The Pac-12's nonconference performance was anything but sparkling over the first three weekends, but the conference did participate in a development that could prove critical to its College Football Playoff hopes.
It played a key role in the Big 12 becoming last among Power 5 equals, thereby improving the Pac-12's chances of placing its eventual champion in the CFP.
With California prevailing over No. 11 Texas 50-43, the Pac-12 will finish the regular season with a 3-0 record against the Big 12. Only two Big 12 teams, Baylor and West Virginia, are still undefeated, and preseason favorite Oklahoma is 1-2. It appears the Big 12's marquee nonconference wins will be over Pittsburgh (Oklahoma State) and Missouri (West Virginia).
At present, the Big 12 has no teams ranked in the top-15 of the AP poll.
That is a resume the Pac-12 can eclipse, which will help if, say, the selection committee is comparing a two-loss Pac-12 champion to a two-loss Big 12 champ.
So on a weekend that saw Oregon go down at Nebraska, thereby falling out of the national rankings, and USC show few signs of life at Stanford, the conference probably improved its position in the national pecking order. Two teams in the South Division -- Arizona State and Utah -- remain unbeaten, just as it is in the North with Stanford and Washington. Every Pac-12 team has at least one win -- no bagel-and-12 in this conference -- and nine have at least two wins.
In terms of the misery index, USC and Washington State, both at 1-2 and dealing with myriad off-field issues, are the only two teams wallowing below their baseline preseason expectations.
USC fans may want to hit the pause button on the panic, though. While there was little to like in the losses to Alabama and Stanford, and it's justifiable to question the early direction of the program under new coach Clay Helton, the Trojans can quickly get off the carpet if they are able to win at No. 24 Utah on Friday night. A win against a top South contender could immediately change the trajectory of the season, particularly with the October schedule appearing much softer than the first month's slate.
Put it this way: From a preseason perspective, a 2-2 start for USC pretty much matches projections -- however the games actually looked while transpiring -- just as a four-game winning streak in advance of an Oregon visit on Nov. 5 still feels perfectly reasonable.
As for Oregon, its loss at Nebraska was probably less concerning than its personal losses due to injury. Both running back Royce Freeman and veteran offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby were lost to injury and their statuses are unknown with Colorado coming to town Saturday. Freeman is one of the best players in the country, and Crosby was a returning starter on a young O-line. Both could come in handy, say, when Washington comes a callin' on Oct. 8.
Colorado can commiserate. Just as it looked to be challenging Michigan in the Big House, quarterback Sefo Liufau went down with an ankle injury that will make his status at the very least questionable for Saturday in Autzen Stadium. Moreover, the Buffaloes could be missing kicker Diego Gonzalez and outside linebacker Derek McCartney due to injury.
If you're looking for what the X factor may be in deciding the Pac-12, injuries certainly are a candidate. They are starting their doleful trickle, and no team in the Pac-12 is deep enough to play the ol' next-man-in card with any legitimacy with two, three or six starters in street clothes on the sidelines.
As for the week ahead, all six games carry intrigue. For one, just imagine if Oregon State were able to slip Boise State at home. That certainly would redefine the Beavers as an easy out at the bottom of the conference pecking order, something that competitive opener at Minnesota already suggested.
At the top of the conference, No. 9 Washington is at Arizona in what looks like a quintessential "Don't Look Ahead Game," as the Huskies try to ignore the presence of Stanford and Oregon as their next two dates. No. 7 Stanford, continuing its rugged slog of a schedule, is at UCLA, where Josh Rosen and the Bruins will try to end eight years of futility and frustration in the series.
And in a game that probably could earn a 90-point over/under, California will be at Arizona State, a battle that could create the conference's first surprise contender. At the very least, the winner figures to be ranked the following week.
It seems likely the Pac-12 will lose at least one undefeated team this weekend, and it wouldn't be shocking if there were mass carnage.
The Pac-12 rarely makes things easy on itself. Its contenders often pull a Vic Enwere, and drop the ball just short of the goal line.
The good news out West though is that the Big 12 doesn't appear capable of making an "immediate recovery."