Pac-12 and SEC, budding super-conferences, don’t look so super
Look at the bright side: At least the Pac-12 still has Stanford and the Southeastern Conference has Vanderbilt.
While America’s power conferences worked politely, but carnivorously, behind the scenes to kill off competitors and reconfigure college football, their schools mostly sputtered and spit.
The SEC won the ultimate showdown, with Louisiana State soundly defeating Oregon on a Dallas-area field that was supposed be a neutral but leaned more toward the Mississippi River than the Willamette.
It was only one game, but if Oregon is the best the Pacific 12 has to offer, the conference might be up Walnut Creek without a battle. Maybe Texas Tech can’t get here fast enough.
Oregon was last season’s rage with its up-tempo offense and Soylent green uniforms. The Ducks mostly played Auburn to a standstill in the national title game, but mostly stood still against LSU.
Running back LaMichael James, an All-American tailback and Heisman Trophy candidate, ran as if he were attached to a parachute. Darron Thomas, who had a sensational sophomore season at quarterback, looked lost and tentative against the behemoths from Baton Rouge.
The blur-like “Jetsons” team that ran most teams off the field last season mostly huffed and puffed and pulled up lame. James gained only 54 yards in 18 carries. Backfield mate Kenjon Barner limped on and off the field. Barner, replacing suspended star Cliff Harris as punt returner, fumbled one right into an LSU touchdown.
De’Anthony Thomas, a talented but Oregon-green freshman, was forced into early action — of course he fumbled twice.
“He’s a freshman, playing in a big environment, you expect him to make big mistakes,” James said after the game. “He was thrown into the fire real quick; he has to grow up just like a lot of other players on this team.”
Oregon’s reputation in big games away from Eugene is now on the chopping block if you go back to that season-opening loss at Boise State two summers ago.
Elsewhere, the Pac-12 was stricken with cases of bad “yuck.” Oregon State succumbed to Sacramento State, but at least it was in overtime. Sacramento State made it sound like no big deal.
“It was just another game for us,” quarterback Jeff Fleming said.
Don’t look up, Beavers, because next week you’re at Wisconsin.
USC, picked to win the Pac-12 South, jumped to an early lead against Minnesota and then jumped through hoops to eke out a two-point win in the cavernous Coliseum.
UCLA lost its starting quarterback in a defeat at Houston that kick-started what could be a long season for the Bruins’ starting coach.
Washington needed Desmond Trufant’s interception, in his own end zone, to stave off an upset by Eastern Washington in Seattle. Arizona led Northern Arizona only 14-10 at the half before pancaking the Lumberjacks.
Utah looked less than stellar against Montana State and Colorado, surprise, lost at Hawaii. It spoiled Jon Embree’s debut as coach and extended the Buffaloes’ road losing streak to 18 games. Arizona State handled UC Davis but started another rehab program for another defensive player.
California defeated Fresno State but led only 19-14 at the half. Washington State, winner of five games in three years, scored 64 points in a crushing win over Idaho State. More crushing was the loss of quarterback Jeff Tuel to a broken collarbone.
So that leaves Stanford, a runaway winner over San Jose State, as the class of the league. Thank goodness Andrew Luck, the architect, came back to get his degree in that field.
The SEC could brag, but, aside from LSU looking like a serious national title contender, Labor Day weekend wasn’t a picnic.
“I don’t feel like we’ve hung the moon in any way,” Tigers Coach Les Miles said after the Oregon win. “I feel like we’re a good team but need to improve.”
Kentucky managed 75 yards in three quarters of a desultory 14-3 win over Western Kentucky. Georgia was thoroughly outplayed in Atlanta by Boise State.
Georgia’s season, and perhaps Coach Mark Richt’s future, might now rest with a better-win home game next week against South Carolina in Athens.
Mississippi lost at home to newly independent Brigham Young and Auburn needed a perfectly executed onside kick to narrowly escape an embarrassing home loss to Utah State.
“I don’t think you understand how much this game hurt, to be up 10 with four minutes to go with the defending BCS national champions on the ropes,” Utah State running back Robert Turbin said after his team’s 42-38 loss.
South Carolina, one of the favorites to win the SEC East, spotted East Carolina 17 points before the Gamecocks gamely responded.
Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee all cruise-controlled inferior opponents, and Vanderbilt, yes Vanderbilt, looked terrific in its 45-14 win over Elon.
The irony of the Pac-12 and SEC engaging in a tug-of-war over the remains of the Big 12 Conference is how well the Big 12 played this weekend.
Perhaps days, weeks, or months from extinction, the league was 9-0. We’re not counting Texas A&M’s Sunday night win over Southern Methodist because the Aggies last week announced they planned to leave the Big 12.
Baylor, likely to be stranded if the Big 12 dissolves, defeated Texas Christian on Friday night in a 50-48 thriller that may stand over time as the game of the year.
Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State, three more schools with shaky futures, shook off the distractions and pulled out wins over McNeese State, Eastern Kentucky and Northern Iowa.
The Big 12 should order “9-0" T-shirts and sip champagne out of Dixie cups because this might be the last best weekend of its life.
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