Bud Withers takes a look at the first month of Pac-12 football play.
Five Saturdays of Pac-12 football are in the books, a month of September evidence toward a December verdict. Many of the late-summer assumptions have become early-autumn falsehoods.
Quite the month, with six ranked teams. We recap, putting 12 squads roughly in order of prominence as October begins:
What we thought: The defense might have to carry the offense through a yawn-inducing first two months.
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What we know now: Wake us when it’s November.
Signature moment: De’Anthony Thomas makes Sports Illustrated’s Sept. 23 cover. But he didn’t make most game stories for his play against Washington State.
Oregon State (3-0)
What we thought: Pac-12 media picked the Beavers sixth in the North, and fitted Mike Riley’s backside for a hot seat.
What we know now: OSU has been so good it might need to play back to back — Nov. 30, date of the Pac-12 title game, and the next day to accommodate that postponement with Nicholls State.
Signature moment: He got mugged on the play, but Markus Wheaton hauls in a 28-yard sideline pass to highlight OSU’s drive that beat Arizona 38-35, the last of six lead changes in 24 minutes.
What we thought: Even with Nick Holt two time zones away, the defense would be iffy, but you could count on Keith Price’s wizardry to make things interesting.
What we know now: The defense stoned Stanford’s vaunted running attack, and Price, while courageous in the face of the Cardinal rush, isn’t in the top 10 of Pac-12 pass efficiency.
Signature moment: Bishop Sankey’s 61-yard TD run revives hope and enables UW to stick with its offensive plan against Stanford.
Arizona State (4-1)
What we thought: The Sun Devils made the clunkiest hire of the offseason in Todd Graham, and their play would reflect it.
What we know now: Dennis Erickson left Graham a lot, and Graham is maximizing it.
Signature moment: Will Sutton gives Cal O-lineman Jordan Rigsbee an outside-in move and blows by him for one of his 6.5 sacks in a dominant first month.
What we thought: The Cardinal would miss Andrew Luck dearly.
What we know now: Boy, does it ever.
Signature moment: Josh Nunes is nails in helping beat USC. But his late, fourth-down fade pass against UW is an unanswered prayer.
What we thought: The Trojans were national-championship contenders.
What we know now: The Trojans are Pac-12 South contenders.
Signature moment: Coach Lane Kiffin suspends a reporter from watching practice because he wrote about an injury. Seriously, what else at USC has created as much stir?
What we thought: Jim Mora would instill toughness, especially in the defense.
What we know now: It’s the offense, leading the Pac-12 at 560 yards a game, that has surprised.
Signature moment: Brett Hundley turns his first college snap at quarterback into a 72-yard scoring run against Rice.
What we thought: RichRod had a good start with two-way quarterback Matt Scott.
What we know now: Wildcats allow 167 yards rushing per game. Their next opponent, Stanford, probably realizes that.
Signature moment: In the Oklahoma State upset, cornerback Jonathan McKnight picks off a pass and goes 48 yards for a score, just as Arizona was wavering. Then the Oregons brought the ‘Cats to earth.
What we thought: Utes were darkhorses in Pac-12 South.
What we know now: They’re longshots in Pac-12 South.
Signature moment: QB Jordan Wynn calls it quits after the Utah State game because of a fourth shoulder injury, leaving the job to journeyman Jon Hays.
What we thought: With QB Zach Maynard a year into the system and Cal having stockpiled several good recruiting classes, the Bears could be sneaky-good.
What we know now: Cal is surrendering a nation-leading 25 sacks, and is sneaky-bad.
Signature moment: Maynard is suspended for the first three series of the Nevada opener, a loss, for missing a summer tutoring session.
What we thought: Having lost key seniors and playing 13 true freshmen, the Buffs would struggle.
What we know now: We were right.
Signature moment: Before some Fresno State fans can extinguish the charcoal at tailgates, CU trails 35-0 in the first quarter.
Washington State (2-3)
What we thought: Mike Leach would swing his sword, extract some miracles from the Cougars and maybe they would get to a bowl game.
What we know now: The Cougars don’t need miracles, they need more players.
Signature moment: The secondary lets a Colorado tight end get behind it for a 70-yard touchdown pass, keying CU’s comeback from a 31-14 fourth-quarter deficit and handing WSU a killer loss.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org