Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Meet the New Leader in the Conference of Champions

Posted By on Wed, Oct 3, 2018 at 4:00 PM

Welcome to another week of football in the Conference of Champions, with several sneaky-good matchups on the horizon this Saturday.

It was another gut-punch of a weekend for the Pac-12 this weekend, with Stanford taking one on the chin in South Bend against Notre Dame, 38-17.

The Washington Huskies redeemed the conference somewhat in the late evening hours, crushing Brigham Young 35-7 in Seattle.

The middle of the conference did itself no favors, with Colorado slogging through most of its contest against a hapless UCLA squad at home on Friday night, before putting things together in the second half to seal a 38-16 win in Boulder.

The Washington State Cougars somehow pulled off another crazy comeback on the Palouse against Utah, trailing the Utes for much of the night, before QB Gardner Minshew hit receiver Easop Winston Jr. for an 89-yard score with 4:14 to go.

That touchdown ripped the Utes' hearts out, giving Mike Leach's squad a much-needed victory to improve to 4-1 this season.

The Arizona Wildcats and USC Trojans engaged in an ugly on-field fiasco Saturday night, with the two sides committing 26 penalties, with the Trojans committing 18 alone.

The visiting Trojans pulled out the win, 24-20, despite squandering a 17-0 lead in the game's second half, improving to 3-2 with the win.

The Oregon Ducks cemented their position as the best team not named Washington or Stanford, handling the Cal Bears in Berkeley, 42-24.

The Arizona State Sun Devils improved to 3-2 on the year, and 1-1 in conference play by hammering woebegone Oregon State, 52-24, in Tempe on Saturday night to close out the week's action.

Without further ado, here's how I see the Pac-12 stacking up from top-to-bottom, as we enter the sixth week of the regular season:

1. Washington Huskies (4-1, 2-0)

Last Week: Defeated BYU, 35-7

This Week: at UCLA, 4:30 p.m., Saturday

The Huskies assume the number-one spot in this week's power rankings, mostly because of the poor showing by the Stanford Cardinal against Notre Dame. The Huskies have taken care of business this year, winning four-straight against North Dakota, Utah, ASU and BYU by a combined score of 128-37. The Huskies haven't been sexy offensively so far, with senior QB Jake Browning sitting at 1,243 yards in five games, or 248.6 yards per game. The Huskies rank third overall in the conference in passing yards (1,367) and fifth in rushing (827), with running back Myles Gaskin averaging a mere 87.6 YPG on the ground, on pace to earn 1,052 rushing yards, after eclipsing the 1,300 yard mark on the ground in each of his first three seasons. The Huskies have a glorified walk-through in Pasadena this weekend against UCLA, before a brutal road trip to Eugene against Oregon on Oct. 13.

2. Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1-1)

Last Week: Defeated Cal, 42-24

This Week: Bye Week

This is a controversial selection, given the Ducks' collapse at home to the Stanford Cardinal two weeks ago. That said, the Ducks have been the more consistent team to-date, and were a faulty review away from being 5-0 and a serious playoff contender. First year Ducks coach Mario Cristobal has been phenomenal, and junior QB Justin Herbert should be a Heisman favorite, with 1,411 passing yards and 16 touchdowns in five games. The Ducks get a week off to recover and recuperate, before welcoming Washington into Autzen in what's a de facto North Division championship game. Grab your popcorn for that one.

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

Last Week: Lost to Notre Dame, 38-17

This Week: Vs. Utah, 7:30 p.m.

The Cardinal, as mentioned above, got absolutely waxed by the Fighting Irish last Saturday, losing by 21 points in a game that the Pac-12 desperately needed from a PR standpoint. The Cardinal paled offensively in South Bend, with QB KJ Costello being held to 174 passing yards with an interception, while the Cardinal's once-vaunted rushing attack was held to 55 yards on 24 carries. The Cardinal have a bit of a trap game this Saturday, with a pissed off Utah squad that's likely to be fired up after blowing their game with Washington State coming into Palo Alto. Don't be surprised if the Cardinal take the L, especially if Costello can't find his rhythm and/or the rushing game can't find its groove early on.

4. Colorado Buffaloes (4-0, 1-0)

Last Week: Defeated UCLA, 38-16

This Week: Vs. Arizona State, 1 p.m.

The Buffs have played some awful competition this season, beating Colorado State, Nebraska, New Hampshire and UCLA—who have a combined record of 1-16 this season. That said, the Buffaloes have looked solid in each contest, with junior QB Steven Montez emerging as one of the best gunslingers in the West, with 1,092 passing yards, 9 touchdowns and a 75.8 percent completion percentage this season. The Buffaloes will face their stiffest challenge of the season on Saturday afternoon, when Herm Edwards' bunch comes to Boulder in a game that could set in stone the Pac-12 South Division champion.

5. USC Trojans (3-2, 2-1)

Last Week: Defeated Arizona, 24-20

This Week: Bye Week

The Trojans looked awful against the Wildcats in Tucson on Saturday night, committing 18 penalties in their four-point win. The Trojans did just about everything in their power to hand the game to the Wildcats, losing two fumbles in the game's fourth quarter. They did, in fact, come out victorious, however, thanks to Arizona's inability to recover a last-minute onside kick. The Trojans get a much-needed week off, before heading to Boulder in what could be the deciding game in determining who gets to lose to Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

6. Washington State (4-1, 1-1)

Last Week: Defeated Utah, 28-24

This Week: At Oregon State, 6 p.m.

The Cougars defeated in Utah in dramatic fashion last week, as mentioned above, giving them a 4-1 record. Mike Leach's squad should be undefeated, given their last-minute collapse against USC two weeks ago as their only demerit. That said, the Cougars have been the biggest surprise in the conference this season, with East Carolina University transfer QB Gardner Minshew torching opposing defenses, to the tune of 398.4 passing yards per game (!), with 14 passing touchdowns to 4 interceptions this season. His yearlong performance inspired an all-time response by Leach in his weekly press conference, with the longtime coach going on a wandering tangent about how offensive balance is, in his words, '50 percent run, 50 percent pass, and 50 percent stupid.' You've gotta love that sort of folksy charm.

7. Arizona State University (3-2, 1-1)

Last Week: Defeated Oregon State, 52-24

This Week: At Colorado, 1 p.m.

The Devils have been just as up-and-down each week as they were under former coach Todd Graham (and Dennis Erickson, Dirk Koetter, etc.), stealing the nation's hearts in an ugly game against Michigan State, before crashing back to earth like that dude in California that tried to prove the earth is flat in his homemade rocket against San Diego State and Washington—who they lost to, 28-21 and 27-20. The Devils need to beat Colorado this week to give Edwards his first marquee conference win, and have a solid shot at doing so, thanks to senior QB Manny Wilkins, who has been electric this season, with 1,224 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 1 interception. This weekend's game against the Buffs should be a doozy; too bad no one will get to see it, since it's on the conference's network.

8. California (3-1. 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Oregon, 42-24

This Week: At Arizona, 7 p.m.

The Bears had a golden chance (sorry for the bad pun) to earn Justin Wilcox's first big-time conference victory against Oregon in Berkeley on Saturday. Sadly for Wilcox's bunch, that did not happen, with the Ducks' poleaxing the Bears defense, racking up 260 yards on the ground alone. The Bears have a shot at redemption this weekend, as they look to avenge last year's double-OT loss in Berkeley to the Wildcats, in a series that has featured some punch-drunk crazy moments (see here). Expect a wild one in the Old Pueblo this weekend, as the Wildcats and Golden Bears are always good for a rumble whenever they meet on the gridiron.

9. Arizona Wildcats (2-3, 1-1)

Last Week: Lost to USC, 24-20

This Week: Vs. Cal, 7:30 p.m.

The Wildcats suffered a brutal loss at home to USC last Saturday, storming back from a 17-point second half deficit, before coming up short in the game's waning minutes. The 'Cats could not recover a last-minute onside kick attempt, after slamming home a touchdown to get within seven points. This week, the Wildcats and Cal square off, as mentioned above. I have no idea who will win that game, but know that Khalil Tate will have to do more with his legs to ensure a victory against the Bears. The Wildcats, despite leading the conference in rushing yards (1,087), looked awful on the ground last week, rushing for 98 yards on 37 attempts in the loss. They'll face a Bears' defense that's currently 9th in the 12-team conference in rushing yards per game allowed, at 163.8, which should allow JJ Taylor and Tate to run free, should they have the mental wherewithal to do so.

10. Utah Utes (2-2, 0-2)

Last Week: Lost to Washington State, 28-24

This Week: At Stanford, 7:30 p.m.

The Utes suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Cougars in Pullman last week, and face another daunting road trip to Palo Alto on Saturday. Their offense is a train-wreck, ranking 10th in points per game (22.3), 10th in yards per game (381.0) and 10th in passing yards (861). Kyle Whittingham's squad will look to get back on-track against the Cardinal, who have one of the league's best defenses. That's not exactly a recipe for success, especially with a short-week matchup against Arizona in the SLC awaiting them on Friday, Oct. 12.

11. UCLA Bruins (0-4, 0-1)

Last Week: Lost to Colorado, 38-16

This Week: Vs. Washington, 4:30 p.m.

The Bruins have had an awful start, giving up 151 points in their first four games, against Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Fresno and Colorado. The have the conference's second-worst defense statistically, ahead of lowly Oregon State—surrendering 37.8 points per game, 421.5 yards per game and four turnovers in as many games. Coach Chip Kelly might turn around the Bruins' sinking ship eventually, but it's going to be a long (long) rebound in Westwood.

12. Oregon State (1-4, 0-2)

Last Week: Lost to Arizona State, 52-24

This Week: Vs. Washington State, 6 p.m.

The Beavers are the conference's punching bag this season, losing their four games against FBS opponents by a combined score of 201-104 this season. The Beavers, a la UCLA, might be good in the distant future under first-year coach Jonathan Smith, but they're one of the worst teams in the nation right now. It's a bad time to sport the pumpkin orange and black in Corvallis, but at least basketball season is just around the corner? 

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