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Week 9 PAC 12 Roundup and Power Rankings: Will the PAC Get Locked Out of the Playoffs?

The last undefeated team in the PAC fell hard last weekend.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The PAC 12 continues to demonstrate to the world that there is not a more competitive league, top to bottom, anywhere in the country.  With USC, which had already lost games to Stanford and to Washington, getting off with a big win over the last undefeated PAC 12 in Utah, the prospects for a PAC 12 champion potentially getting locked out of the playoffs came one more step closer to reality.

But is it probable?

The best  you could say is that the picture is murky for everybody's favorite conference.

To better understand this, you have to put the race for the top four into context.  Right now, it is a given that the SEC and BIG10 are almost certain to put forth playoff teams - my bet here goes to LSU and to Ohio State.  For the final two spots, the PAC 12 will be competing with Notre Dame, an ACC contender (Florida State or Clemson) and a Big 12 entry (Baylor and TCU matchup on 11/27).  That's some tough competition.

How does the P12 break into the playoffs? consider that the two top contenders - Stanford and Utah - will both have flawed resumes even in the case that each of them win out to close the regular season (which is possible since the two teams are not scheduled to meet this season) and end up playing in the PAC 12 Championship Game.

In that scenario, Stanford would have a strong resume based on going undefeated in the PAC 12 and having notched a win against Notre Dame (remarkably and unfortunately scheduled for the week before the P12 Championship).  It would be a compelling story but for the unspeakable blemish of the loss to Northwestern in Week 1, which is very likely to be the "worst" loss of any of the final contenders.

Utah may, in fact, have a better overall resume should they win out.  The Week 1 win over Michigan continues to look more and more impressive, even despite Michigan's inexplicable meltdown at the end of their game with Michigan State a few weeks ago.

As I see it, Utah looks like the only real viable PAC 12 candidate for a playoff spot.  I just don't see much in the way of "upsets" laying out there for the rest of the contending field that would make Stanford's loss look like less of a blemish.  In addition, Utah is almost certain to end up with a stronger overall strength of schedule.

The bigger question is whether or not either Utah or Stanford will even have a chance to compete for that playoff spot.  Both teams still have a real challenge with their remaining schedules to deal with.  Utah still has two road games left and a key home matchup with UCLA.  Stanford has a bit of an easier P12 road left and their last three games - which include both Oregon and Notre Dame - are all at home.  Nothing is guaranteed for the PAC this year.

Cool Chart 

The Power Rankings - Week 9

Rank Prev Team Record Next Game
1 2
Stanford Helmet
Stanford 6-1 (5-0) @ WSU
Last Week WIN UW 14 @ Stanford 31
Interesting stat department: Stanford has won 9 straight night games. They've also now won 9 of the last 11 against UW. Stanford is as advertised - not too flashy but very efficient behind that elite offensive line. UW made their D look way better than it was and, in fact, I'm now a little concerned about the Cardinal's ability to slow some of the more dynamic offenses in the PAC. But, for now, they look like a true playoff contender.
Week 8 POG: RB Christian McCaffrey (112 yds rec, 109 yds rush) He just gashed UW by finding open zones and making plus runs. It was workman like, if not terribly sexy. This guy is better than P12 OPOY.
2 1
utah helmet
Utah 6-1 (3-1) vs Oregon St
Last Week LOSS Utah 24 @ USC 42
I was afraid of this. The whole "Travis Wilson is a great P12 QB" thing was always a mirage and it was only a matter of time before the standard-bearing team in the P12 was going to get stung. Unfortunately, the fact that Utah made it all the way to #3 in the rankings before getting upset by USC simply makes for a more painful fall for the conference as a whole. That said, Utah didn't really do anything in this game that should make you lose faith. They are still built on a stout D (though maybe not as stout as a year ago) and a reliable run game. The problem is that you cannot rely on their QB to a) not screw up or b) win you the game in a shootout. This won't be Utah's only loss this year.
Week 8 POG: LB Gionni Paul (17 tckls, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF) Yeah, Utah got embarrassed on D, but Paul was a beast once again. In the absence of Jared Norris, he really stepped up and has become one of the best LBs in the entire PAC.
3 7
ucla helmet
UCLA 5-2 (2-2) vs Colorado
Last Week WIN Cal 24 @ UCLA 40
For a few weeks early in the season, Josh Rosen was the lowest rated of the three true freshman QBs in the PAC. Now he is the studliest of them all. He was damn near perfect in UCLA's dominating win over Cal and, dare I say, he was easily the best pro QB prospect on the field. I still have significant concerns about UCLA's staying power. But, let's face it, their O-Line is rock solid, their rushing attack is top notch and, despite down a few bodies, their D is good enough to win out.
Week 8 POG: QB Josh Rosen (34-47, 399 yds, 3 TDs) Forget the stats. This was a true coming out party. People will now hold Rosen up to the standard of "top tier P12 QB" for the duration of the season. Games like this tend to have that effect.
4 10
USC Helmet
USC 4-3 (2-2) @ Cal
Last Week WIN Utah 24 @ USC 42
I wrote last week that I wanted to see what USC would do under duress in a must win game against the #3 team in the nation. Needless to say, they answered. This uber talented Trojans funneled all of their talent and all of their frustration to the task of winning the game and they flat out trounced the Utes. I was most impressed with how dominating that USC O-Line was, even accounting for the loss of Toa Lobendahn to a torn ACL. The Trojans still have a path to win the South and are once again relevant in this power poll.
Week 8 POG: LB Cam Smith (9 tckls, 3 INTs, 1 TD) The true freshman LB is the first Trojan since my true freshman year (1991) to pick off three passes in a single game. He was an unheralded Sark recruit who paid huge dividends tonight.
5 4
WSU Helmet
WSU 5-2 (3-1) vs Stanford
Last Week WIN WSU 45 @ Arizona 42
The Cuogs are soaring. They've now won three games in a row for the first time in the Mike Leach era - all against P12 competition. Before you poo-poo that, consider that Chris Petersen has not done it in the PAC and, in fact, has only managed a 2 game win streak once. Reality is about to hit WSU hard as Stanford is on their way to town. For now, WSU can enjoy being just one win away from post-season eligibility.
Week 8 POG: QB Luke Falk (514 yds pass, 5 TDs, 2 sacks) The ascension of Falk cannot be denied. We can joke all we want about the system or the crappy 'Zona pass defense, but this is still PAC football. His numbers are off the chart, as is his decision making.
6 5
Oregon Helmet
Oregon 4-3 (2-2) @ ASU (10/29)
Last Week BYE
Oregon is getting a bit slighted as a result of the surges coming from the LA teams. But, middle of the PAC feels about right for this team until we see more of Vernon Adams as well as something remotely resembling an average college defense.
Week 8 POG: n/a
7 3
Cal Helmet
Cal 5-2 (2-2) vs USC
Last Week LOSS Cal 24 @ UCLA 40
Many of my Husky fan brethren will take pride in saying "I told you so" when it comes to what is starting to look more and more like a major Cal collapse. Two convincing losses and shoddy play by their star QB in Jared Goff has many PAC 12 fans wondering if Cal has any more wins left on their schedule. For now, we are dropping them like a bad habit.
Week 8 POG: K Matt Anderson (1 FG, 3 TBs) I don't think Cal fans will disagree with the notion that pretty much nobody is worthy of POG status after this one. So let's give it to the kicker for his 3 touchbacks, even if he did kick one out of bounds.
8 9
ASU Helmet
ASU 4-3 (2-2) vs Oregon (10/29)
Last Week BYE
ASU gets a free bump here. Good job, Devils.
Week 8 POG: n/a
9 6
Arizona Helmet
Arizona 5-3 (2-3) @ Washington
Last Week LOSS WSU 45 @ Arizona 42
The Wildcats are cratering. Their pass D is a mess. Their QB situation is a cluster. Their offensive line is struggling. It is a testament to the coaching staff that Arizona can still put up 42 points in a game with so many pieces off kilter.
Week 8 POG: QB Jerrard Randall (105 yds rush, 118 yds pass, 2 pass TDs) The senior QB came in to relieve Anu Solomon and, once again, gave the Wildcats a spark in a losing effort. The QB controversy is full on in Tucson.
10 8
UW Helmet
Washington 3-4 (1-3) vs Arizona
Last Week LOSS UW 14 @ Stanford 31
UW is quickly losing ground in the Power Rankings despite the continued excellence displayed by the defense. The two factors that are killing the Huskies is a) that the offense is somehow regressing despite the growth of RB Myles Gaskin and b) that forced turnovers have almost completely evaporated. The Dawgs are losing the war of attrition and there are very legitimate concerns about UW not being able to get three more wins on this schedule.
Week 8 POG: RB Myles Gaskin (108 yds, 1 TD) I think Gaskin was really the only "plus" player for UW in this one. I'd give a tip o' the cap to reserves Ben Burr-Kirven, Jaylen Johnson and Greg Gaines for showing well under duress, but it was Gaskin who distinguished himself with his third straight 100 yd game.
11 11
Colorado Helmet
Colorado 4-4 (1-3) @ UCLA
Last Week WIN Colorado 17 @ OSU 13
Colorado deserved this. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't dominating. It wasn't all that entertaining. But, for the players, it was exhilarating. After nearly two years of futility, the Buffs got their 5th conference victory since joining the PAC. The story of this game was the Buffalo rushing attack. Three featured guys combined to help lead a 208 yard output that shortened the game and minimized mistakes against an active OSU defense. It was a grind, but a W at the end.
Week 8 POG: LB Chidobe Awuzie (7 tckls, 1 INT, 1 sack) Awuzie has shown up in this spot a few times now. He isn't a household name, but he may well be Colorado's MVP so far this year.
12 12
OSU Helmet
Oregon State 2-5 (0-4) vs Utah
Last Week LOSS Colorado 17 @ OSU 13
Another tough loss for a struggling OSU team. This one was especially difficult given that seven Beavs ended up leaving the game due to injury including a scary hit that resulted in a Deshaun Decoud getting carted off in an ambulance (he was ok and returned to the locker room). We may have also seen the beginning of a QB controversy as the athletic Seth Collins appeared to give way to backup Nick Mitchell, a more pure passer.
Week 8 POG: DL Kyle Peko (6 tckls, 1 TFL, 1 PBU) The "rookie" senior is making the most of his one year to play CFB and was particularly noticeable on the field against the Buffs.