This was supposed to be the Pac-12’s year. With six teams ranked in the AP Top-25 and as many as three or four with a reasonable shot to make the College Football Playoffs it became chic among national sports pundits to say the conference was as good or better than even the mighty SEC.
Conference standard-bearer Oregon has done what it could for the narrative, beating then-No. 7 Michigan State, and California has helped lift the bottom of the conference with a win at Northwestern.
But two of the teams that were expected to prove the conference’s quality have been disappointing so far, and they’ve done it without losing a game.
With 17 returning starters, including do-everything quarterback Brett Hundley, a lot was expected of UCLA at the beginning of fall camp. Perhaps it was the glamorous Hollywood air, or perhaps the desire to see a fun offense other than Oregon’s make some noise on the West Coast.
Perhaps it was something entirely different, but for whatever reason the hype surrounding the Bruins continued to grow during the month leading up to the start of the season, boiling over when ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard picked the Bruins over Florida State in the national championship game, with Hundley winning the Heisman.
But then the season started, and although the Bruins have won they have continually dipped in the polls, from No. 7 to No. 11 to No. 12. In UCLA’s first game the defense covered for a terrible offensive showing, scoring three defensive touchdowns in the Bruins’ 28-20 win at Virginia.
Last week it was the offense that had to hold off the upset, putting up 42 points in a close win over Memphis.
During the Pac-12 coaches teleconference on Tuesday coach Jim Mora said the Tigers had run an unorthodox offense that gave UCLA trouble due to its multiple run concepts.
“We weren’t consistent with where we were supposed to look and how we were supposed to react,” Mora said. “We were not happy with our performance on defense so we’ve worked very hard at correcting that.”
With the entire offensive and defensive lines and a number of contributors returning from last season’s 9-4 team, as well as one of the country’s most respected helmsmen in new coach in Chris Petersen, Washington looked like another quality team to give the conference depth.
A close win at Hawaii was forgivable because the starting quarterback was suspended and the defense looked good. But the defense looked suspect in a 59-52 win over Eastern Washington, in which stellar Eagles quarterback Vernon Adams tossed seven touchdowns.
“We didn’t play nearly well enough,” Petersen said. “A couple of our DBs were in position to make plays and they just executed better than we did. Got the ball in there, made very tough catches. And then some of the other stuff we need to tackle better on a couple of them and then we need to play better technique, so it’s obviously a work in progress.”
The good news is that both teams are still undefeated and it would not be a surprise if by midseason they are playing up to everyone’s preseason expectations. Mora said lowered outside expectations are just fine with the Bruins.
“We enjoy the role of the underdog and maybe we’re back to where we want to be, which is people are doubting us and there’s a reason for that,” he said. “And that’s OK with us, it’s up to us to prove that we’re a big competitive good football team to be reckoned with and our first two weeks we haven’t necessarily done that.”
New WSU Kicker
Erik Powell was the starting kicker for WSU to start the season, but after the freshman missed two critical field goals in the team’s 24-13 loss to Nevada this week the Cougars decided to give a shot to Quentin Breshears, who made a 38-yard field goal in the game.
Breshears took first-string field goal attempts during practice and is listed atop the depth chart at the position.
“We had a chance to give Quentin a shot,” special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. “He took advantage of it so good for him. Both of them I think are good kickers but they’ve got to understand that we can’t miss.”
Russell said Powell will still handle kickoff duties for the Cougars.
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