Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Stanford Stands Atop the Conference of Champions

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 12:30 PM

Welcome to the sixth week of the college football season, where we finally have a full-slate of conference games.

We're going to be treated to several must-see games this Saturday, including Arizona-USC, Oregon-Cal and Washington-BYU (in the lone non-conference clash).

We've learned a lot about the Pac-12's dozen programs this season, especially given the clash in Eugene between Stanford and the Oregon Ducks (which was an instant classic).

Saturday's Washington State-Utah battle has the potential to be an underrated contest, given how well each squad has played so far.

No matter which contest you tune into, you'll likely be treated to a hell of a lot of scoring and a dizzying display of Capital-F Football.

Without further ado, here's how I see the Conference of Champions stacking up from top-to-bottom right now:

1. Stanford Cardinal (4-0, 2-0)

Last Week: Defeated Oregon, 38-31

The Cardinal won what might be the game of the year in the Conference of Champions last Saturday, storming back from a 24-7 deficit in the game's third quarter to defeat Oregon in Eugene. The craziest play of an absolutely crazy contest was the score that ignited Stanford's comeback. The play I'm referring to was the 80-yard fumble return touchdown by Cardinal defender Joey Alfieri, which brought the Cardinal within 10 points of the Ducks, 24-14, with 2:43 left in the third quarter. That score only happened because of a questionable review of an Oregon score the play before, which overturned said touchdown, giving the Cardinal a second chance. Lucky or not, the Cardinal dominated from there, scoring a touchdown and a field goal in the game's final stanza to draw even at 31 at the end of regulation. Stanford pounced in the game's lone overtime session, with quarterback K.J. Costello connecting with sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson for what would be the winning score. The Cardinal's defense closed out the night on the next drive, intercepting Ducks quarterback Justin Herbert in the end zone to close out a seven-point victory. The Cardinal's quest to make the College Football Playoff doesn't get any easier this week, however, as they head to South Bend on Saturday to face fellow unbeaten Notre Dame at 4:30 p.m. Arizona time.

2. Oregon Ducks (3-1, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Stanford, 38-31

I refuse to knock a team down for losing a hell of a game to the number-one team in the conference. The Ducks may have blown a 17-point second half lead to the Cardinal in Eugene, but they played a helluva ballgame against a great team. Junior quarterback Justin Herbert deserves to be a favorite in the Heisman Trophy race, after completing 26/33 passes for 346 yards and a touchdown, while earning 35 yards on the ground. Oregon showed itself a bona fide contender to make a New Years Six bowl game this year, which speaks to the talent of first-year coach Mario Cristobal and his staff. The Ducks' quest doesn't get any easier this week, however, with a daunting road game against a talent Cal team in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m., against a Bears team hungry to spring the upset.

3. Washington Huskies (3-1, 2-0)

Last Week: Defeated Arizona State, 27-20

The Huskies handled their business in their conference opener against Herm Edward's scrappy ASU squad in Seattle, with senior quarterback Jake Browning doing an admirable job of dissecting the Devils' pass defense. Browning had a workman-like outing against the Devils, with 202 passing yards and three scores (with no interceptions) in the win, completing passes to eight different receivers in the contest. The Huskies' weren't sexy (a la Stanford) in their victory, but showed the mettle and poise it takes to be a championship contender. Washington hosts upstart BYU at 5:30 p.m. Arizona time this Saturday in their final non-conference contest of the year, facing a 3-1 Cougars squad that's defeated teams like Arizona and Wisconsin this year. It'll be a hard-fought contest, with the Cougars not backing down from the fight.

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

Last Week: Bye Week

The Buffaloes appear to be the class of the classless Pac-12 South this season, entering conference play with a 3-0 record. They really haven't beaten anyone of-note, defeating my sorry alma mater (Colorado State), as well as FCS program New Hampshire and a winless Nebraska team. That said, they still have one of the conference's best quarterbacks, in junior Steven Montez, with sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. looking like the conference's next big thing, hauling in 26 catches for 455 yards and three scores this season. The Buffs open conference play this week against winless UCLA at home, before hosting ASU a week from Saturday in what should be their first real test of the season.

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

Last Week: Bye Week

The Bears entered the AP top-25 this week, after beating North Carolina, BYU and Idaho State in consecutive weeks during their non-conference season. The Bears under second-year coach Justin Wilcox have won games mostly because of their much-improved defense, which ranks sixth in the conference in points allowed (19.3), third in yards per game allowed (302.3) and first overall in interceptions forced (7). That defensive mettle has been vitally important for Wilcox's squad, since their offense has been pedestrian at best, averaging 180 rushing and 202 passing yards per game this year. The Bears might not be the prettiest team to watch, but their grind-it-out style has worked, with a huge test awaiting them on Saturday night when the Ducks come to town for a little dose of #Pac12AfterDark, Berkeley style.

6. Southern California (2-2, 1-1)

Last Week: Defeated Washington State, 39-36

The Trojans won a crazy ballgame in L.A. on Friday night, storming back from a 13-point deficit to the Cougars to win on an even-crazier completion by freshman quarterback JT Daniels. The win wouldn't have happened, were it not for a blocked field goal by the Trojans with 1:41 to play in the game's fourth quarter. That play, which would have tied the game at 39 if it were successful, stopped the Trojans' two-game losing streak to Stanford and the University of Texas. It also lifted a gargantuan weight off the back of embattled coach Clay Helton, who was the target of Trojans' fans scorn last week after the team's sorry performance in Austin. The Men of Troy are starting to look like the Trojans of old, with a road matchup against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson at 7:30 p.m Arizona time on Saturday. The Trojans are 26-8 all-time against the Wildcats, having won five straight by an average of 13 points. It'll be interesting to see if Helton's bunch can repeat their dominant second half performance against the Wildcats, or if their second half comeback was a case of California Dreaming.

7. Washington State (3-1, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to USC, 39-36

The Cougars, like the Oregon Ducks, looked damn impressive in a losing effort last week, playing the Trojans to a draw for much of the night on the road. Mike Leach's team, who were projected to finish fifth in the six-team Pac-12 North in the conference's preseason media poll, are 3-1 this season. More importantly, the Cougars have looked pretty darn good in all four of their contests, with senior quarterback Gardner Minshew completing 71 percent of his passes for 1,547 yards and 11 touchdowns. Leach's squad has a bounty of talented receivers as well, with Davontavean Martin, Jamire Calvin, Dezmon Patmon and Easop Winton all racking up more than 200 receiving yards in four games. The Cougs also have a solid kicking game for once, with freshman Blake Mazza converting on 5-of-7 field goals this season. They face a daunting test this Saturday, when they'll host Utah at 6 p.m. in their Pac-12 home opener, against one of the conference's best defenses. It'll be interesting to see how Leach's squad fares in that one, and whether they can rebound from their last-second loss to the Trojans a week ago.

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

Last Week: Lost to Washington, 27-20

The Herm Edwards Experience in Tempe has hit a bit of a road block, losing back-to-back games in heartbreaking fashion to San Diego State and Washington. The Sun Devils have looked solid in each contest, only to lose by single digits—falling by 7 in each contest. Edwards' squad has come back to earth a bit after two straight wins to start the season, against Texas-San Antonio and Michigan State, despite the excellent season that senior quarterback Manny Wilkins has put together. Wilkins has thrown for 1,062 yards and 7 touchdowns this year, completing 64.8 percent of his passes while only tossing a single interception. He's been in lock-step with future NFL star N'Keal Harry, who has a team-high 335 receiving yards on 26 catches and four touchdowns for the Devils. The Devils will look to right their recent wrongs against the conference's worst team, Oregon State, in Tempe this Saturday, in what should amount to a four-quarter pummeling for Edwards' team.

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

Last Week: Bye Week

The Utes got a week off last Saturday, after falling to Washington, 21-7 in their conference opener on Sept. 15. Utah has looked pedestrian offensively in three games, with junior quarterback Tyler Huntley averaging 234.3 yards per game through the air with four touchdowns passing, while junior tailback Zack Moss leads the team on the ground, with 94.3 yards per game and three scores for this season. The difference for Kyle Whittingham's team this season has been its defense, which leads the conference in points allowed (12.3) and yards per game allowed (204.7). The Utes will be put to the test on Saturday, when they head to Pullman to face Washington State in a battle between the unstoppable force (Washington State's passing game) and the unmovable object (Utah's defense).

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

Last Week: Defeated Oregon State, 35-14

The Wildcats carried Kevin Sumlin to his first Pac-12 conference win against the Beavers on a damp Saturday in Corvallis, cruising over the sorry Beavers by 21 points. Sophomore running back J.J. Taylor earned a career-high 284 yards on 27 carries for the Wildcats in the win, scoring two touchdowns in the contest, after scoring one touchdown in the team's first three contests. Taylor and company host USC on Saturday night, in a contest that will test the entirety of the Wildcats offense. The Wildcats are looking to snap their five-game losing streak against the Trojans, with USC sitting as a three-point favorite, according to the Vegas sports book. I legitimately have no clue how Arizona (or USC) will fare on Saturday, with each side showing zero consistency whatsoever this season.

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

Last Week: Bye Week

The Bruins' have been a miserable mess this year, with first-year coach Chip Kelly coming under fire from everyone, including the father of his freshman quarterback. The Bruins are on pace to be the first team to finish 0-12 in the conference since Washington finished a winless season under former coach Tyrone Willingham in 2008, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. The Bruins' quest to win a damn game is daunting, with games against Colorado (road), Washington (home) and Cal (road) in the next three weeks. Grab a drink (or five) Bruins fans, it's going to be a long, long year in Westwood.

12. Oregon State (1-3, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Arizona, 35-14

You can pretty much flip a coin on the 11th and 12th spots in the conference this year, with UCLA and OSU both stinking up the joint. Oregon State gets the nod, because of their miserable defense that's dead-last in the conference in points allowed (43.5), yards allowed (540.0), passing yards allowed (259.8) and rushing yards allowed (280.3) this season. The football season looks miserable for the Beavers, but at least they can take solace in the basketball season that's around the corner, as Wayne Tinkle has three three-star recruits lined up in this year's recruiting class.

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