Games begin to count for real this week for just about every team that wasn't specifically focused on the playoffs to start the season. Yup, conference play is kicking off for the majority of the PAC 12.
It's been an interesting "preseason" to say the least. Overall, the conference has disappointed somewhat over the first three weeks. Losses to FCS, Mountain West, SEC and Big Ten teams have dampened some of the chatter about the PAC 12 being a "1B" to the SEC's "1A, this despite the fact that the SEC has been less than their normal stellar selves to start the season (I'm looking at you Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzahn).
Despite the slow start there have been some interesting developments and good story lines starting to emerge in the PAC. The biggest one might be the emergence of the true freshman QBs. Oregon State, UCLA and Washington are each starting true frosh QBs and, in total, those teams are sporting a somewhat impressive 7-2 record with the two losses coming to a ranked Boise State team and Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines.
There is a lot of youth in the conference this year and it has led to a bit of shifting of momentum. On the "risers" list, teams like UCLA, Utah, Washington, Cal, and Oregon State all look better than the expectations that were set for them to start the year. On the "fallers" list, it would seem that Oregon, Arizona St, and WSU have taken a relative step back - at least to this point - from where they were a year ago. The jury is still out on where Colorado, Arizona, USC and Stanford rate relative to where they ended last season. In total, it seems like there well could be a little bit of a shake up in the pecking order of the PAC if current trends continue. Of course, much football remains to be played.
Here is your roundup in Dots form:
PAC 12 Roundup - Week 4
- Losing at home to Stanford was a big blow for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans. USC fans have to be disappointed with all of the mistakes - turnovers and penalties - that plagued what was otherwise a pretty good all around showing. The home loss puts USC in a bind. While not exactly a must-win, the Trojans could find themselves out of the playoff race and in a very significant hole if they fall to ASU in Tempe this weekend.
- If there is such thing as a "sloppy" blowout, Oregon achieved it last weekend. The broken finger of Vernon Adams lingers as a significant issue as QB Jeff Lockie appears to be relatively inefficient option at QB. In addition, questions still linger as to where the Ducks will get a pass rush, the state of the secondary and who will emerge as a legitimate threat as a second RB to Royce Freeman. I can't recall the Ducks going into the regular season with so much uncertainty at any point in the last decade.
- Cal has had a great start with a highlight victory over Texas this past weekend. They are trending up to be sure, but will head to Washington with injury issues starting to creep into the narrative. Notably, QB Jared Goff, RB Daniel Lasco and DE Davante Wilson all are a bit dinged up. This will be a situation to watch.
- Also still dealing with injuries are the surging Utah Utes. QB Travis Wilson is still questionable and the timing return of star DE Hunter Dimick is uncertain. The Utes have been able to survive with QB Kendal Thompson, but he doesn't seem to be the answer in a competitive South Division.
- UCLA has to be counting their lucky stars. While QB Josh Rosen is still hearing his name being mentioned in Heisman conversations, the reality is that he had a brutal game in what is his second "meh" outing in a row for the Bruins. In fact, you could make the argument that of the three starting true freshman in the conference, Rosen has been the least impressive over three games so far. The good news for Rosen is that he has a killer running back and an offensive line that has really come on strong in the early going.
- I'm concerned about ASU's trajectory. They've been sloppy in each of their three games so far with issues at QB, OL and DL rearing in each of those contests. This was a team that returning a lot of pieces, so it is a bit more disconcerting to see them not match the levels they were at a year ago in the early going. The matchup with USC this weekend will be a great measuring stick for Todd Graham and co.
- I'm as curious as you are to know what kind of team Rich Rod has down in Tucson. His out of conference schedule has been about as weak as you could ask for. UCLA will be a stiff test. I think 'Zona will put up a pretty good fight, even without Scooby Wright.
PAC 12 Power Rankings - Week 4
|Last Week||WIN||BYU 21 @ UCLA 24|
|Let's get this out of the way - Josh Rosen did not look good. That isn't to say he was "bad" - that last TD pass to Jordan Payton was a thing of beauty. But the true frosh QB is clearly having trouble reading defenses. His 106 yds passing, 3 INTs and 4.5 yds per attempt are evidence of that. Fortunately, the Bruins have a stellar rushing attack with Paul Perkins and Nate Starks to go along with a rugged defense. Those phases saved this game for UCLA. I'm going to hold them at #1 for now - mostly because nobody has stepped up to take it back - but I'll be watching this team to see if Rosen can regain his footing against a very challenging Arizona team.|
|Week 3 POG:||RB Paul Perkins (220 yds rushing, 1 TD)||Can you say "WORKHORSE"? Perkins was the entire UCLA offense and delivered gashing run after gashing run against a BYU defense that knew what was coming. Amazing game for the junior RB.|
|Last Week||WIN||Georgia State 28 @ Oregon 61|
|The Ducks needed this one to get healthy and to make a statement to the rest of the PAC that they were still going to be a force in the PAC 12 race. They were able to achieve the former by sitting QB Vernon Adams the whole game. However, it's not exactly clear that they achieved the latter. The Ducks cruised in this one, but they still gave up 28 points and 431 yards of offense to Georgia State. We can debate the "garbage time" aspect of the game, but the reality is that we still aren't sure what the Ducks really are. Oregon was behind the sticks all game in this one, and they converted only about a third of their third downs. This just doesn't feel like your typical Oregon team. Issues at QB (health), running back (beyond Royce Freeman) and defensive secondary remain as key questions awaiting answers. That said, we should not be too quick to dismiss the Ducks.|
|Week 3 POG:||QB Jeff Lockie (228 yds passing, 7.4 YPA)||We'll go with the back up QB here because, frankly, nobody else was all that impressive on either side of the ball for a sloppy Ducks team. Lockie did a nice job in his time on the field, but probably not enough to put conviction behind the argument that he ought to be starting for the Ducks going forward.|
|Last Week||WIN||Utah 45 @ Fresno St 24|
|It was good to see the Utes rip off a relatively easy win despite the injuries they've sustained the last few weeks. Backup QB Kendal Thompson didn't set the world on fire, but he did a nice job handing off to RB Davonte Booker which is pretty much all he needed to do. It was a bit concerning to see Fresno State match Utah's offense yard for yard throughout the game, so I don't want to over react too much. However, given the context of the rest of the PAC, I feel pretty good about moving the Utes up this week.|
|Week 3 POG:||RB Davonte Booker (31 cars, 156 yds, 2 TDs)||Like Paul Perkins at UCLA, Booker was an absolute stud in shouldering the load for a Utah offense that is really struggling passing the ball. He changed the nature of the game at Fresno St.|
|Last Week||WIN||Cal 45 @ Texas 44|
|Love 'em or hate 'em, the Cal Bears go into the regular season with a perfect record and an impressive road win against a major conference foe. Did it take a shanked extra point at the end of regulation to preserve that win? Why yes it did. Still, the Bears showed us exactly what they are in their win over Texas: a balanced offense led by a stud QB that can overcome the loss of a guy like RB Daniel Lasco even on a big stage. There are still questions about the Cal D to be sure - they got shredded by a mobile QB making his first career start. But the only thing that matters is if the Cal offense can consistently register more points than that D gives up, even if they need the help of the football gods to make it happen.|
|Week 3 POG:||RB Khalfani Muhammad (164 yds rush, 1 TD)||Congrats to QB Jared Goff on setting the all-time Cal passing record. But I'm taking reserve RB Muhammad in this one. His rushing attack put a lot of pressure on that Texas D and forced them to respect the run despite 1,000 yard rusher Daniel Lasco being sidelined with an injury.|
|5||7||Stanford||2-1 (1-0)||@ Oregon St (9/25)|
|Last Week||WIN||Stanford 41 @ USC 31|
|David Shaw opened his locker room speech to his team by emphasizing that nobody over in the USC locker room has ever played in a Pac 12 championship game. With that, his motivated team went out and put up a glorious fight in upsetting the #6 USC Trojans in LA. Kevin Hogan reminded observers that he deserves to be in the discussion of most efficient QBs in the PAC while the Stanford D put together a lock-down second half to enable a key win. This was a high quality win for a team that is more and more making the loss in Evanston look more like an aberration.|
|Week 3 POG:||RB Christian McCaffrey (115 yds rush, 279 total yds)||While it was Remound Wright who scored 3 TDs and TE Austin Hooper who made a few key drive-extending plays, it was McCaffrey that shouldered the load for the offense. During the pre-season, I wrote it was the Stanford offense and thier Soph RB who was going to define succes for the Cardinal. McCaffrey delivered on Saturday.|
|Last Week||WIN||Northern Ariz 13 @ Arizona 77|
|Maybe I should be inclined to move Arizona up the rankings after this game. However, I simply can't ignore that not only did NAU score first in this one, but they were at one point within a point of tying the game. Of course, UA went wild after that with both RB Nick Wilson and QB Anu Solomon putting up big stats before giving way to the backups. It remains to be seen about how much you can glean from yet another matchup with a severely undermanned opponent. The 'Cats host a battle-tested Bruins in Tucson next week. That will be a nice measuring stick for Rich Rod and co. If they do well, I could see them moving up this chart pretty fast.|
|Week 3 POG:||QB Jerrard Randall (8 yds passing, 149 yds rushing, 2 rush TD)||To underscore the context of this game, I give you 'Zona's backup QB ... and leading rusher for the game.|
|7||3||USC||2-1 (0-1)||@ Arizona State|
|Last Week||LOSS||Stanford 41 @ USC 31|
|The incredible loss by Steve Sarkisian to his rival in Shaw is a major development for the Trojans. Not only did they squander an opportunity for a win at home - precious in the ultra-competitive South division - but they are essentially "all in" now with their matchup against ASU if they want to stay in the division race. And we all know how well Sark does on road trips into the desert. I'm dropping USC thanks to the weak situation they find themselves in, but I do think that they still look pretty good from a personnel perspective. They lost to Stanford because: 1) they made mistakes on third down on both sides of the ball, they gave up more negative plays (penalties and sacks taken) and their playmakers didn't make any explosive plays (long the secret to USC's success). There isn't anything seen on Saturday that couldn't reverse itself pretty quickly.|
|Week 3 POG:||LB Su'a Cravens (13 tckls, 1 sack, 1 PBU)||With apologies to JuJu Smith, I thought Cravens was the best player on the field for a USC defense that just couldn't get it together, in particular on third down. Whether in the backfield or in coverage, Cravens was all over the field.|
|Last Week||WIN||Utah State 17 @ Washington 31|
|The Huskies cruised to victory in a game that was never in much doubt. In fact, if there were a critique to issue against the Dawgs, the number of unforced mistakes UW made - particularly with the turnovers - probably resulted in 10 more points being left out on the field and a 7 more being given back to USU. It was an impressive defensive performance and the passing game seems to be now clicking. Unfortunately, the dramatically reshaped offensive line could do nothing to help stimulate the seriously deficient Husky rushing attack. Until the Dawgs can find a way to become multi-dimensional, even just a little bit, I have to keep them at #8.|
|Week 3 POG:||LT Trey Adams||There aren't any stats to attribute to a LT, but I want to acknowledge the first career start for the true freshman. It was remarkable that the coaches decided to insert him against the most aggressive blitzing D that the Huskies will probably face this season. I thought his performance was more than up to snuff - particularly in pass pro.|
|Last Week||WIN||New Mexico 10 @ ASU 35|
|Todd Graham said after this one that ASU "dominated a team that we were supposed to dominate." Except, in fact, they did not. In fact, it was a sluggish effort all around characterized by QB inaccuracy, continued major issues in offensive line play and a lack of physicality on defense. The score in this one is misleading. QB Mike Bercovici threw for 315 yards, but more than a third of those came on two dump off passes to RB Demario Richard that turned into long scores. Overall, the Sun Devils struggled to move the ball (6 punts) and, in fact, ran fewer total plays in the game than New Mexico (67 to UNM's 76). Defensively, the Sun Devils were on the field for long stretches against the Lobos triple option. We are starting to get a picture of what this Sun Devil team looks like and it is disappointing so far. Saturday's home game vs USC will be a significant pivot point for Graham and his Devils.|
|Week 3 POG:||RB Demario Richard (105 yds rush, 151 yds rec, 2 TDs)||Without Richard, I'm not very certain that ASU would have even won this game. He was quite literally the only player on the field who had any spark about him and he put up some gaudy numbers.|
|Last Week||WIN||Colorado St 24 @ Colorado 27 (OT)|
|The Buffaloes took on one of their traditional rivals in the OneWoodWacker Bowl this past weekend. It took overtime to do it, but they escaped that rivalry game with a win against a good opponent. It wasn't exactly pretty, but the Buffs should be encouraged that not only could they get a win against a quality team, but that they could pull it out under duress. It'll be interesting to see if Colorado can repeat that accomplishment in similar circumstances sometime later in the season against a P12 foe.|
|Week 3 POG:||LB Kenneth Olugbode||13 tackles and the first pick-six for Colorado football in seven years will earn you a POG award every time.|
|Last Week||WIN||Wyoming 14 @ WSU 31|
|I have to admit, I was a little worried about this one. At NDSU, Craig Bohl was known to knock off the occassional giant and I wondered if he could do the same thing for Wyoming against WSU. Fortunately for Mike Leach, his Defense came to play on a night when his offense was a bit out of synch. The Cougars registered five sacks and a couple of turnovers to carry the day. I'm not sure if it is enough to move them in the rankings this week, but it is an encouraging sign for Coug fans.|
|Week 3 POG:||LB Peyton Pelleur (14 tckls, 3.5 TFLs)||Pelleur was a disruptive force for the Cougs on Saturday. I'm glad to be able to honor a defensive player as the Coug POG. It might be my only chance all season.|
|Last Week||WIN||San Jose St 21 @ Oregon St 35|
|The Beavers had to work pretty hard to get over on San Jose State. That is about all that there really is to say about Oregon State at this point. Positives are positives and it is a great thing that OSU has two wins on the board has they get ready to host Stanford. But this is a team that is still working their way around the learning curve. There is clearly reason to have optimism if you are a Beaver Believer, but I don't see them moving up the Power Poll quite yet.|
|Week 3 POG:||QB Seth Collins (135 yds pass, 114 yds rush, 2 TD rush, 1 TD pass)||The true freshman QB is pretty much the entire Oregon St offense at this point in the season. He hasn't yet learned to leverage his receiving targets, but he's giving the Beavs a chance to score on every drive with his legs. He was the difference versus SJSU.|