We are off and running!
The PAC 12 got the 2019 season off to a very PAC 12-ish kind of start by putting games into all sorts of non-traditional time slots in an effort to maximize exposure and give the nation something to talk about. We had a Week Zero game. We had Thursday night games. We had Friday night games. We had PAC 12 after dark games. In fact, we hit just about every time spot not including the much-debated 9 AM West coast time slot.
Interestingly enough, by the time the Huskies kicked off last Saturday in their traditional 12:30 PM PDT spot, the league had already seen seven of their 12 members play a game.
It is always dangerous to make general assumptions about teams after one game. This is especially true in Week 1 when the competition is often non-traditional and teams are working out the kinks of new schemes, new rotations, and opening weekend jitters. But here are some big themes that impressed me.
- The top projected teams in the PAC—Oregon, Utah, and Washington—clearly looked head and shoulders above the rest of the league. You could definitely make an argument that WSU put the rest of the league on notice that last year wasn’t a fluke, while Stanford showed that they are re-establishing their trench strength. But there weren’t any “out of the blue” surprise performances coming from the other half of the conference.
- Injuries are going to be an early-season factor across the league. Oregon played without most of their receiving corps and still almost beat Auburn. UCLA played without their three best players in Darnay Holmes, Theo Howard, and Joshua Kelley. USC and Stanford are already into their backup quarterbacks. Key offensive linemen like Walker Little (Stanford) and Nick Harris (Washington) are already dinged up. This is football and injuries are part of the game, but this feels like a lot after one week.
- The playoff hunt, which I covered in this time slot one week ago, has already shifted for in-contention PAC 12 teams. The loss by Oregon takes a possible Top 10-win opportunity away from Utah, WSU, and Washington. That hurts because the SEC is mounting a case to put in two teams this year with Georgia having those kinds of Top 10 opportunities forthcoming with Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida, and (now) Auburn all ahead of them. A one-loss PAC 12 champion is going to need to have some Top 10 wins if they want to win a tie-breaker selection against a second SEC team. Right now, those prospects are dim. But the season is still young and things will certainly change.
Conference Power Rankings
5. PAC 12
It wasn’t a brutal opening two weeks for the PAC. Stanford beat Northwestern and Oregon definitely gave Auburn everything they could handle. But there were just too many statement opportunities lost in the top teams’ games. On the flip side, the losses on the bottom half (UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State) were downright ugly.
Watching Willie Taggart’s team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Boise State after posting a 31-13 lead to start the game was stunning. Miami’s loss to Florida, though respectable, was an opportunity missed. But the ACC gets credit for already holding two conference games (BC beat Virginia Tech and Virginia beat Pitt) and for the North Carolina win over South Carolina. Still, this looks like Clemson’s conference once again.
3. Big Ten
Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State all demonstrated that they will be right back in the mix of things in what was a good weekend for the Big Ten. The only real blemishes were the Northwestern loss to Stanford and a lackluster effort by P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota team in a narrow win over South Dakota State.
2. Big 12
A perfect opening weekend and a resounding statement game from new Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts put the Big 12 squarely in the shotgun seat of the conference power rankings.
You can talk all about the rash of Week 1 upsets: Memphis beat Ole Miss, North Carolina beat South Carolina, Wyoming shocked Missouri, Georgia State stunned Tennessee. Even the manner in which Florida squeezed by Miami (in Week 0) was eye-raising.
But the truth is that all of the SEC’s ranked teams—Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M, and Auburn—won their games. All but Florida did so in impressive fashion. In the modern world of college football, conference power is defined by your best teams, not by the league as a whole. By the time the polls come out, six of the nation’s Top 15 teams will be coming out of the SEC.
The Cool Chart
The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 1
(*note: AP/Coaches Poll rankings have not been released at time of publication)
12. Oregon State (0-1)
Oklahoma State 52, Oregon State 36
Let’s just start this out by saying that Oklahoma State is pretty good. In fact, they are probably the most under-ranked team in the preseason AP poll.
Now, that being said...jeeeeeeesh! That was not the defensive performance that Jonathan Smith wanted to see to kick off his second season as a head coach. The Cowboys got everything they wanted whenever they wanted it against a physically and mentally overmatched OSU defense.
The good news is that the offense continues to look dangerous. QB Jake Luton went back to his familiar go-to guy in Isaiah Hodgins while RB Jermar Jefferson showed some toughness, though without the big numbers we’ve seen from him in the past.
POG: WR Isaiah Hodgins (9 catches, 172 yards, 2 TDs)
Hodgins is probably one of the top two or three receivers in the league right now. He’s right there with Laviska Shenault, and his numbers against a legit opponent support that.
Next Up: at Hawaii
11. UCLA (0-1) ▼
UCLA 14, Cincinnati 24
It’s always dangerous to overgeneralize after Week 1, but I can’t help noting just how awful UCLA looked. Granted, they were trying out some new things in the offensive playbook. In fact, Chip Kelly looked like he was running Chris Petersen’s playsheet. We saw tight ends. We saw shifts and motions. We saw unbalanced lines (into the boundary, no less). And—gasp—we saw UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson take a few snaps under center.
So, yeah, lots of new stuff going on that looked very un-Chip Kellyish.
That said, it all looked horrible, mostly because DTR looked horrible at QB. I can see why Chip Kelly wanted to start Colson Yankoff. DTR just lacks football instincts. He’s a great athlete, but he doesn’t make good reads and is inaccurate with the ball. When he does decide to run, he doesn’t really read blocks and seems hesitant. The end result was a low-percentage, low-yardage, four-turnover night for the UCLA signal caller.
The Bruins have some work to do.
POG: RB/WR Demetric Felton (162 total yards, 1 TD)
UCLA is dealing with some injuries right now, most notably to stars RB Joshua Kelley and WR Theo Howard. Thus, it might be premature to judge the offense. However, it was notable to see Felton rise up as both their best running back and their best wideout both in the same game. Watching how Chip Kelly used Felton, who started his career as a slot receiver, reminded me of the old De’Anthony Thomas days.
Next Up: San Diego State
10. Arizona (0-1) ▼
Arizona 38, Hawaii 45
Traveling to Hawaii is not an easy task. The trip is long. The climate is unusual for West Coast teams. The offense defended is novel. None of it bodes well for visiting teams, especially when that visitor is a Power 5 conference team with a marquee coach and a Heisman candidate.
That said, Arizona was pretty much what we thought they would be when we wrote about them over the summer. Their trench play was atrocious on both sides of the ball. The receivers (led by just-converted QB Jamarye Joiner) were sloppy. The DBs were not physical, especially after losing Lorenzo Burns to what looked like a concussion. It was brutal.
But the offense showed some signs of life. The most encouraging aspect of it all was Tate’s play. While it seemed like he was still trying to avoid contact most of the night, he showed a willingness to run that we didn’t see last year. Though he was a yard short, the 30-yard scamper to close the game one yard shy of the tying TD was thrilling. But until he gets some help, I’m down on the ‘Cats.
POG: S Christian Young (6 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Young didn’t have some of the stats that some of his other defensive colleagues had. But he had one play in the game where he took on 250#+ Hawaii RB Dwayne Furuta. He forced the fumble with a jarring hit and then recovered quickly to get back in the scrum and secure the loose ball. It was the one play all game where I saw maximum effort from an Arizona defender. To my eyes, he was the most all-in of UA’s players against Hawaii and my POG.
Next Up: Northern Arizona
9. Colorado (1-0) ▲
Colorado State 31, Colorado 52
Welcome to the Mel Tucker era. The Buffs opened the season with a rousing 52-point performance despite the fact that their opponents’ offense outgained theirs.
This is one of those games where the score doesn’t match the actual production. Colorado was definitely able to move the ball, but mostly with a focus on the ground game behind RB Alex Fontenot. QB Steven Montez had a subdued night (202 yards) while star WR Laviska Shenault (3 catches, 48 yds, 1 TD) was hardly involved. Still, give the Buffs credit: they had four TD drives of 75 yards and one of 68 against their in-state rival.
That defense? Well, let’s just say that they have some work to do after surrendering 505 yards in total offense to the Rams. ILB Nate Landman, who is BBK part II, had 11 tackles in an otherwise dismal defensive effort.
POG: RB Alex Fontenot (19 rushes, 125 yards, 3 TDs)
It was a great debut for Colorado’s new workhorse. Mel Tucker wants to run the ball. Fontenot performed well behind a Colorado O-line that was much better than I’d expected to see. We’ll see if this holds up with Nebraska on their way.
Next Up: Nebraska
8. Arizona State (1-0) ▲
Kent State 7, ASU 30
So, this happened on College Gameday before Week Zero games started:
Kirk Herbstreit picks #ASU football to win Pac-12 South ... Lee Corso picks Utah to play for national championship ... and away we go! @CollegeGameDay— jeffmetcalfe (@jeffmetcalfe) August 24, 2019
Fresh off of Kirk Herbstreit picking the Fighting Herms to play UW in the PAC 12 championship, ASU took on Kent State and Eno Benjamin’ed them into submission.
It was an odd, sloppy game at first as the Sun Devils tried to adjust to life without N’Keal Harry and Manny Wilkins, but they eventually found their footing. True freshman Jayden Daniels showed off his mobility and was able to partner up with WR Brandon Aiyuk in the passing attack.
Kent State is a horrible team. But this was still a sound start for a team pulling many new pieces together.
POG: WR Brandon Aiyuk (4 catches, 140 yards, 1 TD)
It was important for ASU to establish an alpha now that Harry has left the program. Aiyuk stepped up and clearly claimed the mantle as ASU’s new top gun.
Next Up: Savannah State (Fri)
7. USC (1-0) ▼
Fresno State 23, USC 31
Everything with the new USC Air Raid was going great. J.T. Daniels was efficient, having completed 13 of his first 16 passes. The receivers were responding by making catches and generating YAC. This Graham Harrell experiment was working...until a Fresno State blitz and a tangled mess of legs knocked USC’s star QB out for the season.
Welcome to the Kedon Slovis era, LA.
Slovis, a three-star prospect who was coached by Kurt Warner (the QB) in high school, beat out senior Matt Fink and knocked former 5-star Jack Sears into the transfer portal to get to this point. He looked like a deer in headlights against Fresno State. In fact, if you take away his one 41-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns, he was 5 of 7 for 16 yards. That’s just over two yards per attempt.
The rest of USC’s efforts against FSU looked decent. It was impressive to see how well the Trojans’ rushing attack responded to the loss of their top QB (though seeing Stephen Carr on the bench for most of the game was surprising). I also thought that USC’s special teams looked explosive and that their defense was okay (no sacks, but three forced turnovers including a game-saving interception by Isaiah Pola-Mao in the end zone).
This is going to be a different team in Week 2 than what we saw in Week 1.
POG: RB Vavae Malepeai (134 yards, 5.8 average, 1 TD)
Malepeai rallied his offense after the Daniels injury by setting a personal record for yards in a game. This was especially impressive given that the gameplan likely didn’t involve him carrying such a workload.
Next Up: (23) Stanford
6. California (1-0) ▲
UC Davis 13, Cal 27
It isn’t much, but a tuneup against UC Davis (which in all fairness is a good FCS program) is all the Bears get before traveling to Montlake for what is likely to be their most difficult game this season.
It is hard to glean much from what we saw against the Aggies. Chase Garbers beat out Devon Modster at QB and had an okay game (238 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT). Chris Brown Jr. impressed in the rushing attack, but otherwise got very little help. The defense also looked a little bit rusty, though 3.9 yards surrendered per play isn’t too shabby.
Cal is moving up mainly because of the movement that was in front of them. It’ll be really interesting to see how much sharper the Bears can get in practice as they prepare for the Washington trip.
POG: RB Chris Brown Jr. (36 carries, 197 yards, 1 TD)
With that many carries, I would have hoped to have seen a breakout run or two (his long was 26 yards). The fact that Brown had to carry the ball that many times against UC Davis is kind of eye-opening, but he acquitted himself well.
Next Up: at (#) Washington
5. (22) Washington State ▲
New Mexico State 7, #22 WSU 58
The Cougs pick up right where they left off from last year’s breakout campaign. The offense generated 611 total yards behind what was a very Coug-like performance with newly minted starter Anthony Gordon (5 TDs, 0 INTs) directing the offense.
Defensively, WSU was active and disruptive. They generated 3 sacks, 4 TFLs, 2 INTs and 2 FFs. Impressive even if the local fans were a bit disappointed to see the “bend don’t break” nature of it all.
I do think that along with UW, WSU had the most impressive opening weekend performance. I’m moving them up.
POG: QB Anthony Gordon (420 yards, 29 of 36, 5 TDs, 0 INTs)
Gordon put up a Minshew-esque performance after wrestling the starting QB role away from grad transfer Gage Gubrud. I get that NMSU isn’t a great bell-cow to compare against, but you can’t deny the results. He looks like he belongs in the role.
Next Up: Northern Colorado
4. (16) Oregon (0-1) ▼
#11 Oregon 21, #16 Auburn 27
There is no lost respect for Oregon after what was truly a gritty, thrilling effort against a good Auburn defense. The Ducks played with great energy, physicality, and moxie as they got out to an early lead. But their sloppiness caught up with them and their lack of depth/conditioning relative to their opponent became obvious in the third quarter as Auburn mounted the comeback that would eventually win the game.
I have to drop Oregon in the Power Rankings mostly because a trip to the CFP is now extremely unlikely. I also have a few new concerns about the roster than I did before this game. With so many injuries, the wide receiver depth is basically Jaylon Reed and Johnny Johnson for the time being. The rushing attack (just 23 yards on 21 carries between the second and fourth quarters) seems to hint that the Oregon O-line may not be quite the juggernaut that was advertised. The linebacking unit is smaller than I realized.
I’m also starting to get concerned that the drops issues that Oregon receivers experience might have more to do with Justin Herbert’s throws than previously thought. Against Auburn, many of his throws came out wobbly with the nose facing slightly down. Though he finished with 75% accuracy, he only managed 6.4 yards per completion as receivers dropped a couple of the long ones and rarely caught the completed passes in a position to generate YAC. Something to watch.
I was impressed with Andy Avalos and Oregon’s D overall. Though Oregon was committed to stacking the box and forcing Auburn’s true freshman QB to beat them through the air (which he was able to do at the end), the end result was a level of physicality and activity that we’ve not seen out of this Oregon defense in a long, long time. To see them run out of gas in the third quarter was surprising, but they were burning hot against a very good team.
POG: S Javon Holland (3 tackles, 1 INT, 131 yards in punt returns)
The stats didn’t tell the story, but if you watched the game your eyeballs did. Javon Holland had a breakout game. He was Oregon’s best player on the field and I’m not sure it was that close. His blitzes were disruptive, he was aggressive in man coverage, and he was a flat-out playmaker on special teams. It was one of the best performances I witnessed from any PAC 12 player all weekend.
Next Up: Nevada
3. (23) Stanford (1-0) ▲
#25 Northwestern 7, #24 Stanford 17
I’m bumping up Stanford in this week’s power poll only because their win over a ranked Northwestern team likely gives them a better CFP shot (however low) than Oregon. Thus, they technically meet the threshold of “having more in front of them” than does Oregon.
That said, Stanford paid a price for that narrow win over the Wildcats.
The Cardinal offense really struggled. Part of that was what we expected: Cameron Scarlett just isn’t the kind of guy who can be featured as a workhorse running back. Beyond that, a few unexpected things happened. Injuries to star QB K.J. Costello (in what is presumably a concussion) and all-everything LT Walker Little (leg) really sucked the wind out of Stanford’s sails. It remains unclear if either player will be back against USC. The highly touted Davis Mills finished the game for Costello, going 7 of 14 for 86 yards; not that great.
Fortunately, the Cardinal defense rose to the equation. I was impressed with their four forced turnovers, their 217 yards allowed against a legit Big Ten opponent, and their 5 of 14 third downs allowed. That they scored a defensive TD in such a close contest was icing on the cake.
POG: DB Paulson Adebo (5 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
Let the Adebo DPOY campaign begin. Adebo was brilliant in shutting down former Clemson 5-star QB Hunter Johnson and forcing Northwestern to bring in their backup as they searched for answers against a Stanford D that didn’t have to worry about supporting Adebo’s side of the field.
Next Up: at USC
2. (13) Utah (1-0)
#14 Utah 30, BYU 12
The Utes showed up in the Holy War exactly as advertised. The offense was a little sluggish, particularly in the first half, but found their way by riding RB Zack Moss (29 carries, 187 yards, 1 TD). Defensively, the Utes shined as they smothered BYU’s offense to the tune of 300 total yards and a pair of pick sixes.
Despite the easy win, I’m not sure we got answers to the questions we had. QB Tyler Huntley was efficient enough (13 of 16, no INTs), but put up just 106 yards passing and did little with his legs, leading to a mostly lethargic offense. The Utes generated just three drives (out of 11) where they strung together more than five plays in a row and there were no significant explosives mixed in.
I also didn’t think we saw the kind of disruption and speed in the Utah front seven (no sacks, though 6 TFLs) that people were forecasting. The new linebacking corps in particular, I thought, were not that effective though Francis Bernard had a few solid individual efforts. That said, I thought the secondary was fantastic as indicated by the two pick sixes and the six PBUs.
POG: S Julian Blackmon (5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PBU)
Blackmon played both safety and nickel against BYU. It was a great opening night for the converted corner.
Next Up: Northern Illinois
1. (14) Washington (1-0)
Eastern Washington 14, #13 UW 47
Remember all the teeth-gnashing we’ve had over the years about lethargic Week 1 appearances and slow starts to games in general? Well, welcome to Huskies 2.0. It’s a whole new era.
Even adjusting for the quality of opponent (although EWU is an elite FCS team), the Dawgs were able to answer most of the questions that kept people from fully jumping on the bandwagon over the summer. QB Jacob Eason was sublime in the pocket, demonstrated just about every throw in the book, executed with precision timing, and put up more than enough tape to substantiate his high recruiting rankings from a few years ago. His performance alone injects a level of confidence in UW’s prospects going forward to more than justify maintaining the Huskies in the 1-slot for this poll.
Beyond that, the Huskies answered some of the other questions people had. Yes, there was a semblance of a pass rush. Yes, we saw tackles for loss. Yes, Kyler Manu (and his fabulous porn-stache) started at ILB and was okay. Yes, the secondary is tall and athletic. Yes, the starting receivers looked good (and welcome back, Chico McClatcher). Yes, the RB depth was solid due in large part to an eye-popping debut from Richard Newton. Yes, the placekicking situation looked good with Peyton Henry splitting crossbars and Tim Horn smashing touchbacks.
But there are some new issues. For instance, we don’t yet know about the seriousness of the injury to Nick Harris. I also thought that the defense showed some lack of sharpness in managing assignments, particularly in blitz situations. The 64-yard TD pass (when was the last time UW gave up one of those?) came on a Myles Bryant blitz with the secondary totally confused about how they were supposed to cover. Those details will no doubt be addressed.
All in all, a very promising debut with Cal up next.
POG: QB Jacob Eason (349 yards, 4 TDs, 0 turnovers, 75% completion)
With all apologies to Myles Bryant and Benning Potoa’e, I have to go with Eason as the POG. All of the doubt surrounding him, the media scrutiny over his ascension, and the controversy surrounding the competition and the subsequent Jake Haener departure have put a ton of pressure on the new Husky QB. On Saturday, he took that monkey off his back, led it out to the woodshed and blew its head off. He demonstrated to everyone what his potential looks like and is now clearly the face of the program.
Next Up: California