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Power Rankings: is USC the best in the PAC?

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The upset of UW in Seattle changes everything.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I’m sure you are waiting on pins and needles to see how UW fared in this week’s power rankings. We will get back to that.

The first thing that we have to do is decompose the playoff rankings and the odds of the Pac-12 champion going to the playoffs at all.

There is much to digest after “Upset Saturday.” The losses of Clemson, Michigan and Washington threw a significant wrench in the works for the playoff committee as they now have to rationalize how to rank a bunch of one-loss teams in the interim rankings. However, when you take a step back, not much has changed in the grand scheme of things.

Each of the teams that lost yesterday still clearly controls its own destiny. That includes Washington. So, for certain, we will hear about Louisville and Ohio State come this time tomorrow. We might also start hearing some rumbling about other non-champ candidates such as Auburn and Wisconsin. Still, given who has played whom and what kinds of results have been posted thus far, it is hard to fathom that a team which doesn’t win its conference championship would end up in the playoffs.

The real big blow suffered with UW’s loss on Saturday was felt by any Pac-12 team still harboring darkhorse hopes of making the playoffs. WSU, Utah, and Colorado all needed to get the chance to beat an undefeated UW on their way to a conference championship in order to make an argument. That chip goes now to USC. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that a three-loss Trojan team is going to get into the playoffs. Thus, it is pretty much the cast that it is “UW or bust” for the Pac-12 and the college football playoffs.

If UW does win out, the only question that will affect its playoff future is how its résumé stands up against the Big 12 champion. In that regard, Oklahoma is the only real threat. However, their two losses and a lack of a championship game would probably still give UW the nod.

Of course, we are talking about the College Football Playoff Committee. Their scorecards change every week and, therefore, we can’t really know how they will ultimately go—but on paper, the playoffs are still a very real opportunity for UW.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Power Rankings for Week 12
UW falls in this week’s power rankings following their loss to USC in Seattle.
Chris Landon

The Power Rankings

12. Arizona 2-9 / 0-7

Last Result - Colorado 49, Arizona 24

A lost season just keeps getting more lost for the Wildcats. You know things are going bad when you put up 13 penalties in a single game and lose your kicker to a concussion as a result of a thrown ball on the sideline.

Still, I almost bumped the Wildcats up one spot this week thanks to a performance where, at least on a man-on-man matchup basis, they outplayed the Buffaloes at home. Samajie Grant, a converted wide receiver, posted his first ever 100-yard game and had one spectacular play where he hurdled a Colorado defender. That kind of effort is exceptional given the kind of season that the Wildcats are having.

Now the Wildcats face wrapping up a season in which they will fail to beat a ranked team for the first time in the RichRod era.

11. Arizona State 5-5 / 2-5

Last Result - Utah 49, ASU 26

Nobody is playing worse football in the conference right now than the Sun Devils. Still, they’ve got five wins on the board and are facing 50-50 odds in getting bowl eligible. The question is whether or not they will be able to.

Utah v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The defense remains the big unknown for the Devils. They were absolutely destroyed by a Utah team that isn’t particularly known for offense. The ASU offense is still contending with an offensive line that is about as stout as a fart in a hurricane. However, you can’t deny that ASU was in the game; the score was 28-26 in the fourth quarter. If I’m Todd Graham, I’m doubling down on all of the trick plays that helped keep ASU in that game and hoping that I can leverage those to steal one more game in my final two.

10. Oregon State 2-8 / 1-6

Last Result - OSU 24, UCLA 38

The Beavers had yet another good fight in their Saturday night loss to UCLA. It is just the case that Gary Andersen’s team is too depleted and too young to turn that fight into wins.

Defensively, the Beavers are a team on the rise. I was particularly impressed with the performance of Manase Hungalu, who was a one-man wrecking crew. His two fumble recoveries and one interception almost single-handedly spoiled UCLA’s attempt to snap their four-game losing streak.

Despite valiant efforts, for a team that is playing its third-string QB and without star RB Ryan Nall, there isn’t enough offense to keep this team afloat.

9. Oregon 3-7 / 1-6

Last Result - Stanford 52, Oregon 27

The day that none of us saw coming has finally arrived. The Ducks have officially been eliminated from bowl eligibility.

I’m not sure that there is anything really left to say about Oregon. They are now holding out hope that the development opportunities they are providing to young players like QB Justin Herbert, LB Troy Dye, and OL Calvin Throckmorton lead to the foundation for a comeback next season. They will be plagued by not having the extra bowl season practices to add to that hope.

Up Next: @ Utah

8. Cal 4-6 / 2-5

Last Result - Cal 21, WSU 56

The Bears are reeling. Even a game against WSU—a team that they have beaten 10 of the last 11 times and whom they have not lost in Pullman to since 2002—failed to provide the elixir.

The culprit is easy to diagnose. The Bears’ defense is quite possibly the worst defense in the nation. They surrendered 654 yards of offense to the Cougs, which included an impossible 254 yards of net rushing.

Cal’s offense is still playing well enough to compensate to a degree, but they are running out of runway to get it together if they still want to get bowl eligible.

Next Up: vs Stanford

7. UCLA 4-6 / 2-5

Last Result - OSU 24, UCLA 38

UCLA fans, breathe easy. Your losing streak is over. Your rushing attack had some success. Your hopes for bowl eligibility are still alive.

Oregon State v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

It wasn’t the easiest victory. OSU, a more difficult out than most people recognize, certainly put up a struggle. But UCLA was able to get back on the right side of the ledger thanks to a balanced offensive attack, a tough-enough defense, and a couple of big plays. Jordan Lasley caught a 48-yard pass and also scored a TD on a blocked punt. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to see how much success the Oregon State passing attack had against the UCLA pass defense, but that is a nit for another day. Enjoy the day and start preparing. Next week’s matchup vs. USC is a must-win.

Next Up: vs USC

6. Stanford 7-3 / 5-3

Last Result - Stanford 52, Oregon 27

How weird was it that Stanford traveled to Oregon for a football game and hardly a peep was uttered in the mainstream sports media? It wasn’t long ago that that this matchup was must-see TV. Now it is just another game that competes with “Honey-Do” lists for attention. In fact, I was hanging Christmas lights during much of the first half.

The Cardinal did what they had to do by focusing on establishing the run. Christian McCaffrey ran wild and Bryce Love got some love of his own. Even reserve Cameron Scarlett was able to get into the action with 14 carries of his own. That rushing attack afforded David Shaw the opportunity to exercise his passing attack a little bit, leading to Keller Chryst having his best collegiate game (258 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INT).

Oregon was still able to generate 500 yards against the Cardinal, but it is hard to assess the meaning of that stat given how quickly and greatly Stanford established its lead. Still, the Cardinal seem to be finding their sea legs again.

Next Up: @ Cal

5. Colorado 8-2 / 6-1

Last Result - Colorado 49, Arizona 24

If you are Mike MacIntyre, you are probably very relieved to see Sefo Liufau finally get back on track with a 4 TD performance (3 pass, 1 rush) and to see Phillip Lindsay get back over the century mark (119 yds, 3 TDs) on the ground. Offense has been a problem the last few weeks, but 49 points is a good sign.

But just as distressing for the head coach is that pound for pound, Arizona probably outplayed his club. The Wildcats outgained Colorado on the day (417 yards to 388 yards), averaged the same yards per play (5.3 ypp), and needed 13 penalties from Arizona in order to keep the game out of reach. Colorado is not playing their best ball to close the season.

Up Next: vs Washington State

4. Utah 8-2 / 5-2

Last Result - Utah 49, ASU 26

The Utes are putting together some good football at just the right time. Troy Williams (296 yds, 4 TDs) seems to be finding his rhythm at QB just as Joe Williams continues his dominating late-season surge at RB to make the Utah offense capable of winning a game even if the defense isn’t rolling.

Fortunately, Utah’s defense is also surging. It was sack city for the Utes against that porous ASU offensive line as they generated 11 sacks on Thursday night. Things are definitely clicking for the Utes, who in my mind are still the favorites to win the South.

Next Up: vs Oregon

3. Washington State 8-2 / 7-0

Last Result - Cal 21, WSU 56

The Cougs had another rollicking easy time in feasting on yet another bottom-half Pac-12 opponent. They’ve now set a program record by making it this deep into a conference schedule without suffering a loss. They are holding up their end of the bargain when it comes to setting up an epic day-after-Thanksgiving Apple Cup experience.

California v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Coug D continues to impress. They were at their “bend, don’t break” best in surrendering 525 yards of total offense but allowing just three TDs to the Bears. Offensively, the Cougs took a page out of the Sonny Dykes playbook by generating 254 yards in rushing offense on 31 carries. As it stands right now, the Cougs are right there with the Trojans in terms of the heat-check barometer.

Next Up: @ Colorado

2. Washington 9-1 / 6-1

Last Result - USC 26, UW 13

It’s tough to go undefeated in a season. So difficult, in fact, that only one Power 5 team in the nation still has the chance to do so. That UW lost a game isn’t really the red flag here.

The real red flag is the declining play of what is increasingly looks like a tired Jake Browning and the loss of yet another critical player on the defensive side of the ball. The features of this team that had differentiated it early in the season—the ability to generate explosive passing plays and the ability to generate defensive pressure without blitzing—seem to be waning. In fact, if you just wanted to do this power ranking based on who has momentum, I’d be hard-pressed to have UW anywhere higher than #3 right now.

That said, UW is now clearly the only Pac-12 team that still harbors any hope of being a playoff team. That they have that opportunity in front of them satisfies my “what’s left out there” criteria in keeping them up in this poll. If UW beats ASU next week, I’m sure I’ll have them back at #1 barring any unusual mitigating circumstances.

Next Up: vs Arizona State

1. USC 7-3 / 6-2

Last Result - USC 26, UW 13

Let’s call this an honorary promotion to the top spot in the power rankings for this week. Such is earned when you road trip into a hostile environment under the bright lights of ESPN’s College Gameday and pull off an upset of the #4 team in the nation. It was a complete redemption for a team that started off so horribly broken early in the season.

The unfortunate reality, though, is that the surge is coming too late for the Trojans. They do not control their own destiny in the South, and though they are playing the hottest football in the conference right now, they very well may not get the chance at another Pac-12 championship game appearance. Their path involves winning their last conference game at UCLA while hoping that Colorado falls to WSU next week and then beats Utah the week after. Tough, but not out of the question.

Next Up: @ UCLA