PHOENIX — Colorado had already struggled through its first Pac-12 season, losing one game after another while adjusting to the speed of the conference.
That, as the Buffaloes quickly found out, was only a prelude to Saturday's game against Oregon.
"With their speed, our guys were just like 'Wow!'" Colorado coach Jon Embree said.
The Buffaloes aren't alone in being blown away — and blown off the field — by the Pac-12's elite
Despite improvements by teams like Arizona State and Washington that have added depth to the conference, the Pac-12 is still being dominated by the teams at the top.
No. 4 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon, at least so far this season, appear to be well ahead of everyone else in the conference, steamrolling through the Pac-12 toward a Nov. 12 showdown at Stanford that's been called the real Pac-12 championship game.
There's still a long way to go before the actual title game on Dec. 2, but it's starting to look like a formality that either the Ducks or Cardinal, whichever wins the North Division, will have a good shot at rolling over whatever team makes it from the South.
Stanford (7-0, 5-0 Pac-12) has been untouchable so far this season, becoming the first team in 75 years to win 10 games in a row by 25 points or more while winning a nation's-best 15 straight games over two seasons.
The Cardinal have the Heisman Trophy front-runner and potential No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in Andrew Luck, fifth in the nation in passer efficiency with 1,888 yards and 20 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Stanford also has a physical offensive line, a pounding running game and a defense that's third in the country against the run, allowing 75 yards per game, making it one of the most well-balanced teams in the nation.
Oregon (6-1, 4-0) has dominated since losing its opener to LSU, now the top-ranked team in the country, averaging 51 points per game while rolling over its last six opponents. The Ducks have been hit hard by injuries and suspensions, yet haven't seemed to mind, winning their first four Pac-12 games by an average of 27.5 points while extending their conference winning streak to 16 straight games.
Arizona State, up to No. 18 in the poll at the time, figured to have a shot at beating the Ducks two weeks ago behind quarterback Brock Osweiler and an opportunistic defense.
The Sun Devils did manage to keep it close in the first half, only to see the Ducks fly away with it in the second for a 41-27 win. Oregon did it despite playing without running back LaMichael James and losing quarterback Darron Thomas to a knee injury, and again in Boulder the next week, jumping out to a 29-0 lead on the way to a 45-2 win over Colorado.
No matter who's in the lineup, Oregon seems to be just too deep and too fast for most of the Pac-12 to keep up with.
"They do a great job of putting pressure on you every play because of their speed on both sides of the ball and on special teams," Embree said. "You make a mistake, they're going to make you pay for it."
Just like Stanford, as Washington found out last week.Comment on this story
Off to their best start since 2001, the Huskies stayed close to the Cardinal in the first half, just as Arizona State did with Oregon. Unlike the Sun Devils, the Huskies couldn't keep it that way.
Trailing by three early in the second quarter, Washington was overwhelmed by Stanford, which scored 21 points in the quarter to turn a tight game into a 65-21 rout. The Cardinal set school records for points in a conference game and rushing, piling up 446 yards while Luck threw for just 169.
"I think it's a very abnormal situation," said Southern California coach Lane Kiffin, whose team faces the Cardinal on Saturday. "I don't think very often — ever — do you a quarterback that's one of the best to ever play the game and was told he'd be the first pick in the NFL draft as a sophomore, yet they're a running football team. That usually doesn't happen and that's why they're so good."
Two teams, two distinctive styles, dominating and leaving the rest of the conference behind — at least for now.