Now that the season is complete and we have a national champion, we can begin the process of healing. It was a disappointing season for the Huskies, to be sure. But the combination of ten wins, an Apple Cup, and a coaching staff still intact counts as a victory when compared to the rest of the conference.
Just how bad was it for the PAC? Let me simply point out that Justin Wilcox is now the sixth most-tenured coach in the conference.
It is that bad.
Jon Wilner has called it a “crisis mode” in the conference’s San Francisco headquarters. No PAC team was in the playoffs for the second time. The conference was a record bust in the postseason, going a dismal 1-8 including highly visible losses to the Big Ten in both the Fiesta and Cotton Bowls. Only Utah won a bowl game.
Putting a bow on this season with a final power ranking is no small task. I am battling the urge to put Utah #1 and leave the rest of the slots blank. This overpowering feeling is something akin to wanting to hit the snooze button on your alarm clock when it starts buzzing at 5:00 AM. For those of you who still have alarm clocks.
Nevertheless, a duty is required here. Let’s power through it, shall we.
A note on the rankings. They are, as they’ve always been, a subjective exercise. However, unlike the regular season when I consider each team’s positioning for accomplishment in the season, these rankings will instead consider each team’s positioning for next season. Thus, these power rankings take into account both how each team concluded the season and how they look heading into the offseason.
For one last time, let’s begin.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings
12. Oregon State (0-9 / 1-11)
New coach and former UW OC Jonathan Smith has his hands full rebuilding the mess that Gary Andersen left behind with this team. Already short on talent and over-addicted to JC recruits to fill out the roster, the Beavs are as toxic a destination for graduating high school talent as any school in the conference. What the Beavers need right now is stability and the most precious resource required for any rebuilding program: time.
Looking forward, the Beavers will be starting over from a talent perspective. Star RB Ryan Nall has decided to move on to the NFL. He’ll join WR Jordan Villamin and RB Thomas Tyner (though he might still have a long shot to yet get a sixth year of eligibility) as offensive stars not returning. Smith will be looking to revamp his offense with a focus on QB Jake Luton (or, perhaps, UW transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels?), TE Noah Togiai, and WR Timmy Hernandez.
Defensively, the loss of star LB Manase Hungalu is huge. But there is some baseline talent to work with including LB Andrjez Hughes-Murray, DE Bright Ogwoegbu, and S David Morris. The cupboards are thin, but not bare.
11. Arizona State (6-3 / 7-6)
Last Result: Sun Bowl - Arizona State 31, North Carolina State 52
The state of Arizona has been in football chaos the better part of the last month. Consider that Herm Edwards, the surprising new coach of the ASU Sun Devils, is actually the most tenured football coach among the “big three” football teams in the state.
The Sun Devils were a hot mess in the Sun Bowl appearance against North Carolina State. They started out has having zero offense and playing a little bit of defense and the progressed to playing offense but giving away the defense.
It was schizo-crazy time in El Paso for the Devils.
A peek ahead at next year reveals some meaningful talent returning including the critical tandem of QB Manny Wilkins and WR N’Keal Harry. Edwards will have some pieces to work with.
The issue for this team is going to be the development of the program itself. The coaching staff is in a bit of chaos and the “NFL model” that Edwards claimed he would bring to the school already seems to be falling apart.
10. Colorado (2-7 / 5-7)
The Buffaloes spent December licking their wounds after following up their unexpected rise to the PAC 12 South championship in 2016 with a stinker of a 2017.
Fortunately, Colorado does look to be in a relatively stable situation when compared to their P12 South compatriots. Coach MacIntyre has been stocking his roster for several seasons and is a pretty well prepared coach. He’ll have a narrow window of opportunity with the Arizona schools in chaos to take advantage in recruiting and on the field.
He will have to replace some pieces. WR Devin Ross, LB Derek McCartney, OL Jeromy Irwin, RB Phillip Lindsay and WR Shay Fields are all critical contributors who have exhausted their eligibility.
9. Arizona (5-4 / 7-6)
Last Result: Foster Farms Bowl - Purdue 38, Arizona 35
It is bad enough that RichRod had to go and get himself canned. But to suffer defeat to an overmatched Purdue program on your way out the door is the ultimate insult to both the coach and the conference.
Really, RichRod? Purdue?
I’m not one to put too much stock into bowl games, but I couldn’t help but note how Nick Holt of all people was able to put into place a game plan to contain the running of QB Khalil Tate. Of course, he had to suffer Tate racking up 302 yards passing, 5 TDs and an 11.6 YPA line to achieve it. Still, it was enough for Purdue to win the game.
Blueprint for the rest of the PAC? We shall see.
Regardless, whomever steps in for the now-departed RichRod will certainly inherit a great young QB, some interesting young skill players, and an up-and-coming defense that still requires some nurturing.
The problem is that coaching changes out-of-cycle like this can be really messy. While there are always some interesting head coaches available (Kevin Sumlin, anyone?), the assistants are all pretty much employed elsewhere.
8. Cal (2-7 / 5-7)
The Bears are a program whose prospects are looking up, despite not having become bowl eligible in Justin WIlcox’s first season.
To the eyeball, the Bears just played a more authentic brand of football than they ever did under Sonny Dykes. The emphasis moved from “dropping 50” to “winning games” and their players transformed from “wannabe playmakers” to “gritty ballers.”
I have to say that I was impressed.
But this offseason has seen a few recruiting losses and a little bit of staff turnover. Cal still projects as a little bit undermanned compared to much of the PAC 12 North and doesn’t have a huge margin for error in how they navigate going forward. Their big losses to graduation are on the defensive side with guys like LB Devante Downs, DB Darius Allensworth, and LB Ray Davison III all having moved on. Wilcox and his team will be challenged to replace those culture-changing players with younger counterparts next year.
7. UCLA (4-5 / 6-7)
Last Result: Cactus Bowl - Kansas State 35, UCLA 17
Without their head coach or their concussed (and now ex-) QB Josh Rosen, the Bruins attacked the Cactus Bowl with about as much enthusiasm as I attack cleaning out my basement.
You could really see that issue in the two areas where you expect emotion to have the most focus: defense and the rushing attack. The Bruins showed nothing in either department.
But look a little closer and you may have seen a couple of things that ought to concern PAC 12 fans not normally inclined to root for UCLA. QB Devon Modster looked competent - as he has for much of the season - as a Rosen replacement. His top two targets, WR Jordan Lasley and WR Theo Howard, looked mostly uncoverable.
Chip Kelly is back and will have the services of all three of those players going into next season. It is would be a pretty good bet that the Chipster may also find ways to get some production out of RBs Soso Jamabo and Bolo Olorunfunmi as well.
The Cactus Bowl certainly seems like the bottom for this UCLA program.
6. Oregon (4-5 / 7-6)
Last Result: Las Vegas Bowl - Boise State 38, Oregon 28
The Ducks kicked off the PAC 12 bowl season with a pretty ugly defeat at the hands of jilted coaching candidate Bryan Harsin and his Broncos.
If you are having trouble recalling the details of a game that seemed like it was played more than a decade ago (excessive amounts of eggnog, wrapping paper, and renditions of ‘Santa, Baby’ can do that to a man), allow me to remind you of the particulars. Boise State basically moved the ball at will against an Oregon team that could muster nothing offensively to counter. If it had not been for three red zone turnovers, two of which Oregon returned for touchdowns themselves, they likely would have revoked Mario Cristobal’s contract on the spot.
Oregon moves into the offseason still in pretty decent shape from a recruiting perspective and with as much coaching stability as one could hope for given the circumstances surrounding Willie Taggart’s exit. Whether or not Cristobal is really a match either on the field or on the trail when pitted against the likes of David Shaw, Chip Kelly, and Chris Petersen remains to be seen.
But for now, let’s call Oregon’s 2017 a modest step forward with upside still to come.
5. Utah (3-6 / 7-6)
Last Result: Heart of Dallas Bowl - Utah 30, West Virginia 14
You are officially the kings of Shyte Island thanks to the awful performances of your brethren in their bowl games. If only someone had actually tuned into the Heart of Dallas Bowl to watch it. Apparently, everyone was too busy waiting in line to get their kids’ pictures with Santa.
Their loss. It was actually a fun game to watch and one that indicated to me that the trajectory for QB Tyler Huntley remains on an upwards arc. While his numbers didn’t really wow you, I thought he managed the offense with the kind of command we hadn’t seen for much of the season and that he showed real patience in the passing game before simply taking off and running. That RB Zach Moss decided to have his best game of the season—150 yards rushing and a TD—certainly helped.
The Utes will be a work in progress defensively next season with DT Lowell Lotulelei, DE Kylie Fitts, LB Kavika Luafatasaga, DT Filipo Mokofisi, and S Chase Hansen all moving on to the NFL. That’s some serious beef. Still, there are good signals coming out of Salt Lake.
4. Washington State (6-3 / 9-4)
Last Result: Holiday Bowl - Michigan State 42, Washington State 17
WSU is the proud new owner of Mike Leach’s time for the next few seasons thanks to the rich new contract extension that the wanderlust-stricken coach signed a few weeks back.
That extension didn’t do a whole lot to save the Cougars from an embarrassing blowout in the Holiday Bowl. Saddled with the loss of QB Luke Falk to a mysteriously broken wrist, the Cougars looked lost offensively and inept defensively as they were completely taken apart by the Spartans.
The loss was the third postseason loss in Leach’s fourth attempt. It was also his most embarrassing given that the so-called #speedD was supposed to be the answer to WSU’s big game problems under Leach.
The Cougars now face an uncertain prospect heading into the offseason. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has moved onto a new gig in Columbus, stars such as Falk, DL Hercules Mata’afa, K Eric Powell, and OL Cody O’Connell will be moving on, and controversy lingers around the defections of the two leading receivers: Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Tavares Martin.
All that said, I’m still buying WSU. Call it just another season in Pullman.
3. Stanford (7-2 / 9-5)
Last Result: Alamo Bowl - Stanford 37, Texas Christian 39
The reigning PAC 12 North champs put up a pretty entertaining Alamo Bowl against the Horned Frogs of TCU. RB Bryce Love ran strong, WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside caught touchdowns (three) and QB K.J. Costello took a step forward in his overall development, even if he did toss a couple of killer interceptions.
What wasn’t all that impressive was the Stanford D that, in my estimation, has continued to be on the slow decline all season. The Frogs did damage through the air (Kenny Hill had 314 yards and a couple of TDs) and on the ground (5.7 yards rush across the entire stable of runners) in shredding that Cardinal defense.
The Cardinal will be weakened a bit going into next year. Both DL Harrison Phillips and TE Dalton Schultz (?!?) have declared for the NFL Draft. Love may be the next man to put his name in that hat as he has yet to declare his intentions.
Reloading is just a way of life for David Shaw. He continues to find ways to put his team in a winning position season after season.
2. USC (8-1 / 11-3)
Last Result: Cotton Bowl - Ohio State 24, USC 7
The Trojans finish 2017 with the best record in the conference thanks to the win that they had in their “extra game” over Stanford.
The Cotton Bowl was less kind to the eminently talented Trojans. QB Sam Darnold did what Sam Darnold does: throw for a bunch of empty yards, account for several turnovers (two fumbles and a pick) and then get credit for “playing through controversy” and “being gritty.” Amazing.
For his efforts, Darnold is now in the debate as to whether or not he ought to be the first QB selected in the NFL Draft.
Only if you are Cleveland.
I’m not loving what I see out of USC going into next year. The jury is still out on Clay Helton’s prowess as the CEO of the program. There isn’t a clear heir apparent for Darnold. Critical contributors RB Ronald Jones (also declared), DE Uchenna Nwosu, and S Chris Hawkins are going to need replacing. An offensive line rebuild is coming. Oh, and the critics are already lining up as USC’s recruiting class (which looks good to me) is getting panned by hyper-critical fans who expect it to be #1 every year.
And I didn’t mention the new coach on the other side of town. Good times.
1. Washington (7-2 / 10-3)
Last Result: Fiesta Bowl - Washington 28, Penn State 35
This feels like empty recognition for the Huskies. They were dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage for the second straight bowl game in a way that didn’t happen very often in either of the last two regular seasons. This would seem to indicate that UW isn’t as far along in their path towards ascension as those of us with purple-colored shades on care to admit.
That isn’t to say, however, that UW isn’t in solid position going into 2018. The defense - minus one big part in DL Vita Vea - returns just about everybody, the offense looks promising thanks in part to injury returnees and the arrival of new receiving talent, and the coaching staff is the definition of stable despite the loss of OC Jonathan Smith to Oregon State.
The Huskies look like locks to be favorites in the PAC once again. And for good reason.