Pac-12: Power Conference

The shifting sands of the college football landscape have, in the space of a single week, elevated the Pac-12 to where it has an argument to be considered the second-best conference in the country. While just about everybody concedes that the SEC is tops, many thought it a sure thing that the Big 12 would be next.

But Oklahoma and Texas appear to have weaknesses. Oklahoma State has a freshman quarterback, and Kansas State is strong (but not quite a top five team). The best team in the conference might well be newcomer West Virginia. After a weekend in which mighty USC and Oregon looked occasionally bored while winning big, Arizona beat Oklahoma State, UCLA toppled Nebraska, and Oregon State knocked off Wisconsin, making it a banner week for the Pac-12.

Saint Louis grad Marcus Mariota is one of eight local boys playing for No. 4 Oregon. AP Photo

The biggest problem for the conference appears to be the bottom. Colorado is so bad that Jon Embree will be lucky to last till season’s end, Washington State will need time under Mike Leach, and Utah lost its quarterback and a game to Utah State. But Cal, Stanford and Washington all should be representative, Oregon State is coming back, and UCLA and Arizona haven’t felt this good about themselves in years.

Now USC and Oregon – led by redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota of Saint Louis School – will have to avoid complacency until their Nov. 3 meeting at the Coliseum. And Pac-12 fans can look forward to excellent matchups elsewhere in the conference.

• And how about the Big Ten? Embarrassing losses by Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska have the conference reeling. Perhaps only Ohio State approaches excellence, and the Buckeyes are not eligible for the post-season. Watch Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller – if he stays healthy he’ll likely be headed to New York for Heisman Week. He may be the best fit for Urban Meyer’s offense yet, eclipsing the likes of Alex Smith and Tim Tebow.

• I can’t help but feel sorry for the Penn State players, who had nothing to do with the scandal but will suffer the effects of the sanctions as long as they’re there. And the reaction to their kicker, who missed four FGs and two PATs against Virginia, is an absolute disgrace. Does anyone think he missed on purpose?

• This week will see former UH offensive coordinator Nick Rolovich return in the same role for the Nevada Wolfpack. His quarterback, Cody Fajardo, will test the UH defense with the revamped pistol offense now armed with a passing component.

UH will need a complete performance to prevail; expect special teams to have a huge impact on the outcome.

• The NFL’s rookie quarterback sweepstakes in Week 1 clearly went to RGIII as the Redskins beat New Orleans on the road. Look for each of the rookies to have their share of adversity, but Griffin and Luck appear headed for eventual stardom.

My choice for Comeback Player of the Year? San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who looked like 2011 was just a bad dream in the opening win at Oakland.