Eleven of the twelve teams in the Pac-12 hold winning records four weeks into the season. Granted, most of them played opponents of a lesser quality in Week 4, but the conference continued to take care of business and rack up style points in the process. One of its two national title contenders also seized its opportunity to shine on a national stage.
Stanford 42, Arizona State 28: The final margin does not reflect how thoroughly Stanford dominated its first Pac-12 opponent of the season in all phases of the game. After two acceptable but unremarkable victories, the nation’s No. 5 needed to deliver an imposing statement to match those of other BCS title contenders. Stanford achieved that goal with a nearly flawless first half, which included four touchdowns, two blocked punts, one interception, and zero points allowed. Leading 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 after the third quarter, the team did yield to complacency in the fourth quarter as ASU reeled off three touchdowns in hardly more time than it took to write this paragraph. What looked like a comprehensive rout became slightly intriguing—but never seriously in question. Beset by untimely penalties and special teams debacles, the Sun Devils continue to struggle in two key categories: winning road games, and defeating marquee conference opponents.
USC 17, Utah State 14: The refrain continues for this most un-USC of USC teams: formidable on defense, highly fallible on offense. The best wide receiver duo in the conference, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, can achieve only so much when they need to corral wayward throws from a quarterback as mediocre as Cody Kessler. Utah State’s star quarterback, Chuckie Keaton, struggled all day to find openings in the USC secondary while dodging its fierce pass rush. And yet USC never could seize command in the second half, even when handed prime opportunities by bizarre Utah State decisions. Had not a fourth-down attempt deep inside its own territory failed, in fact, this opponent from a lesser conference might have stunned the Trojans on their own field. Despite the victory, Lane Kiffin’s coaching future remains tenuous ahead of a crucial South Division showdown with ASU.
Washington 56, Idaho State 0; Washington State 42, Idaho 0: Footballs are not potatoes. The state of Idaho may hold the edge over the state of Washington in the latter category, but its two football programs suffered an embarrassing double shutout on Saturday. Both Washington teams have exceeded expectations in defense this year, which makes their upcoming encounters with Stanford especially notable. Washington State’s three-game winning streak has dulled the sting of its dismal 2012 campaign and turned the North Division into an even deeper group than it was a year ago. While it started last year well enough, Washington also has shown striking steps forward in areas other than defense, such as quarterback Keith Price’s confidence and the offensive line’s ability to protect him.
Oregon State 34, San Diego State 30: Having lost to an FCS opponent in their season opener, the Beavers trailed a winless opponent from an inferior conference with five minutes remaining this weekend. Two interceptions by an otherwise porous defense keyed its fourth-quarter escape from looming embarrassment. Oregon State improved to 3-1, but it easily could have started the season at 1-3 and looks several notches below its 2012 level despite impressive quarterback play from Sean Mannion. This team may be the only member of the Pac-12 to significantly regress from last year. Fortunately for Oregon State, a few more weeks remain to collect themselves before they enter the teeth of a backloaded schedule.
UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13: A very good team hosted a very bad team with very predictable results. Observers eager to nitpick might have pinpointed UCLA’s three turnovers inside the opponent’s 10-yard line, not something that they can afford against the likes of ASU, USC, or Stanford. Still, the Bruins set a school record with 672 yards of total offense, have averaged 53 points per game this year, and have established themselves as front-runners in the South Division. A special tip of the hat goes to coach Jim Mora for the opening 10-man play that commemorated Nick Pasquale. The Bruins continue to compete with courage and class.
Utah 20, BYU 13: There are few more satisfying ways to atone for a painful overtime loss than by trumping a traditional rival. A more potent offense this year might have left Utah hoping to light up the scoreboard in Provo. As it turned out, though, the latest edition of the Holy War slogged from punt to punt in a battle of attrition and angst. Utah’s defense did not allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, aided in part by BYU’s feckless passing game. Its fourth straight victory in the rivalry ended the Pac-12’s non-conference schedule against opponents other than Notre Dame with an exclamation point: a 29-4 record, with two of the losses inflicted by ranked teams against unranked Cal. The Utes will head into their first bye of the season hopeful that they can earn three more victories and a bowl berth. They also have shown that they can win a significant game on the road, a vital ability to have as they pursue those three additional victories.