And then there were three (plus one).
The PAC 12 has been a muddled mess this year. I suppose that this is not news to anybody. Being in a state of disarray is as normal to the PAC as groping accusations are to Kevin Spacey (too soon?).
Nevertheless, we now have a sharpening of the conference picture. The clubbing of Arizona by USC and the win by WSU over Stanford means that we, essentially, have three teams left in serious contention for the PAC 12 championship:
It is true that there is a path still available to Stanford which isn’t inconceivable (they would have to win out including against UW and then hope that WSU loses one of their final two). So, we’ll call them a “plus one” consideration.
The other three teams still standing have all put themselves in positions to completely control their own destinies. It is a pretty good bet that one of these three is going to be your 2017 PAC 12 champion.
Beyond them, the key storylines in the conference continue to revolve around teams that disappoint and teams that might be (or are) looking for new coaches.
- UCLA and Jim Mora seem all but certain to part ways after their second disaster-filled season in a row.
- ASU’s Todd Graham may have saved his job once again, but he might also be back on the verge of losing it again next week.
- Oregon is an offensive mess as they wait for the QB to heal.
- Colorado can’t get right.
- OSU remains mired in one of the worst funks in the country.
It ought to be an interesting November as teams look to continue to try to get bowl eligible and close out the first set of recruits that will ever be signed in an early December signing period.
Let’s get on with the rankings.
The Cool Chart
Rest of the PAC
12. Oregon State (1-8 / 0-6)
Cal 37, OSU 23
The Beavers are descending into the depths of the PAC 12 and are now running the risk of going through the season without a conference win. If such a decline secured their right to the first pick in the draft, fans might be ok with it. But this is college. It is not a socialist-driven monopolistic enterprise.
In other words, there is no upside here.
Cory Hall is doing a good job keeping the ship together. His players are fighting. That’s all you can ask.
But OSU has to get a full time coach selected. They have a unique opportunity to have someone in place well before the December signing period and to get a decent recruiting class together. There are plenty of coaches on the street that might be a fit in addition to Hall himself.
Get to work, Barnes. Hire your coach before a bunch of other jobs open.
POG: LB Manase Hungalu (20 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QBH)
If this were just about any other team in the PAC, we’d be talking about Hungalu as a possible DPOY candidate. He is that good. Unfortunately, his efforts are getting wasted in obscurity down in Corvallis. He’s a senior now, so we’ll next be seeing him blow dudes up in the NFL.
11. UCLA (4-5 / 2-4)
UCLA 17, Utah 48
The vultures are circling in Westwood. A 31 point shellacking against a division rival feels like a “final act” moment before Jim Mora’s carcass is offered up in sacrifice.
The Bruins were completely stagnant in this one. Backup QB Devon Modster showed good pocket presence and wicked touch on his passes before getting injured. But he was one of the few bright spots. The rest of the game was a comedy of errors with players tripping over their shoelaces play-after-play allowing Utah players to roam uncovered wherever they wanted to go. It was shocking to see given that the Bruins did show some level of effort early in the Husky game the week before.
This is a broken football team with injuries all over the roster. Offensively, you can now add Modster and WR Darren Andrews to a list that already includes QB Josh Rosen (concussion) and TE Caleb Wilson. After going 4-8 last year, the prospect of a repeat performance must now be considered.
POG: WR Darren Andrews (3 recs, 66 yards, 1 TD)
Before he suffered an ACL tear in a non-contact play, Andrews was about the best thing happening on the UCLA side of the field. The TD catch was a high-degree-of-difficulty thing of beauty that looked like an NFL catch. It’s ironic that the next time the senior receiver catches a football it will likely be for an NFL team.
10. Colorado (5-5 / 2-5)
Colorado 30, ASU 41
This is the kind of season that Colorado is having. When the defense is playing good ball, the offense is having QB issues. When the offense is finally back on track, the defense bares its disappearing act tendencies ... probably born from their time in the Big 12.
Things are not going well in Boulder. Giving up 24 points in the fourth quarter to lose a game that at one point should have been in hand is a stark reminder of that.
Fortunately, all is not lost. The offense is really starting to come together. They had scoring drives of 13, 14, 15, and 10 plays in this game, indicating that rhythm is taking hold. They are also just one game away from bowl eligibility - a must for a young team that is still looking to work new talent into the mix.
POG: WR Shay Fields (6 recs, 131 yards, 1 TD)
Fields is finally starting to become the big play threat that we envisioned at the start of the season. He’s a perfect pairing with a strong-armed QB like Montez. His 21+ yards per catch against ASU show just how big of a threat he can be.
9. California (5-5 / 2-5)
Cal 37, OSU 23
The Bears are moving up the Power Rankings today!
Another solid effort complete with strong execution and results that seem to exceed their talent levels. Say what you want about Cal, but this team is clearly well-coached and has some gritty players in key leadership positions.
The Bears are just one win away from bowl eligibility and the extra 15 practices that come along with that. There may not be a team in the PAC that will get as much value from that experience as the Bears … assuming that they can win just one more.
POG: RB Patrick Laird (33 carries, 214 yards, 1 TDs)
Grinder. That’s the only word that I can come up with to describe this former walk-on. He has limited athleticism and cannot catch a pass to save his life. But he is as tough as nails and simply keeps getting back up hit after hit. 33 carries? Impressive.
8. Oregon (5-5 / 2-5)
Oregon 3, Washington 38
The Ducks had a bad weekend. Going to Seattle with a young, overmatched team was always going to be tough. To do so in the wet, frigid environment that Husky Stadium presented only complicated matters. To take on all that without a competent starting quarterback?
The result was as expected. The Ducks were held out of the end zone in a football game for the first time in 10 years.
Even with UW generally playing with no more than five or six defenders in the box, the Ducks could not find a way to translate their rushing talent into anything more than a few 10 yard gains by star RB Royce Freeman. There was nothing available to them in the passing game and they had no strategy for translating trips into the Washington half of the field into points.
It is somewhat fitting that UW - which in 2016 broke the 12-game Oregon win streak with an emphatic blowout in Eugene - plays the part of the nemesis who puts the final nail in the coffin of the glory days of the Oregon offense. Three points and some hurt feelings are what the Ducks have left to begin building their next era of football upon.
POG: ILB Jimmie Swain (13 tackles, 1.5 TFLs)
Look, there weren’t any particularly “good” players besides Royce Freeman who showed up for the Ducks. Unfortunately, you cannot give a POG to an offensive player after a three point showing by the unit. You just can’t.
Enter Jimmie Swain.
Swain was transitioned to the inside to start this season in a move that I think is a better fit for both him and fellow LB Troy Dye. I thought he showed up pretty well in a valiant effort against the Dawgs.
7. Utah (5-4 / 2-4)
UCLA 17, Utah 48
The Utes may not be officially back following their convincing win over UCLA, but they certainly have to feel good about what transpired. The rushing game was dominating, the passing attack was efficient and the defense was smothering.
The Utes are now a win away from Bowl eligibility. Nobody wants to overstate the importance of beating a damaged UCLA team, but this certainly feels like another step forward for a team just a couple of weeks removed from a devastating loss to ASU.
POG: RB Zach Moss (23 carries, 153 yards, 2 TDs)
The Utes have been waiting for a feature back to emerge all season. Moss finally gave an indication that he could take on that role. There was one drive in the game where Utah, starting at their own 25, featured Moss as they ran on every single play before closing out with a two-yard TD pass. Pure domination.
6. Arizona State (5-4 / 4-2)
Colorado 30, ASU 41
The Sun Devils grasped victory from the jaws of a home defeat with a stunning 24 point fourth quarter rally that stunned and embarrassed the visiting Buffaloes.
Three different times, the Sun Devils fell behind by double digits to the visitors and three different times the combination of N’Keal Harry, Manny Wilkins and Demario Richard brought them back. It was as strong an offensive showing as the Devils have had all year.
The Sun Devils are just a win away from bowl eligibility and, in fact, still have a shot at a pretty decent bowl slotting given their relatively strong 4-2 conference record.
POG: RB Demario Richard (25 cars, 189 yds, 1 TD)
This is the sort of game that we’ve been waiting for Richard to have all season. His 63 yard run in the fourth that set up the final score was a true dagger play and, I’m sure, a giant relief for the ASU faithful.
5. Stanford (6-3 / 5-2)
Stanford 21, WSU 24
So, here is what happened on Saturday. The Stanford Love played a very “Stanford-y” kind of game and got beat by WSU using their own tactics against them.
I’m not sure that we need any more evidence to describe Stanford’s season in a nutshell.
It was notable that David Shaw seemed to cave to the fan pressure by starting KJ Costello over Keller Chryst at QB. That had about zero impact on the overall quality of offensive play. In fact, you could argue that Stanford actually played worse on offense than they did against Oregon State after you consider that Bryce Love returned to the lineup.
Stanford is hurting, but they still have the pieces to compete. Joey Alfieri and Bryce Love were back in there against WSU. Both had an impact on the game. Another week of practice for Costello at QB could result in a big leap forward for the talented signal caller.
We’ll just have to see what comes of a short week.
POG: RB Bryce Love (16 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD)
Ok. Ok. I know. Take away his 52 yard TD run and he had just 17 yards on 15 carries. True. But the man had his 10th run of 50 yards or more on the season. That ties an FBS record. That’s worthy of a POG nod.
4. Arizona (6-3 / 4-2)
Arizona 35, USC 49
It is pretty much official. There is about zero chance that our Huskies will have to take the field against a team with Khalil Tate at QB.
At least for this year.
Tate became the first QB in PAC 12 history to run for 1,000 yards in a season, this despite the fact that he didn’t get installed as a starter until a month ago.
Unfortunately, Tate’s heroics - both with his legs and with his arm - were not enough to rescue an Arizona team that was simply overmatched on the defensive side of the ball.
The youth and the injuries on the defensive side will continue to be a counterbalance against Arizona’s surging offense. They’ve still got three games to play and a lot of bowl positioning left to play for. There is also this Heisman-thingy that Tate is making a darkhorse run at. Considering that the all time QB rushing record - Jordan Lynch’s 1,920 yards - has to be considered in-play, the book is far from closed on the Arizona Wildcats.
POG: QB Khalil Tate (141 yards passing, 161 yards rushing, 3 total TDs, 2 INTs)
It’s basically Tate just about every week. Get used to it.
3. (19) Washington State (8-2 / 5-2)
Stanford 21, WSU 24
WSU fans will always get the lasting memory of having seen Luke Falk win his final home game as a Cougar QB. The all-time Cougar leader in passing yards and TDs will certainly be remembered more for his production and his final win than for the controversy surrounding his status as a starter going into this week.
Regardless of how you feel about the Coug offense, their Defense reminded us that this team is a “for real” enterprise. It was a dominating effort that makes a convincing impression, especially if you paid attention to the battle of the trenches. WSU’s front seven is playing really well.
POG: LB Justus Rodgers (6 tckls, 1 sack, 2.5 TFLs)
Rodgers is one of the players benefiting from the playing time opened up with the Pelluer injury. He’s been occupying an inside position for most (if not all) of the snaps he’s gotten since then but, honestly, I just haven’t noticed him before. He really popped against Stanford. He had an excellent first-half which included that sack and two of those TFLs in an effort that I thought really helped to set the tone.
2. (15) USC (8-2 / 6-1)
Arizona 35, USC 49
This was the USC team that we all expected to see to start the year. A team with a big offensive line carving open holes for their talented backs and being complemented by the Sam Darnold aerial attack when it came time to convert third downs and score TDs.
All of that happened against Arizona.
Of course, we also saw a little of the new USC: turnovers and flimsiness on the defensive side.
Still, it is now painfully clear that USC is going to win the South and be a factor in the PAC 12 Championship Game.
POG: RB Ronald Jones III (27 carries, 194 yds, 3 TD)
Jones is an NFL back just waiting to gain his eligibility. Until he declares, I think it wise for PAC 12 fans to get used to seeing days like this, even if it is just for another month. If the Trojans can just feed the rushing game a little bit, Jones will make sure that they get rewarded handsomely.
1. (9) Washington (8-1 / 5-1)
Oregon 3, Washington 38
It is a statement of the obvious to note that the Huskies are the best and last hope for PAC 12 representation in the CFP. Fortunately, the Dawgs appear to be finding a way to digest the gluttony of injuries (in particular among the receiving corps) they suffered and are moving on to towards becoming the best version of this team that they can achieve.
Of course, we need to give kudos to Dante Pettis’s emphatic spike in the NCAA record book for career TD punt returns as well as Jake Browning putting his stamp on the UW record book by tying Keith Price for career TD passes. However, I’d like to focus on UW’s offensive line.
The Huskies shook things up against by starting Luke Wattenberg at LT and shifting Andrew Kirkland to LG. That move seems to have made a difference as Browning was spared getting sacked for the second straight game (against a pretty decent Duck pass rush) and the rushing game was, again, highly effective tallying up 247 yards on a 6.3 YPC average.
And then there was the defense. It was interesting to me that despite the fact that Braxton Burmeister hasn’t really shown himself to be a big passing threat at all this year, DC Pete Kwiatkowski continued his strategy of committing the minimum resources necessary to stopping the run. It is clearly the strategy of this team to contain big plays at all costs no matter who the opponent. That UW leads the nation in the fewest “chunk” plays surrendered is a testament to that strategy. That they have surrendered just 100 points - total - on the season (next best in the PAC is Stanford at 192) is proof that it works.
I don’t know what the ceiling is for UW, but it seems clear to me that they haven’t yet reached it. Yet.
POG: WR / PR Dante Pettis
Forget the stats. Dante Pettis can objectively now be referred to as the GOAT, at least as far big play punt return threats are concerned. That he achieved this milestone against Oregon while delivering another huge 47 yard TD reception in the same game is just icing on the cake.