Nov. 11, 2000
In the gray drizzle of the Northwest, beneath the desert sky, through the Los Angeles smog and in the autumn chill of the San Francisco Bay, something wild and wacky is happening in college football.
The Pac-10 has taken parity to preposterous proportions. The old line that no lead is safe never has been more true.
"It's unbelievable," Oregon State coach Dennis Erickson said. "I've never been in a league like this."
Six Pac-10 games have gone into overtime. Only Oregon State, Stanford and Washington have yet to play an OT contest. When they don't go into overtime, the games usually are so close that the final play determines the outcome.
"Each of our last three games has gone down to the very last play," said Mike Bellotti, coach of Pac-10 front-runner Oregon. "Certainly, it's a long time to handle that stress. A lot of my friends are sending me nasty e-mails about their health conditions now."
Bellotti's last two victories were 27-24 in one overtime at Washington State and 56-55 in two overtimes at Arizona State, a game Oregon never led in regulation and trailed by 14 with 3 1/2 minutes to play.
Winning the close ones has the Ducks 6-0 in the Pac-10 and ranked No. 6 nationally. They can clinch a berth in the Rose Bowl this weekend if they beat California at home, where the Ducks have won a conference-record 19 in a row, and Oregon State loses at Arizona.
At the other end is Washington State, loser of three overtime conference games. The Cougars could easily be 4-2 in the conference instead of 1-5.
"I used to be a great proponent of it," WSU coach Mike Price half-jokingly said of college football's overtime system. "I don't like it too much now."
Last week against USC, Arizona State trailed 35-6 before coming back to tie and force overtime, only to lose to the Trojans 44-38. It was Arizona State's third consecutive overtime game, an NCAA record. Coach Bruce Snyder's team won one, lost two.
"It's so emotional," Arizona State tight end Todd Heap said. "Every play could mean the game."
Take a look at last weekend's scores:
Washington 35, Arizona 32
Oregon State 38, California 32
Oregon 27, Washington State 24 (OT)
UCLA 37, Stanford 35
USC 44, Arizona State 38 (2 OT)
A few others from earlier in the year:
Arizona 53, Washington State 47 (3 OT)
California 46, UCLA 38 (3 OT)
Oregon State 44, UCLA 38
Washington 33, Oregon State 30
The average margin of victory in the 28 conference games is 8.8 points. Eighteen of the games have been decided by eight points or less.
"A lot of times when teams are pretty evenly matched and you have a lead and you let down at all, they're going to come back at you pretty fast," said Erickson, who turned around an Oregon State program that, until going 6-5 last season, had an NCAA-record 29 consecutive losing seasons.
"It's amazing how teams have come back and lost leads," he said.
The Pac-10 standings are as peculiar as the games, with the power tilting improbably to the Northwest. Oregon is at the top. Washington and Oregon State are a game back.
UCLA and USC, the dominant teams for so long and the Pac-10 programs most recognized throughout the rest of the country, are mere also-rans. UCLA is 3-3 in the conference and out of the Rose Bowl race. USC is tied for last with Washington State at 1-5.
"I think it's coaching. I think it's recruiting," Price said of why the Northwest schools are doing so well. "Corvallis is even a difficult place to play now, with the fans and the noise. It's very difficult to win in Eugene. It's very difficult to win in Seattle.
"You can go to the Rose Bowl if you go to these schools. You can be a first-round draft pick if you go to these schools. You don't have to go to a major market like Los Angeles."
The Pac-10 and Big 12 are the only conferences that have three eight-game winners.
Oregon, 8-1, is the winningest program in the Pac-10 since 1994.
Oregon State is 8-1 overall for the first time ever and ranked No. 10. Washington, under Rick Neuheisel, is 8-1, including a victory over Miami, and is ranked seventh.
They are Pac-10 survivors because they've made the crucial plays and had more good luck than bad.
"It's part of the game and part of the experience," Bellotti said. "It's part of the drama. There's a lot of joy and a lot of fear. The emotional content of our season has been amazing."
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer