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PAC 12 Week 9 Recap, Overreactions and Power Rankings

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Streaks were ended as the PAC 12 slipped further towards the edge of chaos.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The genius who made the eternal observation that “streaks were made to be broken” can be credited with very little beyond a coherent and novel restating of the obvious. Of course streaks are made to be broken because if they were not they would simply be a natural law.

That said, it is also true that the ending of some streaks are more surprising than others. And the ending of multiple streaks on the same day can lead affected parties to feel a certain sense of chaos and perturbation (...yes, that’s a word. Get your mind out of the gutter and look it up).

Such was the case in the PAC 12 on Streak-over Saturday.

Here are just some of the streaks that I noted ended on Saturday.

. Washington State’s streak of four straight rivalry wins concluded when Oregon’s placekicker sent a 26 yarder through the uprights with 2 seconds to play. WSU had been dominating the Ducks (average margin of victory of 16 points) since Oregon’s last win in 2014 when Marcus Mariota was still starting.

. Justin Herbert’s streak of 35 straight games tossing a TD pass also yielded in that game. What is really strange is that Oregon scored 37 points in the game, but not one of them through the air (at least not through the air to an offensive player).

. Cal’s streak of 14 straight games not allowing an opponent to score over 25 points died a fiery death on the road in Salt Lake. This particular streak was over by the second quarter.

. Cal also had another streak snapped: they had not been shut out in a conference game since 1994 against USC. That streak spanned 305 (!) football games. Their last non-conference shut out was suffered in 1999 against Nebraska.

. UCLA ended a streak in which they hadn’t scored four TDs in a single half (against an FBS opponent) in 31 games. Believe it or not, that was the longest such streak in the PAC.

. Less heralded but just as important: Arizona had gone six straight games without losing a game in which they scored 31 or more points. Go defense (and a sad ‘bye-bye’ to Arizona DC Marcel Yates).

. Washington ended a streak of 8 straight weeks without a BYE, a feat matched only by one other Power 5 conference school (Ole Miss)

That’s a lot of streaks that were broken last weekend. Fun times in the PAC.

Overreactions of the Week

The PAC is still a good conference.

This is kind of a passive-aggressive overreaction to insert into this update because, quite frankly, I don’t think anybody anywhere thinks that the PAC 12 is a good conference. Thanks to the drubbing that ASU suffered at the hands of UCLA, the conference has exactly two teams ranked in the top 25. That two of them broke into the top 10 just happened this week and is unlikely to endure. Furthermore, if you take away every Power 5’s FCS games, the PAC has the worst head to head record against out of conference opponents of any Power 5 (.593 winning percentage vs ACC at .613).

Beyond the rankings and head-to-heads, it is also the crazy results that shatter the assumptions that the national audiences make about the the teams in the conference.

. “UW is the deepest and most balanced team in the conference” ... and then they go onto drop three out of their first eight including two home losses and two losses to unranked teams. (Interesting little factoid: in their first 8 games this season, UW is 5-3. In their last 8 games in 2018 ... also 5-3)

. “Cal has a terrific defense” ... and then they go and get lit up for 35 points by a Utah offense that had a gimpy QB

. “Oregon is a playoff contender” ... and then the Ducks go out and have to come from behind to beat two decent but flawed state of Washington teams, one of which required a substantial bit of luck

. “ASU will be a surprise contender for the South” ... except that ASU then surprises us by getting blown against UCLA and effectively getting bounced out of the Southern division race

. “Oregon State is not good” ... oh, look, OSU is in third place in the North, leads the PAC in red zone TD conversions (by a lot) and is ahead of five other PAC teams - one of which is USC - in total defense

. “Chip Kelly’s UCLA team is young and not good” ... hey, look who has a better conference record than the Huskies

It’s pure crazy town in the PAC 12 right now and it would be funny if it wasn’t so depressing.

Now, with that said, I can’t really find any reason to believe that there is anything systemic happening in the conference that makes this situation one that is likely to endure for years to come. Massive overhauls in coaching situations have resulted in weird spikes of teams rising and falling somewhat dramatically. But the roster of head coaches that the conference boasts today is pretty decent and one that I would expect, over time, would raise the performance of the conference overall.

We shall see.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Power Rankings, after Week 9
Chris Landon

The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 8

12. Colorado (3-5, 1-4) ▼

USC 35, Colorado 31

Amazing things happen when you get Laviska Shenault the ball.

A week ago, I pondered the question as to whether or not Colorado’s seniors had given up on their coach. Perhaps I was premature in asking it. Though it ended in defeat, Shenault, QB Steven Montez, LB Nate Landman and WR KD Nixon all showed up in a rousing show of effort that nearly knocked USC out of the driver’s seat in the South.

Unfortunately, it was just a tad too little. While I appreciate Mel Tucker finally taking the training wheels off of this offense and letting Montez air it out (he was excellent with 3 TDs and 324 yards), it is clear that this team is not going anywhere. While bowl eligibility is technically still possible, finding three wins out of your last four on a schedule that ends with Washington and at Utah seems implausible.

POG: WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (9 recs, 189 total yds, 1 TD)

Tucker owes it to Colorado fans to feature Shenault over the last four games (I’m sure) of hi Colorado career. This is a very special football player when healthy and the brightest star in what has been a tough transition season in Boulder.

Next Up: at UCLA

11. Arizona (4-4, 2-3) ▼

Arizona 31, Stanford 41

And with that, we have a full blown QB controversy in Tucson.

Khalil Tate started the game, gave way to freshman Grant Gunnell for two series in the first half (one of which resulting in Arizona’s first TD of the day), and then was reinserted after Arizona fell behind 21-10 (and he promptly led the Wildcats on a two-play scoring drive that resulted in a 57 yard TD scramble by the senior).

NCAA Football: Arizona at Stanford
Grant Gunnell to Jalen Johnson might be the future of this program sooner rather than later.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Kevin Sumlin doesn’t call it a controversy. He’s positioning it as a situation where a true freshman who has already burned his redshirt needs reps and that it is hard for opponents to plan for two QBs. In situations like this, the old adage seems to apply “if you have two QBs, you really have none”.

Even before DC Marcel Yates got fired, the Wildcats were in deep trouble. Their remaining schedule is vs Oregon State, BYE, at Oregon, Utah, at ASU. There are some pretty good offenses on that schedule and the conference’s two best defenses. Good luck finding two wins there.

POG: Arizona Offensive Line

I have to give credit to the entire UA o-line. They opened up tons of holes for the rushing attack, gave Gunnel a mostly clean pocket for him to complete 6 of 6 passes from when he was in there and protected well for Khalil Tate (3 sacks total but two of which were of the “coverage” variety). It was a surprising effort from a unit that has struggled.

Next Up: vs Oregon State

10. California (4-4, 1-4) ▼

California 0, #12 Utah 35

We really have to reassess our assumptions about Cal in light of what is the most humiliating loss (and there have been many among them) for this program in the last 20 years. The Bears go into the BYE week having lost three in a row and now sit at 1-4 in conference play. And, let’s be honest, if it weren’t for a fluky win in the Lightning Bowl against UW, this team would be winless in the conference.

Looking ahead, the Bears now have to attempt to get things back on track with no clear leader at QB. True Freshman Spencer Brasch started in the place of injured (and not good) Devon Modster and looked completely overwhelmed (2.5 yards per attempt) while fourth stringer Robby Rowell looked no better. With no passing game, with no rushing game and - now - with questions as to whether or not this D is really that elite, it is fair to wonder whether or not Cal has two wins left among its final four. I’m not sure that they do.

POG: LB Evan Weaver (22 tckls, 1 TFL)

Don’t blame Evan Weaver for the 35 points surrendered. The one-on-one matchups he had against Zack Moss were must-see-tv and he certainly won his fair share of them. His 22 tackles were one more than the 21 he had last week. Unbelievable.

Next Up: BYE

9. Stanford (4-4, 3-3) ▲

Arizona 31, Stanford 41

It is amazing what good QB play can do to elevate a team. KJ Costello returned for the Cardinal and promptly delivered 312 yards, 3 TDs and zero INTs for a team that had sorely missed him. His offensive production elevated everybody around him, including at rushing attack that saw Cameron Scarlett go off for 102 yards and 2 TDs and young Austin Jones get in for some meaningful game action.

Stanford desperately needed this win in order to keep their goal of bowl eligibility alive. The path ahead is still tortuous. It is looking more and more like the Big Game will be an elimination game for post-season hopes.

POG: QB KJ Costello (30 of 43, 7.3 YPA, 3 TDs)

It goes without saying that Costello made a huge difference for this team after having missed the past three weeks. His heroics led to 12 different receivers catching passes including two to Simi Fehoko.

Next Up: BYE

8. UCLA (3-5, 3-2) ▲

#24 Arizona State 32, UCLA 42

The rise of UCLA is certainly one of the more compelling mid-season storylines in the conference. While many people expected the kind of offensive explosion that we’ve seen the last few weeks to have shown up earlier in the season, the combination of power rushing and efficient passing is starting to have an effect.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at UCLA
Joshua Kelley when healthy is a workhorse for UCLA.
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

What was more impressive to me, however, was the showing of the UCLA defense for the first three quarters of the game. They were physically beating the ASU power attack time and time again to the point where ASU really had nothing until they opened up with a mad dash in the fourth quarter.

With road trips to USC and Utah still ahead, there is no way that UCLA has enough juice to get to bowl eligibility. But they might have enough to spoil a few seasons for teams left on the schedule.

POG: RB Joshua Kelley (18 carries, 176 yds, 1 TD)

This is the second week in a row that we are recognizing Kelley as UCLA’s POG. It is clear that as he goes so goes the UCLA offense. His four TDs were the most rushing TDs by any PAC 12 rusher this season and the most scored by a Bruin rusher in a game since Myles Jack lit up Washington for four TDs in 2013. (the author shuddered as he wrote that)

Next Up: vs Colorado

7. Oregon State (3-4, 2-2) ▲

BYE

Oregon State joins UW on a BYE week. Who would have thought that we’d be talking about the Beavs as a mid-tier PAC 12 team going into the final third of the season. And yet here we are.

Next Up: at Arizona

6. Arizona State (5-3, 2-3) ▼

#24 Arizona State 32, UCLA 42

I think most of us saw this slide coming for the Sun Devils even if we were not so much expecting UCLA to dominate them in such a fashion. And don’t let the scoreboard fool you ... UCLA physically dominated this game from start to near finish having built a 42-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.

QB Jayden Daniels clearly is a capable player, but ASU is starting to wear down. My assessment is that coach Herm Edwards wants to play a very physical style of football on both sides of the ball but lacks the depth to fully execute against that strategy. He’ll develop it as he goes, but the attrition that we are seeing along both lines and at the RB position is hard to miss.

POG: QB Jayden Daniels (20 of 29, 9.3 YPA, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 89 yards rushing)

Noel Mazzone is starting to open up the playbook for his young QB and Daniels is answering. He’s growing up right in front of our eyes.

Next Up: BYE

5. Washington State (4-4, 1-4) ▲

WSU 35, #11 Oregon 37

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: WSU should definitely have won that game ... but that was not a Coug’ It moment. It was just a tough loss in a very hard fought game.

I’d even go a step further and say that WSU played Oregon in Eugene with more tenacity and more belief in themselves than Washington did just a week ago in Seattle. But for a dropped TD pass that turned into an interception, a tough pick six and some questionable officiating, we’d be having a very different conversation about this game.

Nevertheless, the heroics of QB Anthony Gordon, WR Brandon Arconado, DB Marcus Strong, and LB Jahad Woods go for naught. The Cougs still have a great chance to get bowl eligible, but this will be remembered as a special win that just got away from them.

POG: WR Brandon Arconado (9 recs, 130 yds, 2 TDs)

Another great day from a guy that nobody expected would become the #1 receiver on this team.

Next Up: BYE

4. Washington (5-3, 2-3)

BYE

Washington remains the fourth best team in a three-team race for the PAC 12. Standings aside, UW’s expectation now is an undefeated remainder of the season and the Alamo Bowl. Whether or not Jimmy Lake can fix enough of the problems on this defense to make that happen remains to be seen.

Regardless, Husky fans took another round of gut punches this past weekend after watching Kansas State upset Oklahoma and Jim Harbaugh beat down Brian Kelly. It is not lost on this fanbase that Chris Petersen has been able to deliver few moments in his UW tenure like those where the Huskies actually overcame difficult circumstances to win a game few expected them to win. At home against Utah affords him yet another opportunity to do so. I fear that another failure will launch a full eruption among the boo birds in the Husky fan base. Conversely, a win would bolster the staff’s argument that this young team is still learning how to play and turning the proverbial corner.

Next Up: vs #9 Utah

3. USC (5-3, 5-1)

USC 35, Colorado 31

I think at this point we can agree on a few things. First, USC is in control of its own destiny when it comes to the PAC 12 Championship. Second, Clay Helton is still on the hot seat. Third, QB Kedon Slovis (who Helton recruited) is the real deal. Fourth, there is zero confidence that USC will actually pull off the South title with at ASU, at Cal and vs UCLA ahead of them (in addition to their immediate challenge of an Oregon visit this weekend). Their magic number is three and could get down to two if UW handles Utah at home this weekend.

What a weird season it has been for the Trojans. Still, the combination of Slovis with that elite receiving corps and an emerging rushing attack (RB Kenon Christon held his own despite being literally the only healthy back on the roster) is working and has put the Trojans in a position to win. The walking wounded situation on the D is certainly concerning which, I think, is why our confidence in USC winning out remains low. We

POG: WR Michael Pittman Jr (7 recs, 156 yds, 2 TDs)

I’m not exactly sure why Pittman doesn’t get the kind of accolades that some of his immediate predecessors have earned (thinking of guys like Juju Smith and Marquise Lee), but he’s been every bit the playmaker for his career. His 22.3 yards per receptions were back-breaking against Colorado.

Next Up: vs #7 Oregon

2. (9) Utah (7-1, 4-1)

Cal 0, #12 Utah 35

If Power Rankings were just about play on the field, Utah would be first hands down. However, we also have to take into consideration not just momentum but also factors such as team health and positioning in the standings / rankings. And it is in those latter two categories where compromises must be made as Utah neither is in good health nor controls its own destiny in the South.

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Utah
Zack Moss might be the most important offensive player in the PAC.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

That said, what a performance against Cal. It was a complete team effort. From QB Tyler Huntley - who was barely able to walk - gritting it out to RB Zack Moss grinding away against Cal’s Evan Weaver in a battle of titans to DL Leki Fotu time and again crushing the middle of the Cal offensive line and making opposing offense about as much fun as a three-finger proctology exam. Very impressive win for the Utes.

POG: RB Zack Moss (115 yds rushing, 89 yds receiving, 2 TDs)

Moss led the Utah offense in both rushing and receiving. Though I generally prefer to honor the defense with POGs on nights where shutouts are pitched, one cannot overstate the impact that Moss had on this game in picking up his injured QB and meeting Cal’s Evan Weaver in the hole time and time again. It was fun to watch and went a very long way in reinforcing the culture of toughness on this team.

Next Up: at Washington

1. (7) Oregon (7-1, 5-0)

WSU 35, #11 Oregon 37

So, when was the last time that you saw a top 15 ranked team struggle so badly at home against an unranked opponent that they needed a healthy scoop of luck to win only to be rewarded with a four point jump in the rankings? Does anybody in their right mind think that ranking Oregon ahead of Auburn, Oklahoma or Georgia makes any sense? What is this, the SEC???

Fans from all over the country are starting to wonder what kind of deal Mario Cristobal made with the devil in order to put together the kind of year he’s put together. Whether we are talking about the recruiting class he put together in offseason, the undefeated record he’s posted in conference play, the last two wins that have seen his team come from behind to beat both the Washington schools, or the aforementioned jump in the polls, it is clear that Cristobal is living a charmed life. So charmed in fact that the worst kicker in the conference is winning him football games.

Geesh.

Regardless, I think it is becoming more clear that Oregon’s defense, while good, may not be all that elite given some of the depth challenges it faces. It is also clear that Justin Herbert’s passing attack is hampered to a degree by either his penchant for streaks of inaccuracy or poor WR play. Fortunately, CJ Verdell and the Duck o-line was more than up for the task in helping Oregon to avoid near catastrophe at home against WSU.

The question now becomes whether or not Cristobal’s demonic accord will endure a road trip to LA.

POG: RB CJ Verdell (313 all purpose yards, 3 TDs)

I probably should honor LT Penei Sewell with his second straight POG, but the truth is that you still need a player to run through those holes. Verdell was a one-man wrecking crew with the ball in his hands against the Cougs.

Next Up: at USC