Reaction to Pac-12 developments from Week Seven …

1. Defining Saturday

To this point, the Pac-12 had produced an entertaining and largely successful season.

On Oct. 15 — the midpoint of the middle month — it went next level …

— It went next level for thrills with Utah’s 43-42 victory over USC, the game of the year thus far.

The Utes survived an early onslaught by the Trojans, made optimum use of tight end Dalton Kincaid and rode to victory on a stone-cold decision by coach Kyle Whittingham to attempt a two-point conversion in the final minute, rather than play for overtime.

(Kincaid had 16 catches, a conference record for tight ends.)

Oh, and quarterback Cameron Rising made up for this late-game interception in the season opener at Florida with a stellar performance under pressure against the Trojans.

Meanwhile, the Trojans were exactly who we thought they were: A first-class offense with a vulnerable defense, plenty relevant nationally but perhaps not quite playoff-worthy.

(More on that in a moment.)

— It went next level for offense with Washington’s 49-39 victory over Arizona.

The teams combined for 1,121 yards — three more than Utah and USC — along with 62 first downs, seven touchdowns of 20 yards or more … and zero turnovers.

The Huskies (5-2) are a force at home and have already surpassed last year’s win total.

Arizona’s defense might be worse than it was last year, which we didn’t think possible. The Wildcats have given up 49 points in all three of their conference losses.

— It went next level for streak-busting with Stanford’s 16-14 victory at Notre Dame.

Yes, the floundering Cardinal beat an FBS opponent for the first time since the Oct. 2, 2021 upset of Oregon — and managed the feat as a 17-point underdog in South Bend.

But the result says more about the floundering state of the Irish program than it suggests a pending resurgence by Stanford.

After all, the Irish lost to Marshall at home last month. We need to see much more from the Cardinal buying the notion of an upturn.

— It went level for surprises with Colorado’s upset of Cal — the Buffaloes’ first victory of the season in their first game since firing Karl Dorrell.

We won’t draw any conclusions from CU’s end, especially with regard to how the result might impact interim coach Mike Sanford’s prospects for getting the permanent job. (It’s far too early to speculate.)

But the impact on Cal is more palpable: It was a terrible result that should put the spotlight squarely on offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the play selection and use (or misuse) of personnel.

Incredibly, the Bears managed just 13 points against a CU defense that had given up at least 38 in its previous five games.

Losing to a previously winless team last year (Arizona) kept the Bears out of the bowl season.

Losing to a previously winless team this year (Colorado) might do the same.

— And the day went next level for orange-ness with Oregon State’s 24-10 victory over Washington State.

The Beavers now have five wins and a slew of manageable assignments left, including Cal and Colorado. They haven’t won nine games since the 2012 season, but that mark is undeniably attainable this fall.

WSU’s defense is stout, but the Cougars won’t impact the conference race until they solve the production problems. In three road games this season, they have scored a total of 41 points.

All in all, this was the most relevant, most impact, most surprising and riveting Saturday of the season … at least until next Saturday.

2. The Big(ger) Game

As pulsating as was Utah’s victory over the undefeated Trojans, there’s an even better matchup awaiting in Week Eight based on the rankings and records.

Undefeated UCLA visits one-loss Oregon at 12:30 p.m.

Both teams should be ranked in the top-10 given their current placements — the Bruins are 11th, the Ducks 12th — and the losses incurred Saturday by teams ranked above them in the AP poll.

The matchup is enticing enough that ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’ will broadcast from Eugene.

It has been forever since the Pac-12 produced back-to-back conference showdowns with the stakes and appeal to match USC-Utah and UCLA-Oregon.

3. The Big Four

While trajectories could change, the Hotline would submit that USC, UCLA, Utah and Oregon form the Pac-12’s best quartet of teams since the 2016 season.

Back then, USC, Colorado, Stanford and Washington won at least 10 games; the Huskies made the playoff; the Trojans beat Penn State in the Rose Bowl; and all four finished in the top 20 of the final AP poll.

That was the last time the Pac-12 was truly relevant on the national scene.

The following year marked the start of a decline that reached its nadir last season with the abysmal non-conference and postseason results.

In many ways, this season marks a rebirth.

The fact that USC and UCLA are prime drivers in their penultimate seasons in the conference is irrelevant.

4. The Big Picture

We have no doubt that many within the Pac-12 orbit — not only fans but campus and conference executives — were pleased to see the Trojans toppled, just as they will be rooting for Oregon to knock off UCLA.

Who needs the Big Ten-bound defectors, right?

Actually, the Pac-12 needs them.

Here’s the reality: The conference is better off with USC or UCLA in the College Football Playoff than with nobody in the College Football Playoff.

The Big Ten move is 21 months away and has no bearing on the success of either program this season.

Meanwhile, the CFP drought is five years and counting. The Pac-12 is not in position to be selective.

And guess what: Even with the result today, the Los Angeles schools remain the best bets to make the CFP.

Oregon has little chance because of the 49-3 loss to Georgia. In fact, the better the Ducks perform within the conference, the worse the conference looks.

And Utah (5-2) has no chance to make the CFP. No two-loss team has ever made the cut, and rest assured, the Pac-12 won’t be the first conference to clear that bar.

So that leaves USC and UCLA.

The Trojans (6-1) will receive serious CFP consideration if they win out, while the Bruins can afford one loss, so long as it doesn’t come in the Pac-12 title game.

This is eat-your-own season in the Pac-12, as close observers are no doubt aware.

Utah already exacted a pound of USC’s flesh. The Ducks can do the same to UCLA next weekend.

5. A final thought

The Hotline has defended the caliber of Pac-12 officiating this season on numerous platforms, including this space and Twitter, and on numerous occasions.


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