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PAC 12 Recap, Overreactions and Power Rankings, Week 5

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The Huskies cruise, Cal surprises and WSU did something that will never be done again.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that didn’t take long.

One week into full-blown conference play and the insanity that is the PAC 12 produced:

  • an epic 32 point, come from behind, all-time Coug-it
  • the most points scored in a conference game. Ever. (same game)
  • a record-setting 9 TD passes by one QB ... in a game he lost (same game)
  • losses by three of the four ranked conference teams that played unranked conference teams
  • an officiating controversy involving PAC 12 refs calling a game in SEC territory
  • road wins by every single PAC 12 team that traveled on Saturday
  • home losses by every single PAC 12 team that ate home cooking on Saturday

To be completely honest, I’m exhausted just thinking about how I’m going to work this all in to today’s Power Rankings recap.

Overreactions of the Week

The Cougs committed the ultimate Coug It of all time.

Technically, this is true. Washington State will now forever be known as the team that lost a conference game when...

... opening the game as 18 point home favorites

... leading by 32 points in the second half

... their starting QB set a record with nine TD passes

... they recorded 720 yards of total offense

... they surrendered 50 points in one half to another team

There is zero doubt about it. This was an astoundingly epic loss. But for a program that as a top ten team lost by 34 points to a hapless Cal team in 2017 ... who melted down in a 45-42 loss to Eastern in 2016 ... and who derped away a sure win over hapless Portland State in 2015, this is hardly new territory for Cougar nation. It simply adds to the fabric of what it means to be a Coug.

The Utes are done.

Utah will have a difficult time overcoming their 30-23 loss to USC on Friday night. That much is certain.

The South looks like a two team race between the Utes and the Trojans. Utah’s loss essentially equates to spotting the Trojans a two game lead with USC having just seven more conference games to go. However keep in mind that the reason so many people love Utah this year in addition to their D-line is their schedule. The Utes will play on the road just three more times this season and two of those games are against Oregon State and Arizona (like USC, they also travel to UW). USC, on the other hand, has five more road trips to make (four in conference) not to mention a home game against Oregon.

I’m not ready to conclude that USC won’t let Utah back into the race over the next several weeks.

Parity in the conference is a bad thing.

I watched a lot of PAC 12 football this weekend. More than usual thanks in part to my wife and daughter taking a girls road trip and leaving me home with the dogs. As such, I was able to pick up on a few interesting tidbits.

Firstly, last weekend was the first weekend in which ESPN carried a UW game (which they promptly botched by broadcasting Pitt vs UCF on both ESPN 2 and ABC in the South and Midwest). It was also the first weekend that ESPN had to contend with a conference other than the SEC having six teams in the top 25.

What ensued was a network wide debate that started on College Gameday and spread across at least three different broadcasts that I observed. The question on the table was this: “would you rather be the ACC with a great team on top or the PAC 12 with depth in the conference?”

I’m not really sure who the “you” was in that question or what the criteria was for evaluating options in answering that question. However, that the narrative coming from ESPN (of all places) started with the assumption that the PAC 12 is a “deep” conference is a huge step forward from the past narratives that this conference has had to contend with.

The first full week of conference play was a reminder to everybody at how common it is for this conference to feast upon itself. But if the narrative has now shifted to one where said feasting is a result of good teams playing one another weekly as opposed to the bad teams simply derping all over themselves, it is likely that the better teams may well be treated better in the rankings and, as such, future CFP discussions. While it may not help the UW’s, Utah’s and Oregon’s this year, conference parity may not be such the drag on conference perception as it has been the last few.

The Cool Chart

Pac 12 Power Rankings, Week 4
Chris Landon

The PAC 12 Power Rankings - after Week 4

12. Oregon State (1-2) ▼

BYE

It’s tough to fall a spot when you didn’t even play a game. Alas, life is not fair. But this weekend’s visit by Stanford all of a sudden looks like a winning opportunity for Jonathan Smith and crew.

Next Up: vs Stanford

11. Stanford (1-3, 0-2) ▼

#16 Oregon 21, Stanford 6

It is true that Stanford has played a brutal schedule to date. But it is also true that nothing is going right in a season that is trending worse than any since Jim Harbaugh took over in Palo Alto in 2007.

Stanford did look better at home against Oregon than they did on the road against UCF the week before. I thought that the defensive front seven more than held its own against the overhyped Oregon offensive line by limiting the Oregon rushing attack to just 2.1 ypc (and less than four after adjusting for sacks). I also think that the secondary mostly played well save for a few breakdowns that unfortunately all turned into points.

But, man, the Cardinal offense is lost. KJ Costello had another ugly day at QB hitting just 16 of 30 for a paltry 120 yards and a pick. That is an 11.7 QBR in case you don’t want to do the math. In addition, the offensive line gave up five sacks and managed to support a mediocre 4.1 ypc rushing. The net result was just two field goals.

David Shaw and his team have a whole lot of soul searching in front of them. It’s gut check time.

POG: LB Casey Toohill (8 tckls, 2 sacks)

The veteran Stanford linebacker was on point for harassing Oregon QB Justin Herbert. Mission accomplished. His two sacks and handful of pocket penetrations kept Herbert uneasy in the pocket most of the game.

Next Up: at Oregon State

10. UCLA (1-3, 1-0) ▲

UCLA 67, #22 WSU 63

I’m not sure where to even begin on this one other than to give credit where credit is due. How many teams are going to have the mental wherewithal to fall behind 49-17 in the third quarter and still find a way to win?

UCLA v Washington State
DTR sparked the greatest comeback in PAC 12 history
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

That kid of stuff just doesn’t happen. But it did for Chip Kelly and UCLA.

If you want to give some credit to Lady Luck, I won’t stop it. UCLA definitely got some breaks. But that does not diminish what the special teams and the offense did to turn this game around. Embattled QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson racked up 507 yards on just 38 pass attempts and threw for 5 TDs. WR / KR Demetric Felton was electric. And veteran WR Chase Cota averaged 37 yards per catch to help spark the comeback.

I feel the need to bump UCLA a bit here. Unfortunately, they still have a defense that surrendered 720 yards in offense and 9 TD passes to WSU. Those kinds of numbers make even the Oregon State D blush and dampen my enthusiasm just a tad.

POG: WR Demetric Felton (9 recs, 150 yds, 2 KR, 100 KR yds, 3 total TDs)

I’ve highlighted Felton in this space before. And now I’m going to advise you to pay attention. This kid can flat out ball. He’s versatile. He’s fast. He’s surprisingly strong. He can play anywhere on the field. His 100 yard KR kept UCLA in the game in the 2nd quarter and his 94 yard TD reception electrified his sideline as the comeback mounted.

Next Up: at Arizona

9. Arizona (2-1)

BYE

We are going to need an abacus to keep track of all the points Arizona and UCLA might score this weekend.

Next Up: vs UCLA

8. Arizona State (3-1, 0-1) ▼

Colorado 34, #23 Arizona State 31

Just when you think you have the Sun Devils pegged as a defensive-oriented team who will play the scoreboard close and win the game at the end with their rushing attack, a game like this happens. The script got flipped as ASU’s defense failed them against a Colorado team that played most of the day without Laviska Shenault Jr but still managed to put up 475 yards of total offense.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Colorado at Arizona State
Sometimes, you just have to let Steven be Steven.
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That was just too much offense for ASU QB Jayden Daniels to make up on his own. The composed true freshman still managed to put up 345 yards passing (much of it coming in a crazy 21 point second quarter). But it wasn’t enough.

The Sun Devils got a little bit of a spark out of Eno Benjamin (2 TDs) and their rushing attack on Saturday. That might be something to build on as we all get a sense of Daniels’ limitations.

POG: WR Brandon Aiyuk (9 recs, 122 yards, 1 TD)

Aiyuk, a senior, is clearly Daniels’ top target. He had 6 more receptions than the second leading pass catcher for ASU with double the yardage.

Next Up: at #15 Cal (Fri)

7. Colorado (3-1, 1-0) ▲

Colorado 34, Arizona State 31

Is Mel Tucker loosening the reigns a little bit?

The Colorado coach has been maniacal about establishing the run as the center piece of his offense. However, on the road against ASU (and with Laviska Shenault missing all but a couple of plays due to a new injury), Tucker let QB Steven Montez air it out a little bit. The result was 23 of 30 passes completed, over 11 yards per attempt and three TD tosses.

Not too bad.

If the Buffs can harness the power of their passing attack, and if they can get Shenault back in short order, they may be able to hang around in the South for a while.

POG: QB Steven Montez (23 of 33, 337 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs)

This is a classic “good Steven” kind of game. And the Buffs needed it.

Next Up: BYE

6. Washington State (3-1, 0-1) ▼

UCLA 67, #22 WSU 63

I know that there are going to be many readers of this column who will be thinking to themselves that this must be the “real” Washington State. I’d be careful of reading too much into what was a spectacular loss for WSU at home against UCLA.

The key for me is the turnovers. QB Anthony Gordon (I still can’t get my head around 9 TD passes) threw for two picks in 61 attempts (not great, but not horrible). It was the five fumbles (four from the WSU offense) that resulted in five UCLA recoveries that really altered the outcome of this game. For any team to lose all five opportunities to recover a loose ball in a single game is extremely poor luck and hardly indicative of some kind of structural issue that one might expect to show up repeatedly for the remainder of the season.

What really is jumping out for me right now is that this iteration of Mike Leach’s Air Raid is trending towards being his best one. Ever. And that has me nervous.

That said, WSU now has a conference loss and some serious question marks around a defense that played undisciplined, lacked havoc and couldn’t tackle. That they have to find a way to absorb this loss while preparing for a road trip to Salt Lake sullies the immediate outlook for this team.

POG: WR Easop Winston Jr. (10 rec, 114 yards, 4 TDs)

I’m not sure what is more amazing to me: the fact that Winston caught four TDs or that he was the only WSU receiver to go over 100 yards on a night that his QB threw for 570. Either way, it was a great game for Winston.

Next Up: at #19 Utah

5. (19) Utah (3-1, 0-1) ▼

#10 Utah 23, USC 30

As I noted above, the USC loss was a gut punch to be sure. I was particularly surprised at how Utah elected to defend the Trojans and their Air Raid. For the first two series, Utah brought pressure with four, and sometimes five, leaving their back end to try to cover those excellent Trojan receivers with man coverage. It wasn’t until the third series when the Utes mixed in some zone with seven or eight guys dropping that they generated some resistance.

And even still they often went back to the five man pressures.

I’m going to pin this loss on a really poor game plan and, perhaps, an overhyped defensive secondary. The rest of the Utes play looked pretty good to me. The offense was, I thought, very efficient both in how they attacked the perimeter with their rushing attack and how they passed the ball. QB Tyler Huntley had one of the best games I’ve ever seen in his long Utah career. But a shoulder injury suffered by Zack Moss (which is likely to keep him out for the next month or so) seemed too much for the offense to overcome.

POG: QB Tyler Huntley (210 yards passing, 60 yards rushing, 1 TD)

The stats didn’t really tell the story here. But the turf stains all over Huntley’s uniform did. Huntley played one of the grittiest games I’ve seen out of a PAC 12 QB in the last several years. Whether it was by arm, by audible or by foot, Huntley just seemed to keep making the plays his team needed him to make. It was one of those games where sliding just wasn’t an option for him. It was impressive.

Next Up: vs Washington State

4. (21) USC (3-1, 2-0) ▲

#10 Utah 23, USC 30

The Trojans, despite a huge win, now have a QB problem.

Third-string RS junior Matt Fink, who just weeks ago was about to transfer to Illinois, is all that now stands between USC and a complete offensive break down. At the time of this writing, it was not clear how severe a concussion true freshman QB Kedon Slovis absorbed as a result of that crushing tackle by Utah NT Leki Fotu, but it looked bad. For the time being, I’m going to assume it’s Fink.

The good news is that the USC junior looks up to the task. He was more than up to it in leading the Trojans to a rousing upset over Utah. His arm accounted for three TDs and 357 of USC’s 381 total yards. If there were any concern, it would be the fact that the Trojans still can’t seem to generate a rushing attack (although, to be fair, Utah seemed intent on taking that away).

I’m still not totally sure what to think of the USC defense. They were very strong up the middle against Utah. But the total lack of discipline on the outer edges and the ridiculous penalties they committed have me unclear on what the ceiling really is for this unit.

POG: S Talanoa Hufanga (14 tckls, 1 sack, 1 TFL)

With apologies to both Fink and DT Marlon Tuipulotu who were both fantastic, this night belonged to Hufanga. The Corvallis native (his brother played for OSU) put on a clinic on safety play and was seen flying all over the field. It was like watching Taylor Rapp just in the wrong uniform. A remarkable game for Hufanga.

Next Up: at #17 Washington

3. (17) Washington (3-1, 0-1) ▲

#13 Washington 45, BYU 19

Washington made a huge statement against BYU not because of the stats that they racked up but because of how some of the things that had just been a little off through the first three games all came together.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Washington at BYU
Jacob Eason was essentially perfect in his start against BYU.
Photo by Boyd Ivey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

At the top of the list was QB Jacob Eason who played flawlessly in what will be UW’s most difficult road trip for the year. We also saw the much maligned WR Aaron Fuller have a huge bounceback game. We saw the rest of the receivers stop dropping the ball. We saw downhill running as Richard Newton and Sean McGrew filled in for an injured Salvon Ahmed. We saw dominant trench play. We saw Myles Bryant and Elijah Molden flat out flying everywhere. And we even saw a recovered fumble (two, in fact) - something UW hadn’t done since the Apple Cup. Brandon Wellington even housed one just for good measure.

This isn’t to say that UW is in perfect shape. But they are battle-tested now and they are peaking just as their first ranked opponent comes to town.

POG: QB Jacob Eason (24 of 28, 290 yards, 10.4 YPA, 3 TDs, 1 INT)

Many of the nitpicks I had about Eason related to some of his slow reads and choppy timing with UW’s receivers were Thanos-snapped last weekend. Eason was essentially perfect in shredding BYU’s defense and, in doing so, he elevated the games of guys like WR Aaron Fuller and WR Andre Baccellia. He also elevated his draft status in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Next Up: vs #21 USC

2. (15) California (4-0, 1-0) ▲

#23 Cal 28, Ole Miss 20

Raise your hand if you calculated in the preseason that Cal would go the furthest into the season as an undefeated PAC 12 team. With road trips to Seattle and Oxford in their first four, I’m guessing that pretty much none of you saw a 4 and 0 start in the cards for Justin Wilcox and his team.

Surprise!

It may have taken a weird lightning storm and even more weird reffing to get it done, but the Cal Bears are, as of now, the standard bearer in the conference. In their win over Ole Miss, they continued to show that defensive prowess, particularly among the back seven, that is the identity of the team. I also have to say that I was deeply impressed with the play of the offensive line on the road. They were stonewalling Ole Miss throughout the entire game in a way that I would have never expected. Their work gave QB Chase Garbers a pocket to operate from and unlocked all of Cal’s points in what was a huge win for the Bears and the conference.

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

Sure, the stats tell the story. But even more than that does the eyeball. Weaver absolutely dominated that road trip to Oxford and was easily the best player on the field all the way up until his game saving, goal line tackle as time expired. He’s Cal’s POG for the third straight week.

Next Up: vs Arizona St (Fri)

1. (13) Oregon (3-1, 1-0) ▲

#16 Oregon 21, Stanford 6

It is ok if you want to consider Oregon a “temporary” #1, or a “flawed” #1. In reality, that is what they are. Don’t get me wrong. They’ve earned this spot. The defense continues to roll and has now gone three straight games without surrendering a touchdown. They’ve done much of that with a great pass rush that so far has produced 15 sacks on the season - tops in the conference. At the same time, the Justin Herbert to Jacob Breeland connection seems to be all that this offense needs.

But there are some red flags. The vaunted offensive line of Oregon has hardly played up to their potential. This is particularly true in the rushing attack where their 4.4 ypc is middle of the PAC and their 2.1 yards per carry against Stanford was a bit of eye opener. I’m also not sure what to make of the injury situation at WR where, as of yet, neither Juwan Johnson or Brenden Schooler have yet to return to the field. Oregon is going to need those guys and a running game once the competition stiffens up. A BYE week should help that.

POG: CB Thomas Graham Jr (9 tcks, 2 PBUs)

The pass rush gets the credit, but Graham really stood out against Stanford. He seems to really be improving his run support as indicated by his career high 9 tackles. He’s also growing into a true shutdown corner.

Next Up: BYE