Utah and Oregon losses push Pac-12 to brink of CFP elimination

Instant reaction to Pac-12 developments in the field…

1. Could have been worse

On the surface, the first week was a success for the Pac-12.

The conference went 9-3 and was perfect against the five-star group (5-0) and FCS competition (4-0).

Arizona and Oregon State combined to beat San Diego State and Boise State by a score of 72-37.

Washington showed real offense and crushed Kent State on coach Kalen DeBoer’s debut.

Los Angeles Schools combined for 111 points and 1,164 yards in blowouts from Bowling Green (UCLA) and Rice (USC).

Two of the three losses were to double-digit underdogs (Colorado and Oregon), so expectations were low heading into the weekend.

The third loss came as a slight favorite on the road against an SEC opponent (Utah).

In total, the 12 results are a substantial improvement over the first week of last year. And that makes sense: the quarterback’s game has been improved and there is no more COVID hangover.

2. Could have been better

That said, college football success isn’t defined on the surface. It is rooted, first and foremost, in college football playoff participation.

By that metric, Saturday was tough for the Pac-12:

Two of the three teams with the best chance of reaching the CFP suffered brutal losses in different ways.

Oregon was hampered by Georgia (49-3) in a way we didn’t think possible. The Dawgs did to the Ducks what we would expect Oregon to do to Western Oregon.

Utah’s loss to Florida came in the final seconds of a fabulous game. Cam Rising’s pass was intercepted in the end zone with the Utes within range of an easy field goal that would have forced overtime.

As the CFP went, the Ducks finished: Even if they lead the board, the 46-point loss will undermine their playoff bid.

Utah alive but with no room for error. If Florida produces a quality season, the three-point loss won’t stand against the Utes — until they lose again.

As we see, the conference has two paths to the CFP:

– Utah wins and finishes 12-1.

– USC finishes 13-0 or 12-1.

No other team has the talent or the schedule juice (hello, UCLA) to be considered as potential contenders.

3. Northwest Beginners

We typically reserve judgment on head coaching hires until the end of the third year, but it was hard to watch Washington and Oregon play without thinking about the stark contrast in moves last winter.

The Ducks opted for the hottest coordinator on the market in Dan Lanning, fresh off his national title as defensive coordinator from Georgia.

Meanwhile, Washington went for the most mundane hire possible: DeBoer had spent two years in charge of Fresno State.

Comparisons would be grossly unfair after just one game, especially given the disparity in competition. So we’ll connect each coach to their own team: From what we’ve seen, it’s not hard to imagine the Huskies exceeding expectations and the Ducks underperforming by a tick.

They don’t have Georgia’s talent, but the performance in Atlanta was a real mess. Oregon was not properly prepared.

In Seattle, the Huskies have been more precise, creative and diverse offensively than they have been since former point guard Jonathan Smith departed in 2017 to take over Oregon State.

UW will undoubtedly encounter difficult times. But even if Michael Penix Jr. and Co. are only half as good as they were tonight, the offense will be twice as good as last year.

4. Standouts, standdowns

The most impressive player we’ve seen today? There were two, actually: Utah tight end Brant Kuithe and Arizona wide receiver Jacob Cowing.

Kuithe had nine catches for 105 yards and a touchdown and was a one-man passing attack in The Swamp.

Cowing had eight catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns and, according to the Wildcats, became the first player in 15 years to have three touchdowns in his Power Five debut.

There were other notable projections, including UCLA tailback Zach Charbonnet, but Cowing and Kuithe were a cut above.

On the flip side: Colorado delivered the worst performance of the week by a team that didn’t face the defending national champions.

The Buffaloes made TCU look like a playoff team in a 38-13 win at Boulder.

The Hotline thought it would be a long year for CU. At first glance, we underestimated how dire the situation could become.

5. Unrecognizable Arizona

It was shocking to see the transformation of Washington’s offense from the incompetent unit of 2021 to the efficient machine that soared 45 points and 525 yards against Kent State.

But Arizona’s performance in a 38-20 win at San Diego State was vastly different from anything we’ve seen from the Wildcats in several years.

They did it on both sides of the fray and, in particular, at the line of scrimmage.

The Wildcats weren’t rushed — they pushed against a program that typically gets the better of Pac-12 haters.

Combine that transformation in the trenches with an effective quarterback in Laura’s Jayden and a point guard like Cowing, and the Wildcats could finish in the middle of the pack.

That would be quite a leap for a team that was 1-16 the previous two seasons.

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