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

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

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.

Utah student charged for terrorism threat over football game

© Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SALT LAKE CITY – A University of Utah student was arrested and charged with making terrorist threats on Wednesday after police said she threatened to detonate a nuclear reactor if the school’s football team failed to win a game last Saturday.

Charging documents filed in Salt Lake City on Wednesday allege the 21-year old student posted threats before Utah’s game against San Diego State University on Saturday, warning that she “was going to detonate the nuclear reactor that is located in the University of Utah causing a mass destruction.”

The threats were allegedly posted on YikYak, a social media platform that allows users to post anonymously and which rose to prominence on college campuses a decade ago.

According to the charging documents, the student studied engineering and had knowledge of the university’s nuclear reactor.

The University of Utah is among more than two dozen U.S. universities with nuclear engineering programs that use reactors for faculty and student research.

The university said in a statement on Thursday that the reactor was secured and campus law enforcement had protocols in place to ensure no breaches are made. Officials said the student, who it did not name, admitted to posting the threat and told investigators on Wednesday that it was meant as a joke.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for these kinds of threats,” University of Utah Police Chief Jason Hinojosa said.

Court records did not list an attorney representing the student. A call made to her family’s listed home phone number went unanswered on Thursday.

Utah defeated San Diego State in Saturday’s game, 35-7.

Richardson shines, Burney seals Florida’s win vs. No. 7 Utah

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Standing in the tunnel and waiting to run into the raucous Swamp for the first time, Florida coach Billy Napier turned to an assistant and summed up the moment.

“Can you believe they pay us to do this?” he said.

It seemed like money well spent after the Gators delivered their biggest season-opening victory in more than 50 years.

Anthony Richardson ran for three scores in his second career start, including a 2-yard scamper with 1:25 remaining, and Florida upset seventh-ranked Utah 29-26 on Saturday night to get the Napier era off to a rousing start.

Richardson was the best player on the field most of the night. He really showed up down the stretch, although fifth-year linebacker Amari Burney was the one who sealed the victory for the rebuilding Gators. Burney intercepted Cam Rising‘s second-down pass into the end zone with 17 seconds remaining.

“Someone had to make a play, It happened to be me,” Burney said.

That set off a wild celebration for many of the 90,799 in attendance – the 10th most at home in school history. Richardson took a knee from there, and the Gators rushed the field to revel in their 33rd consecutive victory in home season openers. That’s the longest current streak in the nation.

“This group’s got a lot of fight in them,” said Napier, who replaced fired coach Dan Mullen in November. “They’ve got a little bit different edge to them.”

Richardson ran 11 times for 106 yards and was never stopped for a loss. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and played turnover-free football.

“He’s going to get his (NFL payday),” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s 6-4, 230 and runs like a 4.3. He’s a terrific player.”

Richardson’s best play? He had an electrifying 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators up 22-19. He juked former Florida teammate Mohamoud Diabate with a pump fake and then sprinted right by fellow Utah linebacker Lander Barton before throwing a strike to Ja’Quavion Fraziers in the back of the end zone.

Utah answered and briefly took the lead, but Richardson responded. He moved the chains with a third-down throw and again with a fourth-down run, both of which set up his game winner.

“Just trying to make something happen. Glad it worked,” Richardson said.

Rising moved the Utes in position to steal one on the road for a team that entered the season with its highest preseason ranking in school history. But Rising’s last pass was his most important – or costly – of the night.

“It wasn’t Cam’s best throw,” Whittingham said. “I’m sure he’d like that back, but he played great.”

Rising completed 22 of 32 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and the turnover. He also ran for 91 more.

Tavion Thomas had 115 yards rushing and a score for Utah, which caught a break when it rained about two hours before kickoff and erased whatever advantage Florida had with sweltering summer heat and humidity.

GAME CHANGERS

The difference was Florida’s success and Utah’s failure in the red zone. The Gators scored touchdowns on all three trips into the 20-yard line. The Utes had the late turnover and were stuffed on consecutive downs at the goal line to open the third quarter.

Utah also settled for two first-half field goals, one from 43 yards and another from 31.

THE TAKEAWAY

Utah: The defending Pac-12 champions showed resiliency on the road, battling back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, the Utes have enough talent and experience to be a factor in the chase for the College Football Playoff.

Florida: The Gators don’t look like they’ll in rebuilding mode for long. Napier’s recruiting has jumped in the last two months and a game like this could do wonders to help him close the gap on Southeastern Conference heavyweights Alabama and Georgia.

“There’s a lot of good energy in the locker room right now,” Richardson said.

MILLION DOLLAR HANDSHAKE

Napier showed a bit of modern-day coaching nuance in the first half when he left his team during a timeout to offer millionaire booster Hugh Hathcock a handshake and a partial hug. Hathcock is one of the program’s top donors.

Hathcock, who owns Velocity Automotive Solutions, gave the University Athletic Association a $12.6 million gift in April. Some of the money will be used to renovate Florida’s aging basketball practice facility and some is sure to help the football program. The Gators plan to name a suite tower at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and its basketball complex after Hathcock.

UP NEXT

Utah: hosts Southern Utah next Saturday. The in-state teams played once previously, with the Utes winning 24-0 in 2016.

Florida: continues its tough opening stretch when it hosts No. 20 Kentucky to being SEC play next Saturday night.