Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Washington State Takes Top Spot in Conference Shakeup

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2018 at 2:06 PM

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Welcome to another week of college football in the Pacific 12 Conference, where the last remaining College Football Playoff contender (Oregon) has gone up in a cloud of smoke.

The Ducks fell victim to the Mike Leach Experience in Pullman in what was a one-sided romp on the Palouse, with the Cougars beating Oregon, 34-20, in front of a packed house at Martin Stadium in primetime.

The win propelled the Cougars within a half-game of in-state rival Washington in the Pac-12 North standings.

The two rivals will have a shot at settling that spot on Nov. 23, when the Huskies will play in Pullman.

We'll have to wait and see whether the Cougars will still be in contention by then, but as of now they're the best story in the Conference of Champions.

Here's how I see the conference shaking out from top-to-bottom ahead of a jam-packed week of conference action:


1. Washington State Cougars (6-1, 3-1)

Last Week: Beat Oregon, 34-20

This Week: At Stanford,  4 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Cougars put on a show last week, ripping the Oregon Ducks limb for limb in front of as packed and energized a crowd as I've ever seen in Pullman. East Carolina University transfer QB Gardner Minshew was electric for Mike Leach's team, completing 39-of-51 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns in the win, with eight different receivers snagging at least two catches in the team's 14-point wire-to-wire victory. The Cougars gave up 270 passing yards to the Ducks, but stuffed the team's rushing attack, which was held to 58 yards on 24 attempts. It's clear that the Cougars are a threat to be reckoned with in the conference, especially if they're able to knock off the Cardinal in Palo Alto on Saturday afternoon.


2. Oregon Ducks (5-2, 2-2)

Last Week: Lost to Washington State, 34-20

This Week: At Arizona, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Ducks lost a tough one in Pullman on Saturday, virtually eliminating them from the College Football Playoff. The Ducks did so, despite quarterback Justin Herbert having a solid (if not beautiful) performance, with 270 passing yards and a touchdown in the loss. The Ducks should roll over a hapless Wildcats team in Tucson this week, though Arizona Stadium has been a house of horrors of-late for the men in forest green and yellow. Mario Cristobal's team will need to be more efficient on the ground to have a shot, with Arizona's porous rush defense giving them more than enough space to reel off the type of big plays that their offense is predicated on.

3. Washington Huskies (6-2, 4-1)

Last Week: Beat Colorado, 27-13

This Week: At Cal, 3:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

The Huskies had the type of methodical, soul-crushing victory over Colorado on Saturday that's defined much of coach Chris Petersen's time in Seattle. The hometown Huskies held the Buffs to 263 offensive yards, while their offense gained 351 to pace the squad to keep Colorado in check. The Huskies are by no means an offensive juggernaut, with quarterback Jake Browning doing just enough to keep the team afloat (he's basically the 1999 Toyota Camry of quarterbacks), while Myles Gaskin continues to do just enough to warrant NFL Draft hype. Expect the team to roll over a Cal Bears squad that looks helpless on both sides of the ball, before closing the regular season with games against Stanford and Oregon State at home, and heading to Pullman to close out the year.

4. Utah Utes (5-2, 3-2)

Last Week: Beat USC, 41-28

This Week: At UCLA, Friday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Utes have gone from the outhouse to the penthouse of-late, with three-straight wins against Stanford, Arizona and USC (by a combined score of 123-59). Utah suddenly has gone from looking like a beat up 1989 Datsun to a Ferrari on offense, with Tyler Huntley starting to look like a functional quarterback and Zack Moss tearing apart defenses at running back. The Utes will be put to the test, facing another Friday night game against a red-hot UCLA squad in Pasadena, in what could decide who gets to lose to the Pac-12 North winner in the conference championship game.

5. Stanford Cardinal (5-2, 3-1)

Last Week: Beat ASU, 20-13

This Week: Vs. Washington State, 4 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Who knows what Commissioner Larry Scott and his band of merry men were thinking when they put the conference's best game (Washington State-Stanford) on its own network, which is only picked up by 40 million homes nationally. Stanford and Washington State could be the game of the year in the conference, and yet most of us that live on the west coast (and virtually everyone east of St. Louis) will have to either miss the game or resort to more dubious methods to watch the contest. Expect the Cardinal defense to pull a rabbit out of its hat in this one, as Leach's teams are notorious for face-planting after earning program-defining victories (see, last year's debacle in Tucson).

6. Colorado Buffaloes (5-2, 2-2)

Last Week: Lost to Washington, 27-13

This Week: Vs. Oregon State, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Buffaloes have fallen faster than a mass of snow in an avalanche over the past two weeks, falling to USC and Washington. The loss of generational talent Laviska Shenault at wide receiver has been a back-breaker for the squad, as the sophomore has battled a toe injury suffered in the team's loss to the Trojans. Things should get better for the Buffs, with a hapless Oregon State squad coming to Boulder this week, followed by a Friday night road trip to Tucson against an Arizona squad that can't win a close game if its life depended on it. Expect the Buffaloes to clinch bowl eligibility with gusto this week.

7. USC Trojans (4-3, 3-2)

Last Week: Lost to Utah, 41-28

This Week: Vs. ASU, 12:30 p.m. (ABC)

The once-mighty Men of Troy have looked hapless away from Los Angeles this year, with Saturday's 13-point beatdown in the SLC serving as the latest chapter. The Trojans are sloppy on offense and somehow even sloppier on defense, committing the most penalties of any team in the conference this season. Quarterback JT Daniels might be the future for Clay Helton's squad, but he's looked shaky for most of the year, which is understandable given how he's a true freshman (he's also battling a concussion, to be fair). The Trojans suddenly look uncertain to win two of their final five games, with ASU, Oregon State, Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame remaining. They should be able to flog Cal and Oregon State to ensure a six-win season, but even that might not be enough to save Helton's job, especially if they flame out in spectacular fashion against the Bruins.

8. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-4, 1-3)

Last Week: Lost to Stanford, 20-13

This Week: At USC, 12:30 p.m.

Lets face it, I could have rolled dice to decide how the conference shakes out from spots 7 through 12, because none of these teams are particularly good. The Devils, for example, have a solid but not great QB in Manny Wilkins, who does a great job at avoiding costly turnovers (2 interceptions in 231 attempts) but hasn't done enough to get the Devils over the top in close games. Most of that is due to the team's erratic defense, which ranks seventh in the conference in yards allowed (381.1), but ninth in interceptions forced (3) and sixth in fumbles recovered (4). The Devils need to beat USC and Arizona to guarantee a bowl, with contests against Utah, UCLA and Oregon in consecutive games.

9. UCLA Bruins (2-5, 2-2)

Last Week: Beat Arizona, 31-30

This Week: Vs. Utah, Friday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Bruins did just enough to eek out a win at home against Arizona on Saturday night, thanks to an untimely fumble by JJ Taylor as he neared the Bruins end zone in the game's first half. Ugly or not, the Bruins have now won two straight contests and have a head of momentum heading into their Friday night clash with Utah in Pasadena. It'll be a tall task for the team to beat the Utes, given how well the team has played of-late, but at least they're in solid shape heading into the final quarter of their season. Chip Kelly might have a chance to spring an upset, giving his first season in Westwood an extra boost of momentum as he continues to overhaul the Bruins team-wide look.

10. Arizona Wildcats (3-5, 2-3)

Last Week: Lost to UCLA, 31-30

This Week: Vs. Oregon, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Wildcats have had a lot of fight but little in the way of success in Kevin Sumlin's first season in Tucson, with Saturday's one-point loss to UCLA serving as the latest example. The Wildcats looked woebegone early in the contest, with sophomore QB Rhett Rodriguez completing two of his first 11 passes, before heating up in the second half, with the Wildcats responding to his energy to give the Bruins a game. Unfortunately for Sumlin and his players, they couldn't stop the Bruins on their final drive, as they milked the clock to perfection, icing a hard-fought 31-30 win over the Wildcats. Arizona will be hard-pressed to pull of a meteoric upset on Saturday night against the Ducks, especially after the way that Oregon lost a week ago. Get your sadness pillows out, Wildcats fans, it's going to be a long night on Saturday.

11. Cal Bears (4-3, 1-3)

Last Week: Beat Oregon State, 49-7

This Week: Vs. Washington, 3:30 p.m. (Fox Sports 1)

The Bears games have been downright ugly this season, with quarterback Brendan McIlwain looking equal parts thrilling and inept this year. The Bears have a brutal test this week at home against Washington, in what should be a one-sided romp that further drains the confidence level in Berkeley. Justin Wilcox should be able to build the Bears into a consistently good team, but it's going to take time (and a consistent quarterback).

12. Oregon State Beavers (1-6, 0-4)

Last Week: Lost to Cal, 49-7

This Week: At Colorado, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Beavers somehow lost to a Cal team that has the offensive energy of a cold bowl of oatmeal by 42 points last week. It's going to be a long, long fall on the Willamette in Corvallis, but at least there's a glimmer of hope around the men's basketball program, which might actually be decent this season. 

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