What to make of all the madness out West?
By EVAN BUDROVICH
College Contributor Network
Watching Pac-12 football is fun for everyone involved, unless you actually have a vested interest in any of these teams. This mayhem all traces back to the official start of the season, Pac-12 media days in the Studios at Paramount earlier this July, where the stars were fully aligned on the red carpet.
Nestled between the beauty of the 100-year-old Paramount Pictures arches and the work bench where Forrest Gump recounted his larger-than-life story, media crammed into Paramount Theatre, an area rather grandiose but far too small for the growing media interest, taking curious notes on the "acclaimed" conference of champions filled with massive parity.
Hundreds of media members, including myself, leaned against walls, banged out words of wisdom (little did we know) on our squished laptops, literally fighting for air in a canvas media tent that felt more like a sauna than a place of work. As the saying goes at Paramount Studios, "Long Live and Prosper."
Tangent aside, the setting was fantastic. The sights and sounds of a picturesque water fountain dapping the aura of two bright sunny days as the Pac-12 Networks provided wall-to-wall coverage, along with some festive games of Corn Hole to keep the players and coaches fully engaged.
Throughout the course of 30-minute team sessions, the biggest phrases uttered from any coach's mouth concerned the "tough schedule" and, because of that, "no win is guaranteed in this conference." Little did we know, despite the six teams ranked in the preseason top-25 at the time, that every single game would matter and that everything we thought we knew would get thrust right out the window.
Home-field advantage is nowhere to be seen. These Pac-12 squads are just 9-of-twenty (.450) protecting their turf, the worst such mark in the nation.
To make matters worse, the two-time conference champion Stanford Cardinal is searching for an identity on offense, especially as the ground-and-pound style gets stuck in the mud.
Two highly enthusiastic coaches, Kyle Wittingham and Rich Rodriguez, have transformed both Utah and Arizona into bowl-eligible programs and we're not even into the month of November yet.
Washington has more defensive touchdowns than wins this season and the California Golden Bears have allowed 56 and 59 points in consecutive weeks, yet left the field undefeated in those games.
And we could not forget the four combined losses for the talk of the town in Los Angeles, No. 25 UCLA and a three-loss USC program. Did I mention that three of those losses have come in the final minutes? A heart-breaking ending has become commonplace in the topsy-turvy Pac-12 landscape.
"We've been part of stuff this season that I have yet to experience in coaching," coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters following the Trojans' recent 24-21 loss to the hands of No. 19 Utah, which was decided with just eight seconds to play. "You could look at so many plays, just one play here or one play there."
Just what all of us were thinking back in July at Pac-12 Media Days, right?
The gauntlet of games has created division-clinching scenarios far too complex for any mere mortal to dissect at this point, but that doesn't mean the action will calm down any time in the near future.
From what we've seen to this point, Oregon and Arizona State have the inside track to meet in Santa Clara. But really though, what does that mean given that each play fierce competitors? Oregon squares up with a two-loss Stanford team that has owned the Ducks in years past and has arguably the best defense in the country, plus ASU plays the hottest team in the conference in one-loss Utah.
That's what makes this conference special.
Just when you expect UCLA to beat Colorado, for example, the Bruins need two overtimes to squeak out a road win against a Buffaloes squad that was stomped the week before. Just when USC looks well on its way to beating Arizona State, the Sun Devils become yet another example of the Hail Mary magic.
Right as Cal jumped out to a 2-1 start in conference play, matching their win total from all of last season, the Washington Huskies completely shut down the high-powered Berkeley Bears offense. And now that everyone is ready to crown No. 18 Utah the darlings of the conference, we are reminded that the Utes somehow blew a fourth-quarter lead at home against Washington State.
So really, the Mendoza line for success is to actually stay afloat. As the dust continues to get brushed around, especially in the fascinating late-night Saturday slot, two teams will scratch and claw through the rigors of a nine-game conference schedule before heading to Santa Clara.
What should be called the 'Brady Bunch' of college football, the Pac-12 conference is looking to crash the college football postseason party, assuming everyone is accounted for from start to finish.
Evan Budrovich is a senior at the University of Southern California. He has a passion for the 49ers, Dodgers baseball and all things USC athletics. Follow him on Twitter: @evanbud