Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All 12 teams in the Pac opened this weekend and the conference went 10-2. Colorado played its annual rivalry game with CSU, Cal notched a win over a B1G team, and UCLA took a trip to the ACC. Let’s take a look at the best and worst of the week in Pac-12 Roundup!


After a long week of controversey, it was all smiles for USC’s Cody Kessler and Steve Sarkisian on Saturday PHOTO: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tempting to honor Cal for coming up with their first win over an FBS opponent in nearly two years, but win of the week belongs to USC’s dominating performance against Fresno State.

The first “game week” of the Sarkisan Era was sabotaged by enough drama for an entire off-season.  Rather than prepping for Fresno State, all the attention around SC went to the Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown debacles. The USC football program had so much egg on its face, even SportsCenter anchor John Anderson felt safe editorializing from the anchor desk, referring to USC as a, “Clown College”.

Playing for their 4th head coach in a year and emerging from NCAA sanctions, there was little the Trojans could say, but a lot for them to prove.

On an opening day when even pre-season favorite UCLA looked frail and rusty, USC began the Sarkisian Era looking like a focused team in mid-season form. The Trojans first drive of the season went 90 yards in 17 plays for a touchdown and USC never looked back.

A year ago, USC’s home opener was an embarrassment. It was Lane Kiffin’s third year at the helm of the program but USC’s offense looked totally disjointed. The quarterbacks combined for a ghastly 54 passing yards in a 10-7 loss against a weak Washington State defense.

If the Sarkisian era was off to a disastrous start, as so many pundits had said, USC’s players and coaches didn’t seem to notice. The Trojans racked up over 700 yards of offense, and had a Pac-12 record 105 offensive snaps. Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and won Pac-12 Offensive player of the week.

After the game Kessler said what was already apparent to everyone, “…It didn’t feel like a new era. It felt like we’ve been playing with Sark for years.”

That Washington State loss last year feels like a long, long time ago.

WORST LOSS:  Honorable mention to Colorado for their loss to in-state rival Colorado State, but Washington State takes this one for a narrow loss to Rutgers that portends bad things to come for a Wazzu team hoping to make a big leap this season.

Washington State played their annual game at Century Link Field in Seattle, in front of their biggest alumni base. Their opponent was a team picked near the bottom of the B1G. This was a game the Cougars badly needed to win for both their reputation, and bowl eligibility. Instead, they lost to Rutgers in haunting fashion.

Opening Day rust was clearly not the Cougars’ problem. Mike Leach’s Air-Raid was clicking at mid-season form with Connor Halliday looking every bit the part of a Senior quarterback. Halliday averaged 9.5 yards per attempt, threw for over 500 yards and had 5 TDs.

The Cougars’ defense wasn’t great, but Washington State doesn’t pride themselves on a stifling D, they just want to out-gun their opponents. And true to form, on Thursday they out-gained the Scarlet Knights by a comfortable margin.

The problem is, for all its gaudy statistics, Leach’s system doesn’t control the ball or the clock. The all-or-nothing nature of the Air-Raid provides ample opportunities for trailing opponents to climb back into games. Thursday was no exception.  Washington State held and lost three different leads in the 2nd half, including two in the 4th quarter.

In the final frame, Washington State had three possessions, and none, not even their 67 yard scoring drive, lasted longer than two and a half minutes of game clock. The Cougs attempted to rush only 14 times in the entire game and just 3 times in the 4th quarter.

The Air-Raid forces defenses to defend sideline to sideline and, in theory, should open running lanes through the middle of the field. But this hasn’t been the case so far at Washington State.

Leach’s first year in the Pallouse, the Cougars averaged a crazy-low 29 rushing yards per game. That number improved last year to 53 ypg, but this is nowhere close to where Wazzu needs to be to find success.

In Leach’s dream season at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders averaged nearly 150 rushing yards per game, and were able to control both the ball and the clock to win a number of close games.

The sad fact for Washington State is, until the Cougars get their rushing averages closer to 150 than 50, it won’t matter how many yards Conner Halliday racks up, no lead will be safe in Pullman.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Let’s depart from convention this week and give this to the entire special teams of the Utah Utes, who played a nearly perfect game on Thursday night against Idaho State.

Kaelin Clay found the inside twice on Thursday en route to winning Pac-12 Special Teams player of the week PHOTO: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The Utes were expected to have the best special teams in the Pac this season with both kicker Andy Phillips and Punter Tom Hackett named preseason All-Pac-12 1st team, but Utah’s domination went beyond any one skill player.

To start, Hackett was nearly flawless. In the 2nd quarter, he lobbed a perfect bomb of a punt that fell into the arms of three waiting teammates at the ISU 1 yard line and made it look as easy as throwing a long pass in pre-game warmups.

The next time he was on the field in the early 3rd, he rolled right for a rugby style kick, saw available real-estate in front of him and ran 28 yards for the first down.

If that wasn’t enough, his next punt was a line drive that landed hard inside the ISU 5 and bounced straight up in the air (described by the Pac-12 Network crew as “like a Mickelson lob wedge”). The Utes jumped on it and ISU had to start from their own 2 yard line.

As incredible as Hackett was, he wasn’t even Utah’s biggest special teams star for the night. That would have to be Mt. SAC transfer Kaelin Clay who introduced himself to the Utah faithful with an insane 46 yard punt return TD that made 8 different Bengal defenders miss . Later in the night, Clay would add to the heroics by returning a kickoff 100 yards for a Touchdown. Not bad for your first game at a new school.

Clay’s returns were #1 on SportsCenter’s Top Plays that night and he was named Pac-12 Special Teams player of the week.

Utah also blocked ISU’s lone field goal attempt and Kicker Andy Phillips was a perfect 8 for 8 on the night.

Two punts downed inside the 5, a blocked Field Goal, a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown. That’s a good season in a lot of places. Utah’s 3rd phase looks like a legitimate weapon this season.