In the preseason, the Pac-12 looked more like USC, Oregon and 10 squads competing to be the tallest midget. In the first two weeks of the season, though, the conference has acquitted itself quite nicely.
Most would agree that the Ducks and Trojans still constitute the class of the conference. But based on what you've seen these last two weeks, if there's one challenger out there that could knock off the favorites, who would it be?
Andy Coppens: After two weeks the obvious answer is that other LA team... UCLA has been very impressive, but at the same time what do we really know about a team that hasn't gone on the road against a good team yet?
I don't think the Pac-12 is quite as good as you'd think. The wins over Big Ten teams outside of the Oregon State win should've been expected since the conference had only won 6 games traveling to Pac-12 teams since 1990.
You seem to forget about the arse kicking Washington received and the losses by Utah and Colorado. For me that points out that outside of those three schools and possibly Stanford this conference still isn't very good yet.
Kevin McGuire: I'm hopping on the UCLA bandwagon with some caution but I'd like to mention some other new hurdles that appear to be forming in the Pac 12 South, with Arizona and Arizona State.
I know the Wildcats and Sun Devils did not exactly smack some great opponents in Oklahoma State and Illinois, but what we saw were two programs who appear to be on the rise under new head coaches. Now, do they stack up man-for-man with the Trojans or Ducks? I doubt it, but allow me to tap my inner Woody Paige and ask you guys to look at the schedule.
Arizona does have to play at Oregon next weekend and they just play at Stanford (a game I consider a potential win right now). They later get USC at home and have a favorable second half of the season with Washington, Utah, and Colorado before the regular season finale at home against Arizona State. The Sun Devils, to me, have a tougher road to go with the road games at USC and Arizona in November.
So yeah, I'm starting to buy in to the Wildcats right now. My money is still on USC and Oregon, but if I had to choose a third candidate, it would be Arizona.
Michael Felder: I love UCLA. I was one of the few people in Jim Mora's camp when the higher was made and everything he is doing just helps me feel more confident in that call. He's got the Bruins enjoying football again and that's a monumental step in the right direction; even if their defense is still clueless have the time and their offensive playbook is very limited.
That said, I'm going to go with Arizona as the team that can make waves early. The Wildcats get Oregon early in the season, before Marcus Mariota has played a true FBS opponent, and they have a scheme that is going to give people fits. Rich Rodriguez has been a legitimate football genius for a long time and Arizona is just the latest in a string of schools to benefit from his savvy approach to creating mismatches, getting bodies in space and pushing the tempo.
UCLA is going to be good under Mora, he's a coach tailor made for the collegiate game. However, it is going to take them some time, some recruiting of pro styled bodies and a couple years to digest the complex defensive scheme. Right now though? Give me Arizona as a fly in the ointment.
Allen Kenney: Before the season, I thought Utah had a chance to play the spoiler. The questions at quarterback there and a pretty poor effort versus Utah State have had me singing a different tune.
So, put me in the Arizona camp, too.
Mike Leach's return to coaching got a lot of the preseason pub, but Rich Rodriguez deserves every bit the same amount of credit that the Pirate gets as an offensive innovator. In Matt Scott, he inherited a quarterback who's an ideal fit for his run-first spread scheme. And don't undersell what a good win that was for the Wildcats over Oklahoma State.
Given that the defenses in the Pac-12 have been generally underwhelming so far this year, you have to know RichRod will be looking to turn games into track meets. I wouldn't be shocked if Arizona wins eight or nine games and pulls off a shocker along the way.
Aaron Torres: Since you guys already touched on the two key programs that are worthy of discussion, let me just add one more thing on UCLA: My goodness is that team physical.
Look, I know that the cliche thing we hear every time there's a coaching change, is that the new guy has "totally changed the culture" around a program, except in the case of Mora, he actually has. UCLA has always had talent, but what I was so impressed by against Nebraska was the way they didn't get cute, didn't try to do anything fancy and just ran right at them. For all four quarters, Nebraska, the big, tough Big Ten had no answer.
And it all comes back to the "culture" Mora has created.
I mean seriously, would you believe me if I told you UCLA put up 658 yards in that game? Or that Jonathan Franklin has nearly 100 yards more on the ground than any back in college football? More importantly, would you believe me if I told you that for all the quirky, gimmicky Mike Leach/Mike Gundy/Chip Kelly offenses in college football, UCLA's boring old pro-style is second in total yardage right now, behind only Oklahoma State, which got exposed as utterly average when they were playing Savannah State?
Like Michael, I loved the Mora hire when it happened, but I'd be lying if I said I thought this team would look this good, this quickly.
Without Oregon on the schedule, and with swing games like Utah, Stanford and Arizona all at home, I see no reason why this team can't win 10 games.