Pacific Coast football teams have not really been swallowed up by oil slicks or sucked into the San Andreas Fault. They are alive, if not wholly well, in California, Oregon and Washington. But those who compare the Pacific Eight with, say, the Catonsville Nine, are not being entirely hyperbolic. This has not been a happy season for college football in the Far West.
The Coast teams have been regularly receiving their intersectional lumps, resulting in a conspicuous absence from the Top Ten rankings for much of the season. They have only USC's 28-14 astonishment of Notre Dame and Oregon State's 24-18 upset of Arizona State for genuine solace. But then, as UCLA's star-crossed Pepper Rodgers has rationalized: "What's a strong conference anyway? Two, maybe three real good teams and a lot of also-rans. We just don't have those real good teams this year." They certainly meet the rest of the requirements.
It is true that Coast fans have been spoiled in recent years. Over a five-year stretch from 1965 through 1969, either USC or UCLA was ranked among the top five teams in the nation, with USC finishing first, second and third in '67, '68 and '69. Of the last 10 Heisman Trophy winners, five have been from the Pacific Coast—Oregon State's Terry Baker ('62), USC's Mike Garrett ('65), UCLA's Gary Beban ('67), USC's O. J. Simpson ('68) and Stanford's Jim Plunkett ('70). And for 50 years the Coast has been favored with some of the nation's most glamorous teams—Southern California's Thundering Herd, California's Wonder and Thunder teams, Stanford's Vow and Wow Boys, Pappy Waldorf's Deep Freeze powerhouses at Berkeley 20 years ago, USC's Wild Bunch and on and on.
So maybe a slump of some sort was due. Off the record to date, it seems to have arrived. Take the season's opening day, Sept. 11; in seven games against representative opponents, Cal lost to Arkansas 51-20, Oregon lost to Nebraska 34-7, Washington State lost to Kansas 34-0, Oregon State lost to Georgia 56-25, USC lost to Alabama 17-10 and UCLA lost to Pittsburgh 29-25. Stanford was the only winner, 19-0 over Missouri. That is six losses and one win, 221 points for the outsiders and 106 for the Pacific Eight. Is that any way to open a football season?
The conference has settled down since that calamitous beginning, winning five of the last six against outside opponents, but the overall intersectional record is not in keeping with recent tradition. Against major nonconference opponents the Pacific Eight has 14 wins and 15 losses. It is one for four against the Big Eight, and it is two for 11 against the Top 20.
The conference's biggest disappointment has been its perennial favorite, USC. In the preseason polls John McKay's Trojans were rated as one of the nation's best. They promptly lost four of their first six games and sank from sight. The Notre Dame upset did turn their season around, and they have now won three in succession, but it is too little, too late. The Trojans are now playing the unfamiliar role of spoiler, as witness Saturday's 30-20 victory over Washington State which dropped the surprising Cougars out of Rose Bowl contention.
Stanford will go to the Rose Bowl once more, but the 1971 team is hardly as flashy as last year's. Consistency and a capacity for muddling through seem to be its biggest assets, although, as in the Duke game, it can be woefully bad on occasion. The Indians lost 9-3 and, as Coach John Ralston has put it, "We could still be playing and I don't think we'd be across the goal line yet." Stanford does have another good quarterback in Don Bunce, but he is no Plunkett, and the Indians will be hard pressed to win again in Pasadena.
Washington, with an improved running game and a less effective Sonny Sixkiller, has not lost a nonconference game, but it quickly scratched itself from the Rose Bowl race by losing to Stanford and Oregon. The Northwest teams are actually more exciting than the California teams in this peculiar season. With Sixkiller throwing and Washington State's Bernard Jackson and Oregon's Bobby Moore running, the Northwest easily has the outstanding players.
California has had an interesting season, but certainly not a happy one. It is, in fact, a nonseason. Because the university has elected to play a halfback, Isaac Curtis, and a tight end, Larry Brumsey, who are considered to be ineligible by the NCAA, none of Cal's conference games count in the standings. Even if the Bears were good enough, they could not play in the Rose Bowl. San Francisco papers have taken to calling the Pacific Eight the Pacific Seven, subtracting Cal. An alleged clerical error brought the school to grief in the Curtis-Brumsey matter. Neither boy was informed he was required to take the so-called 1.6 examination in order to compete for the university. Curtis had completed a freshman football season and a varsity track season by the time the NCAA uncovered the oversight. Cal's 1970 NCAA track championship was taken away from it, and Curtis was declared ineligible. But the university decided to punish itself, instead of Curtis, for the error and is now appealing the case. Two lawsuits have also been filed from the outside on Curtis' behalf.
But even Berkeley's considerable problems pale in comparison with those of its sister institution, UCLA. The Bruins have lost seven games this year under new Coach Rodgers, partly because they have no outstanding quarterback, partly because the team has been riddled with injuries, but mostly because of a man who is not even in uniform, James McAlister. And that is a sad story all its own.