I don’t know about you, but I’ve been basking in the glow of sweet revenge all weekend. I wore one of my Cal shirts around the other day and got all sorts of high-fives and "hey didja see the game?"s all day. Fun stuff. And finally, after several years of enduring references to the 2004 Holiday Bowl, near misses vs. USC, and last year’s Tennessee game, we get a signature win and some national respect. The prestige that comes from big wins only has a shelf life of a couple years at most, and our last big-time national win came four years ago (remember, to the national media, it’s still USC and the nine dwarves, so beating a highly ranked Oregon or UCLA doesn’t count for much east of the Rockies). If you’re out there thinking that this could be a "special" season for our Bears, you’re not the only one.
Still, as big as Cal’s win was, it’s important for the rest of the Pac-10 to not slack off. With most of the non-conference schedule being completed in the first 3-4 weekends, the conference pecking order is basically sorted out by the end of September; when BCS selection time comes around, this is a large part of how similar teams from different conferences are ranked. Remember, 2/3rds of the BCS formula is based on national prestige (the polls), and the other 1/3rd is based on formulaic rankings like Jeff Sagarin’s (the computers).
So how’d the Pac come out? Well, a 6-2 out-of-conference weekend is not bad (UCLA took its turn beating Stanford on Saturday, which saved the conference from another embarrassing non-conference loss by the Cardinal, at least for one week), but it certainly could have been even better. Let’s run it down:
- Obviously, Cal’s 45-31 victory over Tennessee was the conference’s biggest of the weekend — only App State had a bigger win last Saturday. However, does this win mean that the Pac-10 is on par with the SEC? No more than last years loss meant that the Pac-10 is vastly inferior to the SEC. Still, national pundits will start giving more respect to Cal and the Pac-10, and the polls will reflect that.
- Washington’s 42-12 smackdown of Syracuse on the road was also big. Not because Syracuse is any great shakes (they’re pretty awful, actually, and those uniforms? Ugh), but this game served notice that Washington is clearly NOT awful. Heralded quarterback recruit Jake Locker’s performance, in particular, gives Washington fans something (finally!) to be excited about. With the toughest schedule in the nation, I still don’t expect them to win more than 4-5 games, but I do think they’ll give teams trouble, and by November, they could be a tough out for Cal.
- Speaking of serving notice, Arizona State’s 45-3 thumping of San Jose State lets everyone know that with Dennis Erickson at the helm, ASU’s underachieving days are over. San Jose State is no slouch, either. They won 9 games last year as well as gave Boise State a 3-point scare, their closest of the regular season.
- Oregon State dispatched a decent Utah squad 24-7, breaking Utah’s starting quarterback in the process. A good win, but definitely one Oregon State was expected to get.
- The same goes for Oregon’s 48-27 downing of Houston. Nice to get, but certainly nothing to hang your hat on. However, I’m sure Oregon was glad to learn that Dennis Dixon didn’t forget how to play quarterback while he was trying (and failing) to hit curveballs this summer.
-While most of us were drinking and celebrating Cal’s victory, USC was methodically taking care of a vastly inferior Idaho team, 38-10. My question: why didn’t they hang 70 on them, like they did to Arkansas two years ago? They didn’t even cover the spread! Maybe they were bored, or looking ahead to their trip to Nebraska in two weeks. Whatever the case, I doubt Trojan fans have anything to worry about.
- Guess who does have something to worry about? Arizona fans. New offensive coordinator, still no offense in a 20-7 loss at BYU. Now, BYU isn’t a bad team; did you see them destroy Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl last year? Still, this team is going to have to learn how to score if they want to be anything but a November spoiler again this year.
- Finally, Washington State travelled to No. 7 Wisconsin and lost 42-21 in a game that was close until the final quarter. Losing to a top-10 team on the road? No shame there.
Overall, 3 good wins, 3 rather ‘meh’ expected wins, a perfectly acceptable loss to a top 10 team, and a rather dismal debut for Arizona. It could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse. As for Cal’s other OOC opponents…
- Colorado State had a decent lead on Colorado late, but then frittered it away and lost in overtime, 31-28. Having watched part of this game, I’d have to say that Colorado State isn’t that bad (they’re still a middling MWC team), and Cal overlooks them at their own peril (I’m guessing Cal starts slow and starts blowing them out in the second quarter).
- Louisiana Tech beat Central Arkansas 28-7 in a game no one watched, cared about, or even knew was taking place. Still, good for them. Every win by our opponents makes us look better.
Finally, I do like to keep track of how the opponents of our opponents are doing, especially those that Cal has a number of common opponents with. Pollsters won’t take this kind of information into account, but computers definitely do, and it CAN affect BCS standings. Most of teams that play more than one of our opponents were busy playing one of them last weekend, but it is significant that Notre Dame face-planted 33-3 at home vs. Georgia Tech. Since Notre Dame plays USC, UCLA, and Stanford this year, a weak ND squad does hurt the Pac-10’s rating, at least a little bit. Also, 3 of our opponents play Utah, and since Oregon State not only sidelined their quarterback for a month but also took out their running back for the rest of the year, they might turn out to be weaker than we would have hoped.