Pac-10 carnage makes league’s brass wince

CORVALLIS, Ore. 퀌_ In these parts, the tradition of Ducks disliking Beavers and Beavers despising Ducks is something that’s been going on for, oh, maybe a century. It’s no surprise, then, that the latest, trendiest way to massage salt into your neighbor’s wounds makes this quiet town sound like Manhattan at drive time.

Saturday, Oregon State faithful were gathered around tailgates, priming themselves for their night game with Arizona State. They had radios and TVs tuned to the Oregon-Washington State game 40 miles down the road.

Each time the Cougars blocked another punt, picked off another pass or cruised in for another touchdown, horns blared. For about two hours there, Saturday wasn’t a good day for a nap in Corvallis.

Nor was it an especially positive day for Pac-10 football in the national picture.

Third-ranked USC went down, to California. Oregon, 10th-rated, crashed and burned against Washington State. And oh yes, Arizona fired a coach.

When its coaches aren’t self-destructing, the Pac-10 eats its young. The league that hasn’t had an entrant in the national-championship game since the Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998 will have to go through the back door if it’s to happen in 2003.

As much glee as the Willamette Valley’s Hatfields and McCoys take in inflicting pain upon each other, it causes no small anguish for the Pac-10 fathers, people like commissioner Tom Hansen, who watched first-hand the carnage in Eugene and the hit to Oregon’s national profile.

Hansen had to be thinking: An upset is one thing. But do you have to tie the corpse to the trailer hitch and drag it behind you?

When the Ducks, all black eyes and bandages, awoke yesterday, they had fallen to 19th in the Associated Press poll, too much ground to make up in two months, even if voters could somehow excuse a 55-16 defeat. USC dropped to 10th, hardly insurmountable if the Trojans see themselves as national-title timber in a couple of months. But they’re suddenly like the Seattle Mariners down the stretch, needing help elsewhere.

Rarely does anybody negotiate the Pac-10 schedule undefeated and untied 퀌_ it has happened only four times in the 25-year history of the league. And if the rest of the season is anything like Saturday, Pac-10 athletic directors might not want to spend that projected income from a second BCS team quite yet.

“One thing you learned today,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley, aglow in the late hours Saturday night after his team’s 45-17 victory over Arizona State, “you’ve got to go out and prove it all the time. And don’t count your chickens.”

In Berkeley, Cal shattered USC’s growing aura of invincibility. The Trojans were a week short of making it a complete calendar year since they had last lost, at Washington State.

In Eugene, Oregon’s loss to WSU was so profound as to arouse wonderment at whether the Ducks might be headed toward something like their 2002 meltdown after starting 6-0. This is a much better team, but that’s the kind of skepticism that rears up when you do a pratfall worthy of Abbott and Costello.

Speaking of flops, say hi to Arizona State. Oregon State was good enough to win by 28 points while its quarterback, Derek Anderson, was sacked four times and had three interceptions. Andrew Walter of ASU had three interceptions and seemed reckless with a lot of throws.

At least the Sun Devils seem to have found a solid running back, Hakim Hill, but ASU failed to use him in a key goal-line situation in the third quarter.

While there has been chaos elsewhere, Washington has largely been flying under the radar. That could be good; often, early foot doesn’t win the horse race.

Cougars? Entering October, they’re the surprise of the Pac-10, standing at 4-1.

“I think we kept (Oregon) off balance all day long,” said WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller. “I think we’re difficult to prepare for. We do a lot of things well.”

Rather than be dragged down by the disappointment at Notre Dame, WSU seemed to grow from it.

“You can spend so much time thinking, �What if we’d done this, what if we’d done that?퀌_” said quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach. “We saw good signs early. They (the players) were mad. They weren’t feeling sorry for themselves.”

In the Pac-10, there’s no time for sorry. Grieve for yourself too long, and you’re sure to set horns to honking.