Week 11 was a great weekend for college football no matter what conference your team resides in. We saw a great upset in Minneapolis, a huge win for an LSU team that is amazingly now 8-1 against top 10 teams since Ed Orgeron took over and some clearing of the road to the CFP for teams like Oklahoma and Clemson.
It was also a good weekend for Husky fans who, with what is often a house-of-horrors kind of Friday night road trip to Corvallis, were sweating the prospect that Chris Petersen might fall victim to his first ever three game losing streak. Alas, it was not to be as UW returned to its winning ways and clinched bowl eligibility which, while not a goal anyone was putting on their wish list to start the season, has us all breathing a sigh of relief.
On to the overreactions.
Overreactions of the Week
The PAC 12 is back in the CFP race!
I’ve seen and heard a great deal of chatter suggesting that a one-loss PAC 12 champion has “a great chance” to slip into the College Football Playoff. This chatter only intensified after losses by both Penn State and Alabama over the weekend.
It is understandable that many would make this argument. 17 of the 20 teams that have made the CFP have been conference champions and one of the three that wasn’t was Notre Dame - a team that won’t be in the final four this season.
The problem that I see ahead for both Utah and Oregon is there are no opportunities for good wins left out there until the PAC 12 Championship game ... and that assumes that neither of the two teams falter on their way to that ultimate showdown (an assumption that I most certainly would not bet on given that this is still the PAC 12). In fact, neither team will play an opponent that even shows up in the “others receiving votes” section of the polls (at least as of this week).
On the flip side, we will surely see the SEC champ, Clemson and the Big Ten champ punch their tickets to get in. And even if LSU somehow gets derailed (most likely in the SEC championship game), they’ll still almost certainly get let in as a one-loss non-champ. That leaves the PAC 12 champ competing with the Big 12 champ (Oklahoma will go for sure if they win their conference) and possibly a deserving one-loss Big Ten non-champ (Minnesota? Penn State? Ohio State?) as teams with better resumes than either Utah or Oregon.
If the PAC gets their ticket punched to the dance this year, a lot of wonky stuff will have to happen across the college football landscape. Not saying it can’t happen, but I wouldn’t be booking any flights at this point.
Washington’s Defense is back, baby!
We all saw the carnage that UW’s D left on the field in Corvallis last Friday night (more on that below). With contributions coming in from a refreshed linebacking crew, a breakout from Joe Tryon, the ongoing emergence of Levi Onwuzurike and big games from guys like Trent McDuffie and Keith Taylor, it is tempting to call it a return to dominance for this Husky D.
But let’s not overreact.
I’m not saying that UW’s D isn’t figuring some things out. It may well be. But we’ve seen ebbs and flows from this team on both sides of the ball all season. (In fact, we probably need to talk about what happened to the UW offense after a few weeks against teams like Arizona and Oregon that made us think that they were “back”). Such is the plight when you roll with young players. As long as the middle of the Husky D continues to hit their talent ceilings and while the young safeties continue to learn the ropes, the entire defense will likely still be prone to the kinds of breakdowns that we saw in the second halves of games like USC, Oregon and Utah.
The Cool Chart
The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 11
12. Colorado (4-6, 2-5)
Stanford 13, Colorado 16
I’ve written a few times in this space that as goes Laviska Shenault so do the Buffs. That certainly showed up in Colorado’s upset over Stanford. While he may not have had the most gaudy stats we’ve ever seen him produce, his fingerprints were all over this game. Each of his eight receptions created first downs for the Buffs. And in their final, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, it was Shenault that took the handoff on a critical fourth down conversion.
Credit the Buffs for hanging in there and finding a way to win at the end. Steven Montez was “good Steven” and the defense did a nice job of limiting options for KJ Costello in the passing game. Bowl eligibility is not off the table for this team as they seem to have rebounded from their four game losing streak in admirable fashion.
POG: LB Davion Taylor (8 tckls, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU)
The senior linebacker has had a surprisingly strong second half of the season. He really shined in helping to shut down the Stanford offense.
Next Up: BYE
11. Arizona (4-5, 2-4)
The Wildcats, who now own the conference’s longest losing streak at four games, have undoubtedly invested their BYE week in figuring out some things on defense while the coaches have hit the road to get a little recruiting in. Whether or not it will help with Oregon up next remains to be seen. Also to be seen is whether or not Kevin Sumlin has the stones to pull the trigger and install Grant Gunnell as the full time starter. I’m guessing not.
Next Up: at Oregon
10. Washington State (4-5, 1-5) ▼
WSU 20, Cal 33
Another toothless loss and more comments from Mike Leach in the post-game presser alluding to the lack of toughness of his team. Things are quickly turning south for the Cougs.
Obviously, the WSU defense is a problem. Cal hasn’t scored over 30 points at any other point in the season (even against UC Davis) and had managed to score just 24 points combined over their past 3 conference games. So, yeah, WSU has some soul searching to do on that side of the ball.
Offensively, the Cougs were ok. Anthony Gordon threw for a 77% completion rate and 7.0 ypa. Those numbers are good enough to get it done no matter how poor the rushing attack is. But 10 penalties and a 3 of 12 mark on third downs were drive killers all night.
POG: WR Brandon Arconado (12 catches, 130 yds, 1 TD)
Arconado put in a workman like effort against what is a very good Cal pass defense. He may not lead WSU in receiving this year, but it is hard to argue that he isn’t Gordon’s go-to guy when he needs to convert a critical down.
Next Up: vs Stanford
9. Stanford (4-5, 3-4)
Stanford 13, Colorado 16
I toyed for a moment with dropping Stanford below the Buffs given the outcome of the game. However, the Cardinal still have a decent chance at bowl eligibility given that their final two PAC games are against WSU and Cal.
But the margin for error has essentially evaporated. The Cardinal are playing decent enough defense, but continue to struggle on the offensive line of scrimmage. Subpar o-line play has completely nullified what is an average (but developing) RB corps and put KJ Costello in a position to forgo plays that take longer to develop. Thus, guys like Colby Parkinson and Semi Fehoko just aren’t having much of an impact. David Shaw has precious little time left to figure this out.
POG: P / PK Ryan Sanborn (2/3 FGs, 43.3 ypp average)
Few teams develop the kind of placekicking depth required to cover up for a season ending injury to a kicker. Such is the case at Stanford where star Jet Toner has been out for the last few weeks and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Freshman Ryan Sanborn therefore is now both the punter and the kicker. Against Colorado, he certainly did his best to keep his team in the game with the kicking game. Sure, it would have been great if he hadn’t missed a FG attempt, but he still more than carreid his weight double-hatting for the Cardinal.
Next Up: at Washington St
8. California (5-4, 2-4) ▲
WSU 20, Cal 33
Devon Modster returned to the lineup against WSU and finally showed up as the quarterback many of us thought he would be when he originally signed with UCLA a few years ago. Modster stretched the field with his arm and made plays with his legs in what was his best game as a collegiate quarterback.
The offensive explosion took some pressure off of a Cal defense that for most of the season has played under the pressure of having to deliver near perfect output in order to give the Bears a chance to win. The defense still looked good - particularly on third down - but wasn’t quite as dominating as they have been against conference teams not named Utah.
POG: QB Devon Modster (16/24, 230 yds, 3 TDs passing, 43 yds rushing, 1 TD rushing)
The stats speak for themselves. Modster was aggressive, accurate and efficient in a monster game.
Next Up: vs Washington State
7. Oregon State (4-5, 3-3)
Washington 19, Oregon State 7
Losing to Washington isn’t necessarily a source of concern for a Beaver team that is clearly on the upswing. What is of concern is how fundamentally dominated that Beaver offensive line was for most of the game. Despite having similar troubles against Utah’s d-line a few weeks ago, I don’t think Jonathan Smith quite expected UW’s front four to cause so many problems for his unit. But 3.1 yards per pass attempt, four sacks surrendered and 8 total yards of offense generated in the second half pretty much tell the whole story.
What shouldn’t be overlooked is how good OSU’s defense looked. Hardcore analysts will note the litany of issues that UW had in executing their own offense. But there can be no doubt that the level of activity and the physicality of the Beavers D is at a whole new level when benchmarked against the team we saw a year ago. I was particularly impressed with Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Omar Speights and Elu Aydon.
POG: ILB Omar Speights (18 tckls, 1.5 TFL)
The freshman ILB is quickly becoming the future of this OSU defense. The 18 tackles are obviously a career high (second straight week with double digit tackles). Even more impressive to me is how he managed to stay disciplined despite all of the looks that a Chris Petersen offense throws at an opposing LB. Keep an eye on Speights.
Next Up: vs ASU
6. Arizona State (5-4, 2-4) ▼
USC 31, ASU 28
ASU was hit with a little adversity before their game against USC even started. True freshman Jayden Daniels was unable to go with a foot injury sustained during this last game. That meant freshman Joey Yellen would get a turn.
Yellen wasn’t horrible, but he couldn’t make enough plays for ASU to come all the way back from the 28 point first quarter that their defense surrendered to the Trojans.
The Sun Devils finish up the season with both the Oregon schools before their Territorial Cup matchup with the Wildcats. There is still a pretty good chance at 7 wins and even possibly an upset over the Ducks (who have to travel to Tempe).
POG: S Evan Fields (4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR)
Coming back in any game almost always involves getting extra possessions for your offense. Fields did his best with two turnovers generated.
Next Up: at Oregon State
5. Washington (6-4, 3-4) ▲
Washington 19, Oregon State 7
Husky fans have been craving a return to dominance by Jimmy Lake’s defense all season. On Friday night, they got just that. I noted above some of the stats that jumped out. Not quite as obvious from the stats was the completeness of the effort at all levels. Edefuan Ulofoshio was active in his new role at ILB, Levi Onwuzurike was creating penetration in the middle of the line, Joe Tryon was creating havoc on the perimeter and Keith Taylor along with Trent McDuffie were taking star WR Isaiah Hodgins completely out of the game. The net effect was a shutout pitched by the defense on a scoreboard that was only marred by a Jacob Eason pick six in the third quarter.
Of course, this is the Huskies we are talking about. In what has become a frustrating and somewhat cursed season, the Dawgs still couldn’t put together that vaunted “complete game”. Offensively, a career night by Salvon Ahmed (174 yds, 2 TDs) was overshadowed by a total offense that struggled against what is one of the lower ranked defenses in the country. 19 points generated is not the kind of output the coaches were expecting. Troubles in the passing game with poor receiver play and inconsistent QB performance continue to plague the team.
Still, UW is now bowl eligible and in a position to try to get some players back to health as they move into their second BYE week. With the extra practices coming up, one wonders if some experimenting with roles for guys like Terrell Bynum and Ty Jones will be investigated. We shall see.
POG: DE Joe Tryon (7 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2.5 sacks)
Hard to argue with what statistically was the best game of Tryon’s career. Even more impressive to me was the discipline that Tryon demonstrated. The way he stayed home and sniffed out that screen play to create a fourth down turnover on downs at the end of the first quarter was a sight to behold for those of us who have wondered when the light bulb might turn on for this talented young player.
Next Up: BYE
4. UCLA (4-5, 4-2)
UCLA continues to keep hope alive for a division championship even if bowl eligibility seems like a more reasonable goal for the red hot Bruins. Interestingly, they don’t even have to win all of their final three games to have a shot at the South. That is thanks in part to a backloaded schedule that has them traveling to Utah and USC the next two weeks. There is still a bunch to play for in Westwood.
3. USC (6-4, 5-2)
USC 31, ASU 28
The Trojans exploded offensively to open their game against ASU to the tune of 28 points punctuated by a 95 yard bomb from Kedon Slovis to Amon-ra St. Brown. They then spent the remaining three quarters struggling to hold on to that lead.
I have to admit, I wasn’t totally sure that they were going to be able to sustain. But with just enough of their key contributors returning to health (notably Talanoa Hufanga), the Trojans D found a way. And in doing so, they kept their South division hopes alive and kicking.
We can debate who between Utah and USC has the easier schedule to close things out, but I will note that the Trojans have just two games (Cal, UCLA) to play while Utah has three (UCLA, Arizona Colorado). With new AD Mike Bohn paying attention, Clay Helton will have a chance to win the South and keep his job.
POG: DE Christian Rector (4 tckls, 1 INT)
With apologies to Kenan Christon, sometimes the player of the game is the person who makes the play of the game. With ASU driving and positioning themselves for a game-tying FG - or more - Rector created a brilliant self-tipped interception to preserve the win and to keep USC one Utah loss away from taking back control of the South.
Next Up: at Cal
2. (8) Utah (8-1, 5-1)
The Utes definitely needed the BYE week to heal up after a tough win over UW the week before. With three to play, they control their own destiny in the South. But one slip up could open the door for a USC team that owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Next Up: vs UCLA
1. (6) Oregon (8-1, 6-0)
Technically speaking, the Ducks still haven’t locked up the North as the Beavers still have a mathematical shot. But “math” and “reality” are not always copacetic. With a magic number of 1, expect the Ducks to win the North this week.
Next Up: vs Arizona