The preseason is effectively over and conference play is about to begin. It is always dangerous to try to project conference play based on what PAC 12 coaches do in the first three weeks. Player rotations are still being figured out, schemes are being installed and new stars are still waiting to emerge.
You might recall that most of us thought that USC was about to break off and float away in the Pacific Ocean about this time a year ago.
Despite the futility of it all, I think there are some interesting observations to be had about the conference to date. I’ll deliver them here bullet style:
- Most people thought that the two hottest seats in the conference to start the year were Todd Graham’s and Jim Mora’s. I’m fairly certain that is still the case.
- Oregon is back ... kind of. The D is still questionable. But, in truth, it has always been questionable. If they can continue to pair Herbert’s off-the-charts efficiency with that rushing attack, they are dangerous for everybody in the PAC. That is assuming that Royce Freeman’s legs don’t fall off from all the work he’s putting in.
- Cal is clearly the surprise team of the conference. Not even close. Justin Wilcox is three more wins away from having a statue erected in his honor on Tightwad Hill.
- The Darren Carrington experiment in Utah is going pretty darn well.
- Arizona’s defense, while not really a statistical juggernaut, has impressed me with their improvement so far. I’m curious to see if it continues into conference play. After all, they are playing a ton of young players.
- I just noticed that David Shaw has filed a missing persons report on the Stanford offense.
- Just as most expected, there really isn’t any reason to think that UW and USC are NOT destined to meet one another in the PAC 12 Championship. Both teams have had sluggish openings, but neither seems to be getting sucked back towards that “second tier” of the conference.
Let’s jump into our power rankings.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings - Week 3
12. Oregon State (1-3 / 0-1)
last week: 12
Oregon State 23, Washington State 52
There isn’t much more to say about the Beavers. They are what they are at this point: a team with a below average defense which has QB issues.
And with the frightening spinal fracture injury suffered in the fourth by QB Jake Luton, they are a team now short one of those quarterbacks.
If you watched the game, you know that there was a little more going on than just the Beavs stinking up the joint. There was some energy on the defensive line and some good looks in the rushing attack. But this is a team with major issues with the back side of their D and with almost no juice whatsoever in the passing game.
POG: RB Ryan Nall (15 carries, 115 yds, 2 TDs)
It was good to see a return to form from the “wrecking Nall”. The Cougs had no answer for Nall, though he was clearly their second priority throughout much of the game.
11. Arizona State (1-2 / 0-0)
last week: 11
ASU 45, Texas Tech 52
If you are ASU, you just need to steady yourself and focus on what is working. True, this is about an awful a start to the season as Todd Graham could have imagined. On the other hand, the fact that QB Manny Wilkins is breaking out – he really looks good – is something to build on. You could see it in the Texas Tech game where ASU was getting blown out only to mount a furious, offensively driven comeback to tie the game in the fourth.
But the warts here are going to be hard to cover up. The offensive line has now given up 15 sacks in the first three games (that’s bad) and the defensive secondary is on the hook for over 1100 passing yards to opponents (that’s bad). These are not harbingers of success with PAC play on the horizon.
POG: WR N’Keal Harry (13 recs, 148 yds, 1 TD)
pThe success of Jalen Harvey and Kyle Williams in the first two weeks has definitely loosened the focus by opposing Ds on Harry. With 13 catches, you can see that he has the ability to not only stretch defenses but to be a safety blanket for the rising Manny Wilkins.
10. Arizona (2-1 / 0-0)
last week: 10
Arizona 63, UTEP 16
I don’t recall how long ago it was that Brad was giving me grief about my preseason assertions as to the relative value of Arizona QB Brandon Dawkins … oh wait, yes I do. That was in his last mailbag. My bad.
Dawkins was a one-man wrecking crew against a decidedly overmatched UTEP team. There isn’t a whole lot that we can draw as definitive observations from this one other than to note that Dawkins still has the juice in his legs to be a lethal dual-threat weapon and that this Arizona defense continues to put encouraging looks on tape.
POG: QB Brandon Dawkins (155 yds passing, 133 yds rushing, 3 rush TDs, 3 pass TDs)
Tip of the hat goes to WR/PR Shun Brown who returned his 2nd punt on the season for a TD to go along with a 36 yard TD reception. But this game was all about Dawkins … his arm, his legs and his decision making. This was a “get right” moment for the veteran as he gets ready for conference play.
9. Stanford (1-2 / 0-1)
last week: 7
Stanford 17, SDSU 20
I don’t know if I’m ready to call Stanford “broken”, but they have some work to do. Even before the lights went out in the fourth quarter of the loss to SDSU, you could tell that coach David Shaw was looking for new answers. He was moving bodies around the offensive line. He was tweaking rotations with his defensive linemen. We even had a Ryan Burns sighting.
In times like this it is easy to point fingers at the QB. Keller Chryst certainly deserves that … he has not been good. But I can’t believe how soft Stanford looks right now – particularly on the defensive line. I had my suspicions about their depth to start the season, but this might be worse than I imagined.
POG: RB Bryce Love (13 carries, 184 yds, 2 TDs)
Give the man the ball, Coach Shaw! I know that Love will frustrate because he can go three or four straight handoffs getting nothing. But when he connects, he goes long. He had two rushes over 50 yards for touchdowns and, for the second week in a row, seemed to be the only player to really show up for Stanford.
8. UCLA (2-1 / 0-0)
last week: 3
UCLA 45, Memphis 48
This wasn’t exactly the best foot forward for UCLA or for the PAC 12 conference. A team with the kind of talent reserves like the Bruins really should be able to put a more complete performance, particularly on the defensive side, up against a Group of 5 team like Memphis. Granted, Mike Norvell’s team has now beaten a ranked team in the Liberty Bowl for three straight seasons … but c’mon!
As it were, this was a very entertaining game to watch. Six lead changes, critical turnovers, aerial acrobatics … this game had it all. It was the Tigers who on national television were able to make the most of those plays. The QB / WR tandem of Riley Ferguson (5 TD passes) and Anthony Miller (9 recs, 185 yds, 2 TDs) was simply sublime. RB Darrell Henderson rushed for over 100. The Memphis secondary (2 INTs, 7 PBUs) was up to the task.
UCLA had their moments. I thought that QB Josh Rosen was more than good enough to win despite the two INTs (including the game-shifting fourth quarter back-foot job that crushed UCLA’s comeback attempts). WR Darren Andrews is quickly growing into “stud” status. I also thought that big Jalen Starks was a bright spot in the run game.
But the defense is not in good shape. They’ve now given up over 500 yards in offense two of the last three games and to make things worse they seem to be hamstrung with a number of players unavailable. There will be some good things that come out on the tape, but it is certainly not a good situation for the Bruins heading into PAC 12 play.
The bottom line here is this is another game in which Jim Mora had his team underprepared.
POG: WR Darren Andrews (10 rec, 175 yds, 1 TD)
I thought that CB Nate Meadors (7 tackles, 2 PBUs) was somewhat deserving here. But it was Andrews who did the most to try to carry UCLA to victory. It just wasn’t enough.
7. California (3-0 / 0-0)
last week: 9
Ole Miss 16, Cal 27
For once, I think we can all agree that Cal is NOT ranked too high.
I’m completely dumbfounded by this 3-0 start for Justin Wilcox and his Cal Bears. Sure, it looks like one of those hack home repair jobs that makes use of copious amounts of glue, duct tape and pipe cleaners. Whatever works, right? The fact of the matter is that Wilcox has this team together and believing that they can beat the odds.
The latest example is coaxing that young Cal secondary to rise up and put a clamp on Shea Patterson and Ole Miss’s high-flying passing offense. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming!
It’s impressive. In three weeks, the Bears have shown that they can win games with offense, with defense, and without their best effort. That’s what winning teams do (even if your opponent barfs a few plays up along the way). And thanks to Cal, the PAC is now 2-0 against the SEC this season.
POG: LB Devante Downs (14 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 QBH, 3 TFLs)
This game was – brace yourselves here – all about the Cal defense … and what an effort it was. There were several great candidates for POG honors from that side of the ball. DB Jaylinn Hawkins, LB Raymond Davison and LB Cameron Goode were all excellent. But Downs was the bright star on this night. It seemed like he was everywhere on the field all at once. He’ll be in QB Shea Patterson’s dreams (or should I say nightmares) for the rest of this season.
6. Colorado (3-0 / 0-0)
last week: 6
Northern Colorado 21, Colorado 41
I’ve been complaining over the first few weeks that we just haven’t seen enough of the “real” Colorado in order to get them slotted correctly in these power rankings. With a lackluster win over Northern Colorado, I’m even more confused.
The Buffs had their no-TDs-surrendered streak snapped by their Big Sky foe. In fact, they gave up 3 TDs in what was a lazy effort by the Colorado secondary. They were plagued by penalties (14!) and some player ejections which will have a bit of an impact against the Huskies next week.
Still, the offense looked efficient when they had the ball and I thought the run defense was as dominating as you’d expect in a game like this. Consider Colorado still a mystery at least as far as these power rankings go.
POG: QB Steven Montez (29/40, 356 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT)
It was a pretty efficient effort overall for the young Buffalo signal caller. I was particularly impressed that his four TD passes went one each to Bryce Bobo, Devin Ross, Shay Fields and Jay MacIntyre … it was like a greatest hits montage among Colorado’s top four receivers. A good warmup for Montez as he gets ready for UW.
5. (23) Utah (3-0 / 0-0)
last week: 8
San Jose State 16, Utah 54
I’m definitely starting to get more comfortable with Utah as a contender. Over each of the past three weeks, we’ve continued to see the defense sharpen (and deepen), we’ve seen new receivers emerge to lessen the dependence on Darren Carrington and, most importantly, we’ve seen marked growth in QB Tyler Huntley game by game.
This still isn’t a finished product and, obviously, San Jose State isn’t going to reveal much. I’m still a little unsure of what is happening in the rushing attack (is the arrival of Devonta’e Henry-Cole as a starter imminent?) and I think that Huntley is still taking too many hits as a runner. However, he’s definitely becoming more comfortable in the passing game (34/43, 341 yds, 4 TDs, 1 INT) and becoming more of a complete QB. If this growth translates into the PAC, Utah will be right there competing with USC for the South.
POG: WR Darren Carrington (9 recs, 153 yds, 3 TDs)
I don’t think it is too early to call out Carrington as a contender for the title of best receiver in the PAC. He’s not only talented, but he’s far and away the most important contributor on his team’s offense. When you consider how late his start was in Salt Lake, his performance has been impressive.
4. (24) Oregon (3-0 / 0-0)
last week: 5
Oregon 49, Wyoming 13
Here is an interesting stat: Oregon has put up 42 points or more in each one of their first three games of the season. Of course, in a manner similar to what we saw out of UW this weekend, they only scored 7 points in the second half.
Still, that’s pretty good, even if you don’t love the competition that the Ducks have faced.
We’ll have a better idea of just how good that offense is once they start facing some PAC 12 competition. Given that they open with ASU and Cal, my bet is what you see now is what you’ll see later. QB Justin Herbert continues to impress as a passer while that young offensive line continues to mature and open up holes for rushers like Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit.
POG: RB Royce Freeman (30 carries, 157 yds rushing, 50 yds rec, 3 TDs
I’m not sure about the soundness of an offensive gameplan that has Royce Freeman carrying the ball 30 times in a blowout win up in the altitude of Laramie. But, whatever. 30 carries and 3 TDs is pretty impressive.
3. (18) Washington State (3-0 / 1-0)
last week: 4
OSU 23, WSU 52
I admit that I had my doubts as to whether or not Luke Falk would bounce back. After effectively being benched in a game that saw backup QB Tyler Hilinski lead a comeback over Boise State, I feared the worst.
Amazing what a matchup with Oregon State can do for your mojo.
Falk dominated in one of his most efficient outings over the past two seasons. He tossed six TDs on the day and seemed to have finally struck up a rapport with a couple of his younger receivers - in particular Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Tavares Martin.
More impressive, however, was the Cougar D. You could argue that OSU had some reasonable success moving the ball. But WSU effectively took the passing game away from the Beavs and bided their time until they were able to generate some big plays. This team is gaining confidence every week.
POG: QB Luke Falk (35/47, 381 yards, 6 TDs)
It’s hard to imagine that a QB who throws for 381 yards was actually “dinking and dunking” - but that is exactly what happened on Saturday. WSU truly was using the short passing game as an extension of the running game. Interestingly, they didn’t even attempt their first running play until the 2nd quarter. That strategy only works if the QB has the accuracy to make it work. It wasn’t a perfect day for Falk (the safety came as a result of him throwing an ill-advised swing pass from his end zone and 8 YPA probably isn’t good enough to sustain a run in the PAC), but it was an effective bounceback for the Coug senior.
2. (7) Washington (3-0 / 0-0)
last week: 2
Fresno State 16, Washington 48
I can sense a little frustration among Husky fans. It doesn’t feel like everything is clicking right yet. I get it. It is not easy watching the sausage get made for a program that emphasizes “multiplicity” and player depth on both sides of the ball.
But nothing about what transpired against Fresno State should give you anything but confidence that things are looking good for UW. While we can pick out lots of single plays or positions that need extra attention, the things that are coming together are looking excellent. For example, I’m really impressed with the passing game. Jake Browning is top 10 in the nation in both completion percentage and yards per attempt. Among other Power 5 programs, do you know how many other QBs hold that same distinction? Just one – Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma.
The game against Fresno served the purpose of continuing to exercise the playbook and to get dozens of deep backups playing experience. When UW goes to Colorado next week, we’ll get a full sense of how things are really looking when it comes to the sore spots like receiver play, pass rush and run blocking.
POG: WR / PR Dante Pettis (5 recs, 92 yds, 3 TDs rec, 3 punt returns, 88 yds, 1 TD return)
This might be the biggest no-brainer in the history of sports. With a punt return for a TD in his third straight game, Pettis claimed the record for the most punts returned for TDs in the history of the conference. On top of that, the senior playmaker caught three TDs to help stake UW to a 41-7 halftime lead. If Browning is the brains of the offense right now, Pettis is surely its heart.
1. (5) USC (3-0 / 1-0)
last week: 1
Texas 24, USC 27
When was the last time that you saw an OT game finish with a 24-27 score? For two teams that are purportedly “offensive” teams, that is some lackluster output.
Texas took USC’s rushing attack away and the Trojans simply couldn’t make them pay for it through the passing attack. This must be especially frustrating for a USC team that was looking to make a definitive national statement and create some Heisman buzz for QB Sam Darnold.
Though this wasn’t that kind of game for the USC QB, it is still a high quality win. The fact that USC even got the game to OT after having the lead snatched from them with less than a minute to play and not timeouts on the board is a momentum-building accomplishment. Right now, USC is the head of the PAC.
POG: CB Jack Jones (5 tckls, 1 INT, 1 PD)
Tough choice here between Jones and WR Deontay Burnett. I thought Jones was a real factor on defense. His first half INT came right after Texas had forced USC to turn over on downs and seemed to take away any positive momentum Texas had taken from that play. He’s a rising young defender for the Trojans.