In only meeting between top 2 divisions, SEC West is best
In the only meeting of the season between teams from the two best divisions in college football, the SEC West was best.
One game in September is unlikely to swing the votes when the College Football Playoff selection committee makes its final decisions in December, but Texas A&M sent a message Saturday night about how the SEC West stacks up against the Pac-12 South with a 38-17 victory against No. 15 Arizona State in Houston.
The Aggies were one of two unranked teams in the seven-team SEC West to start the season, but this was no upset. The Sun Devils are expected to contend for the Pac-12 South title and A&M, with a reworked defense under new coordinator John Chavis, worked them over.
“We weren’t ranked, but we were favored,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “I don’t understand that.”
Early season rankings can be weird. The Aggies looked like a team that will be factor in the SEC West race. If not, that will only make the division look better.
The SEC West dominated the rankings for much of last season then ended it with a thud, going 2-5 in the bowls. The Pac-12 South went 4-1 in the postseason. Those results sparked talk of a power shift west in college football.
Not so fast. No. 3 Alabama slammed No. 20 Wisconsin 35-17 in Arlington, Texas, and No. 6 Auburn beat Louisville 31-24 in Atlanta. The SEC West swept Saturday’s most intriguing games.
Arizona State’s loss was part of generally disappointing opening weekend for the Pac-12 that had one very bright spot.
Josh Rosen was brilliant in his debut for No. 13 UCLA, answering any questions the Bruins might have had about handing a team that could contend for a Pac-12 title to an 18-year-old.
The Bruins’ 34-16 win against Virginia came after four ugly losses by Pac-12 teams during the first three days of the season:
— Colorado fell 28-20 at Hawaii on Thursday night.
— Washington lost 16-13 at No. 23 Boise State on Friday night, though no shame in that.
— Washington State lost 24-17 at home to Portland State of the FCS.
— No. 21 Stanford sleepwalked through a 16-6 loss at Northwestern.
But what Rosen did at the Rose (Rosen?) Bowl might have been the biggest news of the weekend for the Pac-12′s playoff prospects.
The Bruins were a bit of a disappointment last season at 10-3, but most of that team is back. And it’s loaded with potential stars such as linebacker Myles Jack, defensive tackle Kenny Clark and running back Paul Perkins.
A hole at quarterback could sink a promising season, but Rosen, the southern California kid who was the top-rated QB in the class of 2015, looks like he will do just fine. He went 28 for 35 for 351 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions against a Virginia secondary that is the strength of its team.
“Sometimes we were looking at each other, ‘OK, how did he do that?’” UCLA receiver Thomas Duarte said.
A few missteps by Pac-12 North teams and South cellar-dweller Colorado are short-term embarrassments for the conference. Arizona State’s loss to Texas A&M stings. Rosen’s rise is a developing story that could produce long-term gains for the Bruins and the Pac-12.
OUTSIDE THE POWER FIVE
What looked like the toughest game on Boise State’s schedule might not be quite as difficult next week.
The Broncos travel to BYU to face a Cougars team that beat Nebraska 33-28 on a Hail Mary TD pass as time expired.
The bad news for BYU was quarterback Taysom Hill (fractured foot) was injured and lost for the season. The Cougars’ season fell apart when Hill was injured midway through last year, but they seem better equipped to deal with it this time.
Freshman Tanner Mangum, back from a Mormon mission, threw the winning touchdown pass for BYU. It was no thing of beauty, but Mangum was a highly touted recruit who should give BYU a chance to move the ball against a tough Boise State defense.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP