Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinal Lead the Way

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 11:46 AM

Welcome to the fourth (official) week of the college football season, better known as the unofficial opening weekend of conference play in the Pac-12.

It's been a no good, ugly year so far for most of the conference, with last week's disastrous defeats by Southern California (to the University of Texas) and ASU (to San Diego State) sucking the air out of an already well-worn cadre.

The relative winners last Saturday, in Oregon, Stanford, California, Colorado, Washington State and Arizona did so by beating up a litany of middling squads.

It's hard to get too worked up about your team's potential when you beat one of the following colleges: University of California-Davis (Stanford), San Jose State (Oregon), New Hampshire (Colorado), Eastern Washington (Washington State) and Southern Utah (Arizona).

Three of those teams compete in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as 1-AA), with UC-Davis, New Hampshire and Southern Utah combining to go 23-14 in the lower level of competition, with Oregon surviving against a mediocre San Jose State team at home.

It's arguable that the lone quality win that was earned last week occurred during one of the few intra-conference battles, with Washington surviving in the SLC against Utah, 21-7.

This week's slate of games will tell us a lot about the true pecking order within the Conference of Champions, with an undefeated Washington State squad squaring off against USC on Friday.

Elsewhere, Oregon and Stanford put their dueling 3-0 records on the line at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, while Washington and ASU meet late at Husky Stadium.

The only conference stinker of the week is Arizona's clash against Oregon State, which the Pac-12 banished to the depths of its TV network at 1 p.m. PDT.

Without further ado, here's how I see the conference stacking up heading into the fourth week of the season.

1. Stanford (3-0, 1-0)

Last Week: Beat University of California-Davis, 30-10

The Cardinal won a glorified scrimmage over in-state squad UC Davis in front of an announced crowd of 31,772 (Stanford Stadium seats 50,000, for perspective). David Shaw's squad rolled over Dan Hawkins' squad to improve to 3-0 for the season, despite one-man highlight reel running back Bryce Love missing the game with a concussion. They won by three scores over the Broncos, despite only out-gaining their foes by 43 yards (351-to-308), thanks to a defense that forced three UCD turnovers. The Cardinal won't have anywhere near as much fun this Saturday, when they'll make the trek into Eugene to face another undefeated team, Oregon, in a late-afternoon showdown. It'll be interesting to see how the Cardinal do in slowing down the Ducks' dynamic offense, led by quarterback Justin Herbert, who ranks fifth in the Pac-12 among QBs in passing yards per game (280.0) and first in touchdowns scored (12). The matchup to watch in the Cardinal-Duck clash is between Stanford's explosive wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteshide and Oregon WR Johnny Johnson III, who have 460 receiving yards and 9 touchdown catches combined this season.

2. Washington (2-1, 1-0)

Last Week: Beat Utah, 21-7

Washington did what it needed to in order to survive in the Wasatch against Utah on Saturday, knocking off the Utes, 21-7, to improve to 2-1. The Huskies offense, behind senior QB Jake Browning, did just enough to get the win, with Browning throwing for 155 yards and a touchdown, while back Myles Gaskin pounded the ball up the middle, gaining 143 rushing yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. The Huskies' defense was the real MVP on the road, limiting Utah to 138 passing and 123 rushing yards, while forcing three turnovers in the process. The Huskies haven't looked like world-beaters so far, losing to Auburn to open the season, before rebounding against North Dakota in week two. They do, however, appear to be the conference's second-best team so far, ahead of an intriguing home game against ASU at 7:30 p.m. PDT in Seattle.

3. Oregon (3-0, 0-0)

Last Week: Beat San Jose State, 35-22

The Ducks are a mystery wrapped in an enigma, mostly due to the pathetic schedule they've played under first-year coach Mario Cristobal. Oregon has beaten a trio of no-name opponents, in Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State this season, by a combined score of 155-60, with the aforementioned Justin Herbert leading the way at QB, throwing for 840 yards and 12 touchdowns, to a mere four interceptions this season. We'll know for sure whether the Ducks early-season success is a fluke or not come Saturday, when they'll host the Cardinal in the heart of the Willamette Valley.

4. Colorado (3-0, 0-0)

Last Week: Beat New Hampshire, 45-14

The Buffaloes have looked awfully impressive this season, against in-state rival Colorado State, former Big 8 rival Nebraska and New Hampshire, outscoring the four by a score of 123-55. It's clear that the Buffs are the class of the classless Pac-12 South, which says more about their competition than their accomplishments to-date. Their success rests on the rocket arm of quarterback Steven Montez, who's looked phenomenal to-date, with 855 passing yards and 8 passing touchdowns in four games, throwing two measly interceptions so far. Montez is one of, if not the best all-around QBs in the conference, and has the potential to guide the Buffs to heights unreached since their pinnacle in the early-1990s. It'll be interesting to see how CU fares in its conference opener against UCLA a week from Friday, and whether their early season success is for real, or simply a Rocky Mountain aberration.

5. California (3-0, 0-0)

Last Week: Beat Idaho State, 45-23

The Bears' first three games, against UNC, BYU and Idaho State have shown that coach Justin Wilcox's Berkeley-based football renaissance is alive and well. The Golden Bears have looked sharp in their three games, with their 21-18 win over the Cougars in week two looking better and better by the day. The Bears don't have the sexiest offense in the conference by any means, with QB Chase Garbers slinging the ball modestly well, with 454 yards and 6 touchdowns in three games, while Patrick Laird leads the team in rushing, with 147 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground. The biggest difference between Wilcox and his predecessor, Sonny Dykes, is on the defensive side of the ball—with Cal ranking third in points allowed (19.3), fourth in yards per game allowed (302.3) and first in interceptions forced (7) this season. They'll have a chance at proving their early success is for real a week from Saturday, when Oregon comes to Berkeley in what could beat a battle of undefeated teams, depending on how the Ducks fare against Stanford this week.

6. Washington State (3-0, 0-0)

Last Week: Beat Eastern Washington, 59-24

Washington State's early success has, like most of its conference mates, come at the expense of mediocre competition, beating Wyoming, San Jose State and EWU. That said, they have looked dominant in those three contests, outscoring their foes to the tune of 131-43 in three games. The Cougars open conference play on Friday night, when they'll face the daunting task of traveling to the City of Angels to face Southern California, who's gotten waxed by Stanford and Texas in consecutive weeks. It'll be interesting to see if the Cougs, and senior QB Gardner Minshew can continue their early success, with Minshew leading the conference in passing yards (1,203), to go with a respectable 8 passing touchdowns this season.

7. Utah (2-1, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Washington, 21-7

The Utes had a grand opportunity to take a monumental first step in their quest to clinch their first Pac-12 South championship on Saturday night against the Huskies. Unfortunately for Kyle Whittingham's squad, they fell flat in that endeavor, losing in a listless effort, 21-7, to the Huskies. The Utes enter their bye week with more questions than answers on the offensive side fo the ball, looking sloppy against their first two opponents, Weber State and Northern Illinois, before looking downright incapacitated against the Huskies. The Utes rank in the middle of the conference offensively, sitting seventh overall in rushing (153.0 YPG) and ninth in passing (247.7 YPG). The Utes will have to step it up on that side of the ball on the other side of their week off to have a shot in their division, which is ripe for the picking, with USC and UCLA at historical low points right now.

8. Arizona State University (2-1, 0-0)

Last Week: Lost to San Diego State, 28-21

The New Leadership Model in Tempe crashed to earth in spectacular fashion against San Diego State on Saturday night, with the Devils' inept rushing attack cursing them to a 28-21 defeat against the Aztecs. The Devils, who captured the nation's hearts after a butt-ugly 16-13 win over Michigan State in week two, with a last-second Hail Mary that was originally called complete subsequently getting overturned in the game's final seconds. It was an odd final sequence, as SDSU defensive back Trenton Thompson was called for targeting after tackling ASU wideout Frank Darby near the Aztecs' goal-line. The refs decided to review the targeting penalty, as well as whether Darby actually caught the ball or not. They decided that Thompson did in fact commit targeting, but that Darby did not maintain possession of the pass, which meant that the Devils only got a 15-yard penalty, instead of the ball at the SDSU 5 yard line with mere seconds left on the clocks and a seven-point deficit. The Devils' final play from the line of scrimmage fell incomplete, capping off a wild win for the Aztecs and a crippling defeat for first-year ASU coach Herm Edwards. Edwards' squad looks to get back on-track this week in the Emerald City against Washington, kicking off in Seattle at 7:30 p.m. Arizona time.

9. USC (1-2, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Texas, 37-14

Few teams have looked more discombobulated this season than Clay Helton's Trojans squad, with Saturday's embarrassment in Austin serving as the latest chapter. The once-mighty Trojans were drummed by the Longhorns, 37-14, with UT scoring 34 unanswered points to bury their visitors from LA. The Trojans defense wasn't terrible against the Longhorns, holding them to 394 offensive yards in the loss. The problem, as has been the case for much of the young season, was the team's inability to do anything constructive on offense, with the Trojans once-vaunted rushing game racking up negative yards on the ground. True freshman quarterback JT Daniels showed flashed of brilliance, with 322 passing yards. The problem is that no offense can survive when there's literally no threat of running the ball for positive yards, and USC is no exception. Expect Helton's bunch to do everything they can to establish the rush on Friday, in a must-win game against Washington State in the Coliseum.

10. Arizona (1-2, 0-0)

Last Week: Beat Southern Utah, 62-31

The Wildcats found salvation against an FCS school that most in attendance had likely never heard of before Saturday's clash, beating Southern Utah to the tune of 62-31. There were several highs for the Wildcats, no doubt, in their first win of the season, including QB Khalil Tate's passing explosion and Tony Ellison's 111-yard receiving performance at wideout. The Wildcats did what they had to against a lesser opponent to pick up coach Kevin Sumlin's first W in Tucson, but still managed to surrender 31 points and 463 offensive yards to an FCS program. This week's clash against Oregon State shouldn't be a lot tougher, providing the 'Cats a final punching bag before their real conference foes line up in succession. It'll be interesting to see whether Tate, who had 19 rushing yards on four carries against SUU, will be healthy enough to run it more against the Beavers this week, or if Arizona's offense will rely on its stable of running backs to provide balance as the season progresses.

11. UCLA (0-3, 0-0)

Last Week: Lost to Fresno State, 38-14

It's hard to imagine a worse way for Chip Kelly's time in the City of Angels to begin, losing to Cincinnati, Oklahoma and Fresno in successive weeks. Kelly's squad has looked incoherent on both sides of the ball, with an offensive line that appears to be made of house brand Swiss cheese and a defense that's sprung more leaks than the Titanic. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has been a sitting duck for the Bruins so far, completing a mere 54.7 percent of his passes, with two passing touchdowns in three games. The team's rushing attack hasn't fared much better this year, averaging 3.5 yards per rush in three contests, ranking dead-last in the conference in rushing yards per game, at 130.7 yards per game. It'll be interesting to see if Kelly can hammer things out before their next game, against Colorado in Boulder on Friday, Sept. 28, or if this season's dead on arrival.

12. Oregon State (1-2, 0-0)

Last Week: Lost to Nevada-Reno, 37-35

The conference's favorite punching bag of-late took another haymaker to the chin on Saturday, when the Mountain West's favorite sparring partner, Nevada, beat them 37-35 in Reno. The Beavers have what might be the Pac-12's worst defense, giving up 46.3 points per game, to go with 552 yards per game, 295.7 passing yards per game and 226.3 rushing yards per game (all of which are worst in the Pac-12 this season). The Beavers will look for salvation at home against the men from Tucson this week, playing the conference's second-worst defense, statistically. It'll be interesting to see whether Jonathan Smith's Beavers squad can hang with the Wildcats, who are 6.5 point favorites on the Beavers. Fans of both teams might need to keep a bottle of eye wash nearby, as this one has the potential to be rather ugly for all involved. 

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