Saturday Night Five: Utah, Oregon road wins highlight another stellar week (on the field) for the Pac-12

Saturday Night Five: Utah, Oregon road wins highlight another stellar week (on the field) for the Pac-12

Instant reaction to Pac-12 developments in Week 2 …

1. Rolling on

Only a sizzling start to the regular season would enable the Pac-12 to equal the stratospheric preseason hype.

Through two weeks, it has managed to clear the bar.

The conference ripped off seven more out-of-league victories Saturday and currently boasts the following records:

— 20-3 against non-conference opponents, the best in the country.

— 4-3 against Power Five opponents.

— 3-1 on the road against Power Five opponents.

What’s more, it probably will start Week 3 with seven teams in the AP top-25 poll. The six currently ranked should hold their ground while UCLA, which plastered San Diego State, inches into the poll from its spot just below the cut.

(Or could Washington State enter the poll after a decisive win over No. 19 Wisconsin?)

Non-conference records to date:

Pac-12: 20-3 (86.9 percent)
SEC: 23-6 (79.3 percent)
ACC: 18-6 (75 percent)
Big Ten: 21-7 (75 percent)
Big 12: 20-8 (71.4 percent)

The remaining out-of-league games and the bowl season will provide full clarity. But through two weeks, we cannot discount the possibility that the Pac-12 could be the best league in the land — even better than the SEC

And who could have guessed that scenario would fall on the spectrum of possibilities.

2. Close calls both ways

The 7-3 non-conference mark on Saturday would have been far worse if not for two stirring comebacks in Big 12 country.

Utah trailed Baylor 13-3 in the third quarter, then scored the final 17 points as freshman quarterback Nate Johnson made several critical plays down the stretch. (The Utes are 2-0 without Cam Rising, by the way, and won’t need him for their Week 3 date with Weber State.)

Oregon trailed Texas Tech 27-18 early in the fourth quarter, then scored 20 of the final 23 points. Quarterback Bo Nix was steady, but the Ducks won the game at the line of scrimmage (on both sides of the ball).

That said, the Pac-12 wasn’t far from posting a 9-1 mark on Saturday.

Arizona lost at Mississippi State in overtime (31-24) despite five turnovers, including four interceptions by quarterback Jayden de Laura. (The defense was superb in sudden-change situations.)

And Cal was unable to hold a late lead in its 14-10 loss at home to Auburn. The Bears missed three field goals and were inept offensively, scoring just three points on four drives that started in Auburn territory.

The Pac-12’s other non-conference loss came in Tempe, where Arizona State had too little of everything to hang with Oklahoma State.

3. The big picture

It’s never too early to ponder College Football Playoff scenarios because non-conference performance sets the framework.

No two-loss team has been invited to the event; nor has any team gone undefeated in conference play since the Pac-12 expanded in the 2011 season.

In other words: Lose outside of league, and perfection is required during the crucible of the conference season.

The Hotline is particularly interested in teams with 2-0 records and favorable matchups in their third and final non-conference game.

So let’s discount Washington. The Huskies have looked sharp but face a difficult trip to Michigan State in Week 3.

Instead, our focus is on the following 2-0 teams: Utah (next game: Weber State), Oregon State (San Diego State) UCLA (UNC Central), Washington State (Northern Colorado), Oregon (Hawaii) and Colorado (Colorado State).

Barring upsets, at least six teams will enter conference play with 3-0 records.

That hardly guarantees the Pac-12 a seat at the playoff table, but it widens the path for the conference to break its seven-year CFP drought.

4. QB watch

We’re racking the quarterback play across the Pac-12 on a weekly basis in order to determine if it has ever been better.

Either because of poor performance, lowly opponents or small sample size, Oregon State’s DJ Uiagalelei, UCLA’s Dante Moore and ASU’s Jaden Rashada don’t make the Hotline’s cut for the top group, and Utah’s Rising has yet to take the field.

But the Big Five, as we’ll call them, delivered once again:

USC’s Caleb Williams, Washington State’s Cam Ward, Washington’s Michael Penix, Oregon’s Bo Nix and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders combined for 12 touchdowns and one interception Saturday and completed 73.4 percent of their passes.

All but Ward are on the top tier of early Heisman Trophy candidates, along with Colorado’s two-way star, Travis Hunter.

5. He said it

Our vote for quote of the day — no, make that quote of the month — came from Washington State coach Jake Dickert after his Cougars dispatched Wisconsin.

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“This moment, it’s everything,” Dickert said on the ABC broadcast. “We belong in the Power 5! These kids have worked their ass off.”

If you’re scoring at home, the ‘Pac-2’ schools are a combined 4-0 thus far.

The Cougars have beaten Colorado State and Wisconsin, while Oregon State has smashed San Jose State and UC Davis.

The Hotline is definitely scoring at home when it comes to the only schools not headed to a Power Five conference next season.

The momentous development this week only underscored the division within the conference: WSU and OSU took the Pac-12 to court to determine which schools have governing authority.

We cannot claim to know how the legal process will play out or whether WSU and OSU will rebuild the Pac-12.

But it’s worth watching what impact, if any, their off-field fate has on their on-field performance.

It’s a fascinating subplot to the season.

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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.