Yesterday gave us a pair of much-hyped, big games. The main course was Oregon-Washington, one of the nastiest rivalries West of the Mississippi, made better this year by the exceptionally high stakes (for a change): Heisman positioning, control of the P12, the first time the two had met as ranked Top 10s, etc. It also gave us one of the most storied rivalries in football, between two teams with about 20 national titles and a dozen Heismans between them: USC at Notre Dame.
But there was one game with all the moment of those that flew well below the radar, between two Top 15 teams: UCLA took their nasty defense into Corvallis to face the Beavers. Oregon State has been hell on wheels this year too, winning with offense and defense. They are a field goal away from being undefeated, and have played a much more difficult schedule than the Ducks or Doogs — they’ve now faced three Top 25s in just seven games. While the national folks may not recognize the degree of difficulty, we do. And we reward them accordingly. And it’s unfortunate for Chip Kelly’s team too. This UCLA teams is positively filthy on defense; the offense is what has let them down. In any other year, this would at worst be a 6-1 team. They’re not done wrecking people either, methinks.
But that wasn’t the only game of Hippie on Hippie violence. The Stanford Cardinal traveled to the Dispensary in Boulder, fell down 29-0...then stormed back and scored on 8 straight possessions to upend the Buffaloes. The P12 has given us no end of great games this year, and remains the most entertaining football product in the country this year.
Then one of the first-half darlings, the Wazzu Cougars, got absolutely waylaid at home in one of the most impressive games of the year: 44-6 Arizona. The Wildcats have been close to breaking through several times this year. That was the moment Jedd Fisch has been working towards.
And it’s a good thing that we can lean into the P12 too, because closer to home, the SEC is downright mid. There’s something to be said for parity, but this conference is defined by it in 2023: Bad quarterback play, inconsistency, bad coaching, bad road play, defensive holes you can park a Kenworth in sideways. That is borne out too by the Non-Con schedule. For the first time in living memory, the SEC failed its biggest OOC tests: LSU got worked over by the Noles, the Tide was smacked around at home by the Longhorns, South Carolina never got off the bus against the Tarheels, ad nauseum.
The SEC was supposed to be down this year because of the lack of returning firepower under center, but even its alleged saviors have stunk up the field — Devin Leary at UK is putrid; Graham Mertz runs hot and cold like a 1930s starlet; Spencer Rattler is forever one throw away from a back-breaking interception; the Tide’s QB depth chart is a laughable mess; Auburn’s is worse; Jaxson Dart veers wildly from efficient to JAG; Carson Beck has been sus against a very weak field. Coaching has ruined Will Rogers at MSU and KJ Jefferson at Arkansas; Milton is a pair of legs in a volume system. About the only person that was supposed to be elite has been: Jayden Daniels at LSU (and I hate that fact as much as you do).
In short: the P12 is thriving, and the SEC is floundering, because there is elite quarterback coaching out west, players are put into schemes that showcase their ability...and the bad secondaries help more than a little too. And the Pac 12’s offensive excellence is all the more a damning indictment of the quality of SEC quarterbacks, the positional coaching in the SEC, and all too often the lack of offensive creativity...or even competence.
Without further ado, here is the Week 8 Blog Poll; a few very brief remarks follow. Usual caveats: The criteria are nebulous, far-ranging, and capricious — strength of schedule, bad and good coaching, injuries, exigent circumstances, home/away results, defense or lack thereof, offense or lack thereof, line play, power poll-ishness, can you cover a spread (Vegas is pretty smart about how good a team is), head-to-head where possible or prudent, and my own lying eyeballs.
A few quick notes follow:
- In the SBC, James Madison keeps destroying people. Saturday’s win over a red-hot Georgia Southern team was very unexpected. While Coastal and Appy State have fallen back a bit, the emergence of the Dukes, as well as Georgia State’s best season in memory, are buoying the Fun Belt
- There is no one that is beating Florida State at home, except themselves.
- Still waiting on Penn State and Michigan to play somebody...anybody.
- Ohio State has had a nominally more difficult path, so they get the nod, although I suspect one or both of PSU/UM are better.
- Wyoming / Air Force was manball par excellence, as expected. It’s a pity someone had to lose that game.
- Kansas State, Notre Dame rebounded in a big way.
- Is Missouri potentially the best team in the SEC? If they had a defensive line, I may take that bet. Neither Georgia nor Alabama showed anything on Saturday that ought to scare teams with a dynamic offense: undisciplined, defensive lapses, baffling playcalls, long stretches of inattention.
- I regret to inform you that UNC is actually quite good...and doubly so at home.
- Miami and Louisville, however, failed their road tests on Saturday, and did so authoritatively.
- It’s comforting to write off another Lincoln Riley fraud by Halloween.
- For the second year in a row, Dan Lanning’s balls far outweighed his brains. I think he’s trying to stay off of the Alabama HCIW radar. He’s given that game away to Washington in back-to-back seasons.
- I’m not sure that Tennessee is actually any good. Maybe they’re good-ish? Good-adjacent? The Aggie-Vawls game was awful, eyes-bleeding football. Jimbo legally steals the kind money that Bernie Madoff only dreamed of.
- Keep an eye on some midmajors just under the radar: This week’s Toledo-Miami (OH) game will be a barn-burner. But Liberty is quietly 6-0 too, and seal-clubbing teams with a filthy defense and rushing attack. Fresno didn’t go anywhere either, but if that secondary is not forcing interceptions, it makes each week a shootout.
- Feels weird to not have Clemson on here, doesn’t it? I don’t think they’re done losing this year either.
Overall record aside, who’s the best team in the Pac 12?