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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Pacific 10 Conference is growing and getting stronger

Four Pac-10 teams are ranked, and Utah, which joins the conference next year, is No. 13. When Stanford plays at Oregon this week, it will be a matchup of top-10 teams.

September 26, 2010|Chris Dufresne

The Pacific 10 Conference doesn't officially change its logo to "12" until next season, when Utah and Colorado become members, but we can't wait.

How about that Pac-12?

Forget the bottom feeders, Washington State and Colorado -- every conference has a couple of those.

The mighty Southeastern, for example, currently tolerates Vanderbilt and Georgia.

If you count Utah, which we have already welcomed in with a gift bag, the Pac has five schools ranked in the top 18 of Sunday's Associated Press poll. And the No. 18 is USC, recognized for years below Mason-Dixon as the only serious Pac-10 player.

Oregon is No. 4 this week, the highest the Ducks have flown this early in the season, while Stanford is suddenly in the top 10, on cloud No. 9.

You can question why any team winning at Notre Dame these days should move up seven poll spots, but that's another-day story titled "The Modern-Day Myth of Domer Relevancy."

Just as shocking, perhaps, is a Pac-10 game not involving USC suddenly emerging as one of the week's hottest coming attractions, with Stanford's visit to Oregon on Saturday intriguing enough for television to move it out of the usual 3 a.m. East Coast time slot.

You think we're kidding?

Stanford at Oregon was originally scheduled for an 8:15 p.m. kickoff, which set up a storybook, Cinderella ending -- at midnight.

ABC has swooped in, though, and moved the game to 5 p.m. in the West. That means it could actually end Saturday.

This must be the promotional payoff for Commissioner Larry Scott's genius off-season move to take all 10 football coaches on an East Coast barnstorming junket, which included tea and cookies at ESPN, with Bristol breaking out the crystal.

Now that ESPN and the New York Times have heard a Pac-10 exists, you can't keep the league out of prime time.

Or maybe, much more important, the Pac-10's play on the field is getting folks interested.

This West Coast is definitely not coasting.

The teams, in fact, are almost as exciting as the coaches.

Stanford at Oregon pits Jim Harbaugh against Chip Kelly, two savagely competitive motivators and play callers.

Oregon leads the nation in scoring-average offense at 57.75 points per game, with Stanford's 48 points per game ranking fourth.

Harbaugh is straight off The Farm.

After leveling the playing field at Notre Dame, ripping the hearts out of the Irish, he mused, "We move forward with humble hearts."

Thank you, Coach Confucius.

Stanford, 4-0, is checking teams off like groceries on a list.

"Now, next week is the big game," Harbaugh said.

Oregon didn't look its invincible self in a 42-31 victory at Arizona State, but it also seemed as if Kelly held back half the playbook so as to not give Stanford a clean look.

This is shaping up to be some race.

UCLA, picked to finish eighth, has climbed off the deck after two ugly losses and now rides the intoxicating momentum of Saturday's huge win at No. 7 Texas.

And there's nothing like momentum that leads you into Washington State.

Coaches who had once counted UCLA as a "victory" are reconfiguring their projected win-loss totals.

Arizona State, picked to finish ninth, is also 2-2, but the defeats were 20-19 at Wisconsin and Saturday's late-night, seven-turnover letdown against Oregon.

The Sun Devils, in between mistakes, amassed 597 yards on what was the nation's No.1 defense.

"That team could easily be 4-0," Kelly said of ASU after the game.

Oregon State put a scare into No. 3 Boise State on the blue field, and left Boise as the toughest 1-2 team in America. The Beavers' other loss was to No. 5 Texas Christian.

Any team that thinks Oregon State isn't going to be a Pac-10 factor forgets Mike Riley's team was one victory over Oregon from the Rose Bowl each of the last two years.

"I'm hoping this has been very good preparation," he said of his hellacious non-conference schedule. "I think the level of competition we played is the level of competition we will see in conference."

Arizona and USC are also 4-0. The Wildcats are ranked No. 14 after Saturday's 10-9 win against California in Tucson.

What's impressive about the Wildcats: They've needed last-minute drives the last two weeks to pull out victories.

Seven days after a program-defining win against Iowa, an emotional letdown against Cal could have been expected -- and it happened.

And it looked like the classic hangover defeat until quarterback Nick Foles hit Juron Criner for the game-winning touchdown with 1:11 left.

"It was a flat night all the way around," Arizona Coach Mike Stoops said.

Maybe the Wildcats, though, have finally seen the flat light.

USC finally hit the gas, but it was against Washington State, so we won't know about the league's most suspicious 4-0 until the Trojans play Washington this week and, much more daunting, at Stanford the next.

California and Washington remain largely mysterious, yet each could strike at a given moment. Cal has defeated Stanford the last two years while Washington heads to USC this week with the fresh memory of last year's upset in Seattle.

The "Pac-10" team with the best shot to go undefeated, though, might be No. 13. Utah.

The Utes recently routed San Jose State, 56-3, and their toughest remaining game, Nov. 6 against TCU, is in Salt Lake City.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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