It’s already Thanksgiving week. I can tell this very clearly because the lines at Costco are crazy, my inbox is getting inundated with Black Friday and Cyber Week announcements, and holiday lights are starting to pop up on trees and houses in the neighborhood.
Oh, and it is Apple Cup week.
Husky fans never expect the end of the regular season to arrive so quickly. And, in 2017, they certainly didn’t expect it to arrive with the Dawgs on the outside looking in at the PAC 12 Championship.
It’s the way the old Dawg-biscuit crumbles.
Across the PAC 12 fanbases are dealing with varying degrees of emotions. Some are coping with seasons gone off the rails (Colorado and Utah). Some are getting anxious about the changes that are looming with their upcoming coaching searches (UCLA and Oregon State). Others are trying to cope with success without freaking the hell out (WSU and Arizona). Still others are just trying to see what they can make happen with what is left in front of them (Stanford, USC, Washington).
As it is, the PAC 12 will definitely have nine of 12 teams bowl eligible. Some might consider that a sign of conference superiority while others might view it as simply a prevalent malaise of mediocrity. I fall into the former camp. The only other Power 5 conference that is guaranteed to have as many bowl-eligible teams is the SEC—and they have 14 teams all playing 8-game conference schedules.
So let’s call that a win for the PAC in a season where respect is in short supply and a trip to the playoffs is a virtual impossibility.
The Cool Chart
Ranking the PAC - Week 13
12. Oregon State (0-8 / 1-10)
The Beavers are just about through the nightmare that 2017 has become. OSU fans will have the entire bowl season to enjoy the rollercoaster that a major coaching search is and to relish the hopes for the future that hire will bring.
But before that, Corey Hall and his high-octane motivational techniques will be put to the test in one more game. The Civil War is coming. This is OSU’s bowl game and Corey Hall’s one last chance to change the narrative about his program and his readiness to be a head coach.
11. UCLA (3-5 / 5-6)
Jim Mora is no longer the head coach of the UCLA Bruins and, apparently, the players are not taking the news very well. All of this after what was actually a hard-fought effort by Josh Rosen and friends against USC. You can’t blame the players too much if the distraction level takes them out of their normal game week routine in advance of their one last chance to get bowl eligible.
I’m not sure what is left in the tank for the Bruins. Hell, I’m not even sure if Josh Rosen is interested in going to a postseason game given that his NFL draft stock is what it is going to be. Maybe he’ll pull a Christian McCaffrey and skip it altogether.
But that is just wild speculation. Let’s see how things settle in once the emotion wears off and interim coach Jedd Fisch settles in.
10. Colorado (2-6 / 5-6)
I’ve been most disappointed in the Colorado Buffaloes of all the PAC 12 teams in 2017. I really expected them to be better than they’ve been on offense as a counterweight to the rebuilding that has been going on over on the defensive side of the ball.
The best that I can say about Coach MacIntyre’s group is that they are balanced to a fault. They’ve scored and surrendered 304 points exactly. Those 304 points of offense are second worst in the conference ahead of only Oregon State. With a team that is loaded at WR, boasting Phillip Lindsay at tailback, and owning one of the better young talented QBs in the league, one would have expected more.
Still, Colorado can get bowl eligible with a win over UCLA on Saturday. It’s not over.
9. Cal (2-6 / 5-6)
The Bears had their chances to knock off Stanford. As we expected, the Bears matched Stanford minute for minute in the ball control game. They also showed great grit in bottling up Bryce Love and that Stanford offense.
But when you play ball control, you better convert your scores when you get the chance. A missed FG and some badly played third downs kept Cal from pulling the upset and making the Apple Cup one for all the Northern marbles.
The Bears still can get bowl eligible with a win over UCLA this weekend. Should that happen, you’d have to expect Bears fans to be giddy in their pants-free excitement.
8. Arizona State (5-3 / 6-5)
ASU is bowl eligible now which, I think, is about the best you can say about this season. Following win the back-to-back wins against Washington and Utah, it would have been fair to have allowed your expectations to be raised. But Todd Graham seems unable to turn the corner with a team that, at least from an eyeball perspective, passes the test.
Nobody is going to throw a parade over beating Oregon State 40-24 and, thus, I think that Todd Graham is still firmly butt-planted on the hot seat. But the rivalry game against an intriguing Arizona club might present an opportunity for Graham to keep the club together one more offseason.
7. Utah (2-6 / 5-6)
Credit Utah with making the Huskies have to do something special to win the game in Seattle. The Utes were able to do something that nobody has done against Washington since the last time that these two teams played in Seattle: score 30 points on that UW D.
I think we can all see what Kyle Whittingham wants to do with his offense. Tyler Huntley is getting the chance to develop under live fire this season. He gives the team an extra dimension as a runner and is good enough a passer to be a dangerous all-around QB.
Their D has let them down this year and their offensive line needs some reinforcement. But this is a team going in the right direction.
6. Arizona (5-3 / 7-4)
The Khalil Tate train seems to have hit a bend in the tracks. The speedy Oregon D seemed to be the antidote to Tate’s super powers while, at the same time, the gaps in the Arizona D were exposed.
This is simply not a team that can rely on its young and thin defense to win it a football game.
Arizona’s one-dimensionality is what gives me pause with this team. Still, they are in a great position to get an eighth win and, in so doing, blow the lid off any expectations that anybody around the PAC 12 had for them this year.
5. Oregon (3-5 / 6-5)
The Ducks have their QB back and a chance to get a seventh win in Willie Taggart’s first season at the helm. That’s pretty good.
You know what’s not pretty good? Stealing some other team’s gimmick and trying to make it your own.
To his credit, Coach Taggart was unaware of the chain and denounced it as something unsanctioned by the staff. Still, this is kind of a microcosm of where Oregon is at. They were once the flashy trendsetters who got the football world to stand up and take notice. Now they are just playing someone else’s game.
Fortunately, the return of Justin Herbert is a huge boost to this team. It comes at a time where RB Royce Freeman looks extra motivated to finish strong. If Oregon handles the Civil War, I could see them landing an interesting opponent in a bowl game and putting an exclamation mark on the season with a strong recruiting class.
4. Washington (6-2 / 9-2)
The Huskies weren’t expecting to get to this point of the season playing the role of spoiler. And yet that is exactly where they find themselves. But for some missed FGs, a few dropped INTs, and two penalties (the hold that wiped off Salvon Ahmed’s TD vs ASU and the Vita Vea face mask on 4th and 15 against Stanford), we’d be talking about a completely different season.
And, while I’m on it, isn’t the dichotomy on how other teams have capitalized on UW mistakes—relative to how Washington has failed to do the same—emerging as the oddity of this season? Even against Utah, you saw this in spades whether we are talking about the fake punt on 4th and 18 or the onside kick (both of which turned into points for Utah). It seems like UW just hasn’t been resilient in covering up many of their own mistakes this year.
Anyhoo, the cool thing we can observe about this last game is the throwing of certain monkeys off backs. Jake Browning had a great game even if you didn’t realize it (going into the 4th quarter, he was 13-16 for 218 yards and a 13.6 YPA with 11 of his 13 completions going for first downs or TDs). Keishawn Bierria had what I thought was his best game of the year. Some younger guys - Ryan Bowman, DJ Beavers, and Brandon Wellington - all had good games. And, of course, Tristan Vizcaino had his first career game-winner.
Whether or not it translates into momentum going into the Apple Cup remains to be seen. But I believe you are going to see a spirited UW team on Saturday.
3. Washington State (6-2 / 9-2)
The Cougs go into the Apple Cup having gotten well-rested after a bye week and fully controlling their own destiny. Could we see yet another first-time participant punch their ticket to the PAC 12 championship?
It could happen.
But with the Cougs having just had their bye, it is hard to gauge just where they stand from a momentum standpoint. They’ll have the advantages of being recuperated, having extra prep time, and having the PAC 12 championship as an incentive. What they do with all of that is completely up to them.
2. Stanford (6-2 / 8-3)
It’s weird to think that the Cardinal could still end this season with six losses and still be viewed as #2 in this week’s power rankings.
What can I tell you? It’s been that kind of season in the PAC.
The Cardinal are really hobbling to the finish line. After having the game of their lives against Washington in Palo Alto, the Cardinal struggled to get past Cal and, quite frankly, don’t look like much of a match for either Notre Dame or USC.
Yet, they are just a UW win in the Apple Cup away from having the opportunity to play USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game and giving themselves the chance to lose all of those games.
Have at it, boys.
1. USC (8-1 / 10-2)
It’s kind of ironic that Clay Helton delivered the knockout blow to Jim Mora last weekend. It sets up the Bruins to go out and attract a coach that might not only be a better overall program manager but one who might be in a position to out-recruit Helton and his staff.
In fact, I’d be shocked if the UCLA staff next season didn’t have one or two current USC coaches on it after whomever gets hired as the head guy has a crack at it.
Regardless, the Trojans are peaking at the right time. They went through a stretch of six games where their rushing game failed to get over 184 yards. It bottomed out with just 76 yards against Notre Dame.
Since that time USC has completely recommitted to the run. Their ground output in the last four games has been: 341 yards, 331 yards, 195 yards, and 153 yards. Ironically, that last effort was against the horrid UCLA rush defense.
The Trojans are in good shape. This is their bye week, so they get a week to sit and watch both of their potential Pac-12 Championship Game opponents get beaten up in games where each will be a significant underdog.
It’s good to be a Trojan.