Surprises spread across Pac-12 after 1st month
PHOENIX — The Pac-12, in some respects, has gone according to plan so far this season with No. 7 Stanford and No. 10 Washington leading the North Division.
For the most part, though, the conference has been filled with surprises through the first four weeks of the season. Colorado tied for the lead in the South Division and Southern California dead last? Yeah, those would have been hard to predict.
To get you caught up, here’s a rundown in the Pac-12 so far:
ASU SUN DEVILS ASCENDING
This season was expected to be a rebuilding one in the desert. Arizona State limped to a 6-7 finish last season and entered 2016 with no quarterback on the roster who had thrown a collegiate pass. The Sun Devils also had to rebuild a defense that was the nation’s worst against the pass a year ago and were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South in 2016. The Sun Devils have gotten off to slow starts and their defense has been shaky at times, but they keep finding ways to win, leaving them as one of four undefeated teams in the Pac-12. Arizona State had a late offensive burst to knock off FCS Northern Arizona in the season opener and last week exploded for 31 points in the fourth quarter to outlast California . Even with the schedule about to get more difficult, it will be hard to pick against the Sun Devils until someone actually beats them.
MORE ARIZONA INJURIES
OK, maybe this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Arizona has been plagued with injuries to key players the past few seasons, but the odds — maybe karma? — seemed to be in favor of the Wildcats this year. Nope. Anu Solomon, who won a tight battle with Brandon Dawkins, lasted one game as Arizona’s starting quarterback after injuring his left knee on a wet practice field. Workhorse running back Nick Wilson, who battled injuries last season, was injured against Hawaii two weeks ago and didn’t play against Washington this past week. Arizona also played without three starters against the Huskies and lost freshman running back J.J. Taylor — the star against Hawaii — for the season with a broken ankle in the third quarter. All coach Rich Rodriguez could do after the game was shake his head and say: “Unbelievable.”
Colorado was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South and coach Mike MacIntyre was expected to be on the hot seat if the Buffaloes lived down to those lowly expectations.
Colorado has been far better than expected, starting with its convincing season-opening win over rival Colorado State and another blowout of Idaho State.
The Buffaloes lost to No. 4 Michigan the third week, the kind of game that might have sent previous teams in Boulder reeling. Instead, Colorado bounced back last week with its biggest win since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, holding off Oregon 41-38 despite playing without senior quarterback Sefo Liufau due to an ankle injury.
The victory left MacIntyre in tears and gave the Buffalos the big breakthrough they’ve been searching for.
Loaded with blue chip playmakers, the Trojans were expected to make a run at their first Pac-12 title since 2008.
USC has been nowhere close to being what was expected. The Trojans opened the season with a blowout loss to top-ranked Alabama and followed a lopsided win over FCS Utah State with a 17-point loss to No. 7 Stanford. Needing a win last week to stay in the Pac-12 South race, USC stumbled again, blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter to lose 31-27 to Utah. The loss dropped the Trojans to 1-3 for the first time since 2001 and left them searching for answers that may be tough to find. Despite all that talent on offense, USC is the worst-scoring team in the Pac-12 with 22 points per game.