It seems strange since it still feels so early in the season, but we are basically a third of the way through the Pac-12 football season. It goes by so fast, I know it and I hate it.
The first third or quarter of this season has been about as hard to read of any I can remember in the Pac-12 so I thought it might be helpful to try and hand out some early-season grades to teams and try to figure out what they have going for them and against them.
The Wildcats took care of business in a non-conference slate that was a little tougher than anticipated, grinding out wins against UTSA and Nevada and won their Pac-12 opener, but probably shouldn't have. They have looked good, but far from spectacular other than during one quarter against Cal.
Best game: Cal (but just the fourth quarter)
The first three quarters may have been ugly, but showing that they have the mettle to come back the way they did and the fire power to score 36 points in one quarter is more impressive than beating mid-majors in unspectacular fashion.
Worst game: Cal (Except the fourth quarter)
Let's not forget that even with their furious rally, the Wildcats were still one miraculous play as time expired away from losing their conference home opener to a team that won one game last year.
The Sun Devils have had the most boring season thus far of any Pac-12 team, but they have done what they needed to do. I would reason that their defense gave up more than I would have liked against New Mexico and Colorado though. Ultimately their biggest move (good or bad) thus far was Taylor Kelly going down to injury.
Best game: Weber State
The Sun Devils haven't had a designated game that has jumped out because they have played a pretty boring schedule, but their opener was as good as they have looked thus far.
Worst game: at Colorado
The Sun Devils were cruising in Boulder until Taylor Kelly went down. They still left with a 14-point win against an improving Colorado team on the road, but losing Kelly made this a horrible game for the Sun Devils.
We all knew opening up at Northwestern would be a perfect ruler game for the Bears to show if they were going to improve under Sonny Dykes in year two and they passed the test. Northwestern isn't a very good team, but getting a road win for a team that only won a single game last season was a huge step forward. They could have taken some more steps forward in their Pac-12 opener, but then the fourth quarter happened in Tucson and now it looks like Cal is greatly improved, but still has issues and might not yet be a true player in the North. Still, the Bears have made a major positive statement in their first three games.
Best game: at Northwestern
I want to say at Arizona here as it took a string of miracles for Arizona to beat Cal and they dominated most of the game, but the potential ripples of the heartbreak of that game make it dangerous to really hurt the Bears in the long run. Opening up the season with a nice win on the road against a Big 5 conference foe went a long ways in announcing that the Bears are improved in 2014.
Worst game: at Arizona
Overall, the Bears did a ton of good things in this game, but the horrific way that they lost it has to sting.
The Buffs opened up the season on a big disappointment, losing to Colorado State in unspectacular fashion. They have done what they need to do since, winning tight ones against Hawaii and UMass while only losing to Arizona State by 14, but still not much to get excited about other than Nelson Spruce and Sefo Liufau.
Best game: Hawaii
The Buffs actually beat the Warriors more convincingly than Oregon State or Washington did.
Worst game: Colorado State
Such a downer to start the season. Not only did the Buffs lose to their rival from a lesser conference, they didn't even take it down to the wire.
The Ducks were flying high coming into Pac-12 play after going 3-0 in their non-conference slate with a convincing win over defending Rose Bowl champions Michigan State, but they are flying a lot closer to the ground now after nearly losing their Pac-12 opener in Pullman. It is hard to grade the Ducks because that win over Michigan State was huge and will pay major dividends at the end of the season when the Spartans run through a Big Ten that is closer in strength to the MAC than it is the Pac-12, but nearly losing to what looked like the worst team in the Pac-12 a week ago knocks down their grade at least a little bit. I would probably put them as a B, but the fact that they have already had two hurtful injuries that compounded a hurtful injury coming into the season knocks that down to a B-.
Best game: Michigan State
A no brainer here. The Ducks took control of the defending Rose Bowl champions in breathtaking fashion and made a national statement.
Worst game: at Washington State
The Ducks escaped with the win due to exceptional execution by their staff/scheme with their quarterback and receivers but their weaknesses in pass protection and pass defense got fully exploited.
Best game: San Diego State
The Beavers absolutely controlled one of the best mid-major programs there is with a dominant performance by their defense and a promising performance by their running backs to wrap up non-conference play.
Worst game: Portland State
Not a horrible game, but the Beavers looked a bit sluggish against a very questionable Portland State team and didn't do nearly as much on offense as you would hope.
The Cardinal have had only one real test and they narrowly failed it against USC by kind of imploding themselves so I just can't give them a positive grade. However, their defense has looked great, maybe even better than 2013 somehow in limited testing, but their offense has left a lot to be desired. They specifically haven't been running the ball as well as we are accustomed to with a new running back stable and offensive line lineup which could be particularly troublesome if they can't get it together since controlling the ball and clock is so integral to their scheme.
Best game: Army
This one is kind of by default since their only other win is against UCDavis, but they dominated Army as they should.
Worst game: USC
The Cardinal played exceptionally well on defense against USC, but their offense dropped the ball (literally) and they lost on the little things.
The Bruins have disappointed most a bit in their first few games, primarily because I think they got a little overrated as the off-season went on, but as time has shown a little bit, those teams they struggled with are a little bit better than people thought and beating Texas in Texas with a backup quarterback is no small feat. Still, the Bruins came into the season as expected national title contenders and have went down to the wire in each game against underdogs, so you can only give them so much of a good grade.
Best game: Texas
As I mentioned before, it wasn't pretty, but the Bruins beat Texas in Texas with a backup quarterback and despite how poorly they have played this year, the Longhorns are still teeming with talent.
Worst game: Memphis
The Tigers looked much, much improved this year, but coming to Pasadena and scoring on the Bruins at will still probably isn't excusable.
The Trojans have been through about two seasons worth of ups, downs and controversy in the path month. The season couldn't have started much better after destroying Fresno State and winning at Stanford, but the Trojans didn't have enough gas to get out of Palo Alto and then get to Boston the following week and got trucked, looking like they might never be able to stop the run again. Big ups, but a big down, the Trojans have been successful thus far because they are 1-0 in Pac-12 play, winning what looked to be the toughest game on their schedule this season.
Best game: at Stanford
Not much more here to explain really, the Trojans got a bit lucky, but they still got the win.
Worst game: at Boston College
It was sneakily a recipe for the disaster, traveling all the way across the country a weak after getting battered by Stanford for four quarters that seemed like eight, but regardless, the Trojans should have won this game and looked as bad in run defense as I have ever seen them.
Behold, the only Pac-12 team that has truly been consistent thus far this season. Congratulations Utes. They have realistically fulfilled their potential about as much as could be expected so far.
Best game: at Michigan
One of the biggest wins for the Utes in years, the Utes went into Ann Arbor and got a dominating win. I know that the Wolverines aren't very good, but that last phrase is an accomplishment no matter what.
Worst game: NA
The Utes haven't had anything close to a bad game yet.
The Huskies might be the biggest chunk of meat in the confusing Pac-12 stew. The Huskies have looked truly awful at times during their soft early-season schedule, but are loaded with talent and have also looked really good at times. Still, they are 4-0 heading into Pac-12 play.
Best game: Illinois
The Huskies were at least shaky for a while in the rest of their games but not in this one as they dominated their only power five opponent from the get go.
Worst game: at Hawaii
Tough call between this one and Eastern Washington, but I will go with Hawaii because the Huskies only won by one point and looked completely helpless on offense for almost all of the game.
The Cougars looked destined for disaster after opening by losing to Rutgers and Nevada with a lone unimpressive win over Portland State before they rallied and nearly beat Oregon last week. The Cougars didn't get the win and are still a disastrous 1-3, but their quick improvement gives hope for the rest of the season.
Best game: Oregon
Always tough when your best game is a loss, but the Cougars executed their air raid about as well as possible, their defense was ferocious in pass rush and they nearly beat what many was saying was the best team in the nation before the game.
Worst game: at Nevada
The Cougars got grounded by Nevada in Reno, barely able to move the ball at all through the air while their defense couldn't shut down Nevada enough to win a low-scoring battle.