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Pac 12 Week 6 Roundup and Power Rankings: Stars are Born

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Laviska Shenault and Jermar Jefferson make their cases as the new faces of the PAC.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

On a weekend where #PAC12AfterDark was doing its thing, you would think that the ongoing ritual of self-cannibalization that was at its very best on Saturday night would be the lead for my weekly PAC 12 Roundup. But the truth is that I cannot ignore the stories that are emanating out of Corvallis and Boulder, respectively.

The PAC 12 has some new offensive stars that are the buzz of the conference.

Neither Laviska Shenault, Jr. nor Jermar Jefferson were names that any average fan had ever heard of coming into season. Shenault was a reserve receiver sitting behind a trio of seniors on a Colorado team that was going nowhere. Jefferson was a little-known 3* recruit who got some attention by the recruitniks of the world only after he had committed to Jonathan Smith at OSU.

Now this unlikely duo are leading their respective PAC 12 peer groups in both yardage and TDs. They’ve both been so good that they’ve surpassed more familiar names such as Myles Gaskin, Khalil Tate, N’Keal Harry, and Justin Herbert on the superlatives chart among “the best offensive players” in the PAC. They’ve each also given their respective fan bases reasons for hope, with Buffs fans dreaming about a rematch against UW in the conference championship and Beaver fans thinking that the rebuild under Smith may not be so arduous.

PAC Dots

  • It was a good week for the PAC in the polls with Washington moving up among others. But the truth is that Week 6 probably harmed more than helped the conference’s national perception. Stanford getting demolished by Utah at home a week after Notre Dame crushed them wasn’t a good look. UW struggling so badly with UCLA will definitely be noticed if the Huskies later miraculously find themselves in the CFP conversation. Even the lackluster play of the PAC’s great Heisman hope, Khalil Tate, continues to be a national topic.
  • To that end, I do think UW’s poor performance at UCLA combined with Notre Dame’s big win over Virginia Tech pretty much ends the PAC’s chance at a Playoff spot. SB Nation would seem to concur given their recent bowl rankings.
  • Your conference leaders by category, halfway through the season:
    Passing Yards: Gardner Minshew (WSU)
    Receiving Yards: Shenault (Col)
    Rushing Yards: Jefferson (OSU)
    Sacks: Porter Gustin (USC)
    Tackles: Ben Burr-Kirven (UW)
    Interceptions: Ugo Amadi and Jevon Holland (Ore), Jaylinn Hawkins (Cal)
    Kudos to you if you predicted even just two of those before the season began.
  • The conference has to do something to normalize targeting penalties. Colorado’s Nathan Landman was ejected from the ASU game after making a textbook, wrap-up tackle in which both he and the ball carrier tried to get low. A little while later, ASU’s Demonte King had a targeting overturned when he made clear helmet to helmet contact with no attempt to wrap up on an upright carrier (though, admittedly, with no attempt to “launch”). I’m not sure that either should have been targeting. Regardless, you can’t coach players if you don’t know what the standard is.
  • File this under “Meaningless Stats That Make You Smile.”

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Power Rankings Week 6
PAC 12 Power Rankings Week 6
Chris Landon

Power Rankings: Week 6

12: UCLA (0-5 / 0-2)

#10 Washington 31, UCLA 24

UCLA joins just UTEP, Nebraska, and San Jose State among the FBS teams without a win on the season. Were it not for Jake Browning’s scrambling and a really fortunate catch by Aaron Fuller on an underthrown and contested TD pass, that list would have been just three.

NCAA Football: Washington at UCLA
UCLA LB Krys Barnes was all over the Huskies on Saturday.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I doubt that UCLA will stay winless much longer, especially once Jaelan Phillips returns to the lineup. On Saturday night, the Bruins went toe to toe with the conference favorites and produced both the better quarterback (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) and the better running back (Joshua Kelley). In addition, they won more than their fair share of line of scrimmage battles while limiting their turnovers to just one tipped pass.

The next two (at Cal and vs Arizona) give Chip Kelly a chance to even the Bruins up in their conference record. We shall see.

POG: LB Krys Barnes (9 tckls, 3 TFLs, 1 sack)

Next Up: at Cal

11. Oregon State (1-5 / 0-3)

Washington State 56, Oregon State 37

The Beavers are continuing their trek through a tumultuous rebuild season under Jonathan Smith. On any given weekend, you are bound to see some really good and some really bad. This was certainly the case in the Beavs’ thrilling but disappointing loss to WSU.

RB Jermar Jefferson continues to be the “good” for OSU. Right now, the PAC 12 rushing leader is probably the best back in the conference. For those of you surprised that such a good freshman is at Oregon State, consider that there were several teams—USC included—that wanted him. But it was the Beavers who offered him first and who now benefit from that loyalty.

The bad? Well, we can start with 21 fourth quarter points surrendered that put this game out of reach. This defense is not good and will continue to cost this team chances at wins for the remainder of the year.

POG: RB Jermar Jefferson (25 rushes, 138 yds, 4 TDs)

Next Up: bye

10. California (3-2 / 0-2)

California 17, Arizona 24

I suppose that we can now declare the Cal QB controversy now concluded. Though after watching the challenges that Brandon McIlwain had with turnovers against a not-too-challenging Arizona defense on Saturday, we may find ourselves right back in the three-way QB food fight by this time tomorrow.

McIlwain definitely has playmaking ability. He accounted for 422 yards of total offense (including 105 rushing yards) in an effort that out-Khalil’ed Khalil Tate. But the young QB tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble which all but sealed Cal’s fate.

All things considered, Cal’s defense played remarkably well surrendering just a little over 5 yards per pass and about 3.5 per rush. They just couldn’t overcome all of the extra possessions that McIlwain afforded Zona’s offense.

While it’s tough to win on the road, Cal really was banking on this game as part of its post-season formula. With an extremely backloaded schedule, Cal will now need to win both of their next two (UCLA, @Oregon State) and try to pull off an upset in one of their final five against the best teams in the PAC. No pressure.

POG: LB Jordan Kunaszyk (11 tckls, 1 TFL)

Next Up: vs UCLA

9. Arizona (3-3 / 1-2)

California 17, Arizona 24

I feel a little dirty putting Arizona ahead of Cal this week. While I get that a “win is a win” and the Wildcats are now closer to a South title than Cal is a North one, I can’t help but think that the better team lost last weekend.

Khalil Tate is a shadow of what he was a year ago. He averaged just a little over 5 yards a pass and ran for just 40 yards against Cal. It was hardly a Heisman-worthy effort even if you adjust for any bruises he might be nursing. Part of me wonders if he’d be better off in Ken Niumatalolo’s triple option offense.

Fortunately, Arizona’s D was able to take advantage of Cal’s gift-giving on offense. Scottie Young picked off two and scored while LB Colin Schooler continues to show why he was last year’s Freshman DPOY in the PAC.

I think we are probably past the point of considering Arizona a dark horse contender for the South. But the defense is improving and if Tate recaptures some magic, they could still upset a team or two along the way.

POG: DB Scottie Young (7 tckls, 2 INTs, 1 TD)

Next Up: at Utah (10/12)

8. USC (3-2 / 2-1)

The Trojans used their bye week, no doubt, to focus on self-scouting. With their two top threats in the South playing each other, USC was afforded a nice opportunity to catch their breath and brace themselves for the race ahead. Their next three games—vs Colorado, at Utah, and vs Arizona State—will define their season.

Next Up: vs #19 Colorado

7. Utah (3-2 / 1-2)

Utah 40, #14 Stanford 21

The Utes rode a bruising rushing attack courtesy of RB Zack Moss and an efficient passing attack orchestrated by QB Tyler Huntley to a huge road upset over Stanford on Saturday. In doing so, they may have saved their season and put themselves back into the periphery of the PAC 12 South race.

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington State
Utah DB Jaylon Johnson had a big 100 yard pick six on Saturday.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

It’s funny what happens in a game when you are able to generate a few turnovers and a defensive score. Everything else always seems to fall into place. Jaylon Johnson delivered a 100-yard pick six which in the first half which seemed to set the tone for guys like LB Chase Hansen (9 tckls, 2 TFLs) and DE Bradlee Anae (2 sacks, 3 TFLs) to do what they do on defense.

Offensively, the Utes look solid. I continue to be impressed with the run blocking coming out of the offensive line along with Moss’s toughness (20 rushes, 120 yds, 2 TDs). Huntley was uber-efficient, going 17/21 for 195 yds and a TD. When Utah can get that kind of efficiency going, they can grind out wins over anybody.

POG: DB Jaylon Johnson (7 tckls, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 TD)

Next Up: vs Arizona (10/12)

6. Arizona State (3-3 / 1-2)

Arizona State 21, #21 Colorado 28

Though ASU lost on the road to Colorado, I think that they did so in a manner that reinforced what we think we’ve been seeing out of Tempe all year. Herm Edwards has (surprisingly) brought a sense of patience and focus to this Sun Devils team. Against the Buffs, just as it was against UW a few weeks back, the strategy was to play physical and keep the game close.

It didn’t quite work out for the Devils, but they sure looked good in executing their game plan. The entire ASU offensive line showed well while RB Eno Benjamin (28 carries, 120 yds, 2 TDs) continued to show that he is a true workhorse.

We should also acknowledge the Sun Devil defense. They still have some talent gaps that need to get filled, but they play aggressively and with a great deal of fight. Even though they didn’t get home against Colorado, they still lead the league in sacks, which is a testament to their blitz game. With guys like Merlin Robertson and Chase Lucas making up a young core, this D has some potential.

One thing to watch will be the health status of N’Keal Harry. He took a helmet to the leg on a big punt return hit. Though he returned, he looked significantly affected.

POG: LB Merlin Robertson (9 tcks, 1 TFL)

Next Up: bye

5. Stanford (4-2 / 2-1)

Utah 40, #14 Stanford 21

No Love on the field means no love in the Power Rankings.

The star running back was held back in a game time decision against Utah on Saturday night and the result was a one-dimensional Stanford offense that QB K.J. Costello could not carry. In fact, you could argue that Costello, who threw two critical interceptions including a 100-yard pick six, was a liability despite going for 381 yards and 9.3 YPA.

Stanford may not warrant such a high ranking given that they now have a conference loss. They certainly don’t warrant it if you consider just the state of their defense. I’m particularly unimpressed with that defensive line which, against Utah, gave up 222 yards on 43 attempts.

If you are looking for a bright spot, Kaden Smith had a breakout performance. The 6-5” sophomore tight end had his best game as a collegiate.

POG: TE Kaden Smith (8 catches, 120 yds)

Next Up: bye

4. Washington State (5-1 / 2-1)

Washington State 56, Oregon State 37

The Cougs may have rediscovered an old friend on Saturday night. While QB Gardner Minshew (30/40, 430 yds, 5 TDs, 0 INTs) continues to redefine the standard for the position at WSU, the emergence of WR Tay Martin in the stat sheet is a welcome sight. Martin is WSU’s most physically gifted playmaker on the outside and a player they are really going to need to challenge the better defenses in the PAC.

As good as the Coug offense looks—and this is the best-looking offense that Mike Leach has produced in his tenure—one still would be forgiven if they see that Coug D as an unknown. There is certainly speed there. There is also some veteran leadership in display, particularly coming from sixth-year LB Peyton Pelluer (who was a real bright spot). But WSU surrendered almost 500 yards of offense including 267 yards of rushing to a sub-par opponent. That has to be a yellow flag.

Even still, the Cougs are surging.

POG: WR Davontavean Martin (8 catches, 119 yds, 2 TDs)

Next Up: bye

3. #17 Oregon (4-1 / 1-1)

It is kind of odd that a team with just one in-conference win is ranked #3 in the conference power ranking halfway into the season. But here we are.

And how sweet was it for the Duckers to sit back on their bye week and watch UW get physically tested by UCLA? The defensive starters were needed the whole game. The tight ends had to block all night. Key guys like Nick Harris and Myles Gaskin were clearly dinged up.

The Ducks are in an excellent position to pull an upset over UW next week.

Next Up: vs #7 Washington

2. #19 Colorado (6-0 / 3-0)

Arizona State 21, #21 Colorado 28

The arrival of Laviska Shenault Jr. on the PAC 12 scene has been the story-of-the-year for the conference. Shenault, who caught just seven balls a season ago, has not only emerged as the best player for the undefeated Buffaloes, he has emerged as the best player in the PAC and a legitimate Heisman candidate. On Saturday, he did it as a receiver and as a running back out of the so-called Ralphie package (which looked unstoppable in the red zone).

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Colorado
Steven Montez’s fantastic season for the undefeated Buffs is being overshawdowed by his star WR.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffs won a wildly entertaining game that was full of physicality and big plays on both sides of the ball. Given all of the contributions they are getting from key places—Steven Montez running a highly efficient QB position, Drew Lewis, Nate Landman, and Rick Gamboa producing at linebacker, K.D. Nixon complementing Shenault as a deep threat, and strong offensive line play—I think Colorado has solidified themselves as the team to beat in the South.

POG: WR Laviska Shenault - duh (13 catches, 140 total yds, 4 total TDs)

Next Up: at USC

1. #7 Washington (5-1 / 3-0)

#10 Washington 31, UCLA 24

The Huskies, let’s face it, are not going to win any beauty contests. Halfway into the season, I think that we can call this team what it is going to be: a well-coached team that has good-not-great overall talent and who is probably playing at its ceiling. After watching the stink-show that UW put up against a team that started seven true freshmen, was without its best defensive player, and had yet to even be competitive in any game this year, I think we can all agree that UW really hasn’t done anything to warrant a place in the national conversation.

That said, I think we need to acknowledge a couple of strong truths about this team. First, the senior leadership shown by Browning (with his arm and his legs), Aaron Fuller, and an injured Myles Gaskin can’t be understated. They led this team when the the momentum completely turned. Second, the Huskies played a lot of backups - particularly on defense in that awful third quarter. Spreading reps is a key strategy for this team. Finally, Washington had to play very conservative on defense in this one due to the threat DTR presents with his legs.

Still, I can’t help but to observe that some of the glaring weaknesses of this team are things that can’t be overcome by coaching. The Huskies, not UCLA, were the team sucking wind at the end of the game. Without an ability to rush the passer out of the base nor an offensive playmaker that can take a top off the defense, UW is destined to play in these ugly kinds of back-and-forth games for the rest of the year.

POG: QB Jake Browning (18/25, 265 yds, 10.1 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT; 49 yds rush, 1 TD rush)

Next Up: at #17 Oregon