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Pac-12 Power Rankings: The conference starts feasting on its own

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It’s Washington and everybody else as the season reaches the midway point.

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The changing of the guard continues in the Pac-12.

How else can you explain a weekend that the Washington schools collectively outscore the Oregon/Stanford hegemony by a combined score of 211-75 in consecutive weeks? Or that Colorado (despite a loss) is a serious contender in the South? Or that UCLA is on the ropes and sucking wind, especially given that Josh Rosen may be banged up?

The Huskies continue to roll and are starting to put together a serious run at both a Jake Browning Heisman campaign and, more importantly, a College Playoff spot. The cannibalization of the conference, however, threatens both of those efforts as such parity is often equated with conference weakness.

It doesn’t sound fair, does it. Consider other known examples of cannibalization out there in the wild. Mother hens will sometimes resort to eating their own eggs if their bodies are lacking calcium. Polar bears are known for feasting on one another, especially when their natural food supply (seals) are nowhere to be found. Baby sand tiger sharks are known to eat their siblings in the womb to ensure their own survival or to increase their body mass in preparation for life in the sea.

That’s not weak. That’s stone-cold survival. And that is the Pac-12 this year. If only we could get the voters to see it as such.

On with the power poll.

The Cool Chart

Washington is tops in the PAC 12 power rankings for the second straight week.
Chris Landon

The Power Rankings - Week 6

12. Oregon 2-4 / 0-3

Last Result: #5 Washington 70, Oregon 21

I can’t believe that I’m actually pulling this lever. After all, I picked the Ducks to win the North in my preseason Gekko File previews. But the truth cannot be denied, especially on the heels of back-to-back weeks where Oregon gave up nearly 700 yards in combined rushing yardage and 125 points to the Washington schools.

NCAA Football: Washington at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

My friends, that is not just bad defense. That is atrocious defense. It is almost completely inconceivable that a team just two seasons removed from a national championship game appearance can be so bereft of talent and motivation that they could crater in such spectacular fashion. But that is where this program is at.

On the plus side, I was very impressed with Justin Herbert. That improvised TD pass on to Tony Brooks-James was a big-time play. So that is something. The truth, however, is that Duck fans need to be worried about even qualifying for a bowl game with the team that they are putting on the field. The Mark Helfrich death watch is on in Eugene.

POG: LB Troy Dye

Up Next: @ Cal

11. Oregon State 2-3 / 1-1

Last Result: Cal 44, OSU 47 (OT)

RB Ryan Nall (221 yards, 3 TDs) had the breakout game that I’ve been waiting to see. His efforts paced an Oregon State offense that exploded for 559 yards in OSU’s 47-44 overtime win over Cal.

I’d be inclined to rank OSU a spot higher if it were not for two things. First of all, Nall was injured in the fourth quarter and might have to miss time, which would be a huge blow. Second, OSU continues to get nothing out of their passing game, having dialed up just 85 passing yards against Cal’s very soft secondary.

OSU’s victory ends a 12-game Pac-12 losing streak. I’m not sure if they have any more wins ahead, but they’ll certainly enjoy this one.

POG: RB Ryan Nall (221 yards, 3 TDs)

Up Next: vs Utah

10. Arizona 2-4 / 0-3

Last Result: Arizona 23, #24 Utah 36

I have to hand it to Rich Rod. The Wildcats are as beat up as any team in the nation right now and yet they still keep finding ways to hang in there against decent competition. Unfortunately, hanging in there doesn’t often pay off.

The Wildcats couldn’t capitalize on a fast 14-3 lead over the ranked Utes last weekend. The defense, again, simply got worn down to the tune of 455 yards surrendered and 36 points scored. It was the fifth straight opponent to which Arizona has given up more than 400 yards of offense.

There isn’t much left out there for the Wildcats beyond a possible but unlikely bowl bid. The big question on the table is whether or not Rich Rod starts preparing for the future and featuring true freshman QB Khalil Tate.

POG: LB Michael Barton (12 tackles, 2 TFLs)

Up Next: vs USC

9. California 3-3 / 1-2

Last Result: Cal 44, OSU 47 (OT)

Oh, Cal. Why do you do this to me? Just when I think we are cool again, you blow it up. Instead of dropping 50, you drop a turd.

What really surprised me about this game was the lack of offense coming from QB Davis Webb and the Bears. Despite 44 points, Cal had generated just 180 yards in total offense going into the fourth quarter. Webb ended up with just 113 yards for the game. An injured right hand may have been a factor.

Still, this was Oregon State.

I’m willing to call this one an aberration for their offense. But there can be no doubt that this defense is terrible.

POG: RB Khalfani Muhammad (21 cars, 166 yds, 1 TD)

Next Up: BYE

8. UCLA 3-3 / 1-2

Last Result: UCLA 20, ASU 23

Is there a team doing less with more anywhere in the country than UCLA? The Bruins lost important footing in the race for the South division following a sloppy 23-20 defeat to ASU. The Bruins missed two field goals and surrendered four turnovers against a Sun Devil team starting its backup QB.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State

Of particular frustration to Bruins fans is the lack of any kind of production coming out of the UCLA offensive line. UCLA QBs were sacked five times and their rush attack generated -1 net rushing yards.

You read that correctly.

To make matters worse, UCLA might have to go without star QB Josh Rosen, who was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter after landing awkwardly on his right (throwing shoulder). Until we know his status, I can’t justify ranking UCLA very high.

POG: QB Josh Rosen (23/43, 400 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT)

Up Next: @ WSU

7. Stanford 3-2 / 2-2

Last Result: WSU 42, Stanford 16

Speaking of messes, the talented Cardinal are in an Oregon-like freefall after suffering two consecutive blowout defeats on back-to-back weekends.

It was the offense that once again failed David Shaw. Against WSU, they managed less than 300 yards in total offense and were unable to keep the scoreboard close once WSU started rolling. Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey - who now can only be labeled as “delusionally hopeful”- was knocked out of the game in the second half and is officially “day to day.” He finished the night with just 35 yards rushing and 5 yards receiving.

The Cardinal now have no realistic path to the North division title with losses to both of the two Washington teams. How David Shaw chooses to react to that remains to be seen. Both the offensive and defensive lines have been exposed as below-par units that might be targeted for overhaul via the rotating in of young players.

POG: LB Joey Alfieri (6 tcks, 2 TFLs)

Up Next: vs Notre Dame

6. Arizona State 5-1 / 2-1

Last Result: UCLA 20, ASU 23

The Sun Devils are clearly not as good as their record. Nevertheless, they remain a scrappy bunch who just keep finding ways to win football games. It is almost as if they know the precise weakness of their opponent on a week-to-week basis and find ways to blow it up.

I guess one might call that “coaching.”

Whatever you call it, ASU is well-positioned to make an unlikely run at the division championship in the second half of the season. If backup QB Brady White can minimize mistakes and take advantage of capable offensive players like Kalen Ballage, Tim White ,and N’Keal Harry, they may just be able to stay relevant.

POG: WR Tim White (11 recs, 123 yds)

Next Up: @ Colorado

5. Washington State 3-2 / 2-0

Last Result: WSU 42, Stanford 16

The reinvention in Pullman continues. As the Cougs rebuild their season following a pair of opening losses (to Eastern Washington and Boise State), they are starting to rack up the kinds of wins that will put them in a race for the North division championship.

I’m still not sure what to make of WSU only because every weekend it seems like it is something new that leads them to a victory. Against Oregon, it was all about their rushing attack. Against Stanford, it was their rush defense. Their true identity hasn’t really shone through, which lends a bit of randomness to their results. Still, you need to give the team credit for showing some grit. It’s been nothing but toughness since coach Mike Leach called out the team’s collective lack of it following the BSU loss.

POG: River Cracraft (7 recs, 130 yds, 1 TD)

Up Next: vs UCLA

4. Colorado 4-2 / 2-1

Last Result: #21 Colorado 17, USC 21

The Buffaloes had a really good opportunity on the road in Los Angeles to get a stranglehold on the South division race. But they squandered away four USC turnovers, converting just one of them into points on their way to losing a close one to the Trojans.

I’m getting nudged a little closer to jumping on the Colorado bandwagon. Their defense, while not particularly fast, is more physical than you think. They also seem to be playing with a high level of discipline (as exemplified with four turnovers generated). But that offense might be a little further away from repeating the success they had against the Oregon schools across the rest of the Pac-12 schedule.

We’ll also have to keep our eyes on the QB situation. RS Freshman Steven Montez was briefly knocked out of the USC game and replaced by senior Sefo Liufau. That Montez was reinserted into the lineup in the second half, I think, speaks volumes about the QB pecking order in Boulder.

POG: LB Kenneth Olugbode (10 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT)

Up Next: vs Arizona State

3. USC 3-3 / 2-2

Last Result: #21 Colorado 17, USC 21

Freshman Sam Darnold has definitely come on and provided a spark for a USC team that we all thought was dead in the water just two weeks ago.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about overreacting.

Clay Helton can now claim a victory over a ranked opponent, not to mention a reinvigorated outlook on the race for the South. The catalyst has been Darnold who, despite making many freshman mistakes, has certainly demonstrated a knack for making something out of nothing. Case in point was the improvised TD pass that he delivered to TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe. That he is getting his tight ends involved along with WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (113 yds receiving) is a great sign.

POG: LB Uchenna Nwosu (10 tcks, 1 sack, 2 PBUs)

Up Next: @ Arizona

2. Utah 5-1 / 2-1

Last Result: Arizona 23, #24 Utah 36

The Utes are the #2 team in the poll by virtue of the fact that they have the clearest line of sight to a division championship of any team not named Washington. This is a team very much built in a similar mode to Washington and Stanford in that they are still getting good play from either side of the line of scrimmage.

Troy Williams has not yet really separated himself as a game-changer and he struggled in this one completing just 13 of 29 passes for 245 yards. Despite his inefficiencies, he did find ways to contribute both with his legs (2 rushing TDs) and with his ball protection (no INTs). Still, it is hard to imagine Utah holding on to this spot with Colorado, USC, and WSU all staring to come on, unless Williams can find a way to elevate the Utah offense.

POG: S Chase Hansen (8 tckls, 1 TFL, 1 PBU)

Up Next: @ Oregon State

1. #5 Washington 6-0 / 3-0

Last Result: #5 Washington 70, Oregon 21

What else is there to say about Washington? Their QB is now in the discussion not just about who the best QB in the nation is, but who the best player in all of college football is. The offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage are among the most physical in the nation. The defensive back seven is smothering rushing lanes and passing routes. The receiving corps behind breakouts Dante Pettis and John Ross has gone from liability to strength.

What else could you ask for?

The Huskies are clearly deserving of their high ranks, but remain an unfinished product. You may not have noticed, but Oregon and that sieve-like defense still forced UW to punt on four of their first eight possessions last weekend. Nitpicking? Sure. But UW has grand designs and it is the details that now must be attended to.

POG: QB Jake Browning (304 yds passing, 6 passing TDs, 8 total TDs - ties a Pac-12 record)

Up Next: BYE