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PAC 12 Roundup and Power Rankings: Week 9

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Utah surges in the South as the rest of the conference gets defined by its mediocrity

NCAA Football: Utah at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

I interrupt this Weekly Roundup and Power Ranking for a moment of introspective meditation.

The 24 hour rule is in effect. It is important that we get our minds right as we jump into what will surely be a painful Power Rankings. But jump we must. To do so without shattering our collective souls, we must accept the the truth. Once we accept the truth, then we can integrate it into our zen. Once we integrate it into our zen, we can let it flow with our being.

Be the water, my friends. Let’s let it flow.

I know I feel better. I am ready to discuss the PAC 12 week that was.

I’m not sure there has ever been a weekend of PAC 12 football so surprising, crushing, and elating all at the same time. It was a full weekend of games ... all 12 teams were in action. In five of those games - the Saturday slate - the underdog won. Straight up.

Has that ever happened before? I’m not sure. But there was a lot of carnage left out there on the field:

  • Colorado’s South division title hopes ... diminished
  • Stanford’s North division title aspirations ... crushed
  • Oregon’s North division prayers ... shat upon
  • Clay Helton’s dreams of a contract extension ... up in smoke
  • Washington’s illusions of grandeur ... vaporized
  • The PAC 12’s confidence that it will someday be something more than a national afterthought (or punchline) ... dismantled

That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? The PAC 12 simply doesn’t have the kind of distance between its best teams and its most mediocre teams to keep this kind of chaos from happening year in and year out. For better or for worse, “greatness” of conferences is determined by the dominance of the blue blood programs at the top more so than the collective competitiveness.

And so the PAC will go on eating itself into oblivion. They’ll continue to be relegated to random late night TV spots, competing with reruns of the Arsenio Hall Show and missing College Football Playoffs.

But hey, there is always next year.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Week 9 Power Rankings
Chris Landon

The Power Rankings: Week 9

12. Colorado (2-3 / 5-3)

OSU 41, Colorado 34

On one hand, it is easy to sit here and say that Colorado is not the same team without Laviska Shenault. And that is true. Had he been in there, Colorado may have scored on one or two of those six possessions in which they ended up giving the ball back to Oregon State.

On the other hand, 34 points in regulation ought to be enough to beat the Beavers no matter if the game is at home or on the road.

It wasn’t and now Colorado is paying the price. While technically still in the race for the South, the road ahead looks so rocky that I’d be more concerned about bowl eligibility.

The good news for Buffs fans is that there isn’t anything taken from this loss that doesn’t seem fixable. The offense looked good. The defense was active. Something just happened after Travon McMillian scored on that 75 yard TD run to give Colorado a four TD lead in the third quarter. It was nuts but fixable, especially when Shenault returns.

POG: WR K.D. Nixon (13 recs, 198 yds, 2 TDs)

Next up: at Arizona (11/2)

11. UCLA (2-3 / 2-6)

#23 Utah 41, UCLA 10

Wilton Speight’s return to the captain’s chair didn’t go very well for the Bruins. Poor QB play and bad protection from his offensive line conspired to cover up what was a more spirited effort by UCLA’s young defense than what the final score might reveal.

UCLA’s first loss after two straight wins is pretty much all it takes to knock the Bruins out of their unlikely run to the South title. Bowl eligibility is now the most pressing concern for this team. They need to win every one of their remaining games in order to get there. And the first win in that streak is one that the whole nation will be watching: Chip Kelly’s return to Eugene.

POG: LB Tyree Thompson (11 tckls)

Next up: at Oregon

10. Oregon State (1-4 / 2-6)

OSU 41, Colorado 34

Oregon State had the conference’s longest road losing streak going before their trip into Boulder on Saturday. The Beavs hadn’t won away from Corvallis since 2014. And for one half of football, after they had fallen behind 31-3, it probably felt like it would be another four years before their next road win.

Oregon State v Colorado
QB Jake Luton was back throwing bombs in Boulder on Saturday.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

But then Jonathan Smith got creative. Senior QB Jake Luton was reinserted back into the lineup to give the Beaver passing offense a fresh arm. Before anybody could say “Holy Jacquizz, Batman,” balls were flying all over to the place to Isaiah Hodgins, Timmy Hernandez and Trevon Bradford. Leveraging the return of RB Jermar Jefferson to help keep that Colorado defense off balance, the Beavers got the game to overtime. That it was OSU’s much beleaguered defense that was on the field when the game was clinched almost feels poetic.

Reserve QB Jack Colletto remained as part of the QB rotation after Luton’s insertion, mostly coming in for QB keepers. His two goal line runs were vital in OSU’s upset. This rotating QB model probably isn’t sustainable as OSU looks to close out the regular season. Regardless, OSU will take it.

POG: QB Jake Luton (28/39, 310 yds, 3 TDs)

Next up: vs USC

9. USC (3-3 / 4-4)

ASU 38, USC 35

Third-string QB Jack Sears got his first collegiate start against the Sun Devils on Saturday and held his own as much as you would hope a freshman could. But the continued inability of USC to run the ball or to show any amount of physicality on defense is quickly becoming the defining failure of head coach Clay Helton. After this gut-wrenching loss, which effectively ends USC’s South division title hopes (Utah would have to lose two of its last three), Helton’s tenure is now on the clock.

I watched a good chunk of this game and continue to be befuddled by how soft the Trojans continue to look. But this isn’t for a lack of athletes. I’d say that this could be about the coaches, but this phenomenon has perpetuated through multiple staffs now. There is just something off about the culture in Los Angeles and it is keeping talented players from reaching their potential.

POG: LB Talanoa Hufunga (11 tckls, 2.5 TFLs, 1 PBU)

Next up: at Oregon State

8. Oregon (2-3 / 5-3)

#19 Oregon 15, Arizona 44

The Ducks got annihilated by Arizona on Saturday. In doing so, they accomplished two things. First, they became the third PAC 12 team to be dropped from the rankings over the weekend (and the fourth in the last two weeks). Second, they handed life back to UW in their quest for a Rose Bowl.

So, thanks to all of you motherless duckers out there. Huskies everywhere appreciate your sacrifice. I mean that sincerely.

While you can’t really give a pass to the Oregon defense for this game, you can kind of accept that giving up big plays is what they do. Conversely, I think we do all need to acknowledge that the luster is coming off of Justin Herbert’s golden football faster than yet another J.J. Taylor breakaway TD run. Herbert attempted 48 passes, completing just half of them for a pathetic 3.9 yards per attempt along with two TDs and one INT. Without him as a threat, the run offense can’t even start. Turnovers and poor special teams play just complicate matters.

At this point, the Ducks are pretty much out of the North race and don’t have any real spoiling left ahead of them. They are pretty much playing it out to maximize bowl position and lock down recruits.

POG: DB Thomas Graham Jr. (6 tckls, 1 INT)

Next up: vs UCLA

7. Arizona (3-3 / 4-5)

#19 Oregon 15, Arizona 44

The return of QB Khalil Tate was a welcome sight for a beleaguered Arizona team. The former Heisman hopeful took charge on Saturday night against an unsuspecting Oregon team and demonstrated that bowl eligibility may not be so far away for this Wildcats team after all.

Tate was rusty, to be sure. He managed just 58% of his completions and a paltry 5.7 yards per attempt. However, just the threat of his playmaking ability opened up some plays downfield (he had 3 TDs) and seemed to breathe life into the RPO game. J.J. Taylor took full advantage, rushing for 212 yds and two TDs.

The defensive was active. They generated a couple of turnovers in the first half, which gave the offense the extra possessions they needed to build that big early lead. Oregon couldn’t come back.

Like Washington, Arizona has a late season bye that precedes (wait for it) a road trip to Pullman in the week before the Apple Cup. The Wildcats might continue to be a factor in the North division race.

POG: RB J.J. Taylor (30 rushes, 212 yds, 2 TDs)

Next up: vs Colorado (11/2)

6. Arizona State (2-3 /4-4)

ASU 38, USC 35

I know that it has been a long time since Husky fans had a truly outstanding outside receiver who could make ridiculous plays on the perimeter. So, as a gift, I offer you N’Keal Harry:

C’mon! What?

And that wasn’t the only eye-popping play to come out of ASU’s “come-from-ahead” victory over USC on Saturday. There was all kinds of madness going on. An unreal 92 yard punt return from Harry. A 45 yard TD run from Wilkins after returning to the game from injury. A 49 yard TD scamper from the streaking Eno Benjamin. A couple of sacks and a couple of forced fumbles ... this game had it all.

It wasn’t clean by any stretch of the imagination. And I’m pretty sure that ASU is coming out of it pretty beat up. But with three losses in the loss column, ASU is part of that muddled middle that is within one game of being back in the South race. And they get to host Utah next.

POG: WR N’Keal Harry (95 yds rec, 103 yds punt returns, 2 TDs)

Next up: vs #23 Utah

5. California (2-3 / 5-3)

#15 Washington 10, Cal 12

Washington v California
Evan Weaver scored Cal’s only touchdown in their win against Washington.
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Cal fans will likely raise their eyebrows at this slotting of their team in the Power Rankings. I assure you, the only reason Cal comes behind Washington is because the Huskies are still squarely in the Rose Bowl race. The opportunity ahead is the sole deciding factor. On the field, the Bears outplayed Washington in every single facet of the game. Their pass defense was better (Evan Weaver with a pick six). Their run defense was better. The offense was better (despite not scoring an offensive touchdown). Their energy was greater. Their coaching was superior.

Everything. They outclassed Washington. Period. End of story.

The bad news is that they don’t look like a team that can really do it again. Their next two games are road trips to WSU and USC before they go on to close out with two home games facing Stanford and Colorado (with Laviska Shenault most likely back). That is a lot of challenge in front of a team that probably just hit its high point for the year.

But they only need one to get bowl eligible.

POG: LB Evan Weaver (11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 TD)

Next up: at #10 Washington State

4. (unranked) Washington (4-2 / 6-3)

#15 Washington 10, Cal 12

When I went to bed on Saturday night, Washington had just suffered its most demoralizing loss since the Peach Bowl. When I woke up Sunday morning, the Huskies were back 100% in control of their own destiny. That’s worth keeping them in the upper half of the rankings.

But just how good are the Dawgs? Right now, they look like a one trick pony with a defensive back seven that can bend a whole lot but not break. Otherwise, this team is a hot mess. The offensive line is lost. The QBs are thrashing around with no direction. The receivers can’t make plays. The pass rush still doesn’t exist. And the defense can’t serve up short fields or extra possessions to an offense that needs every bit of help it can get.

And let’s not talk about special teams.

That said, we know that there are several players coming out of the Cal game playing below their previously demonstrated peak levels (Jake Browning, Nick Harris, Tevis Bartlett, Kaleb McGary, Aaron Fuller all come to mind). A return to the mean from those guys added to the surges we are seeing from guys like Levi Onwuzurike and Joe Tryon might be enough to fuel a late season rally.

Or not. We’ll have to see.

POG: DL Greg Gaines (10 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack)

Next up: vs (unranked) Stanford

3. (unranked) Stanford (3-2 / 5-3)

#14 WSU 41, #24 Stanford 38

I had a hard time deciding if UW or Stanford belonged in this spot. My intellectual mind told me that because Stanford has just one North division loss, they would have an edge over UW in any exotic tie-breaker scenario. So, voilà.

My emotional mind told me that there is no effing way that Stanford is scoring just ten points against Cal and that if I’m being totally honest, I don’t see UW outscoring Stanford head to head over a two quarter time frame much less a full game.

So, there you go. Sheer analytical brilliance in action.

The Cardinal offense got all over the Cougs on Saturday night. The offense produced 443 yds, had high per play percentages and converted 8 of 13 third downs. Basically, the Cardinal were one lost fumble and yet another Bryce Love ankle injury away from stealing this one away.

But it would have been “stealing” because they didn’t earn it. The Cardinal have reluctantly become a pass-first team (323 passing yards) that lacks toughness on either side of the line of scrimmage. That probably won’t serve them too well as they close out the season.

POG: WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (10 recs, 111 yds, 2 TDs)

Next up: at Washington

2. #16 Utah (4-2 / 6-2)

#23 Utah 41, UCLA 10

Utah v UCLA
Zack Moss is steamrolling people for Utah.
Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Husky fans probably had mixed reactions watching Utah dismantle UCLA on Friday night. On one hand, Utah did in the Rose Bowl what UW fans want to see from their own team: the ability to create distance and put a team away even when QB play isn’t at a high level. On the other hand, those same Husky fans are probably feeling pretty good about UW’s road win in Salt Lake City at the start of the season.

That’s because the Utes are rolling. Against UCLA, the line of scrimmage was the story. The defensive line was dominating. The offensive line, for its part, continues to mature and handled what I thought was a very active UCLA front seven. Their efforts created running room for guys like Zack Moss and Armand Shyne all night. Layer in the contributions from Britain Covey - the all-everything WR just seems to make something happen every time he touches the ball - and you can see how Utah can put up 41 points even when QB Tyler Huntley is having a down game.

POG: RB Zack Moss (26 rushes, 211 yds, 3 TDs)

Next up: at Arizona State

1. #10 Washington State (4-1 / 7-1)

#14 WSU 41, #24 Stanford 38

To the winners go the spoils. And the Cougs are winning.

They aren’t just winning in dull and underachieving ways (ahem, Washington). They are going out balls to the wall and taking good opponents to the wire before finishing them off. In doing so, they’ve effectively set up a narrative that they are a) a playoff contender (they are not) and b) home to a Heisman contender in QB Gardner Minshew (maybe).

The Cougs now have room for error. They can drop a game on their way to the Apple Cup and still control their own destiny. That makes them the class of the conference for now.

(pardon me as I wash the puke out of my mouth)

POG: QB Gardner Minshew (40/50, 438 yds, 3 TDs)

Next up: vs California