon, Stanford and UCLA (and, to a certain extent, USC, mainly for its high-profile, off-the-field drama).
Well, we’re not even halfway through October and all of those teams have at least one loss. At this point, the cream of the Pac-12 crop is No. 10 Arizona (5-0, 2-0), which entered the season unranked. In fact, after a 31-24 win over Oregon in Eugene last Thursday night, the Wildcats are emerging as a legitimate playoff threat.
Wow, who would’ve thunk it?
“You’e right. Nobody’s talking about them because they probably shouldn’t,” Pac-12 Network analyst Glenn Parker said on The MoJo Show. “They weren’t ranked high coming in, and they didn’t have great wins last year. Yeah, they’ve gotten better every year, but here’s the thing: They should have been talking about them going to Oregon. Last year, Oregon came down to Arizona and got beat down badly by the Wildcats. So anybody outside the conference that didn’t give Arizona a chance – even the oddsmakers at 23 points, I think, (was) the final spread – they were crazy. Arizona has shown that they match up very well with Oregon and that they know what they’re doing. And so, it wasn’t a surprise to a lot of folks.”
Indeed, Arizona beat Oregon 42-16 last season. This year’s game was much more competitive – playing in Autzen Stadium will do that to you – but the Wildcats were clearly the better, more physical team, rushing for 208 yards.
Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson had the vast majority of that, combining for 40 carries for 207 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
“They’re a physical bunch and they run that style of offense,” Parker said. “They’ve got an experienced offensive line. I’m not sure if it’s great yet, but they’ve got some good players on it. That’s the difference in the game. Considering that Oregon, (even with) all the talent they have – and they have amazing talent; I’ve covered them many, many times – they have had I don’t know how many combinations of players start on the offensive line this year. If you know football, offensive line is about continuity. It’s five guys. It’s half your offense and they have been banged up – and really, truly that was the difference. Arizona has a confident, mature and experienced offensive line and Oregon didn’t – and that was the difference in that game.”
Last Thursday’s upset foreshadowed what was to come the rest of the weekend, as numerous teams – including Alabama and Oklahoma – fell from the ranks of the unbeaten. It seems that every week is going to be an adventure going forward.
“Absolutely,” Parker said. “Here’s the thing: Chaos is fun. Chaos is fun in college football.”
Arizona hosts UCS (3-2, 2-1) this Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET. The Wildcats are the only unbeaten team remaining in the Pac-12. Is it possible that this conference – which many said in the preseason was on par with the SEC – could not get a team into the playoff?
Maybe, but Parker still likes its chances, especially given the strength of the conference from top to bottom.
“There wasn’t a lot of competition in (the SEC) a few years ago,” Parker said, making the comparison. “People like to say there (was), but when you’re playing seven teams and five of them aren’t very good, that’s not a lot of competition. Now we’re seeing (teams like) Mississippi and Mississippi State come up who weren’t very good before. We’re seeing an Auburn team that could be horrible one year and turn around and win it all the next. What we’re seeing is across the board everybody has figured it out: The better your conference, the more likely you are to lose. That’s why we’re taking about teams possibly having a loss and still getting a chance to be in the playoffs.”