Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

Nix puts up 5 TDs, No. 25 Oregon takes down No. 12 BYU 41-20

BYU v Oregon
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EUGENE, Ore. – Bo Nix likened himself to a point guard for Oregon.

He certainly scored like one. Nix threw for two touchdowns and ran for three more to lead No. 25 Oregon to a 41-20 victory over No. 12 BYU on Saturday.

The victory extended Oregon’s winning streak at Autzen Stadium to 21 games, the third-longest in the nation.

Nix, a transfer from Auburn, completed 13 of 18 passes for 222 yards and ran for 35 yards on nine carries. Terrance Ferguson caught both of Nix’s touchdown passes and finished with 24 yards receiving.

“I felt like I didn’t do anything different, just went out there and played the game, let it come to me,” Nix said. “At the end of the day I’m a point guard, with some great positions around me, great skill players. So my job is kind of easy: Knowing what to do with the ball, knowing who to give the ball to, and then letting those guys do their thing.”

Jaren Hall threw for 305 yards and two scores for BYU (2-1), which was coming off a big win at home over then-No. 9 Baylor that moved the Cougars up nine spots in the AP Top 25. They struggled on the ground against the Ducks, mustering just 61 rushing yards.

“We just didn’t play as good as we should have starting off. Had a good first play, had some momentum, just didn’t finish the drive, and just kind of let things get out of hand offensively the next couple of drives,” Hall said.

The Ducks (2-1) rebounded from a season-opening loss to Georgia with a 70-14 win at home over Eastern Washington last weekend.

Nix ran two yards for a touchdown to give the Ducks an early lead. Camden Lewis added a 28-yard field goal to give Oregon a 10-0 lead after the opening quarter.

Isaac Rex hauled down a pass from quarterback Jaren Hall for a 28-yard BYU touchdown early in the second. Oregon answered on the next drive when Nix found Troy Franklin with a 50-yard pass to get close, then ran on another 2-yard keeper to make it 17-7.

Nix fired a 15-yard TD pass to Ferguson in the end zone to give Oregon a 24-7 lead heading into halftime. Nix added a 6-yard keeper early in the second half and found Ferguson for a 9-yard scoring pass to make it 38-7.

Ty Thompson replaced Nix late in the third quarter.

BYU closed to within 38-14 on Hall’s 18-yard scoring pass to Kody Epps – Epps’ first touchdown as a Cougar.

BYU intercepted Thompson on the Oregon 30 and were helped by a pass interference call, leading to Hall’s 2-yard scoring pass to Chris Brooks. A 2-point conversion attempt failed.

Nix returned on Oregon’s next series and the drive was capped by Lewis’ 25-yard field goal to cap scoring.

“One of my past coaches told me that pressure is a privilege, and so I’ve really taken that to heart, and there’s nothing more true in my opinion,” Nix said. “When you have a lot of pressure it means that people believe in you, people believe you can do it, or you wouldn’t have pressure at all.”

THE TAKEAWAY

BYU: The Cougars were shorthanded because of key injuries. Starting receivers Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney remained out. Nacua was a game-time decision because of a sore right ankle. The Cougars were also without starting defensive linemen Tyler Batty and Earl Tuioti-Mariner. … Jake Oldroyd missed a 38-yard field goal in the opening half, his third straight miss. … BYU was 5-0 against the Pac-12 last season.

Oregon: BYU honored Oregon tight end Spencer Webb, who died in an offseason accident, by running out of the tunnel with an Oregon flag with Webb’s No. 18…. Oregon now leads the series with BYU 4-3. The previous meeting between the two was in 2006 at the Las Vegas Bowl, a 38-8 victory for the Cougars.

THE LAST TIME

Saturday’s game was the first between two ranked teams at Autzen Stadium since 2018. And the last time BYU and Oregon played here was in 1990, when the unranked Ducks upset No. 4 BYU 32-16 in a meeting that featured two big-name quarterbacks. Oregon’s Bill Musgrave threw three touchdowns and ran for another. BYU’s Ty Detmer was sacked five times. It was one of just three losses for the Cougars that season.

UP NEXT

BYU: The Cougars host Wyoming next Saturday.

Oregon: The Ducks visit Washington State next Saturday.

Bennett, Georgia defense lead No. 3 Dawgs to 49-3 rout of Oregon

Oregon v Georgia
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ATLANTA – Stetson Bennett and the Georgia defense picked up where they left off in last year’s national championship game, even with a bunch of their former teammates now playing in the NFL.

Bennett threw for 368 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, a revamped defense didn’t miss a beat, and the No. 3 Bulldogs looked very much like a champion intent on repeating with a 49-3 rout of No. 11 Oregon on Saturday.

Bennett completed 25-of-31 passes with two touchdowns and ran for another score in the season opener before calling it a day in the third quarter. By that point, Georgia led 42-3 and had thoroughly ruined the debut of Oregon coach Dan Lanning.

Georgia really opened it up on offense, throwing 37 times for 439 yards.

“I think when you watch what they did today, if you’re watching from home, you’re saying, `Man, I’d love to come play in that offense,”‘ coach Kirby Smart said.

After spending the last three years as Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, Lanning got a look at his former team from the opposing sideline in a game played before a predominantly red-clad crowd at the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

He saw just how far the Ducks have to go.

“That locker room is hurting a little bit,” Lanning said. “But they’re ready to grow.”

Bennett, the former walk-on who led a storybook run to Georgia’s first national title since 1980, returned for a sixth college season with a firm grip on the starting job after battling for playing time most of his career.

Bennett was the offensive MVP of both Georgia victories in last year’s College Football Playoff.

He started his final season with a career high for passing yards.

“It’s always good to go in being the guy,” Bennett said. “It was pretty cool.”

He guided the Bulldogs to the end zone on all six possessions he played. He ran for a 1-yard score and tossed TD passes of 4 yards to Ladd McConkey – spinning away from a pass rusher who appeared to have him corralled – and 18 yards to Adonai Mitchell.

There were some questions about the Georgia defense, which had five players off the 2021 unit selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Any doubts were quickly put to rest by a swarming group that looked very much like last year’s defense for the ages, making life miserable for new Oregon quarterback Bo Nix.

“One of our mottos is, `No one in our end zone,”‘ said Christopher Smith, who had one of Georgia’s two interceptions.

Nix transferred to Eugene after starting at Auburn the last three seasons. He immediately found himself facing a team he lost to three times while playing in the SEC.

Make it 0-4.

Nix’s frustration was evident when he buried his helmet in his hands after a false-start penalty.

Georgia’s day was epitomized by a short pass to Darnell Washington that turned into a big gain when the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end shrugged off one defender hitting him high and hurdled another who tried to bring him down low.

QUITE A DEBUT

Freshman Malaki Starks looks like one of the new stars of the Georgia defense.

He made a brilliant interception while falling backward at the Georgia 8 and wound up leading the team with eight tackles.

NIX IN GREEN

Despite his poor showing, Nix has a solid grasp on the Oregon quarterback job.

Nix completed 21 of 37 for just 173 yards, and his second interception – the one picked off by Smith – was an especially poor decision.

“He forced a throw he didn’t need to force,” Lanning said. “Bo knows that.”

Even though he didn’t name a stating quarterback leading up to the game, Lanning never considered giving someone else a shot.

Nix is still No. 1 on the depth chart.

“He’s our quarterback,” Lanning said. “He did a a good job handling some adverse situations. Now he’s got to figure out how he can improve.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Oregon: Lanning clearly has a lot of work to do to bring the Ducks up to a truly elite level. While there’s no shame in losing to a team such as Georgia, Oregon expected to be much more competitive in their new coach’s first game.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are off and rolling in defense of their national championship. They weren’t threatened at all by perhaps the toughest team on their schedule until a Nov. 19 game at Kentucky.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bulldogs are more than worthy of their No. 3 ranking. Smart has built a program that reloads rather than rebuilds.

Oregon is sure to tumble in The Associated Press poll. But at least every game from here on out looks much easier than facing the Bulldogs.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Home opener next Saturday against FCS school Eastern Washington.

Georgia: While this seemed like a home game for Georgia, its actual home opener is next Saturday against FCS opponent Sanford.