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PAC 12 Week 3 Recap, Overreactions and Power Rankings

The PAC 12 pecking order begins to establish itself as conference play commences

NCAA Football: Idaho State at Utah Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

The chips are falling into place as the PAC 12 begins to shift its focus towards conference play. Here is what we know so far:

Teams behind where we expected:

  • Washington
  • UCLA
  • Stanford

Teams pretty much where we expected them:

  • Oregon State
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • USC
  • Oregon

Teams ahead of where we expected them:

  • Cal
  • Arizona State
  • Washington State

All in all I’d say that the PAC is actually holding its own pretty well in light of happenings across the other conferences. The ACC is a total sh*tshow right now. The SEC is having some trouble with its lower tier teams ... and Florida. The Big Ten has three teams (Northwestern, Nebraska and Michigan State) that have losses to PAC 12 teams.

All of this chaos has resulted in several PAC teams that were afterthoughts or undervalued making moves in the polls. Just this week, Cal and ASU entered the top 25. At the same time, Utah and WSU continue to climb. UW and Oregon are hanging on despite their one-loss status making it half of the conference in the Top 25 right now.

Overreactions of the Week

The PAC is BACK, baby.

While it is exciting to see the PAC have six teams in the polls, I can’t help but to point out that conference play hasn’t really started yet. Of the few games we’ve seen, the “eating their young” dynamic so typical for this conference has already started to play out. As we go forward, look for teams like USC, Stanford and Arizona to extract their pounds of flesh from the higher ranked teams. It’s inevitable.

I do think that the overall play of the conference is getting better. However, it will be difficult to convince a national audience of that once the middle of the PAC teams start hanging surprising losses on some of the higher ranked teams. Parity is not valued by ESPN or the legion of writers/analysts that vote in these polls. So declaring that the PAC “is back” - at least in terms of conference prestige - seems premature. At least until we see if the conference can produce a pair of one or two loss teams for the PAC 12 Championship.

Clay Helton is right back on the hot seat.

The sudden (and, let’s admit it, unexpected) firing of Lynn Swann as the AD at USC doesn’t really matter. The loss to BYU has nothing to do with it. Clay Helton is not going back on the hot seat.

He was never off of it.

For better or for worse, the Trojan family sees themselves as the rightful heirs of the PAC 12 throne. That said, in the last ten years, USC has won exactly one PAC 12 Championship (ironically, the season before last under Helton). Contrast that with Oregon (3), Stanford (3) and UW (2). That USC has had so little success has emboldened the boosters to think more creatively about the state of the program and to, possibly, accept a new reality.

I think it is now a certainty that USC will overhaul the athletic department by bringing in a real professional instead of some kind of ex-jock hack. This will certainly accelerate a changeover of the coaching staff. But that was happening anyway.

Play the young guys, coach.

The calling for heads among the Huskies veteran receivers has reached a fever pitch. The poor performances by Andre Baccellia and Aaron Fuller against Hawaii highlighted the continuing problems that UW receivers have with their routes and, consequently, getting open. That bigger athletes like Hunter Bryant and Puka Nacua can come in and seemingly established immediate rapport with Jacob Eason has Husky fans wondering openly why young talent like Austin Osborne and Marquis Spiker aren’t playing more. I’m sure a few of you are even thinking they ought to bring Alex Cook back to the offense.

Slow your roll there.

While I agree wholeheartedly that these receivers are not doing enough to be considered “good”, I also can’t ignore that Eason himself is still seemingly a step slow in decision-making and that overall timing may be affected. You could see the coaches doing everything they could to get Eason into a rhythm on Saturday by loading the play sheet up with short throws to the perimeter that not only serve to throw jabs at the D, but also get the QB into a groove.

QBs and WRs need practice reps together to get into rhythm with one another. If that isn’t happening, I’m not sure you are going to see better results by just forcing backups into playing time in games. The situation seems stickier than that. Though it does appear that at least Nacua is earning more practice reps indicating his time may be coming.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Power Rankings, Week 3
Chris Landon

The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 3

12. UCLA (0-3) ▼

#4 Oklahoma 48, UCLA 14

Look, I get that nobody in the PAC is really going to come out looking good after a head to head against a rising Oklahoma team. Those guys are a good team and Jalen Hurts looks like a legit Heisman candidate.

But, c’mon! A little pride ... at home! ... please!!!

There wasn’t as single unit - not one - that looked ready to compete with Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. Not the offense. Not the defense. Not the return teams. Not even the kickers. It was ugly.

UCLA exits non-con with zero wins and is my new 12th spot in the Power Rankings.

POG: TE Devin Asiasi (3 recs, 71 yards)

It wasn’t much, but Asiasi finally showed off his pass catching potential and, not surprisingly, UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson had his best-ish passing game of the season. UCLA is running a significantly different offense this year and featuring the tight end is probably something Chip Kelly wants to do more of.

Next Up: at #19 Washington State

11. Oregon State (1-2) ▲

Cal Poly 7, Oregon State 45

I know... “look at the competition, Landon”. But, let’s be honest, that is usually what we say about teams that play OSU, not about who OSU plays. That the Beavs buckled up and took care of business at home ... on both sides of the ball ... is a momentum creator.

Jermar Jefferson missed the game with a foot injury and that is concerning. But his absence just allowed us to get a better look at BJ Baylor, and he looked good with 101 rushing yards including a 78 yard TD run. QB Jake Luton was also efficient throwing for 4 TDs and 255 yards all in the first half (his 4 first half TDs, incidentally, tied an OSU team record).

POG: WR Champ Flemings (5 recs, 142 yards, 2 TDs)

Most 5’5”, 142 lb football players are probably people who would be better off doing something other than playing football. But Flemings balled out in a big way on Saturday. His two TDs were both of the “spectacular” variety including this 48 yard bomb:

Next Up: BYE

10. Colorado (2-1) ▼

Air Force 30, Colorado 23

The good news? Laviska Shenault seemed to rematerialize as a major factor after two previous subpar weekends. The bad news? The bubble may have burst on the Colorado hype train after a second straight game where a major comeback was required just to get into overtime.

I think the big challenge that Colorado faced against Air Force, and one that they’ll likely face all year, is that their rushing attack doesn’t frighten anyone even though Mel Tucker wants to emphasize it. The consequence is a tamping down on the bigger threat of Colorado’s passing attack with guys like Shenault and KD Dixon getting extra attention and, by extension, fewer explosives. The formula worked for Air Force and should work for the PAC 12 teams on CU’s schedule.

POG: WR Laviska Shenault (8 recs, 148 yds, 1 TD / 3 rushes, 28 yds, 1 TD)

Classic Shenault game where he shows up as a threat to score both as a pass catcher and a runner.

Next Up: at #24 Arizona State

9. Arizona (2-1) ▲

Texas Tech 14, Arizona 28

I don’t want to overreact to just one game, but that was some good old-fashioned, tough-guy football we saw out of Kevin Sumlin’s team in their win over Matt Wells’s Texas Tech team late on Saturday night. And if you have any doubts about it, go check out the 99-yard, fourth quarter TD drive and the sequence that Arizona had where they ran the ball 13 straight times. That was some big-boy stuff right there.

It was also pretty interesting to see the Arizona defense stand tall against a legit Big 12 opponent. Fearing the TTU pass offense, the Wildcats didn’t do much along the lines of bringing pressure. Instead, they featured their defensive back end and forced the Red Raiders into making mistakes. The end result was that Texas Tech QB Alan Bowman earned just 5.5 yards per attempt and threw more INTs (2) than TDs (1).

POG: CB Lorenzo Burns (6 tckls, 1 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 INT)

With apologies to Khalil Tate (who had a great game) and RB Gary Brightwell (who seems to be taking more snaps from JJ Taylor), I thought the unit of the game was UA’s secondary led by Burns. He was very impressive.

Next Up: BYE

8. Stanford (1-2, 0-1) ▼

Stanford 27, #17 UCF 48

QB KJ Costello came back just in time for Stanford to take on UCF in Florida. The conditions may have been wrong for the Stanford QB as he was simply awful passing for just 21 of 44 with a paltry 4.4 yards per attempt. A long flight and the muggy Florida heat may have been too much for a QB coming off of concussion protocol. He ultimately had to be replaced by backup Davis Mills in what might portend a mini QB controversy in Palo Alto (which adds to the RB controversy that may come after seeing Austin Jones replace Cameron Scarlett and do something more than average 3 ypc).

Stanford v Central Florida
David Shaw is starting to tire of congratulating opposing QBs for beating his team.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

I can excuse the offense because of that. But the defense?

My hopes for the Stanford D were higher this year. Particularly in the front seven where veterans like Jovann Swann and Casey Toohill were being joined by some exciting young players like Ricky Meizan and Jordan Fox. I also thought Paulson Adebo was a DPOY candidate. All of it looked worse than garbage on Saturday in what has to be one of David Shaw’s most disappointing moments as the Stanford head coach.

POG: P Ryan Sanborn (7 punts, 290 yds)

Sometimes I pick the punter as POG when he does something special. Sometimes I pick him because nobody else deserves it. This is more the latter. However, I shudder to think how bad this score could have gotten without Sanborn’s 41.4 yards per kick. He had a good game.

Next Up: vs #16 Oregon

7. USC (2-1) ▼

USC 27, BYU 30

Watching USC flail against BYU was hard to watch. And, make no mistake that this was a game USC lost as opposed to BYU winning. Much of it was on the predictably inconsistent play of freshman QB Kedon Slovis who threw for two back breaking interceptions.

But the Frankenstein nature of this offense is what shocked me. With Slovis and the air attack struggling against the BYU dime, USC’s Graham Harrell tried to establish the run with Vavae Malepai and Markese Stepp (where is Stephen Carr?). But he got bubkis out of it which is surprising given that BYU has one of the lowest ranked rush defenses in the NCAA when they aren’t in dime coverage. The Trojan o-line just looked slow.

The defense looked ok and the receivers were sharp. Chalk this one up to the growing pains that come with a freshman QB at the helm.

POG: Michael Pittman Jr (9 recs, 95 yds, 2 TDs)

Workman like effort from Pittman. You’d normally like to see more YAC from a guy like that, but some of the issue rests with Slovis and his ball placement. Still a great game for Pittman.

Next Up: vs Utah (Fri)

6. (24) Arizona State (3-0) ▲

ASU 10, #23 Michigan State 7

The confidence of true freshman Jayden Daniels grows with every one of these wins. Let’s be honest, they are not pretty. But going into East Lansing and beating any Michigan State team, much less a ranked one, is no joke. That’s a legit win.

Daniels had to rely more on his legs than his arm to get those ten points. The ASU offensive line is not doing him nor RB Eno Benjamin (who looks a step slow to me) any favors. Fortunately, Daniels does seem to have a calm under pressure that belies his experience. That and his defensive counterparts are holding up their end of the bargain.

Run defense was the secret to ASU’s success on Saturday. They limited the Spartans to just 3.2 yards per rush and kept MSU behind the sticks all night long. That effort made MSU one dimensional enough that it was difficult for them to string drives together.

I’m not ready to say that ASU is “for real”. But this brand of managing the defense through optimizing points per possession and limiting mistakes on offense by keeping things simple is definitely going to keep Herm Edwards’s team in each of their games going forward.

POG: S Cam Philips (6 tckls, 2 PBUs, 1 TFL)

It was really a team effort from the Sun Devil secondary. I liked Philips in particular for how well he supported the run from his safety position.

Next Up: vs Colorado

5. (22) Washington (2-1, 0-1) ▲

Hawaii 20, #23 UW 52

If the whole game had gone the way that the first half went, I think Husky fans would be a lot more excited about UW’s bounce back following Cal Debacle, the Sequel. But a third quarter that saw UW’s defense give Hawaii whatever they wanted serves as a reminder that while the Huskies may be blessed with some of the best athletes they’ve ever had on a team, the complexities of Chris Petersen’s program still take a long time to master. Mistakes will be made. Points will be surrendered. Offenses will stall.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Hawaii at Washington
Washington needs to see more turnover celebrations in order to sustain their momentum.
Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Huskies get one more tune-up opportunity and it is a big one. BYU is coming off of a huge win at home against USC and their fanbase is expecting to take down another PAC 12 power.

POG: DB Myles Bryant

I’m not posting Bryant’s stats here because they are irrelevant. Jimmy Lake made the choice to use Bryant more as a fourth rusher (shifting that responsibility away from Brandon Wellington). The net result was that Bryant became a holy terror who quite literally was everywhere on the field at seemingly the same time. It was like watching Neo in the Matrix. He was dialed in and has quickly emerged as the best player on the Husky D bar none.

Next Up: at BYU

4. (23) California (3-0, 1-0) ▲

North Texas 17, Cal 23

Cal definitely had a bit of a let down game against a better-than-you-think North Texas team. There is no doubt that the Cal faithful were hoping for something more akin to what they saw for exactly three offensive drives against UW than what they ended up getting against North Texas. In fact, that rushing attack that gashed UW so badly on those drives pretty much vanished last weekend. Marcel Dancy and Chris Brown Jr combined for a paltry 75 yards and a 3.0 YPC average.

Not good.

Still, this is kind of who Cal is. They are going to have quarters like they did in the first quarter against North Texas where they scored 20 points. And then they will have quarters like 2 through 4 where they manage just three total points. The constant is that defense and that is what they have to ride as they head out to Ole Miss.

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

It is true that Cal doesn’t win this game without Chase Garbers and his 70 yards rushing. But it is hard to give the POG to a QB that went 9 for 22 in the game. So we’ll go with Weaver. Again. For lack of better options.

Next Up: at Ole Miss

3. (16) Oregon (2-1) ▼

Montana 3, #11 Oregon 35

I’m dropping Oregon a spot because, as of now, WSU has done more to position itself for post-season glory than has Oregon. Obviously, both have their entire PAC 12 conference schedule ahead of them, but Oregon doesn’t seem to have really hit its stride yet.

It’s hard to glean much from scoring five touchdowns against Montana. Maybe its interesting that Troy Dye got 17 carries to CJ Verdell’s 6 ... or maybe its just about resting a banged up player.

It’s maybe just as hard to glean anything from a defense that allowed no touchdowns other than to say it certainly doesn’t look like that Ducks are lacking for any discipline on that side of the ball.

Injuries suffered to OL Jake Olson and DB Thomas Graham both bear watching. To lose either of those guys going on the road to a visit a hungry Stanford team would be significant.

POG: TE Jacob Breeland (5 recs, 49 yards, 2 TDs)

It’s hard to not recognize Breeland as the most dangerous TE in the conference this side of Hunter Bryant. He’s exceeded expectations through the first three weeks and is worthy of some recognition.

Next Up: at Stanford

2. (19) Washington State (3-0) ▲

#20 WSU 31, Houston 24

There seems to be some dissent amongst Husky fans about whether or not WSU put up a good effort under the Friday Night Lights. I think there is no question about it. For the Cougs to march into a “neutral” game played in the opponent’s backyard and to dominate a second half to win the game feels more like a team in mid-season form than one messing around with early season cleanup projects. That was a meaningful W for the Cougs.

Washington State v Houston
Anthony Gordon is off to a great start for the Cougs.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

It’s also getting hard to deny what Anthony Gordon is doing. He had another stellar effort and is now hitting on nearly 79% of his passes for the season. 79%!!! More importantly, he has the Cougs generating 10.3 yards per attempt - second in the conference to only (you’ll never guess it) Utah. To put that in context, WSU has never averaged more than 7.4 in any Mike Leach coached season. While there is still season left to play, at worst we can say that Gordon is “on track”. That worked out pretty well for WSU with Gardner Minshew last season.

POG: LB Jahad Woods (8 tckls, 1 sack, 2 PBUs, 2 QBHs)

A little love for the Coug D. Woods was very disruptive on Friday and seems to be coming into his own. I expect him to have a big game against an offensively challenged UCLA.

Next Up: vs UCLA

1. (10) Utah (3-0)

Idaho State 0, #11 Utah 31

Nothing to see here. These aren’t the Utes you are looking for. Move along.

Seriously, there is absolutely zero insight to be gained from Utah’s workman-like win against Idaho State. However, I think we can say that Utah is exactly where they need to be going it conference play. It will be interesting to see how the Utes D handles the new look USC offense.

POG: WR Bryan Thompson (2 recs, 105 yds, 2 TDs)

If you are going to only get a couple of balls to catch, you better make them count.

Next Up: at USC (Fri)