Saturday, October 16, 1999
Pac-10 teams goBy John Nadel
from ranked to rank
LOS ANGELES -- The Pac-10 has been the Pathetic-10 so far this season.
Conference teams have been embarrassed by non-league opponents, like New Mexico State and Idaho, and they've shown little regard for defense in beating up on each other.
It all seemed so promising two months ago, when four Pac-10 schools were ranked in the preseason Top 25 and at least one, Arizona, was considered a national championship contender.
That's pretty typical for the Pac-10, whose members played in six bowl games two years ago and won five.
Now, halfway through the season, Arizona has the best overall record at 4-2, and the Pac-10 is without a ranked team for the first time in more than 14 years
"It's obviously a down kind of year, I guess," said UCLA coach Bob Toledo, whose Bruins have gone from one of the nation's best teams late last season to .500 so far this year.
"I don't know how to explain it, other than to say it's just one of those years - crazy."
Toledo could be speaking for every coach in the conference, because each team certainly has had problems.
Start with Arizona. It went 12-1 last season, including a 23-20 victory over perennial powerhouse Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, and entered this year with 16 returning starters, high hopes and a No. 4 ranking.
But the Wildcats (2-1 Pac-10) were routed, 41-7, by then-No. 3 Penn State in the Kickoff Classic, and dropped out of the rankings when they were shocked by visiting Stanford, 50-22, in their Pac-10 opener Sept. 18.
"We probably overachieved last year, and we are underachieving now," Arizona coach Dick Tomey said.
Two weeks ago, after Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC had performed far below expectations, Oregon was the only ranked Pac-10 team, at No. 25. The Ducks then lost at Washington, 34-20.
USC was the only ranked Pac-10 team last week, at No. 22. The Trojans then lost at Arizona, 31-24.
Stanford (3-2, 3-0 Pac-10) and Washington (3-2, 2-0) were the Pac-10 front-runners heading into the weekend, but that could change. Neither has played very well.
Stanford lost at Texas, 69-17, in its season-opener, then beat Pac-10 opponents Washington State, Arizona and UCLA before losing to non-league foe San Jose State, 44-39.
Washington had convincing victories over Oregon and Oregon State after losing to Brigham Young and Air Force and narrowly beating Colorado to start the year.
And so it goes.
"We've struggled against non-league opponents, I know that," Tomey said of the Pac-10. "Maybe we're all a little young, and not as good as we've been in the past."
Two years ago, Pac-10 schools had an overall record of 68-48, including the five bowl wins. The conference began to slide last year, going 65-52 with a 1-4 record in bowl games.
So far this season, the Pac-10 is 28-26, including 15-13 in non-league games. Most of those wins are nothing to be proud of, with two coming over Nevada and Fresno State, and one each over Middle Tennessee State, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, Rutgers, UTEP, Georgia Southern, Boise State, Hawaii, San Diego State, Colorado and Louisiana-Lafayette.
That's not an impressive list. None of those teams is ranked among the Top 25, or anywhere close.
The seven non-conference games against ranked teams have been disasters. Not only is the Pac-10 winless in those games, it's been outscored, 297-110.
And that doesn't include Arizona State's 35-7 loss to New Mexico State and Washington State's 28-17 loss to Idaho.
There are two obvious shortcomings -- shoddy defense and inexperience and/or a lack of the usual talent at quarterback.
Pac-10 teams have allowed an average of 28.8 points per game, and winning isn't easy at any level when 30 or more points are required.
"We just aren't where we're supposed to be right now," Arizona defensive tackle Keoni Fraser said after Stanford scored 50 points against the Wildcats last month. "We just aren't together, aren't tackling, aren't doing a lot of things. We aren't the same team we were last year."