Parity reigned supreme in another ultra-competitive weekend in the PAC.
While the playoffs can't be counted out altogether, the reality is that the prize this year will be a good old-fashioned Rose Bowl berth for whomever claims this year's conference title. After this past weekend, just three teams remain in the hunt for that prize. Stanford, who claimed the North over Oregon with their win against Cal in the annual Big Game, will face off against the winner of this week's UCLA / USC match in the PAC 12 Championship in just under two weeks.
Here is the roundup.
Seats on the Post-Season Ship Are Going Fast
The PAC 12 has bowl agreements in place with seven bowls. However, nine teams are already bowl eligible with Washington becoming a potential 10th eligible team should they beat Washington State in this weekend's Apple Cup.
With the conference winner unlikely to participate in the College Football Playoffs, it creates quite the muddle in figuring out who is likely to land where when it comes to the playoff picture. If the season were to end today, the seven bowl spots would likely look like this:
Rose Bowl - Stanford
Alamo Bowl - Oregon
Holiday Bowl - UCLA
Foster Farms Bowl - WSU
Sun Bowl - USC
Las Vegas Bowl - Utah
Cactus Bowl - Arizona State
At Large: Cal, Arizona, UW (assuming they were to become eligible)
Much can still change with seven of the 10 teams above facing off against another bowl eligible team (or near-eligible) this coming weekend. There is money, prestige, momentum and, in the case of UW, 15 more practices all on the line.
The War of Attrition
Injuries are a sad part of the game and happen to every team in the conference every year. This season has been marked by the string of significant injuries hitting teams in critical positions. Early in the year, it was names like Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes, Vernon Adams, Scooby Wright, Caleb Smith, and Daniel Lasco that were affected. With the season wrapping up, we are getting a new wave of injuries to guys like Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson, Devontae Booker, Seth Collins, Elijah Qualls, Sefo Liufau and, most recently, Luke Falk.
These types of injuries test a team's depth and affect outcomes of football games. Some teams can rally (see Oregon) when an injured player comes back. Some teams (see Arizona) just aren't fully enough developed to absorb the blow. In a league with the kind of parity of the Pac 12, it creates opportunities for any team to strike out at any other team on any given weekend.
From my position, the teams in the best state of overall health relative to everybody else include Oregon, Stanford, Washington and ASU. Teams that have been hit the hardest or who might be taking more new injuries relative to the rest of the PAC include Arizona, UCLA, Utah and - if Falk is out - WSU.
Why is 10 scared? Because Seven ate Nine.
The prospect of the PAC getting locked out of the Playoffs has caused many people to wonder aloud whether or not the PAC would be better served in reducing their conference schedule to eight games and creating an extra out of conference game every year that could be occupied by a weaker opponent.
If you are one of those people, you are welcome to your opinion. But, please...
There are three really good reasons to not go this route.
1. The quality of "lesser opponents" is getting better every week. You can thank better coaching, the proliferation of video and scouting technologies at all levels and the 85 man scholarship limit for that. Don't believe me? Just go back and look at that time that Eastern Washington almost upset UW ... twice. Or even just last weekend when a little school that develops future leaders called the Citadel took down a once-ranked SEC team in South Carolina. Nothing can chill a playoff resume for a conference like one of the "top teams" getting beat by a lower level opponent.
2. Strength of schedule is a factor in playoff team selections that would become diluted. The reality of the situation is that some cannibalism is good for a conference in that it elevates more teams to the upper tiers of national rankings and creates "quality win" opportunities for the top teams in the conference. It is incumbent on our top teams to win those games, mind you. But simply getting a team "bowl eligible" by scheduling patsies doesn't do much for the strength of schedule.
3. Finally, it goes without saying that fans deserve better. Most PAC 12 fans in any given season don't expect their team to be a playoff team when the season starts. They deserve the opportunity to see as many good games as possible over the course of the season. For some, that means making their one investment in tickets for a game that they can bring their whole family. For others, it means picking that one interesting road trip, such as a conference site or to North Bend, Omaha or Ann Arbor, that they might never again get a chance to visit. To kill off that ninth game is sacrificing the good of the many for the benefit of a few. It's simply not worth it.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings
|1||2||Stanford||9-2 (8-1)||vs Notre Dame|
|Last Week||WIN||Cal 22 at Stanford 35|
|Stanford wins the North division and reclaims the top spot in this week's Power Poll with an uneventful and routine win over their crosstown rival in the annual Big Game. It was classic Stanford - 40 runs to 12 passes, most of which were screens. The easy victory concludes Stanford's conference schedule and leaves them in a position to fight for a playoff spot with Notre Dame coming to town next weekend. I remain concerned about the Cardinal defense - particularly their pass D - but they do have a tendency to bow up in the red zone and they continue to dominate the field position game.|
|Player of the Game||RB Christian McCaffrey (389 APY)||McCaffrey set the single game Stanford record for all purpose yards, aided in part by a kickoff return for a TD, as he continues to keep his Heisman hopes alive.|
|2||6||UCLA||8-3 (5-3)||@ USC|
|Last Week||WIN||UCLA 17 at Utah 9|
|It wasn't pretty, but to go into Salt Lake and hold the host team to only field goals has to be considered a "good thing". UCLA's offense isn't exactly clicking at a high level as they look to claim the South division this weekend at USC. However, it has been good enough with Josh Rosen doing a nice job of limiting mistakes, Jay Payton moving chains and Paul Perkins grinding out difficult yards. The UCLA defense continues to show resilience that I didn't believe was there, particularly has Kenny Clark builds his NFL draft resume.|
|Player of the Game||WR Jay Payton (7 recs, 105 yds)||Tips of the cap go to defenders Clark and DB Nate Meadors, but Payton was UCLA's best on Saturday. He caught almost half of Rosen's passes and was the one guy that Utah knew they had to stop but couldn't. He moved the chains and was the only player to catch a ball at all in UCLA's last TD drive.|
|3||3||USC||7-4 (5-3)||vs UCLA|
|Last Week||LOSS||USC 28 at Oregon 48|
|Tough weekend for USC as they struggled with injuries to key playmakers and the fallout from a poorly conceived defensive gameplan that was designed to bottle up Oregon's rushing attack but resulted in Duck receivers getting free reign to make huge plays all day long. Luckily for USC, the loss by Utah means that they still control their own destiny with regard to winning the South. That is the only reason that they are ahead of Oregon in this week's Power Rankings.|
|Player of the Game||LB Olajuwo Tucker (9 tckls, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks)||Hard to pin the failings of the USC defense on Tucker. He was activce in creating pressure up the middle of that Oregon offensive line and, at times, seemed like the only guy who ever had a shot at knocking Vernon Adams out of rhythm.|
|4||5||Oregon||8-3 (6-2)||vs OSU (11/27)|
|Last Week||WIN||USC 28 at Oregon 48|
|Welcome to Air Oregon. The Ducks have been leading with the pass for much of the past several weeks and have generated huge plays in the passing attack as a result. Saturday was no different as QB Vernon Adams created hit on big play after big play. Credit his receivers more so than the QB as they were able to frequently get wide open against a very confused USC secondary. Outside of those big plays, it was feast for famine for the Oregon offense. They earned 250 of their 402 yards on just 7 passes while the rushing attacked struggled with just 4.5 yards per rush. I don't know how good Oregon really is right now, but give them credit for hitting repeatedly on the explosives in front of them. That is what good teams do.|
|Player of the Game||DE DeForest Buckner (8 tckls, 1 sack, 1 FF)||The Oregon defense was really manhandled by the USC offensive line much of the night ...all except Buckner. The P12 leader in sacks may not be fully appreciated. He is by far the best DL that I've seen at Oregon since Haloti Ngata, but he is hampered by the availbaility of less talent around him.|
|5||1||WSU||8-3 (6-2)||@ UW|
|Last Week||WIN||Colorado 3 at WSU 27|
|The big news in this one? UW produced a 100 yard rusher for the first time in 5 years. The really big news? That would be the unclear status of QB Luke Falk going into the Apple Cup. Falk was sacked one time the whole game. Unfortunately, that one resulted in his head hitting the turf hard and a stretcher being required for him to exit the stadium. With WSU pretty much locked in to the post season and out of the North race, they have the luxury to take every precaution with their star QB. But it hurts them in this irrelevant Power Poll.|
|Player of the Game||RB Gerard Wicks (13 rush, 123 yds)||We have to commemmorate WSU's first 100-yd rusher in the Leach era, don't we?|
|6||4||Utah||8-3 (5-3)||vs Colorado|
|Last Week||LOSS||UCLA 17 at Utah 9|
|With the USC loss, Utah had a chance to jump right back into the South division title race. Instead, they let it slip through their fingers on a night in which the old Travis Wilson reared his ugly game. Despite a much better-than-anticipated effort from backup RB Joe Williams, Wilson couldn't do anything in the passing game. He completed just 50% of his passes for a 110 total yards and a lost fumble. The good news was that the defense was effective. They will need to be leaned on in their regular season finale for Utah to reach the 6-win plateau in the division.|
|Player of the Game||RB Joe Williams (26 carries, 128 yards)||Although Utah failed to get into the end zone for the entire game, they have to be encouraged by the effort that Williams delivered in releif of an injured Devontae Booker. It was a "feature back" kind of night for the young Ute.|
|7||7||ASU||6-5 (4-4)||@ Cal|
|Last Week||WIN||Arizona 37 at ASU 52|
|With six plays of 30 yards or more plus two pick sixes, ASU made an emphatic statement in claiming their third of four Territorial Cups under Todd Graham. Not unlike last week against UW, the story of the game may have been more about the opponents mistakes than their own accomplishments, but give ASU credit. They play a high risk, high reward style and they know how to convert the opportunities that come from that. Amazingly, this was the fourth straight time that ASU had put up more than 40 points against Arizona. Before Todd Graham arrived, that had never happened even once before.|
|Player of the Game||WR Devin Lucien (9 recs, 190 yds, 1 TD)||There were many candidates to choose from here, including the twin rushers of Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard - both who cleared 100 yards for the game. But Lucien had a special day which included two plays that went for more than 50 yards each.|
|8||8||Cal||6-5 (3-5)||vs ASU|
|Last Week||LOSS||Cal 22 at Stanford 35|
|There isn't any real shame in losing to Stanford, but this is a disappointing effort for Cal nonetheless. The Golden Bears have dropped five of their last six and are facing a hot ASU team this weekend. What has to be really disappointing is the performance of the Cal D. They failed to generate a single turnover or sack for the entire game and only had one tackle behind the line of scrimmage. They got bullied by a tougher Cardinal team.|
|Player of the Game||QB Jared Goff (37/54, 386 yds, 2 TD)||I thought that Goff put forth a pretty good effort while under duress. He hit nine different receivers and even contributed with a pass catch of his own.|
|9||10||Washington||5-6 (3-5)||vs WSU|
|Last Week||WIN||Washington 52 at OSU 7|
|The Huskies did what they are supposed to do against inferior competition, but they did it better than anybody else has done it all season. It was a show of domination in all three phases of the game unlike any that we've seen against an North division foe for quite some time. It's hard to make any grand conclusions about this team from this game other than that the team is dialed in and positioned well to host next week's Apple Cup. The play of the defense was particularly inspiring given the kind of offensive challenge the Cougs will pose this week. The fact that nobody garnered more than three tackles in the game speaks to the amount of player rotation that DC Pete Kwiatkowski was afforded the opportunity to enact. Of course, it was also an offensive show of force with Myles Gaskin clearin the 100 yard mark again and with QB Jake Browning completing 90% of his passes in his most efficient game as a Husky.|
|Player of the Game||WR Jaydon Mickens (7 recs, 59 yds, 1 TD)||Think of this as an honorary POG award to UW's senior WR. Mickens has taken a lot of grief the last two weeks, but I thought he came out focused against OSU. It's clear that he has been taking coaching both on attacking the ball and trying to generate YAC. His spin move off a bubble screen in the second quarter was clear evidence of that and I tip my cap to him for it.|
|Last Week||LOSS||Arizona 37 at ASU 52|
|There was a Trey Griffey sighting - a beautiful 95 yard catch and run for a long TD - and the emergence of a dual threat QB candidate. Beyond that, it was an ugly, ugly game for a flawed football team missing its best linebacker (Scooby Wright), its best RB (Nick Wilson) and its starting QB (Anu Solomon). A weird scheduling twist means that this week is Arizona's BYE week. They'll have the benefit of getting their young players worked into practice a week earlier while they wait for their bowl seeding situation to work itself out over the next few weeks.|
|Player of the Game||QB Brandon Dawkins (16/30, 305 yds, 2 TDs; 21 rush, 121 yds, 1 TD)||3rd stringer Dawkins was inserted into the game in the 2nd quarter and staged a huge rally to try to get the Wildcats back in the game. He's a dynamic athlete who possesses one funky throwing motion but also a dangerous pair of legs. While his attempt to carry UA back ultimately failed, it is clear that Dawkins is going to be competition to Anu Solomon next season ... assuming RichRod returns.|
|11||11||Colorado||4-8 (1-7)||@ Utah|
|Last Week||LOSS||Colorado 3 vs WSU 23|
|The Buffs were without their leader in QB Sefo Liufau and it showed. While the Colorado D played a pretty good game, backup QB Cade Apsay was unable to keep the chains moving. It's been tough to watch Colorado most of this season. Not unlike UW, this team is playing a much more physical and competitive brand of football than they have over the past two seasons, but they just haven't gotten much in the way of timely breaks or big plays. There is talent here. If they aren't too beaten down, they could give Utah a run this weekend.|
|Player of the Game||WR Nelson Spruce (10 recs, 120 yds)||I really wanted to go defense here, but Spruce was so good that I couldn't ignore him. The senior WR put on a clinic on how to pick apart the WSU pass defense. Hopefully, UW OC Jonathan Smith was watching.|
|12||12||Oregon State||2-9 (0-8)||@ Oregon|
|Last Week||LOSS||Washington 52 at OSU 7|
|For the second straight week, OSU surrendered 50+ points to an opponent. Unlike last week, however, the Beavs did it at home while only managing to score seven points themselves. It was a tough senior night for players like Josh Mitchell, Storm Woods and Kyle Peko as their eligibility is going to expire without with one final trip to the post season. That makes the Civil War next week in Eugene their personal bowl game.|
|Player of the Game||LB Ricky Ortiz (8 tckls, 2 TFLs, 1 sack)||Ortiz was pretty active for the Beavers as he registered a couple of plays behind the LOS including one of the three sacks that OSU put on UW's Jake Browning.|