Behind Stanford and Oregon, Pac-12 up in the air

By Bob Baum

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 13 2011 6:11 p.m. MDT

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (12) passes against Duke during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011. Stanford won 44-14.

Gerry Broome, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Stanford has yet to have a real test and Oregon is on the rebound. The order for the rest of the Pac-12 food chain is a long way from being determined.

The early results have been either mixed or awful for most of the conference in its first season divided into two divisions after the addition of Utah and Colorado.

Arizona State (2-0) has climbed into the national rankings at No. 22 but the Sun Devils needed a missed 47-yard field goal to beat Missouri at home last week in overtime. USC (2-0) got a conference home victory over Utah, but had to block a field goal to prevent overtime in that one.

Washington, Washington State and California also are 2-0 but the level of competition makes judging the quality of those teams impossible.

Washington, with wins over Eastern Washington by three points and Hawaii by eight, could get a big dose of reality Saturday at No. 11 Nebraska (2-0). Arizona State plays its first road game of the season Saturday night at Illinois (2-0).

"Illinois to me is very comparable to Missouri," the Sun Devils' Dennis Erickson said Tuesday on the weekly Pac-12 coaches' conference call. "It's not like we're the best team in the world by any means. ... The only difference between us and them is that, for whatever reason, we're in the top 25 and they're not."

UCLA (1-1) is home against No. 23 Texas (2-0) and there's already grumbling about coach Rick Neuheisel's job status.

"I told our team at the outset of the season that this was going to be one of the years that people are going to try to make stories that don't have anything to do with us," he said, "and that's exactly what is taking place. We've got to focus on what we can control and fortunately we can control how well we play this week and that's how we have to spend our time."

No. 6 Stanford, coming off a 44-14 win at Duke, opens conference play at Arizona (1-1). Cardinal coach David Shaw is not close to being satisfied with his team's play, despite outscoring its opponents 101-17 thus far.

"The thing for us is we've played two games and we've played two really good second halves and two really below-par first halves," he said.

It's the second game in a murderer's row of four for Arizona. Last week, the Wildcats lost at now-No. 8 Oklahoma State 37-14. Next week, No. 12 Oregon comes to Tucson, then Arizona plays at USC.

Arizona coach Mike Stoops said this Stanford team looks pretty much the same as the one of a year ago, with Andrew Luck calmly at the controls, a strong running game and a stout defense. He doesn't think Shaw, who took over when Jim Harbaugh went to the 49ers, has turned his team loose yet.

"I think they've been somewhat vanilla the first two games," Stoops said.

The contest will allow some exposure for Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, who has completed 71 of 93 passes for 810 yards in two games.

"I think he's extremely underrated," Shaw said. "His name never gets brought up when you talk about the best quarterbacks in the nation, but you look at the numbers and he's right up there."

Two teams have rivalry games. Utah (1-1) plays at BYU (1-1) and Colorado (0-2) is at Colorado State (2-0). Utah and BYU used to play at the end of the season in a game that almost always had major ramifications in the Mountain West Conference. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that while he was disappointed in last week's loss to the Trojans, his team did show it could play "toe to toe and slug it out" with them on hostile turf.

"Taking nothing away from the Mountain West Conference, it's good football in the Mountain West,'" Whittingham said, "but this is a different ball game now. Essentially it's a bowl game every week."

After beating Nevada 69-20, Oregon (1-1) is at home against Missouri State (0-2). That's a long drop in level of competition from the Ducks' season-opening loss to LSU. Coach Chip Kelly said Oregon was supposed to play Utah, but that game was cancelled when the Utes joined the conference.

"We were scrambling to find someone," he said. "... We like playing big-time games — at Tennessee, at Boise, LSU. The Catch 22 a lot of times is you can't get quality opponents to come to your own stadium. Not a lot of people want to play in Autzen Stadium. We'll play anybody, but I don't want to play every game on the road, either."

California plays Presbyterian (1-1) at AT&T Park, home of baseball's San Francisco Giants. The Bears' stadium is under renovation.

Washington State, coming off a superb performance by backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael in a 59-7 rout of UNLV, is at San Diego State (2-0). USC is home against Syracuse (2-0). Oregon State (0-2) has a bye as coach Mike Riley vows to bring an end to his two-quarterback system.

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