The PAC-12 was last seen going 1-8 in their 2017 postseason lineup and being excluded from the College Football Playoff. You might have heard about that.
The national narrative that came out of that experience was that the PAC wasn’t really of the same caliber as the other Power 5 teams and that their best teams — the Washingtons, USCs and Stanfords of the world — were not really that much of a threat to other top-25 kinds of programs.
With Washington’s failure to impress in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Saturday, that narrative solidified. Ohio State’s shellacking of OSU did nothing to dissuade it. Unimpressive debuts by USC, UCLA, and Arizona simply accelerated it.
While it is hard to fathom that we need to be discussing it this early in the season, the PAC 12 now has a Playoff problem. The collective faceplant of the conference in Week 1 combined with the rather impressive debuts of Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State will do nothing but reinforce the idea that the Big 12 is ahead of the PAC in the pecking order of “conference quality.”
There will still be opportunities for the PAC to shine, but not that many of them. UCLA heads to Oklahoma next weekend while Colorado travels to Nebraska. ASU gets to host Michigan State. Both Stanford and USC still have Notre Dame on their schedule. USC also gets Texas, though that game will fail to carry the cachet it once promised after Texas nosedove against Maryland.
A UCLA upset over Oklahoma could reset this whole narrative. Short of that, the PAC is going to have to see wins in two — if not three — of those other games even to stay in the conversation as a playoff-worthy conference. Otherwise, it’s a race to the Rose Bowl as the great postseason hope for the conference of champions.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings — Week 1
12. Oregon State (0-1)
Oregon State 31, #5 Ohio State 77
Let’s give Jonathan Smith and his Beavs a little credit: OSU brought some fight to the Horseshoe. In fact, I’d say that the offense looked something more than halfway competent (at least in the first half), even after the first quarter injury to Jake Luton. WR Trevon Bradford had the jet sweep game going and demonstrated that there is some big play potential in that Beaver offense.
Unfortunately, the defense looked like it left something to be desired even after you adjust for just how good Ohio State is at playing offense. Obviously. The Beavers are in rebuild mode and Ohio State made sure that everyone knew it in their blowout victory.
POG: WR Trevon Bradford (6 recs, 104 yds, 2 TD)
Next Up: vs Southern Utah
11. Arizona (0-1)
BYU 28, Arizona 23
I’m certain that Arizona won’t stay this far down the power rankings for long. But one can’t simply dismiss how poorly the Wildcats played at home against BYU.
First game jitters with a new coach at the helm are to be expected, but it was alarming that the Wildcats could not get Khalil Tate even a little hot on the offensive side. The Heisman candidate was held to just 14 yards rushing to go along with 197 yards passing (on 50% accuracy).
I’m not sure the offense isn’t fixable. It seemed pretty clear to me that Noel Mazzone was up to his old ways trying to get Tate’s short passing game going. That might still come around. Of bigger concern was the play of the defense. The Wildcats defensive line was completely manhandled on their way to generating no sacks, no turnovers, and only a few QB pressures.
POG: LB Colin Schooler (16 tackles, 1 TFL)
Next up: at Houston
10. UCLA (0-1)
Cincinnati 26, UCLA 17
It was hard to forecast UCLA going into the season because of how locked down Chip Kelly’s practices are. Now that we’ve seen the lineup that the mercurial head coach rolled out against Cincinnati, we can verify what many people thought might happen: the Bruins are going young.
Kelly stocked his lineup with youth everywhere — on the O-line, at running back, at receiver, on the D-line — in his debut in LA. He ended up going young at QB after grad transfer Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game. Chip seems to be treating his program as a wholesale rebuild project.
That Dorian Thompson-Robinson was given the ball over Devon Modster once Speight got injured is a curious decision. New redshirt rules will allow DTR to still get his redshirt if they so desire. But most people, I think, believed that Modster was much closer to the staring job than the true freshman. Start dreaming about transfer destinations for him.
Either way, UCLA has a lot of cleanup to do before they head out to Norman.
POG: LB Krys Barnes (9 tckls, 2 PDs)
Next up: at Oklahoma
9. California (1-0)
North Carolina 17, Cal 24
Yes, Cal won this game. But if you are looking for your first real QB controversy of the PAC 12 season, cast your eyes towards Berkeley.
After struggling offensively the entire first half, Cal head coach benched incumbent Ross Bowers in favor of backup Chase Garbers to start the second half. Results improved modestly but not enough to avoid introducing a third QB — transfer Brandon McIlwain — into the mix before the game was over.
Fortunately, the Cal defense looked fantastic running their classic bend-don’t-break stuff until starting to run out of gas in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels didn’t cross the 50 until the second half and punted seven times for the game. Still, it is hard to miss the fact that Cal failed to generate even a single sack and only forced two tackles for loss overall. That plus an injury to Cameron Goode has me wondering what we can really expect from Cal’s defense in the immediate future.
POG: DB Camryn Bynum (4 tckls, 4 PDs)
Next up: at BYU
8. Arizona State (1-0)
UTSA 7, Arizona State 49
It’s hard to get overly excited about a win over UTSA no matter what the score. The good news is that ASU didn’t derp up anywhere and that, for the most part, Herm Edwards demonstrated a baseline competency level that some fans doubted he had.
I thought it was especially impressive to see all the actors performing that ASU will be counting on this year. QB Manny Wilkins was highly efficient (247 yds, 4 TDs, 0 INTs), WR N’Keal Harry was on fire (140 yds, 2 TDs), and RB Eno Benjamin stepped into the role of feature back with no issues (16 rushes, 131 yds, 1 TD). Defensively, the Sun Devils looked solid across the board and even flashed some of the blitzing capabilities that were always on full display during Todd Graham’s tenure. Chase Lucas was especially impressive from his CB spot.
Michigan State this weekend will be a real test for Edwards and his young team.
POG: DB Chase Lucas (6 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs, 1 PD)
Next up: vs Michigan State
7. Washington State (1-0)
WSU 41, Wyoming 19
Many pundits had WSU on upset alert for the road trip to Wyoming. I wasn’t exactly clear on the rationale for that beyond the fact that WSU has had a few issues with opening games and that Wyoming coach Craig Bohl was once a really good FCS coach.
WSU, just like everyone else in the conference, had some sloppy moments in their opening game. However, they bounced back just fine and beat Wyoming going away.
Gardner Minshew wasn’t exactly the second coming of Luke Falk in the Leach Air Raid, but he was efficient enough to get the job done. RB James Williams had a great game both as a runner and a receiver.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that Mike Leach was being very Mike Leach-ish with this little dandy of a formation:
By the way — here’s that bananas formation WSU ran for a couple of plays. Mike Leach is at it again ... pic.twitter.com/qz4C48epEY— CougCenter (@CougCenter) September 1, 2018
Something else for other coaches to prepare for, I suppose.
POG: RB James Williams (82 yds rushing, 53 yds receiving, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs San Jose State
6. Colorado (1-0)
Colorado 45, Colorado State 13
Last week in this space I said that Colorado was in “show me” mode. Consider that question asked and answered.
I’m not ready to call Colorado a breakout team. However, you have to like the statement that they made against their rival CSU and former UW QB K.J. Carta-Samuels. It was a blowout on both sides of the ball.
Newcomer RB Travon McMillian put up 100+ yds and a TD while Steven Montez hit on 22/25 passes for a 13.5 YPA average and four TDs. That’s some efficient offense. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. was the primary beneficiary of Montez’s efficiency, going for 211 yards receiving and a TD.
The story of the game may nevertheless have been the defense. Linebacker Nate Landman led one of the better efforts we’ve seen from Colorado in some time with 16 tackles, 2 TFLs, and an INT. Colorado gave up just 284 total yards on the road and, impressively, held CSU to under 5 yards per pass attempt.
The Buffs are off on the right foot and I’m bumping them.
POG: LB Nate Landman (16 tckls, 2 TFLs, 1 INT)
Next up: @ Nebraska
5. Oregon (1-0)
Bowling Green 24, Oregon 58
It’s hard to know what to make of Oregon’s effort against Bowling Green which, incidentally, is not good at football.
On one hand, there were a lot of explosive plays, some turnovers forced, a defensive TD, and great speed on display. On the other hand, the offense wasn’t especially efficient and the defense was on the field for a very long time.
Justin Herbert embodied these mixed metrics perfectly. He averaged just over 13 yards per attempt, indicating just how explosive his pass plays were. However, he completed just 10 of 21 and had two interceptions mixed in there.
We probably won’t learn much more about Oregon next week. For now, they’ll just hold steady in the middle of the rankings.
POG: S Ugo Amadi (1 TD, 5 tckls, 1 sack, 1 PD, 1 INT)
Next up: vs Portland State
4. Utah (1-0)
Weber State 10, Utah 41
Though the scoreboard shows a blowout, I suspect Utah fans aren’t feeling super confident after the Utes sported some significant butterflies in week 1. Fueling the paranoia, I’m sure, is the fact that Utah turned the ball over four times without getting any themselves. On top of that, there was a certain physicality missing on the offensive side of the ball that you might have been expecting. That Utah surrendered its first blocked kick since 2011 is one sign of that. Seeing Utah’s best O-lineman, Jackson Barton, get completely stood up by an FCS D-lineman on a second quarter 4th and 1 was another.
Still, the defense was physically dominating, giving up just 59 total yards of offense. RB Zack Moss sure looked solid and WR Britain Covey returned to the lineup with a bang after two years off. The junior is electric and you could see his impact on the field, even in spite of his fumble.
We’ll have to see about QB Tyler Huntley and the rest of the passing game as the competition stiffens. I know UW fans will be scouting Utah intently in anticipation of the 9/15 showdown in Salt Lake.
POG: WR Britain Covey (53 yds receiving, 64 yds rushing, 3 punt returns, 1 fumble)
Next up: @ Northern Illinois
3. #13 Stanford (1-0)
San Diego State 10, #13 Stanford 31
After a slow start that saw Stanford never able to get star RB Bryce Love on track, the Cardinal decided to unleash an air assault the likes of which we’ve not seen at the Farm since the John Elway days. Before it was over, K.J. Costello ended up with 311 yards passing and four TDs while star WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside finished with 226 of those yards and 3 of those TDs.
We should also note that Stanford’s D was better than we would have expected, with reports of their defensive line struggles being perhaps overstated. At least at first glance.
Still, the inability to get Love going, especially given how sloppy guys like Foster Sarell and Walker Little looked on the O-line, has to be a source of some concern. The Cardinal won’t have time to do a lot of cleaning up before USC comes to town.
POG: WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (6 recs, 226 yds, 3 TDs, 37.7 ypr)
Next up: vs #15 USC
2. #6 Washington (0-1)
#6 Washington 16, #9 Auburn 21
A big factor in this Power Ranking formula is assessing what’s left out there on the table that can still be accomplished. UW’s loss to Auburn basically ended their run at the College Football Playoff. The Huskies would basically have to run the table — a feat not accomplished in the PAC since Oregon in 2010 — in order to be in the conversation (no two-loss team has ever gotten into the CFP). Even then, UW would probably still need help from the other conferences to catapult into the top four. Those do not seem like good odds.
On the field, the Huskies didn’t really do anything to dissuade from the notion that they are the most complete team in the conference. Yeah, sure, the red zone offense was both mystifying and disappointing. I would also understand if you were concerned about the overall lack of speed demonstrated by the defensive front seven. The lack thereof seemed to be the primary culprit in a defensive effort that resulted in no turnovers and no real QB pressure (just two sacks — one a blitz and the other a coverage sack).
Still, the competition level was very high, it was a road game all the way across the country, and the game was highly winnable for UW. I was happy to see the offensive line create some decent pockets for QB Jake Browning (I thought Jaxson Kirkland really stood out) and I was thoroughly impressed with the efforts from the receivers. Quinten Pounds flashed his acrobatics, Aaron Fuller did his best Devin Aguilar impersonation, and Ty Jones demonstrated the value of a big receiver who can get open even when he’s covered.
The Huskies took a punch in the mouth and will be better for it.
POG: WR Aaron Fuller (7 catches, 135 yds)
Next up: vs North Dakota
1. #15 USC (1-0)
UNLV 21, #15 USC 43
USC gets the bump up in the power rankings not because they were especially impressive against UNLV. That they got past the first game with a true freshman QB without any major trouble is a good sign. In fact, J.T. Daniels not only survived, he flourished, finishing with 282 yds, a TD, and no INTs.
Overall, USC was sloppy. They carried just a five-point lead going into the half before pulling away in the second frame. The rush defense was particularly concerning as the Rebs were able to rack up over 300 yds and over 7 YPC for the game. Still, USC’s pass D was lights out.
Because USC was able to get such a good start from Daniels and because they look like the one team that still has Playoff left on the table, I feel the need to bump them ahead of UW for now. I would not expect this position to hold for long (hint, hint: Stanford).