As futile as the Pac-10 has been outside the conference, the wonder is that all the games inside the conference don't end in ties. Some do, of course. Arizona, with the talent to be a national championship contender, got itself knotted up 33-33 by Cal. Two weeks later, the Wildcats got beaten by—get your quackers ready—Oregon, 19-10. In Tucson.
On Nov. 5, Arizona State, a team then 4-2-1 and in the thick of the fight to get to the Rose Bowl, played Cal, which traditionally is in the thick of the fight not to humiliate itself. Cal won 26-24. On and on it goes.
Whatever, it has all been so qwazy that when Oregon whipped Cal and Arizona on successive Saturdays and shared the league lead—briefly—with a 2-0 record. T shirts were printed up on which the O in Oregon was filled with a rose. But even after beating Stanford 16-7 on Saturday, the Ducks are 3-3 in the conference and obviously will do their bowling only at the Emerald Lanes on Oakway Road.
There are other measures that show how far the Pac-10 has nose-dived. NCAA Director of Statistics Jim Van Valkenburg says. "The Pac-10 is having a big passing year. That tells me they're not doing very well. You pass to catch up." The fact that the Pac-10 leads the nation in average passing yardage per team per game (216.1 yards) is bad news. Within the conference, Cal (2-4-1) is first in passing offense (279.6 yards a game).
But why did the Pac-10 tumble so far so fast?
The central reason is the loss of 128 seniors who started the last game of 1982: indeed, of the 28 players chosen to the all-conference team last year, 22 were seniors. In comparison, only 88 seniors started for the Pac-10 teams last Saturday. Especially devastated were Arizona State, which had 13 senior starters last year and now has only four, and USC, with 17 last year and eight this. The stars of last season's graduating group made up a whopping 25% of the first three rounds of the NFL draft. And the 38 draftees from USC, Washington, UCLA and Arizona State were more than the total from any other entire conference.
Besides the loss of so many outstanding players, USC also is fighting the double whammy of probation for a ticket-scalping scheme involving some players and an assistant coach—the Trojans are ineligible for the conference title and any bowl this year, and cannot appear on television until the 1984 postseason—and the arrival of a new coach. Arizona, also on probation, has crumbled despite lofty preseason dreams—SI picked the Wildcats third—and further deterioration may set in. No matter what coaches say, probation is almost always an imposing opponent. It makes recruiting tougher and cuts down incentives for players already on hand.
Another of the Pac-10's shortcomings is that while seven teams have their top '82 quarterbacks back, only Washington's Steve Pelluer and Cal's Gale Gilbert have performed up to expectations. Especially disappointing has been Sean Salisbury at USC; he is fifth in the conference in passing efficiency. At UCLA, Donahue benched his starter, Rick Neuheisel, on Oct. 1, in favor of junior Steve Bono. But after Bono separated his right shoulder, Neuheisel was born again. He responded by leading the Bruins on a string of five consecutive victories, which ended with a 27-24 loss to Arizona on Saturday. Both Oregon quarterbacks, Mike Owens and Mike Jorgensen, fought injuries all season, and two weeks ago Jorgensen broke a bone in his right leg.
Coach Jim Walden, who gets high marks for bringing respectability to Washington State, which other members of the Pac-10 seem to think is located somewhere in Idaho or Montana, believes the quality of the West Coast athlete—whence the Pac-10 recruits almost exclusively—is off and has been for several years. Further, he notes, "You had the Arizona schools coming into the league [in 1978], and they showed no particular respect for the hierarchy." Walden, who also has demonstrated a distinct disregard for the old order, says that when a team loses, "it loses a little bit in mystique. You let me beat you once, and my guys will know that they can do it. Then they'll think they can do it again. That's called confidence."
Further, the Pac-10 does labor under a league rule that allows each school only 90 scholarships versus the 95 allowed by the NCAA. Pac-10 coaches scream that this limitation puts them at a competitive disadvantage, and they're right; the university presidents say live with it and save the money, and they're right. But more important in the long run, this means that each year the Pac-10 loses a total of 50 players to the competition.