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This is not a conversation that USC or Washington State wanted to be involved in, but they played their way into it and they'll have to live with the answer.
Which team suffered the most embarrassing defeat of the Pac-12's first full week of the 2016 season? USC earned that distinction with a 52-6 loss to Alabama in a national showcase in Arlington, Texas. But that's not to excuse the Cougars, even if their 45-42 loss to Eastern Washington was tucked away in the Palouse and televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
The common theme is a question that doesn't really require an answer: Shouldn't these programs be beyond the point where something like this could happen?
In his first regular-season game as the Trojans' permanent coach, Clay Helton produced the third 40-point loss in USC history. The shocking part was how many big plays the Trojans surrendered, with a defense coordinated by longtime NFL coach Clancy Pendergast. Helton had said he was fascinated to watch the strategy unfold between Pendergast and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, the former USC coach, but this was not what he pictured.
Alabama may have set an unofficial record by gaining 465 yards while recording 15 first downs. That's a function of USC's allowing so many big plays to Kiffin, who responded with a tweet that mentioned "3:14" and "LAX," referring to his early morning firing by USC after the team flew home from a loss at Arizona State.
"Our performance didn't equal the preparation we put into it. That's what I'm sad about," Helton said Tuesday during the Pac-12 coaches' teleconference. He described the Trojans as "a good football team that kind of beat ourselves with mistakes."
So the coaches went through the film and pointed out those errors and the players walked through the corrections in preparing for Saturday's game vs. Utah State. "If you don't correct those mistakes, you'll inevitably make 'em again," Helton said. "It doesn't make you feel great, but it's something that must be done."
The positive aspect for Washington State is the Cougars know how to recover from season-opening disappointment. The problem is they're having to do it again. WSU lost to Big Sky Conference member Portland State last September and then fell to EWU, which posted the Big Sky's fifth upset of a Pac-12 school in six seasons.
The disturbing part for WSU was allowing 606 total yards, after seemingly having risen above the program's defensive troubles of the past. The Eagles produced WSU-style numbers, completing 35 of 41 passes for 496 yards, with Cooper Kupp catching 12 passes for 206 yards.
WSU's defense played nervously, fifth-year coach Mike Leach said. "We just need to relax and play together."
The Cougars regrouped last year by winning nine of their last 12 games. This year's recovery is more difficult, because WSU visits Boise State on Saturday.
Cal faces rematch with SDSU
Last September's 35-7 defeat at California launched a three-game losing streak for San Diego State, but once the Aztecs started winning, they haven't stopped. SDSU takes an 11-game run into Saturday's home game vs. Cal. The Aztecs went unbeaten in the Mountain West in 2015, winning every regular-season game by at least 14 points. Only Air Force, a 27-24 loser in the MW championship game, has come close to SDSU during the streak.
The Bears held SDSU's Donnel Pumphrey to 85 yards on 21 carries last year, and they know they have to be strong against the run in San Diego and in Pac-12 North competition. Pumphrey has "a great blend of strength and speed," said Cal coach Sonny Dykes. "All the great things that running backs do, he does and does exceptionally well."
Pumphrey has gained 4,370 yards in his career, including 98 in last week's 31-0 win over New Hampshire.
Tribune Power Rankings: Pac-12 football
1. Stanford (1-0) • Cardinal offense needs more production than 272 yards vs. Kansas State
2. Washington (1-0) • Jake Browning: 18 of 27, 287 yards passing vs. Rutgers
3. Utah (1-0) • Kyle Whittingham: 17-8 as BYU player and Utah coach on both sides of rivalry
4. UCLA (0-1) • Josh Rosen inconsistent, but overtime loss at Texas A&M is not disgraceful
5. Oregon (1-0) • Ducks will kick off vs. Bronco Mendenhall's Virginia team shortly before Utah-BYU game ends
6. Colorado (1-0) • Buffaloes looked like a genuine Pac-12 team in rout of Colorado State
7. California (1-0) • Bears' 35-7 win over San Diego State last September getting better all the time
8. Arizona State (1-0) • Sun Devils used 24-point fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Arizona
9. Arizona (0-1) • Like everyone else, Wildcats know Jake Oldroyd's name now
10. USC (0-1) • Utah State catching Trojans at either best or worst possible time
11. Oregon State (0-1) • Beavers will have a long wait until Sept. 17, after coming close at Minnesota
12. Washington State (0-1) • Last spot is Cougars' punishment for another loss to FCS team