Pac-10 is get­ting big­ger, bet­ter

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - CHRIS DUFRESNE

The Pa­cific 10 Con­fer­ence doesn’t of­fi­cially change its logo to “12” un­til next sea­son, when Utah and Colorado be­come mem­bers, but we can’t wait. How about that Pac-12? For­get the bot­tom feed­ers, Washington State and Colorado — ev­ery con­fer­ence has a cou­ple of those.

The mighty South­east­ern, for ex­am­ple, cur­rently tol­er­ates Van­der­bilt and Ge­or­gia.

If you count Utah, which we have al­ready wel­comed in with a gift bag, the Pac has five schools ranked in the top 18 of Sun­day’s As­so­ci­ated Press poll.

And the No. 18 is USC, rec­og­nized for years be­low Ma­son-Dixon as the only

se­ri­ous Pac-10 player.

Ore­gon is No. 4 this week, the high­est the Ducks have flown this early in the sea­son, while Stan­ford is sud­denly in the top 10, on cloud No. 9.

You can ques­tion why any team win­ning at Notre Dame these days should move up seven poll spots, but that’s an­other-day story ti­tled “The Mod­ern-Day Myth of Domer Rel­e­vancy.”

Just as shock­ing, per­haps, is a Pac-10 game not in­volv­ing USC sud­denly emerg­ing as one of the week’s hottest com­ing at­trac­tions, with Stan­ford’s visit to Ore­gon on Satur­day in­trigu­ing enough for tele­vi­sion to move it out of the usual 3 a.m. East Coast time slot. You think we’re kid­ding? Stan­ford at Ore­gon was orig­i­nally sched­uled for an 8:15 p.m. kick­off, which set up a sto­ry­book, Cin­derella end­ing — at mid­night.

ABC has swooped in, though, and moved the game to 5 p.m. in the West. That means it could ac­tu­ally end Satur­day.

This must be the pro­mo­tional pay­off for Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott’s ge­nius off-sea­son move to take all 10 foot­ball coaches on an East Coast barn­storm­ing jun­ket, which in­cluded tea and cook­ies at ESPN, with Bris­tol break­ing out the crys­tal.

Now that ESPN and the New York Times have heard a Pac-10 ex­ists, you can’t keep the league out of prime time.

Or maybe, much more im­por­tant, the Pac-10’s play on the field is get­ting folks in­ter­ested.

This West Coast is def­i­nitely not coast­ing.

The teams, in fact, are al­most as ex­cit­ing as the coaches.

Stan­ford at Ore­gon pits Jim Har­baugh against Chip Kelly, two sav­agely com­pet­i­tive mo­ti­va­tors and play callers.

Ore­gon leads the nation in scor­ing-av­er­age of­fense at 57.75 points per game, with Stan­ford’s 48 points per game rank­ing fourth.

Har­baugh is straight off The Farm.

Af­ter lev­el­ing the play­ing field at Notre Dame, rip­ping the hearts out of the Ir­ish, he mused, “We move for­ward with hum­ble hearts.”

Thank you, Coach Con­fu­cius.

Stan­ford, 4-0, is check­ing teams off like gro­ceries on a list.

“Now, next week is the big game,” Har­baugh said.

Ore­gon didn’t look its in­vin­ci­ble self in a 42-31 vic­tory at Ari­zona State, but it also seemed as if Kelly held back half the play­book so as to not give Stan­ford a clean look.

This is shap­ing up to be some race.

UCLA, picked to fin­ish eighth, has climbed off the deck af­ter two ugly losses and now rides the in­tox­i­cat­ing mo­men­tum of Satur­day’s huge win at No. 7 Texas.

And there’s noth­ing like mo­men­tum that leads you into Washington State.

Coaches who had once counted UCLA as a “vic­tory” are re­con­fig­ur­ing their pro­jected win-loss to­tals.

Ari­zona State, picked to fin­ish ninth, is also 2-2, but the de­feats were 20-19 at Wis­con­sin and Satur­day’s late-night, seven-turnover letdown against Ore­gon.

The Sun Devils, in be­tween mis­takes, amassed 597 yards on what was the nation’s No. 1 de­fense.

“That team could eas­ily be 4-0,” Kelly said of ASU af­ter the game.

Ore­gon State put a scare into No. 3 Boise State on the blue field, and left Boise as the tough­est 1-2 team in Amer­ica.

The Beavers’ other loss was to No. 5 Texas Chris­tian.

Any team that thinks Ore­gon State isn’t go­ing to be a Pac-10 fac­tor for­gets Mike Ri­ley’s team was one vic­tory over Ore­gon from the Rose Bowl each of the last two years.

“I’m hop­ing this has been very good prepa­ra­tion,” he said of his hel­la­cious non­con­fer­ence sched­ule. “I think the level of com­pe­ti­tion we played is the level of com­pe­ti­tion we will see in con­fer­ence.”

Ari­zona and USC are also 4-0. The Wild­cats are ranked No. 14 af­ter Satur­day’s 10-9 win against Cal­i­for­nia in Tuc­son.

What’s im­pres­sive about the Wild­cats: They’ve needed last-minute drives the last two weeks to pull out vic­to­ries.

Seven days af­ter a pro­gram-defin­ing win against Iowa, an emo­tional letdown against Cal could have been ex­pected — and it hap­pened.

And it looked like the clas­sic han­gover de­feat un­til quar­ter­back Nick Foles hit Juron Criner for the game-win­ning touch­down with 1:11 left.

“It was a flat night all the way around,” Ari­zona Coach Mike-Stoops said.

Maybe the Wild­cats, though, have fi­nally seen the flat light.

USC fi­nally hit the gas, but it was against Washington State, so we won’t know about the league’s most sus­pi­cious 4-0 un­til the Tro­jans play Washington this week and, much more daunt­ing, at Stan­ford the next.

Cal­i­for­nia and Washington re­main largely mys­te­ri­ous, yet each could strike at a given moment.

Cal has de­feated Stan­ford the last two years while Washington heads to USC this week with the fresh me­mory of last year’s up­set in Seat­tle.

The “Pac-10” team with the best shot to go un­de­feated, though, might be No. 13 Utah.

The Utes re­cently routed San Jose State, 56-3, and their tough­est re­main­ing game, Nov. 6 against TCU, is in Salt Lake City.

Jonathan Daniel Getty Im­ages

TREE PEO­PLE: Stan­ford Coach Jim Har­baugh leaps to greet Owen Mare­cic dur­ing the vic­tory over Notre Dame. Stan­ford has big game at Ore­gon this week.

Steve Dykes

FLY­ING HIGH: Ore­gon Coach Chip Kelly, talk­ing to play­ers on his of­fense, has the Ducks at their high­est rank­ing ever (No. 4) at this point of the sea­son. Ore­gon av­er­ages a nation-best 57.75 points a game.

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