Washington State trailed juggernaut Stanford by a mere field goal Saturday at halftime.

It was homecoming on the Palouse, and, if just for the length of the break, the Cougars were a legitimate threat to the nation's No. 7-ranked team.

These were the same Cougars that the past three seasons had gone 2-11, 1-11 and 2-10.

Asked if last year's WSU team would have trailed Stanford by three points, Cougars coach Paul Wulff began to laugh.

"Noooo," he said. "Our football team has drastically improved. From where it was a year ago and where we are today, we've come a long, long way."

At the season's midway point - 10 Pac-12 teams have played six games - many conference storylines have held true to form.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the Heisman Trophy favorite. But for a season-opening loss to LSU, No. 9 Oregon has appeared unbeatable.

A search for surprises, then, starts with the 3-3 Cougars, who played four games without QB Jeff Tuel, who returned against the Cardinal after a collarbone injury.

WSU's other two losses came on the road to UCLA and San Diego State - and the Cougars led both in the fourth quarter.

"I would have liked to pull out those first two losses," Wulff said. "I thought we've played some pretty darn good football."

Halfway through an otherwise predictable year, here are a few more surprises:

• Keith Price's play. The sophomore quarterback has led Washington to a 5-1 record and a No. 22 ranking.

While Price is only eighth in the league in total offense, his 7.44-yard average per play trails only quarterbacks Luck, Matt Barkley (USC) and Darron Thomas (Oregon).

UW coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC deputy, compared Price "from a mental standpoint" to former Trojans quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez.

"Physically, I'm not sure," Sarkisian said. "He's so different than the guys that we've had."

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Price is "as good a quarterback as we've seen."

• Mike Stoops' firing. Sarkisian called it, by far, his most surprising moment of the year.

UA interim coach Tim Kish, however, said the pressure felt by teams to win is greater now because "everybody knows everybody's business" due to increased media exposure.

"We all feel that pressure," Kish said. "It's not just the head coaches. It's the assistant coaches. It's the programs themselves and the universities. It's just the nature of the beast right now."

• The South is bad. One-third of the league - Cal, Utah, Colorado and Arizona - has yet to win a conference game. Three of those teams hail from the South, the clear loser in the league's first year of divisional play.

The Pac-12 North is a combined 23-13 this season; the South is 18-20.

While North teams are .500 on the road, South teams are 5-13.

ASU coach Dennis Erickson, whose team leads the South by one game, called the slump cyclical.

"Probably in the next five years, it'll be the same in North," Erickson said. "The bottom line for those of us in the South is the winner gets a chance (to play in the title game for a Rose Bowl berth)."