Declarative sentences are dangerous heading into Week 6 of a college football season. History has taught us most things that appear ready to be tied neatly with a bow end up torn to shreds. But danger is the Pac-12 blog's middle name. (We just thought "Pac-12 Danger Blog" might scare some folks away and damage advertising revenue).
Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August
Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.
While neither the Bruins nor Ducks have been consistently impressive, they have produced the loudest national statements in the conference thus far. UCLA posted a dominant road win at Arizona State, while Oregon overwhelmed Michigan State in the second half.
What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.
Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?
It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.
The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame
If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.
While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.
Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.
Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.
Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.
Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.
The middle stepped back instead of forward
Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.
You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.
Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.
Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.
That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.
At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.