When the season opened, the PAC 12 was projected by many outlets as the second best conference in the nation. Sure, only four teams (USC, Washington, Stanford and WSU) opened up in the AP preseason rankings. But x others (Colorado, Utah, UCLA, and Oregon) were among teams knocking on the Top 25’s door and begging to be let into the club.
Indeed, things seemed to get off to a swimming start. Cal spanked an ACC team and then an SEC team. UCLA had a comeback for the ages, also against an SEC team. Wazzu got off to a crazy hot start by first winning a game...and then another (and another). Stanford made a statement in Sydney while Washington and USC did nothing but take care of their own business.
By week 4, six PAC teams were either in or had a cup of coffee in the Top 25 while two of those teams - UW and USC - were in the top 10. Things were going well. Larry Scott was all like:
The good times did not last. Four weeks later, the conference has been torn asunder by major injuries to significant players, falls from grace by the so-called standard-bearer of the conference, a Heisman campaign mounted by a tough-kid RB from Stanford instead of the media darling QB from USC, and cannibalistic tendencies that often characterize conference play.
Welcome to the PAC 12. Where we eat our children and only hurt the ones we love.
Oh, and drive the speed limit. Can’t forget about that.
The latest embarrass ... errr ... setback to the conference was on full display in front of a national audience last weekend. Notre Dame hosted USC in what essentially was a playoff elimination game and, well, let’s just say they still aren’t sure what happened to the Jeweled Shillelagh. It’s been missing since it was last seen brandished by the Notre Dame Leprechaun in the presence of Traveller. While nobody is quite sure where it went, it ought to be noted that Traveller has been cantering awkwardly since Saturday.
USC’s loss to Notre Dame was bad. It not only put Clay Helton squarely on the hot seat (anybody ready for the return of Chip Kelly?), but it also soured the view of the entire conference. There is plenty of time to undo the damage that was done. Notre Dame still has Stanford ahead, after all.
Still, it sucks when that one time you need USC to actually show up, they pull off their best spoiled rich kid routine and screw it up for everybody else.
Let’s move on to the rankings.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings: Week 9
12. Oregon State (1-6 / 0-4)
It was a good week for the Beavers. In fact, all that OSU has to do is to rise up the power poll is keep taking BYE weeks. I’m sure either Oregon or USC will eventually fall below them.
11. Oregon (4-4 / 1-4)
Oregon 14, UCLA 31
For the third straight week, the Ducks were held to under 17 points in a game. I don’t have the energy to investigate how long it has been since that happened, but I’d encourage you to think along the lines of the Mike Bellotti era.
There are some positives you can pull from this one. The Ducks really did have some fight. They got down early but were able to leverage some feisty defense and their rushing game to close the gap and go into the half tied. That Royce Freeman was able to pass LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time rushing leader is a nice feel-good story for Duck fans. He put forth a good effort.
But a “nice try” is about all that Oregon has going for them right now. Well, that and the fact that they might be getting a few injured players - Tony Brooks-James and OG Jake Pisarcik - back next week. Until Justin Herbert is ready to come back and contribute (and keep an eye out as he has been spotted dressing but not participating in practice), these Ducks are going nowhere. Bowl eligibility is a real concern.
POG: S/LB Lamar Winston (11 tackles, 1 sack)
Dawg fans might remember being in on the Winston recruiting sweepstakes a few years ago. The native Oregonian has been starting in Oregon’s “DUCK” position this season and himself something of a breakout performance in this one. Winston is one of the rising stars on that young Duck D.
10. Colorado (4-3 / 1-3)
Colorado 0, WSU 28
The biggest shocker to me and to most PAC 12 fans about the 2017 Colorado Buffaloes hasn’t been the regression of their defense. That was expected by most people and, in fact, hasn’t been quite as bad as imagined.
No, the biggest shocker has to be the complete and utter failure by Steven Montez to mature into a PAC 12 caliber QB. The big, nimble QB out of El Paso was supposed to be the “more talented” option backing up Sefo Liufau last season. In a handful of appearances, Montez even duped us all into thinking that he had all conference potential.
But this season has been a train-wreck for the sophomore. So much so that he appeared to have lost his job to freshamn Brandon Noyer who, incidentally, was mostly bad in shutout loss to WSU.
It’s a shame, too. Colorado has some offensive talent with guys like Phillip Lindsay, Bryce Bobo, and Shay Fields. They are flushing it down the drain..
POG: CB Dante Wigley (3 tackles, 3 PBUs)
Wigley got the start in the place of star CB Isaiah Oliver (just another among the walking wounded PAC 12 stars). He comported himself well as he was constantly targeted by Luke Falk. His efforts - along with the pouring rain - did much to slow down the WSU offense.
9. California (4-3 / 1-3)
Arizona 45, Cal 44 (2OT)
I’ll tell you what … if you like college football, it is impossible to not like watching Cal right now. Statues of Liberty, old school option plays, 300 pounders catching TD passes, 235 pound RBs carrying a defensive line over the goal line for game tying TDs and going for two to win the game instead of a PAT for a tie.
That is what college football is all about and it was on full display in Berkeley against Arizona.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. This is just how it is going to go for Cal. They are well-coached and they play with much more grit than what we ever saw under Sonny Dykes. But they just don’t have the Jimmy’s and Joe’s, especially with their injuries piling up.
Against Arizona, the absence of MLB Devante Downs was painfully apparent. The Bears had a plan but no ability to execute a strategy for containing Khalil Tate or that UA run game. They certainly took their shots and they made Arizona pass more than they probably preferred. But they simply couldn’t stop them.
POG: RB Patrick Laird (28 carries, 138 yds, 2 TDs)
Laird came back from injury just in time to pick up Cal’s offense. He was clearly the instigator of the offensive output thanks to his tough running between the tackles and his ability to generate YAC. He really fits Cal’s new emphasis on power running and he is first team All PAC 12 Hustle Squad.
8. Utah (4-3 / 1-3)
ASU 30, Utah 10
Tyler Huntley made his return to the lineup. Apparently, it didn’t really matter.
The young Utah QB was completely flummoxed by ASU’s surging defense and was goaded into four INTs to go along with just 34 yards rushing.
The loss leaves Utah on the outside looking in at the South division race and raises the question as to whether or not there is enough offense on this team to even get bowl eligible. Dropping three straight PAC 12 games doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence, even if the two before were by a total of four points.
POG: P Mitch Wishnowsky (5 puts, 48.8 ypp, 3 50+ punts, 2 i20 punts)
If not for the field position that that Wishnowsky gave to Utah’s D all night, I’m not sure ASU would not have scored another couple of touchdowns. He was easily Utah’s best player on the night.
7.UCLA (4-3 / 2-2)
Oregon 14, UCLA 31
It has been easy to be critical of UCLA for most of the season. They have not exactly lived up to their athletic potential nor have they been able to fix the big issues that plagued them a year ago: run offense and offensive line play. On top of that, rush defense has all of a sudden emerged as a new and critical weakness.
On Saturday, UCLA got the train back on the rails … at least a little bit. They showed a balanced offense and were able to get both of their running backs into a good groove (check out that TD run by Bolu Olorunfunmi). On top of that Josh Rosen had a few jaw-dropping throws that reminded us all of the fact that the Huskies are facing a near certain first round NFL draft pick next week.
I suppose you could argue that the Bruins took a step forward defensively. But we have to keep in mind that it is pretty easy to beat Oregon by loading the box with seven hats and then daring them to beat you with their true freshman QB. Bruin fans, however, were happy to see young Jaelan Phillips get back to health. That can only be a good thing for UCLA.
POG: WR Christian Pabico (4 recs, 99 yds, 1 TD)
Pabico is a walk-on contributor for UCLA. Against Oregon, this gym rat walk-on led UCLA in all purpose yards and scored the TD that broke Oregon’s back. Pabico joins Ryan Bowman as the only two walk-ons that I ever designated as a POG. That’s fun.
6. Arizona State (4-3 / 3-1)
ASU 30, Utah 10
The Devils are on a bit of a roll right now. The win over Utah was important not just because of its impact on the standings. Arizona State demonstrated that the defensive dominance that they put on display against Washington wasn’t just a fluke.
What is interesting to me is that ASU is doing it without the crazy blitz rates. They are utilizing their team speed and relying on that quick defensive line to get pressure. Against Utah, they were able to force Utah into four INTs and hold them to just 265 yards in total offense.
If there is a concern with the Sun Devils, it would be that the offense seems to be dying on the vine. The offensive line is holding back both the rushing and passing games. QB Manny Wilkins looks good, but he can’t carry this offense alone. That is especially true if WR Jalen Harvey is lost for a significant period of time.
Regardless, ASU is now neck and neck with USC in the race for the South. Who’d have ever thunk that?
POG: TE/LB Jay Jay Wilson (4 tackles, 2 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 TD)
You know, if ASU refuses to use a TE in their offense, they may as well let him score on Defense!
The injuries to linebackers Koron Crump and Alani Latu have left ASU so thin that they have to do a quick position switch and move Jay Jay to the defensive side of the ball. His pick-six in his first start on defense was the dagger that ripped out the hearts of Utah fans everywhere. That is worth a POG.
5. Arizona (5-2 / 3-1)
Arizona 45, Cal 44 (2OT)
I’m not sure how much longer the novelty of Khalil Tate will continue to spur the Arizona Wildcats to conference wins, but nobody in Tucson is complaining right now.
Against a Cal team that was determined to contain Tate and, as Justin Wilcox said “make them beat us with his left hand”, Tate created opportunities for his fellow rushers while also getting a little sumpin’ sumpin’ for himself. Two 100 yard rushers, 345 total yards rushing and 4 rushing TDs is a pretty good day.
But Arizona paid a price, especially on their defense. Their bright young star Tony Fields took what looked like a vicious headshot (on a non-intentional hit) while NT Dereck Boles seemed to suffer a notable injury in OT. That is already a very thin defense as it is.
Nevertheless, Arizona joins the Sun Devils and the Trojans among the one-loss teams who will most likely make up the race for the South.
POG: RB Zach Green (20 rushes, 130 yards, 2 TDs)
Another week, another breakout rushing performance by an Arizona runner. Zach Green is a big, tough runner with quick reflexes. He was a great complement to Khalil Tate on Saturday night..
4. (21) USC (6-2 / 4-1)
USC 14, Notre Dame 49
Ok, let’s talk about USC.
This team looks like a dumpster fire led by a QB who seems a lot more interested in creating his own Heisman buzz than actually winning football games. After another two turnovers, Darnold is hands down the biggest turnover machine in the PAC 12. With a rushing attack that is literally dying due to be starvation thanks to coaching neglect and a defense that really was never good to begin with, Darnold’s turnovers are killing USC.
If you are looking for a stat that sums up what is going on here, consider this: at halftime, Notre Dame was out rushing USC by a margin of 190 to minus 4.
To make things even worse, bodies continue to drop. The latest is CB Iman Marshall who looks to have suffered a significant leg injury.
No matter what damage USC did to the PAC 12 national perception, we do need to remind ourselves that they still control their own destiny, a fact that coach Clay Helton seems very fond to remind everyone of. The road to the South still does go through LA. Big games with at ASU and vs Arizona, the two remaining one-loss teams in the South, are coming back-to-back over the next two weeks. We need to withhold our opinions about USC until then.
POG: WR Deontay Burnett (8 recs, 117 yds, 1 TD)
Burnett was the most productive player on the roster by a long shot. In fact, he may have been the only productive player.
3. (15) Washington State (6-1 / 3-1)
Colorado 0, WSU 28
I was worried about WSU suffering a big hangover after what happened against Cal. It turned out quite the opposite.
In some dreary elements in Pullman, WSU’s swarming defense seized early control of the game against Colorado and really never let go. Luke Falk suffered a bit of a slow start - and I’d say that it continues to be fair to wonder about WSU’s offense - but stayed with it and ended up never letting WSU get exposed to any jeopardy .
That Cougar D continues to be the bellwether for the team overall. When they are active and creating chaos on the line of scrimmage, they give the rest of the team a huge burst of energy. The Cougs haven’t had a shutout over a conference opponent since 1994 (UCLA). It was actually their second of the season (they shutout Montana St earlier). These guys are for real, even if the weather helped them out a bit.
POG: S Jalen Thompson (10 tackles, 1 FR)
Thompson is quickly making people forget about the name “Shalom Luani”. The safety position is apparently in good hands as Thompson keeps showing up in the middle of plays. I get that Colorado’s QBs looked like meatballs pinned together with toothpicks, but Thompson had a part to play in making them look like dinner. He’s been eating all year.
2. (20) Stanford (5-2 / 4-1)
Though the USC loss continues to look even more shocking with every week, there is little doubt that Stanford is quickly regaining its clout. If you listen to the national media, there are even some comments about Stanford being, perhaps, the best team in the PAC. That remains to be seen, of course. But this kind of chatter is all good for UW given that the Huskies will be visiting Palo Alto in a few weeks.
1. (12) Washington (6-1 / 3-1)
The Huskies win the BYE week thanks to the ineptitude of the Trojans and the fact that Stanford didn’t have the chance to put an impressive win on the books.
As it stands right now, the Huskies look very well positioned in the North. Their D continues to look the part (#1 in explosive play prevention and #2 in opponent points scored on trips inside the 40) and their #5 ranking in S&P continues to make UW look like they are undervalued in the national media.
Shocking, I know.