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September 14, 2012
The conference's three-game ambush of the Big Ten this past weekend, including Oregon State's scintillating 10-7 victory over Wisconsin in Corvallis, has doomed one of college football's superpower conferences to irrelevancy for this season.
Alabama struck the first blow with the 41-14 destruction of Michigan in Dallas two weekends ago, and the Beavers, UCLA (36-30 over Nebraska) and Arizona State (45-14 over Illinois) drove the stake through the heart of the Fightin' Jim Delaneys.
The Big Ten has seldom suffered from a shortage of self-importance, so the triple takedown in the Pacific time zone last Saturday assuredly brought glad tidings to the hearts of that conference's legion of haters everywhere.
But enough about the walking dead.
The remarkable sweep of the supposedly superior Big Ten put the Pac 12's promise on full display for the entire college football world to admire and hold in awe.
The conference has essentially been dominated by three teams for the past few years: Oregon, Southern Cal and Stanford.
Last weekend showed it shouldn't be that way anymore.
The time has come for some of the Pac-12's middle-tier programs like Oregon State, Washington, UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State to step up, get better and contend for the conference title on a consistent basis.
Obviously, four of those five teams took major steps forward with confidence-building wins (Arizona raced past Oklahoma State in Tucson), so a key question moving forward is which schools will grab the opportunity now presented them and which ones will fall flat.
All of a sudden, that Oregon State-UCLA matchup in Los Angeles on Sep. 22 has become far more attractive to TV executives than it was a week ago.
Once the Pac-12's depth improves (the revenue streams from the new lucrative TV contracts and Pac 12 network should help that quest immensely), it will be nicely positioned to challenge the SEC for college football supremacy. How does the Pac-12 get there? Easy. Just like the proverbial mousetrap, build better defenses.
Happily, Oregon State revealed the blueprint to the rest of the Pac-12 on what it will take to reach elite status.
In short, you must possess a defense containing fast, quick and strong players, particularly in the front seven. Exceptionally talented players along the defensive front and at linebacker is what separates the SEC from the other BCS conferences in major college football.
Oregon found that out the hard way in the BCS national championship game a couple of years ago when the lightning-fast Auburn defense stonewalled the Ducks offense for 60 minutes.
How impressive was the Beavers defense last Saturday? They completely dominated the line of scrimmage in holding Wisconsin to 35 net rushing yards and sacking Badgers quarterback Danny O'Brien three times.
Digest these words from Beavers outside linebacker D.J. Welch after the win: "Speed helps a lot. If you know how to play with speed, play smart and react fast, that's how you win games, playing fast."
Remember, that was a Wisconsin team that AVERAGED 235.6 rushing yards per game in 2011, finishing 11th nationally in that category. Montee Ball, considered a Heisman Trophy candidate when Wisconsin's plane landed in Corvallis on Friday, saw his hopes for winning college football's most coveted award fade to black with 61 rushing yards, less than half of his 2011 average (137.4 yards per game).
Montee, thank you for participating in this year's Heisman Trophy chase.
Wisconsin takes a lot of pride in running the football, and they simply couldn't do it. The last time Wisconsin was held to 35 yards rushing? If I recall, Grover Cleveland was President.
Stop the run! Are you paying attention Pac-12?
However, the Pac 12 has a lot of work left to do if they want to swim with the SEC sharks, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Again, superiority in size, speed and strength along the defensive front seven is the main ingredient that has carried the SEC to six consecutive national titles.
Skeptical? The SEC had four of the top five and five of the top eight teams in total defense in the country last season. The two national championship game participants - Alabama and LSU - finished No. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings.
Meanwhile, seven of the 12 Pac-12 schools finished 82nd or below in total defense. Only three Pac-12 schools were ranked in the Top 50 in total defense. Oregon State was 84th, but is off to a much better start this season.
When the Pac-12 figures it out, the sky is the limit, in my opinion.
Washington discovered how far apart the gap is between the top dogs in the nation and a program striving to reach the upper echelon of the Pac 12 when they traveled to Baton Rouge and got blasted by LSU, 41-3.
Clearly, the Huskies were not physically prepared to play 'big boy football' on the Bayou. Their defensive deficiencies were glaring. Oregon State showed they could be ready, but more data is needed.
The Badgers, of course, responded to the proceedings in Reser Stadium in typical Big Ten fashion by firing their offensive line coach on Monday.
So, rather than giving credit to the Beavers for an outstanding defensive effort, they searched for scapegoats.
If the Beavers are able to play defense consistently at the same high level they showed against Wisconsin, they will certainly win a lot of games in 2012, and easily qualify for a bowl game.
So, the Beavers' mission for the bye week is this: prepare to do it again. And again. And again.
The next big test for Oregon State comes next week in the Rose Bowl. UCLA has racked up 645 yards (at Rice) and 653 yards (v. Nebraska) of total offense in their first two games under new head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, who has installed a hurry-up, one-back attack in place of the pistol offense favored by former coach Rick Neuheisel.
After stopping Ball, the Beavers now get the chance to face the outstanding Johnathan Franklin, who has rushed for 214 and 217 yards in UCLA's first two games.
The matchup between the Oregon State defense and the UCLA offense will unquestionably be the main storyline of that game.
After passing the first test with flying colors, the Beavers have another opportunity to prove the axiom that the foundation of great football teams is defense.
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