Week 14: Wrappin’ Up

With college football’s regular season complete, the bowl lineups are set.  In this final installment of Pac-12 Football Weekly, I scrutinize each team in the conference, assigning grades based on performance and preseason expectation. 

I. Conference Victors: National

The 14th week of the regular season has become a de facto championship week.  For six conferences, their final matchup pits the top teams from each division, often with direct BCS ramifications.  For conferences with fewer than 12 teams, Week 14 nevertheless includes games that dictate who emerges as champ.  Let’s take a look at what happened around the nation.

Louisville 20, Rutgers 17: the clouded Big East became even cloudier with Louisville’s come-from-behind road win in New Jersey.  Rutgers, leading 14-3 at half and with its destiny in its own hands, could not finish the deal and was unable to win its first outright conference title.  Coupled with Cincinnati’s 34-17 win over Connecticut, four — count ’em, four — teams finished 5-2 in conference play.  Louisville, however, finishes the season 10-2 and therefore earns its first Sugar Bowl bid.

Northern Illinois 44, Kent State 37 (OT): wait a minute.  I can understand one MAC team ranked in the top 20, but TWO?  Yes indeed: both teams entered the conference title game at 11-1 and with a legitimate shot at a BCS bowl thanks to Louisville’s low ranking.  (Long story short: under BCS rules, if a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference finishes at #16 or higher, and is ahead of a team from an automatic qualifying conference that receives a BCS bowl bid, the non-AQ team receives a BCS bowl bid.)  The “MACtion” was as exciting as its somewhat silly name.  Kent State trailed 27-13 in the fourth quarter before scoring 14 points in 15 seconds to tie the game.  NIU responded with a touchdown of their own, but the Golden Flashes (yes, that’s their mascot) scored again with 44 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.  In the extra period, the Huskies scored; the Flashes could not; victory to NIU — and an Orange Bowl to boot.  Not a bad day for a directional school.

Baylor 41, Oklahoma State 34: what a turnaround for the Bears.  Staring at 4-5 and needing to win out to ensure a bowl bid, Baylor did just that, stunning #1 Kansas State at home, coming from behind to defeat Texas Tech on the road, and forging an early 21-point lead to hold off Oklahoma State by a touchdown in the season finale.  Baylor next faces UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, and the Bruins better be ready to play, because Baylor is on fire at the moment.

Oklahoma 24, TCU 17: in what was basically an even game, the Sooners made one more big play than the Horned Frogs, and finished the Big 12 schedule 8-1 to claim a share of the conference title.  Oklahoma’s overall mark of 10-2 lands them in the Cotton Bowl against former conference foe Texas A&M in what figures to be a whale of a ballgame.

Kansas State 42, Texas 24: the Longhorns kept it close for three quarters before the wheels fell off.  With the win, the Wildcats move to 11-1, and by virtue of their head-to-head win over Oklahoma, they earn the conference’s BCS bid — in this case, an intriguing showdown with Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.  I would also like to point out that the Big 12 might be the strongest top-to-bottom conference in the country.  Of the conference’s ten teams, EIGHT finished with winning records, and NINE (!) are playing in bowl games.  Astounding.

Tulsa 33, UCF 27 (OT): Tulsa won the “Golden Bowl” in thrillingly bizarre fashion.  The play of the game featured one of the strangest punt return touchdowns you’ll ever see:

Having tied the score, the Golden Hurricane then scored the would-be winning touchdown in overtime, until it was overturned on replay — only to score on the next play.  Central Florida thus endures an exasperating loss in their final Conference USA game.  On the plus side, the Golden Knights depart irrelevant C-USA for the still relevant Big East next season.

Oregon State 77, Nicholls State 3: evidently someone failed to get the message to Nicholls State that you do NOT want to play the Beavers after they have just lost to their in-state rival.  Did a September hurricane prevent you from playing earlier in the season?  No excuses!  The 77 points scored by Oregon State are a school record, and a great way to get the sour taste out of their mouths from the loss to Oregon.  The Beavs are headed to the Alamo Bowl for a tilt with Texas.

Arkansas State 45, Middle Tennessee 0: although not an official conference championship game, this contest pitted the top two teams in the Sun Belt, so it functioned as one.  Did Middle Tennessee get on the bus late, or was A-State simply a better team?  I vote for the latter.  Arkansas State had no fumbles, no interceptions, only one penalty, only two incompletions, went 11-14 on 3rd and 4th down, and had over 2 1/2 times the yardage of their opponent.  That, folks, is what you call a near-perfect game.  No wonder Gus Malzahn was plucked by Auburn to be their new head coach.

QUICK: what is the only team in college football to have won 10 or more games every year for the past seven seasons?

If you said Boise State, YOU WIN!  The Broncos exacted a measure of revenge by defeating Nevada 27-21 on the road.  The last time Boise State played in Reno, the Wolfpack ended their national championship dreams by overcoming a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to win, 34-31, in overtime.  In an eerily similar plot, the Smurf Turfers were ahead 24-7 entering the final quarter, and once again, Nevada made it interesting — only to fall short when a receiver fumbled en route to the end zone, resulting in a touchback.  With the win, Boise State shares the Mountain West title with Fresno State and San Diego State, and heads back to Las Vegas for a showdown with Washington.

Florida State 21, Georgia Tech 15: the Seminoles win the ACC.  That’s almost like winning first prize at the Armenian raffle, which earns you a one week trip to Armenia (second prize would have been a two week trip to Armenia).  Their reward is an Orange Bowl matchup with, um, Northern Illinois.  Anyone wondering if there will be tickets available for that game?

Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31: in the immortal words of Noah Kaloostian: “You stink, Nebraska.”

I watched this entire game — for the Big Ten championship, and an automatic berth in the Rose Bowl, no less — and Nebraska’s defense wouldn’t have been able to stop me, even if they knew where I was going.  The Badgers racked up a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry for the game — and that was not after 10 or 20 rushes, but 50!  The score was 63-17 after three quarters, and had Wisconsin not let up a bit in the 4th quarter, it would have been even worse.  Nebraska’s appalling effort has to make you wonder what in the world they were thinking.  Who prepared this team?  What was their mindset?  Where was the fight in the second half?  Pathetic.  Goodbye Nebraska defensive coordinator, whoever you are.

On the flip side, Wisconsin’s emphatic win sets up what appeared to be a very interesting clash with Stanford (more on them below) in Pasadena.  That was until Bret Bielema stunned everyone by leaving the Badgers for Arkansas shortly after the win.  Talk about upstaging the accomplishment of your team: Wisconsin had just won its third consecutive Big Ten title and earned its third straight Rose Bowl invitation — only to lose the coach that got them there!  All the air had gone out of their balloon.  So much for momentum heading into the Granddaddy.  Right?

Not so fast.  Enter Barry Alvarez, Whiskey’s Knight in Shining Armor.  Alvarez took the Badgers to three Rose Bowls in the 1990’s, winning all three — the last against Stanford following the 1999 season.  After retiring from coaching, he took over as athletic director.  Upon learning of Bielema’s departure — a punch in the gut for the Big Ten, which lost arguably its best coach to a middling SEC program — Alvarez upstaged the upstager, declaring that he would come out of retirement for one game to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl.

Imagine for a moment the emotions of the Wisconsin players.  First, they destroy favored Nebraska in the championship game.  Celebrations galore.  Then, they lose their coach.  Their victory seems Pyrrhic; their heads sag, their shoulders slump.  Suddenly, out of the doldrums, they are awakened by the news that a legend has come back to lead them to Pasadena.

When you are raised from the depths of despair, you will do anything for the person that lifted you up.  I’ll say it right now: there is no way Stanford will be able to match Wisconsin’s emotion on January 1.  If the Cardinal want to win, they are going to have to do so with precise execution, because they are not going to out-will the Badgers in that game.

The Rose Bowl just got very interesting.

Alabama 32, Georgia 28: of the numerous excellent games played in Week 14, this one might have been the best.  #2 Alabama was playing for a shot at its third national championship in four seasons and the right to go down as one of the best teams in history over a four-year span.  #3 Georgia was fighting for its first national championship berth since it won the title in 1980 behind legendary running back Herschel Walker.

This game was a war.  The Dawgs pulled ahead 21-10 in the third quarter after returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown.  Alabama, however, hunkered down in the run game, pounding to a 25-21 advantage before Georgia retook the lead 28-25 midway through the fourth quarter.  With the SEC title in the balance, AJ McCarron play faked at just the right time and threw a perfect strike to Amari Cooper with just over three minutes to play.  Down 32-28, Georgia’s next drive stalled, and when they had to punt it looked like it was all over but the shouting.

It wasn’t.  The Bulldogs forced an Alabama punt, and despite having no timeouts, they got the ball back with just over a minute to play.  They had 85 yards to go.  Could they do it?  Completion…rush for first down…and then three straight completions for 15, 23, and 26 yards.  Holy cow!  Georgia had it on the Alabama 8 yard line with 15 seconds to play, first and goal!  And then…

Instead of spiking the ball to collect themselves and set up 2-3 plays for the end zone, Georgia allowed the clock to tick down to 9 seconds.  That’s when this happened (watch from 15 seconds in to 45 seconds):

What a painful way to lose.

With the Houdini, Alabama escapes to the national title game against Notre Dame, while Georgia is left to ponder what could have been against Nebraska in the Capital One bowl.

II (a). Stanford vs. UCLA for the Roses: Summary

The majority of that headline is in red, so you know who won the game.  If you’re still reading, it’s because you want my take on the game, and you are wise to seek this, as I was there.

Sometimes things just don’t add up.  If you had told me before this game that UCLA would rush for 284 yards, I would have told you unequivocally that the Bruins would win — and that it wouldn’t have been close.  If you had then told me that Stanford would be held to under four yards per carry and under seven yards per pass attempt, I would have laughed and said the game would have been a blowout.

UCLA did rush for 284 yards; Stanford was stymied on offense; UCLA controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball; the Bruins dominated the game.

And yet…the Cardinal won, 27-24.

For those who watched the game, you know why.  UCLA may have been the more dominant team, but Stanford caught pretty much every break they needed to eke out the win:

  • UCLA committed only one turnover, but it turned the momentum of the game.  With the Bruins up 14-7 and driving for a two score lead, Hundley finally made a freshman mistake, underthrowing 6-7 tight end Joe Fauria and not accounting for Ed Reynolds, who intercepted the ball and ran it back 80 yards for what should have been a touchdown (Stanford got it at the one and scored on the next play).
  • Stanford kicked a crucial field goal on a late drive before halftime.  This had the deflating psychological effect of sending UCLA into the locker room trailing 17-14 despite having outplayed Stanford in the first half.
  • UCLA’s kickoff return game was awful.  Stanford turned UCLA’s poor field position to advantage, thereby gaining “hidden” yards that do not show up in the stat sheet.
  • QB Kevin Hogan completed the one big throw he had to make, coinciding with UCLA’s lone defensive breakdown.  With the Bruins up 24-17 in the fourth quarter and having all the momentum, Hogan stood in the pocket as long as possible.  Despite rushing just three linemen, UCLA failed to cover Drew Terrell, who got just enough behind the defense to catch a perfectly thrown 26-yard touchdown pass.  This mistake is hard to understand, particularly on 3rd and 15.  Without that conversion, Stanford probably does not win the game.  Finally:
  • The Bruins missed the final kick to tie the game.  Wet conditions, a poor snap, and a long range effort combined to sink Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 52-yard attempt.

Simply put: Stanford made the plays it needed to make — ALL the plays it needed to make — to win.

II (b). Stanford vs. UCLA for the Roses: Commentary

This is a disappointing loss for the Bruins because they had their way with Stanford, but credit must be given to the Cardinal for sticking to their game plan and executing it flawlessly.  Any major mistake for Stanford would have put UCLA on top.  Stanford made none: no fumbles, no interceptions, no errors in the kicking game, excellent punts, and only five penalties.  Kevin Hogan’s performance was a near-exact repeat of his deadly accurate play vs. the Bruins in the first game.  The comparison is startling:

  • In Game 1, he went 15 for 22 for 160 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
  • In Game 2, he went 16 for 22 for 155 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Furthermore, he scored a touchdown in the second game and picked up critical yardage in third down situations with his legs.  He was rightly honored as the game’s MVP, upstaging an outstanding performance by Johnathan Franklin for the Bruins.  With the win, Stanford punches its ticket to a third consecutive BCS bowl, defeats UCLA for the fifth consecutive time, and garners its third consecutive 11-win season.

Did I just write that?  This is STANFORD, a team that was 1-11 in 2006.  Brainy, high academic standard STANFORD, which had only seven winning records in the previous 26 seasons before Jim Harbaugh’s arrival.  How is it that Stanford has won 34 games in the past three seasons?  How is it that Stanford has defeated four straight ranked teams to finish the season — with a second string quarterback?

Given how well UCLA played in this game, you would think I would be bitter and perhaps even churlish towards the Cardinal, but there is nothing I can say.  When all is said and done, Stanford defeated Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, and UCLA again (not to mention USC) to capture the conference championship.  In other words, they earned it.  To make matters worse, Stanford didn’t even give me the opportunity to dislike their individual players.  After the game, I watched interviews of Stepfan Taylor, Kevin Hogan, Ed Reynolds, and various other Cardinal players.  To a man, each was respectful, well spoken, mature; each deflected individual praise to the team and the coaches.  It was infuriatingly wonderful.  For many teams (and especially individual players), graciousness in victory is not part of their vocabulary, but Stanford knows no other way.  Thus, I can’t dislike this team, even when I want to.

Having said that, I have every reason to be disgusted with the uber-homer Bay Area sportscasters that covered the game afterwards.  After listing all the great things that Stanford did in the game, they used their 20-20 hindsight to suggest that despite UCLA throwing its best punch, Stanford was somehow “destined” to win.  I was particularly vexed by one commentator’s suggestion that while Stanford knew they were going to win toward the end of the game, UCLA only hoped they were going to win.  That really burned me up.  My response to that imbecile is the following series of questions:

  • Did Stanford know they were going to win when they couldn’t finish the deal at Notre Dame?
  • Did Stanford know they were going to win when they failed to finish the game at Washington?
  • Did Stanford know they would be given a touchdown on an overturned replay in the Oregon game to tie the score late?
  • Did Stanford know Oregon’s kicker would hit the upright in overtime and miss his field goal try?
  • Did UCLA hope they were going to win when they trailed 43-42 at Arizona State with under two minutes to play, only to see Hundley drive down the field with ice in his veins to lead UCLA to the victory?
  • Did UCLA, leading 31-28, hope to win when USC had taken all the momentum in the 4th quarter, only to watch the Bruins rise to the occasion and convert a clutch third down leading to the game clinching touchdown?
  • Did UCLA hope to defeat Stanford by dominating the game on both sides of the ball?
  • Did Stanford know their field goal kicker would make both of his kicks in this game, and know that UCLA would miss one of its two?

I am happy to admit that Stanford played a virtually perfect game and overcame UCLA’s near-best effort, but to say that the Bruins were only “hoping” to win this game at the end is ludicrous.  I watched the reaction of UCLA’s players after the field goal was wide left.  That wasn’t resignation, nor was it dejection.  It was anger.  The players knew they had dominated the game, and they expected to win.  When you’re only “hoping” to win and you don’t, you’re disappointed.  When you expect to win and you outplay your opponent but still lose, you’re angry.

Mr. Bay Area sportscaster, I’m angry.  Sing the praises of Stanford all you like, but when it comes to UCLA, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then shut the hell up.

III (a). Grading the Pac: Final Report Card

With the regular season and championship game concluded, it is time for me to dish out reports for each team in the conference.  This should be entertaining.  I like saving the best for last, so I’ll get the worst performers out of the way first.

Colorado (1-11): No.  Just, no.  I knew they weren’t going to be good this season, but I had no idea they were going to be this bad.

  • Key game: none.  Just, none.
  • GradeF.

Cal (3-9): Yikes.  Your return to Memorial Stadium results in the worst season in over a decade?  Granted, Jeff Tedford did turn your program from a 1-11 doormat (2001) to a contender for a while, but with so many returning players, it is hard to understand such poor results this season.

  • Key game: the opening loss, at home, to Nevada. That set the Bears on the wrong path for the entire season, and they never really recovered — similar to what happened to Oregon State last year, when they were upended at home by Sacramento State to open the season.
  • Grade: F.

USC (7-5): well, the Trojans did win seven games, but none against teams that finished with eight wins or higher.  When you’re the preseason #1, two losses is considered a disappointment, but five?  That’s a disaster.  With all the talent at USC’s disposal, there is no way they should have so many losses — their head coach said as much after the Notre Dame game.

  • Key game: although the Stanford loss was a harbinger of the problems the team would face all year (lackluster play, poor offensive balance, lack of passion), it was the Arizona loss that derailed USC more than any other.  Leading 28-13 late in the third quarter, USC completely fell apart on offense and defense for over a quarter, getting outscored 26-0 in 16 minutes, and not recovering in time to salvage the game.  The season spiraled out of control after that, and SC ended up losing four of its last five games.
  • Grade: it’s not often that a seven win team receives this grade, but it’s also not often that you’re ranked #1 before the season starts and finish with five losses.  F.

Stupid Washington State (3-9): yes, I’m giving the Cougars that annoying light silver font.  Why?  Because they deserve not to be recognized, and because they didn’t really do anything worthy of notice.  This was a team that was challenging for a bowl game last season.  This year, so many games were duds that it is hard to take anything positive from this team, save for the miraculous comeback victory over Washington in the Apple Cup to end the season.  Then again, that was only Washington.

  • Key Game: losing at home to Colorado.  Yes, COLORADO.  It doesn’t matter how you lost, or that you had a big lead entering the fourth quarter.  The bottom line is that you lost.  To Colorado.  At home.
  • Grade: D.  And that’s generous.

Washington (7-5): at a party the other night, I ran into an old, er, acquaintance that had the reliably irritating habit of taking FOREVER to make up her mind, even on picayune decisions.  UW was that team this season.  “Let’s see: do we want to be good this week, or not good?  Do we want to play well, or terribly?  Do we want to cobble together an unexpected win over Stanford, or lose by 35 points to Arizona (or by 3 to SWSU to end the season)?”  Last time I checked, the Huskies were still asking questions to themselves.  Out loud.

  • Key Game: who knows?  The Huskies won two very flukey games at home over Stanford (before the Cardinal realized that their best QB was on the bench) and Oregon State (the week the Beavers’ starting QB returned from an injury — and wasn’t ready).  They won against three other sub-.500 conference teams, plus one FCS school.  The losses…yikes.  Three big blowouts, and then the season-ending collapse at Washington State.  I don’t think there was one “key” game this season; UW is the girl who always teases, but never pleases.
  • Grade: I don’t like girls like that.  D+.

Utah (5-7): it was a difficult season for the Utes, but in retrospect, that has to be expected given how depleted they were on offense (injuries to QB’s and running backs left them scrambling for production).  Utah was a respectable 4-2 at home, but could muster only one win in six chances on the road.  Next year, though, should be better.

  • Key Game: not so much a key game, as a key injury — or set of injuries, as mentioned above.  If one game must be pinpointed, it would be the 34-15 loss at Washington, which made a bowl bid very difficult; the ensuing home loss at Arizona ended all postseason hopes.
  • Grade: C.

Arizona (7-5): the Wildcats were actually very close to a 10-win season in RichRod’s first year.  How close?  They had double-digit leads against Stanford and Arizona State in the fourth quarter, and were ahead of Oregon State with under two minutes to play — but lost all three of those games.  Yes, they did lose in blowout fashion to Oregon (but were actually in that game until late in the third quarter) and to UCLA (they were not in that game at all), but other than that, U of A was competitive the entire year.  There is reason for optimism in Tucson.

  • Key Game: the win over USC.  After the difficult losses described above, the Wildcats turned the tables at the expense of the Trojans, overcoming a 15-point deficit to move to 5-3 and an eventual bowl game.
  • Grade: B.

Arizona State (7-5): this time, the Sun Devils finished off the year on a positive note.  After starting off 5-1 against weak competition, ASU hit a rough patch with consecutive losses to powerhouses Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, and USC.  But they never lost hope, and with two wins to end the season, the Devils can travel to San Francisco with a good taste in their mouths for the Fight Hunger Bowl.

  • Key Game: the thrashing of WSU (46-7) to get them to 6-5, followed by the season ending thriller over Arizona to secure a winning season.
  • Grade: B+.

Oregon (11-1): no, I do not apologize for the loud highlighting of Oregon’s name.  They don’t apologize for their uniforms, so why should I?

Yes, the Ducks won 11 games.  Yes, the Ducks are impressive.  Yes, they beat USC on the road by 11, and in their other victories, won each game by 17 points or more.  But then there’s Stanford.

  • Key Game: Stanford.  Oregon lost.  At home.  To Stanford.  Goodbye national championship.
  • Grade: B+.  Sorry, but when you’re this good, you should win every game.  And certainly not lose to Stanford.  At home.  To Stanford.

UCLA (9-4): No one — myself included — envisioned UCLA winning the Pac-12 South before the season started.  Everyone — myself included — had USC pegged as the champion.  Everyone — other than UCLA’s team — was wrong.  With a stirring early victory over Nebraska and an epic streak-breaking win over USC, this was a great season to be a Bruin.  The second Stanford loss (and only the second, mind you) does hurt, but does not change the fact that UCLA had an outstanding season that far surpassed expectations.  That hasn’t been the case in Westwood for a long time.

  • Key Game: although the win over Nebraska was an early indication of UCLA’s potential, and although the win over USC will be the highlight of the season, the most important game was unquestionably the win over Arizona State.  Both teams entered that contest 5-2, and were on the rise; the winner would really be on the ascendance.  It was an even matchup all the way that came down to the final kick.  UCLA made it, and rode that victory to a five-game winning streak and division title.
  • Grade: A.  The only thing separating this team from an A+ was the final game against Stanford, in which the Bruins came up just short.  The bowl game against Baylor will be critical for momentum, as the Bruins do not want to end this excellent season with a three game losing streak.

Oregon State (9-3): if I had voted for conference Coach of the Year honors, I would have put Mike Riley #1, followed by David Shaw and Jim Mora Jr. (not sure of the order of the last two).  Oregon State went 3-9 last year.  The Beaver brass had the foresight to allow Riley to keep his job, and it paid off in spades.  Oregon State played many freshmen last season, and they came of age in 2012 with huge wins over Wisconsin, UCLA, Arizona, and BYU — the last three on the road — before suffering two mid-season flukey losses at Washington and Stanford.  The Beavers outplayed every opponent they faced save for Oregon, and that includes the two losses just mentioned.  This team should have been 11-1, but 9-3 is still excellent.  I keep on saying it, and I’m going to keep on saying it until someone agrees with me: no one gets more out of less than Mike Riley in Corvallis.

  • Key Game: the first game of the season!  Not only did Oregon State defeat the two-time defending Big Ten champion Badgers, they dominated the game, holding Wisconsin to a preposterous 35 yards on 23 carries, and knocking Heisman hopeful Montee Ball out of the race before the season had even begun.  With the win, the Beavers signaled that they had left last season’s disappointment behind, and would be a new team in 2012.  And so they were.
  • Grade: A.  If you want to give them an A+, you’ll get no argument from me.

Stanford (11-2): do I have to?

Yes, I have to.

Stanford could have lost to San Jose State — but they didn’t.  Stanford could have lost to USC (and likely would have if Kiffin had kicked a field goal when ahead 14-7), but they didn’t.  They probably should have lost to Arizona (who led by 14 in the fourth quarter), but they didn’t.  They could have lost to Washington State (who never should have been in the game), but they didn’t.  They absolutely should have lost to Oregon State (who dominated the game but gave it away with a late fumble), but they didn’t.  They certainly could have lost to Oregon (and needed a reversal on a replay to score the tying touchdown, plus the missed field goal mentioned earlier), but somehow they didn’t.  And, as detailed above, they were outplayed by UCLA in the conference title game, and certainly could have lost — but they didn’t.

What I’m trying to say here is that Stanford knows how to win close games.  Yes, they finished 11-2, but it is not out of the realm of possibility to say that they could have finished 4-8.  This is not a dominant team, but it is a smart, disciplined team that will not beat itself.  To beat Stanford, you have to play smart enough to win; if you don’t, you won’t.

So what does that mean in terms of my overall opinion?  I’m flabbergasted and flummoxed, and any other funky “f” adjective you can think of (Stanford leaves you scratching your head after games).  The aforementioned homer commentators had the temerity to suggest that Stanford was a national championship caliber team this season.  Sorry, I ain’t buyin’ that.  Stanford outperformed this season, yes, and they deserve huge credit for the Oregon upset.  But national championship caliber?  No.

Nevertheless, I must give the grade they have earned, so here we go:

  • Key Game: all the ones I mentioned above.  Had Stanford lost any of them, they would not be headed to a BCS bowl, let alone the Rose Bowl as conference champions.  EVERY game counted.
  • Grade: A.  No A+.  Even Stanford students don’t get perfect scores.

III (b). Grading the Pac: Final Power Rankings

  1. Oregon.  Yes, I know Stanford won the conference, but this is the strongest team.  I would far rather play Stanford than Oregon.  Why do you think I was happy after UCLA lost to Stanford the first time?
  2. Stanford.  Part of me thinks Oregon State is actually a better team, but Stanford won the head-to-head matchup, albeit thanks to an error by Oregon State.
  3. Oregon State.  Yes, I have a man-crush on this team, and have for probably three decades.  Oregon State was the LA Clippers of the Pac-10 for so many years that I still find it hard to believe they are competitive now.  Go Beavs!
  4. UCLA.  The Bruins were EITHER a non-interception OR a non-botched defensive assignment OR a non-missed field goal away from a Pac-12 title in their first season under Mora.  That’s pretty darn good.
  5. Arizona.  On talent alone, USC gets the nod here, but the Wildcats won the head-to-head, so they get the 5 spot.
  6. USC.  Kiffin better improve dramatically next season, or he’s gone.  This year was horrific.
  7. Arizona State.  Normally, finishing 7th in your conference power poll doesn’t make you feel too great, but this year is an exception.  The Sun Devils are on the rise, and could be a force in the South next season.
  8. Washington.  I almost put Utah here, but they lost miserably at UW, so the Huskies get this spot.  I remain as unimpressed with the Huskies as I am impressed with Oregon State.
  9. Utah.  A rough season, but there is reason for optimism next year, when Utah will be more experienced (and hopefully much healthier).
  10. SWSU.  This dumb team should have been ranked 11th, but found a way to defeat Washington and make it seem like the season wasn’t a total loss.  We’ll see if Leach gets his team better in Year 2.
  11. Dumb Cal.  Did they EVER play down to their moniker.  Ghastly.
  12. Colorado.  Still: no.  Just no.

IV. Final Comments: Thanks!

When I mentioned that this was the final installment of Pac-12 Football Weekly, some of you may have thought it was the final blog post of the season.  In fact, it will be my final blog post, period.

To my legions of loyal readers (that’s all 10-12 of you), thank you for enduring my rants and raves (and occasional praises) throughout this highly entertaining football season.  I had never anticipated writing a blog, but after being encouraged doggedly by friends and family alike, I finally broke down and gave it a whirl.  Here is what I learned:

  • You were right: I am good at this.  Writing comes naturally, and I love making it entertaining.
  • I am glad I did it once.
  • I am glad I am not doing it more than once.

The last point requires an explanation, but it is simple enough.  When I embark on a project, I insist that it be first rate: either I do it full throttle, or I don’t do it at all.  So it was when I began my first post back in September.  I was committed to doing the requisite research and TV watching to write intelligently on the subject.  Although I have enjoyed the project immensely, I didn’t realize it would take this much time: a typical post requires somewhere between 6-12 hours of preparation and writing, and that doesn’t include game viewing.  If I conservatively estimate that it takes an average of 8 hours per week to put together a blog post, that’s 14 x 8 = 112 hours that I’ve invested for this endeavor.

If I were retired, I might be jumping for joy that I could find such a fun pursuit to spend my leisure time.  But I’m teaching like a madman this year (252 students per week in math alone!), and putting in this many hours during the beginning of the school year simply isn’t prudent.

Furthermore, such a project requires me to spend even more time at the computer than I already do.  As Noah once told me, it is important for him to “maintain his girlish figure.”  Therefore, until I look more like Shane or Cousin Adam, I should heed Noah’s advice and find ways to get off the computer, not stay on it longer.

That being said, it has been a wonderful ride for yours truly.  I hope that it has been as enjoyable for you to read as it has been for me to write.  While I will likely always harbor inherent prejudices against Stupid Washington State University and Dumb Cal (and am delighted at how lousy they were this season), I will strive to maintain my (comparative) objectivity (UCLA 38, USC 28) when reviewing actual results.

Greta wouldn’t have it any other way.

Signing off,

Mr. G.

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