Conference questions: Oregon and USC’s dominance, Wazzu’s ineptitude, and UCLA’s QB promise

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Can anyone in the Pac-12 challenge Oregon and USC?

It sure doesn’t look like it after a thoroughly underwhelming opening weekend for the conference. The power gap in the Pac-12 looks to be bigger than ever this year, with the Trojans and Ducks looking head and shoulders above the rest.

Utah’s defense did live up to its billing in pitching a shutout on Saturday, which would have been impressive if it had come against a legitimate team instead North Colorado. While that defensive unit should keep them up near the top of the conference, quarterback Jordan Wynn will have to be more efficient than he’s ever been to overcome USC for the Pac-12 south title. Otherwise, asking their defense to contain a ridiculously potent Trojan offense should prove too much.

The north looks to be all Oregon. If there’s such a thing as a bad win, Stanford’s 20-17 home win against San Jose State was just that, and life post-Andrew Luck looks pretty grim for the Cardinal. Stanford’s passing game looked like a shade of what it was for the past three years, and the Cardinal won’t be able to just ride their ground game to the top of the conference. Washington’s defense did look vastly improved in its 21-12 win, but the country will likely get a more realistic picture of the Huskies against LSU this Saturday, and that picture will likely be far less flattering.

Connor Byrne

Is Washington State still a Pac-12 doormat?

It’s too early to make conclusions on the Mike Leach experiment in Pullman, but the Cougars looked awful on offense last Saturday.

Despite all of the preseason hype surrounding the collaboration between Leach, senior quarterback Jeff Tuel and preseason All-American wide receiver Marquess Wilson, Washington State  managed just 6 points along with an astonishing -5 rushing yards in a blowout loss at BYU. The defense was as bad as expected, but the offense really disappointed, looking disjointed and mediocre.

The Cougars are going to continue to let their opponents score at will — the question is whether or not the offense can live up to its billing and lift them out of the cellar they’ve been trapped in for the last decade. Tuel is going to need far better protection from his offensive line, and is going to need at least some sort of running game to keep defenses honest. BYU played the pass on nearly every play, and the Cougars failed to make them pay for it, never even attempting to establish the run, as running back Carl Winston only carried the ball 4 times for 7 yards.

Based on Leach’s history at Texas Tech, the Cougars will likely get their offense figured out. But if they don’t, it’s going to be another season of irrelevancy.

Connor Byrne

Is UCLA’s Brett Hundley the real deal?

His debut for the Bruins in their 49-24 win over Rice last Thursday was probably better than anyone could have expected.

He completed 21-of-28 passes, threw for more than 200 yards. Of his three touchdowns, one came on a 72-yard run — on his first play from scrimmage. How good is Brett Hundley?

To answer that question, however, we’ll have to find out just how bad Rice’s defense is. The Owls, coming off a 4-8 season, gave up more than 460 yards last season. Nebraska will present a much bigger challenge for UCLA this Saturday, when the No. 16 Cornhuskers travel to the Rose Bowl.

With that said, Hundley — the first UCLA quarterback quarterback ever to receive a five-star ranking — gives fans reason to believe in an upset. Last week, the Bruins amassed 646 yards — an impressive number even against an inferior opponent. And Hundley, who was rated by as the No. 3 quarterback in the country coming out of Chandler High School, lived up to his billing. It was by no means a perfect performance. The redshirt freshman threw an interception, and the squad failed to score in the third quarter. Nevertheless, the potential is there, and fans in Westwood should remain optimistic.

Jonathan Kuperberg

Connor Byrne and Jonathan Kuperberg cover football. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected].