What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

What did we learn in Week 8? Read on.

Nov. 3 has gone splat: In the preseason, it looked perfectly reasonable to imagine that the Big Show meeting between USC and Oregon was going to match up 8-0 teams. Oregon kept its side of the bargain -- in spades. USC? Not so much. The Trojans arrive with two losses. USC will play the spoiler role for the Ducks' national title hopes on Saturday. That's the role of a character actor.

USC isn't who we thought they were, so we won't crown them: There's a lot of fake crowing going on right now, outside and even inside the Pac-12 about USC being overrated -- JUST LIKE I SAID IN THE PRESEASON. But let's recall the preseason logic for USC: The Trojans welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. Most everyone questioned depth, but you don't project injuries into a season. And the Trojans' tumble from their projected excellence hasn't really been about injuries. It's been about playing poorly. It's about QB Matt Barkley being shockingly inconsistent. It's about four returning starters from the O-line playing worse than last year. It's about penalties and turnovers and sloppiness. It's also fair to question some of the coaching, particularly play calling that too often swings to the extremes of quirky and conservative.

Oregon State's magic runs out with a QB controversy: No. 7 Oregon State went down 20-17 at Washington mostly because QB Sean Mannion returned after two weeks off due to a knee injury and threw four interceptions. His backup, Cody Vaz, who played well while running the Beavers' offense in Mannion's stead, nearly orchestrated a Beavers comeback after he replaced Mannion. So who should start against Arizona State when the Beavers return home on Saturday? Hard to say. Bet coach Mike Riley feels the same way.

Arizona is the nation's best 5-3 team: As Anthony Gimino pointed out, the combined record of Arizona's foes is 43-12. The Wildcats have beaten ranked teams in Oklahoma State and USC, and lost in overtime to Stanford and by three to Oregon State. Sure, they got bricked at Oregon. That happens. But here's the rub: If Arizona wins out, it wins the South Division. Here's the point: You don't want to play Arizona. This team has a potent offense and plenty of fight. That counts for a lot.

UCLA on cusp of making statement? Speaking of Arizona ... guess who can hush the Wildcats and make their own big-time statement next weekend? That would be UCLA under its own first-year coach, Jim Mora. They play host to the Wildcats in a game that suddenly has become very meaningful. After a thrilling comeback win at Arizona State, the Bruins, at 6-2 and 3-2 in Pac-12 play, also can win the South by winning the rest of their games. It seems like a big deal that redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley came up big on the road against a quality foe.

Utah steps forward; Cal steps back: Utah bounced back from an 0-4 start to Pac-12 play in 2011, so their win over California, which stomped them 34-10 last year, is meaningful. Utah hints at the ability to find a way to earn bowl eligibility. Cal? It's now 3-6 and needs to win out. Doubtful. And that's not good news for coach Jeff Tedford.