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Mismatches come out of college conference shifting

Early signs are that football newcomers to conferences may not be ready for change.

October 08, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Arizona State wide receiver Jamal Miles catches a touchdown pass between Utah's Eric Rowe (18) and Reggie Topps during a 35-14 loss for the Utes, who drop to 0-3 in the Pac-12.
Arizona State wide receiver Jamal Miles catches a touchdown pass between… (Douglas C. Pizac / US Presswire )

A lot of schools are playing in, and out, of their leagues.

Think Utah is enjoying the Pacific 12 Conference so far?

How can Missouri be ready for the Southeastern Conference if it isn't ready for the Big 12?

It's a long season and getting longer (for some) by the minute.

Fresno State, of the Western Athletic Conference, didn't belong under the same Friday night lights with more athletic Boise State, now of the Mountain West Conference.

Fresno State waited a year to avenge last year's 51-0 stomping in Boise, only to fall short again. Rather than reveal the final score, which would only be rubbing it in, know the cumulative two-year margin stands at 108-7.

Bad news: Fresno State is scheduled to reunite with Boise State next year in the Mountain West, unless Boise can upgrade to something better before then.

Oklahoma State and Kansas are in the same league, sort of. Both pledge shaky allegiance to the Big 12, but there is definitely a missile gap between the football locker rooms.

Oklahoma State won Saturday's game handily, 56-7. Wait, that was the first-half score. The final was 70-28. Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden left the game before halftime — not because of an injury, but because he had already thrown for 288 yards and five touchdowns.

"I've never been a part of anything like that," Weeden said. "We scored every time we touched it."

Texas and Oklahoma, which almost parted conference ways but stayed Big 12 partners, did not look affiliated Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

Oklahoma's defense outscored Texas, 21-17. The combined cotton-candy crush was 55-17.

"We didn't live up to our side of the match," Texas Coach Mack Brown said after game-set-match.

The Sooners returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the same game for the first time since 1941.

"Got pressure," Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops said. "Got turnovers."

He could have added: "Got over."

Some coaches know when to let up. Boise's Chris Petersen ordered quarterback Kellen Moore into his baseball cap in the third quarter against Fresno, and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy removed Weeden, a former pitcher in the Dodgers' chain, after the five innings necessary to record the win.

Stoops doesn't work that way — especially against Texas. He let Landry Jones and other stars play into the fourth quarter at the risk of injury. Anytime you can beat Texas 55-17, or 65-13 — the 2003 score — you do it.

You might see this as being Texas State Unfair, but Stoops is only playing to college football's beauty-contest system. His team is No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll but had dropped to No. 3 in the Associated Press ranking.

Stoops had to keep up Saturday with Alabama, a big winner over Vanderbilt, and Louisiana State, which floored Florida.

It's OK to win a national title game, 13-2, as Stoops did in 2000, but you don't leave anything in October to chance.

As for Missouri, it might need a league of its own. Today it's the Big 12 but check back tomorrow as the school mulls joining Auburn and Louisiana State as the third team nicknamed "Tigers" in the SEC.

The SEC might want to see Missouri's Tigers win one more game in their old league. Mizzou is 0-2 in Big 12 play after losing at Kansas State, 24-17.

As Kansas State improved to 5-0 under Bill Snyder, the Wildcats' band and student body serenaded Missouri with chants of "Big 12 Football!"

And this just in from Salt Lake City: Arizona State 35, Utah 14.

The postscript:

Utah joined the Pac-12 this year after a successful tour in the Mountain West. Urban Meyer's 2004 team went undefeated through the Fiesta Bowl and, in 2008, Utah capped an undefeated campaign with a signature win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Utah, although it finished No. 2 in final AP poll that year, didn't get a sniff at the BCS title that Florida claimed.

The system held Utah back for playing in a weaker conference. What would happen, people said, if Utah, Boise State or Texas Christian had to experience the grind of major conference play?

You couldn't really say until they joined one.

Utah joined the Pac-12 this year and, with Saturday's loss, dropped to 0-3 in the South Division.

Defeat came a week after a home loss to Washington. Utah also lost at USC. And remember, the Utes caught a break by not having to play Oregon or Stanford.

Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham, at Pac-12 media day in July, acknowledged there would be a difficult transition period. "Week in and week out we're fully aware we need to bring our A-game," he said. "We think our roster is pretty solid, and we'll find out and have a better answer for you in four months."

It may have taken only two.

It's probably too harsh to pronounce judgment on Utah before the paint has dried on the new logos. This isn't Whittingham's Sugar Bowl team. Give him a recruiting cycle that includes Los Angeles. Whittingham started an inexperienced quarterback, Jon Hayes, against an experienced Arizona State defense.

Utah has 10 turnovers in its last two losses. "We'll start winning games when we stop turning the ball over," Whittingham said Saturday. "That's the bottom line. Until that happens, it's going to be a long road."

Utah isn't the only school that's lost in Pac-12 transition.

Colorado, a newcomer from the Big 12, dropped to 0-2 in conference after getting smoked at Stanford.

Think of it this way: Utah and Colorado are both in the Pac-12 — just not really in that league yet.

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