DENVER (AP) — For their 2-0 start, Chip Kelly and the UCLA Bruins will appear on “prime time” this weekend.
“In the Philippines,” the Bruins coach cracked about a 10:45 p.m. Eastern kickoff Saturday against Fresno State. “So let’s put on a good show for the people in Manila.”
For the sake of the Pac-12, too, because the list of conference teams who remain undefeated has dwindled to three after just two games. It’s the lowest number among Power Five conferences.
The pressure of elevating the Pac-12's profile — and gain that inside track into the college playoffs — may fall more squarely on the shoulder pads of No. 4 Oregon, No. 13 UCLA and No. 19 Arizona State.
“It’s really early. I mean, you’re still in a survive and advance kind of vibe for all of these teams,” said Petros Papadakis, a college football analyst for Fox Sports. “They're still trying to find their identity. Almost everybody is in that mode, no matter who you are. So I’m not sure they feel the pressure of, ‘Hey, we’re carrying the torch for the conference.’"
The Pac-12 currently has as many unbeaten teams as Conference USA. The league trails the other Power Five conferences — the ACC has five remaining; the Big 12, six; the Big Ten, seven; and the Southeastern Conference, 10, including six of seven in the SEC West Division.
Those three unblemished Pac-12 teams can’t afford a misstep this week. Not with Pac-12 South favorite Southern California falling out of the rankings after a loss to Stanford, which also led to the firing of coach Clay Helton. Not with Utah tumbling a week ago in a loss to rival BYU. Not with Washington off to a 0-2 start for the first time since 2008.
Think a Pac-12 team has a shot at the national title game?
“Honestly, I think it’s more important for the Pac-12 that USC make the right hire going forward, as far as like a really big-name coach and a really big-name staff. That's something the whole conference can use to leverage the new TV deal, whatever that’s going to be,” Papadakis said. “That’s way more important than having an Oregon play, say, Georgia — unless somebody can win it all.”
The Ducks are riding high after a win at Ohio State — their first road victory over a top-five team since beating Stanford in 2011.
“Big game for Oregon; big game for the Pac-12,” Ducks coach Mario Cristobal said on the team's website.
Next up: Stony Brook, an FCS team out of New York. The Ducks are looking to extend their winning streak at Autzen Stadium to 14 straight games.
The Sun Devils travel to Provo, Utah, to take on a tenacious BYU team, which has already beaten Arizona and Utah.
Then there’s UCLA, an 11 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, over Fresno State. Keep this in mind: The Bulldogs threw a scare at Oregon on Sept. 4 (falling 31-24) and beat the Bruins in 2018.
Kelly resorted to an acronym, “TBU,” in describing the relevance of a loss from '18: “'True But Useless,' so we're good on that," he said. "Has nothing to do with what’s going on now. ... We focus on this season and this season only.”
Kelly said the preparation doesn’t change much for his team with the late start. But it may mean those fans on the East Coast will be fast asleep by the time this one ends.
“At least people in Manila waking up Sunday morning will get a chance to watch the Bruins play,” Kelly said. “So hopefully there are some Bruins fans there.”
A quick recap of last weekend: Arizona dropped its 14th straight game in a loss to San Diego State; Colorado couldn't hold on late in falling to Texas A&M, which slid to No. 7 in the most recent poll; Oregon State beat Hawaii; Washington State cruised past Portland State; Arizona State took care of business against UNLV; and Cal lost 34-32 at TCU despite Chase Garbers passing for more than 300 yards.
What to make of it all: The Pac-12 looks top-heavy behind Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State. The real trick will be not beating each other up once league play hits. Key dates to remember will be Oct. 2 when UCLA hosts Arizona State and Oct. 23 as the Bruins welcome Oregon to town. The Ducks and the Sun Devils don't meet this season, unless they both make it to the Pac-12 title game.
A little trivia: The last team from the Pac-12 (actually Pac-10 back then) to go undefeated through the conference was the Ducks in 2010, when they had a certain coach named Chip Kelly in charge.
In Year 4 in Westwood, he’s got the Bruins off to a fast start, including a win over LSU.
“I don’t think it’s the end of the world that there are not a bunch more undefeated teams at this point,” Papadakis said. “The lack of undefeated teams is a small story compared to the way UCLA and Oregon dominated those games in the way they did. That’s the biggest takeaway.”
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