A snow bowl victory, a Duck gift basket, and a sluggish win over the lowest team in the conference have shrunk the number of title contenders for the PAC 12 title down to three.
Utah, Washington, and Washington State are those three teams. Thanks to their win over Colorado and ASU’s loss to Oregon, Utah has already punched their ticket as the South champion representative in the PAC 12 Championship. The Huskies’ win ensured that the Apple Cup would essentially be a playoff game with a trip to Santa Clara on the line.
Beyond the obvious headlines around the narrowing of the race for the conference title, there were several other developments of note for PAC 12 fans to digest. Some of those things worthy of discussion include:
- The demise of USC
I will be shocked if Clay Helton is the coach of the Trojans when USC hosts #3 Notre Dame this weekend. I do not believe that Lynn Swann wants to endure putting Helton on a sideline across the field from the kind of blueblood coaching candidate (Brian Kelly) that most USC fans think they deserve. No matter how much Swann likes Helton—and I do believe that there is a genuine fondness there—I can’t see him putting his program through that indignity.
- The crash of Colorado
The ongoing uncertainty around the fate of Mike MacIntyre has now been resolved with this:
BREAKING: #Colorado has fired Mike MacIntyre, per sources.. Two years ago he led CU to a 10-4 season but Buffs are 10-13 since. Team meeting is scheduled for 11 AM. ESPN 1st reported.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 18, 2018
The Buffs are a young team with talent in key positions. As such, this job will certainly attract attention now that it has come open.
- The emergence of UCLA
Washington will not see UCLA on their schedule for either of the next two seasons. That may be a good thing. The Bruins have a horrible -107 point differential on the season, and yet they find themselves with three conference wins and momentum on their side. Their big win over USC will do nothing but embolden Chip Kelly on the recruiting trail and dilute USC’s recruiting power in the critical SoCal market.
Let’s get into the rankings.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings: Week 12
12. Oregon State (1-7 / 2-9)
OSU 23, #17 Washington 42
It’s tough for me to put OSU here in the 12-spot after what was clearly one of their top performances of the season. In fact, OSU put together their best three-quarter stretch of play all season when they effectively played the Huskies straight up in quarters two through four last Saturday afternoon. Prior to their game against the Huskies, the Beavers had only outscored a conference opponent over a three-quarter stretch one other time this season, that being their win over Colorado.
Jonathan Smith certainly ought to be able to spin this game into a solid recruiting pitch going forward. The maligned Beaver defense held UW’s offense to 251 yards in those last three quarters after surrendering 252 yards in that painful first quarter. That’s a good signal for defensive recruits and it complements the clear progress that OSU is making across both their special teams and their offense. A solid effort in the Civil War could go a long way to helping Smith book a solid 2019 class.
Up next: the Civil War vs Oregon
11. UCLA (3-5 / 3-8)
USC 27, UCLA 34
The Bruins technically have less out there to play for than their crosstown rival due to the fact that bowl eligibility is not possible. Thus, I can’t really put them ahead of USC (yet). That said, Chip Kelly’s huge win over USC at the Rose Bowl was impressive on multiple dimensions.
First, the Bruins continued to refine the offensive machine that Kelly is crafting. While it wasn’t enough to outgain Maurice Drew’s record-setting 322 yards against UW in 2004, RB Joshua Kelley posted one of the greatest single-game rushing days in program history. He racked up 289 yards on 40 (!) carries.
Second, Kelly demonstrated to the entire LA market that his is the program on the rise. As I noted above, that is sure to pay huge dividends in recruiting even if it doesn’t directly lead to the dismissal of Clay Helton.
UCLA is a team on the rise. We’ll see if they can muster enough pass defense to overcome Stanford.
Up next: vs Stanford
10. USC (4-5 / 5-6)
USC 27, UCLA 34
I feel a bit dirty putting USC here ahead of UCLA. That they still have the chance to get bowl eligible is the deciding factor in this slotting. Plus, it’s not like they got blown away on the road against UCLA.
That said, this team is on the razor’s edge of descending into chaos. Their lack of physicality, as demonstrated by watching UCLA RB Joshua Kelley put up 289 rushing yards on them, is an embarrassment. It is also remarkable to me that 2018 marks the first time in program history that the Trojans have fallen to each of their three California rivals.
Remember when we used to think it was unfair to the other California schools to all have to play USC every year? Sheesh.
The Trojans still have some pieces to work with no matter how their game against Notre Dame goes this week. J.T. Daniels had a surprisingly strong game in defeat while the oft-injured Michael Pittman Jr. provided the kind of tough perimeter play that this team needs. Special teams were also a strength as USC turned both a blocked punt and a fake punt into a pair of much-needed touchdowns.
But this is not a team in a good place. And Notre Dame is up next.
Up next: vs #3 Notre Dame
9. Colorado (2-6 / 5-6)
Utah 30, Colorado 7
If the season were to have ended last weekend, I’m fairly certain that I would have dropped Colorado into the 12-spot in the Power Rankings. This is a team that is creating a new definition for “closing weak.” Not only have they lost six straight games, but they have done so in surprisingly feeble fashion. Across their last five games, they’ve managed to score just a single field goal in the fourth quarter.
Oh, and they just fired their coach.
On most occasions, being the first team to find itself without a head coach is grounds for getting torpedoed to the bottom of the power rankings. But. Colorado still has a path to become bowl eligible, and while not easy, the difficulty of making a bowl isn’t unrealistic. The Buffs still have the tools to do it with Laviska Shenault and Travon McMillian providing some solid offensive pieces to build upon.
Up next: at Cal
8. Arizona (4-4 / 5-6)
Arizona 28, #8 WSU 69
The Wildcats got blown out in just about every way imaginable on Saturday night. Perhaps the only redeeming factor was that the game didn’t kick off until 10:30p on the East Coast, implying that just about three quarters of the country didn’t see the bloodshed.
If you happened to be one of those that did not see the game, the best way to summarize what went wrong is to focus on ‘Zona’s horrible pass defense and the kinds of special teams gaffes that would make even Husky fans blush. A combination of muffed kicks, stuffed drives, and Air Raid porn put the Wildcats down 55-14 at half and never in a position to pressure WSU.
The Wildcats still have a great chance to get bowl eligible. They may have trouble stopping the Manny Wilkins to N’Keal Harry train, but ASU doesn’t present the kind of offense that can put up the kind of sudden insurmountable lead that WSU put up as fast as WSU put it up. That ought to give Khalil Tate, J.J. Taylor, and Shawn Poindexter the chance to make it a game.
Up next: the Territorial Cup vs Arizona State
7. Arizona State (4-4 / 6-5)
ASU 29, Oregon 31
Road trips to Eugene are never fun. ASU made their trek to Oregon hopeful that they could win the game and go into the Territorial Cup with the chance to win the PAC 12 South. That can no longer happen.
But the Sun Devils showed a great deal of toughness in simply coming back in a game where Oregon posted a significant early lead. Coach Herm Edwards will certainly point to the fact that the ASU held Oregon to just three points in the second half. On offense, Eno Benjamin (29 rush, 149 yds) again shined as he mounts a darkhorse campaign for the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award.
Up next: the Territorial Cup at Arizona
6. California (3-4 / 6-4)
vs Stanford – postponed
The air quality issues in northern California couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Cal Bears, at least from a football perspective. The Bears were really looking forward to building on the momentum from their big win at USC the week before, as the program attempts to permanently turn the ship under Justin Wilcox. Fortunately, they’ll get another chance to do just that this weekend against a rudderless Colorado team.
Up next: vs Colorado
5. Oregon (4-4 / 7-4)
ASU 29, Oregon 31
The Ducks came out strong and then held on to win an exciting game over ASU on Saturday. In doing so, they spoiled the Sun Devils and kept their (long) odds alive of potentially slipping into the Holiday Bowl.
Oregon fans were elated, I’m sure, to see the emergence of freshman Travis Dye as he recorded his first career 100-yard rushing day. Along with C.J. Verdell (70 yds, 1 TD), the Ducks can rightfully boast the kind of strong one-two rushing punch that has been a staple of their offense. That said, those same fans are certainly starting to wonder what is wrong with Justin Herbert. The struggling junior has pretty much all but assured that he will return for his senior season with his poor play. His inefficiency (55% passing) and his two picks are the primary reasons that ASU was able to make a game of it in the second half.
There is still plenty of time for Herbert to get back on track. A road trip to take on Oregon State can cure many ills.
Up next: the Civil War vs Oregon State
4. Stanford (4-3 / 6-4)
at Cal – postponed
Stanford is already bowl eligible and, despite all of their shortcomings, in a great position to end the season with a couple of wins. An eight-win season would be a satisfactory way to end what has overall been a tough year as Stanford attempts to maximize their bowl positioning.
Up next: at UCLA
3. #16 Washington (6-2 / 8-3)
OSU 23, #17 Washington 42
Huskies fans are probably beginning to tire of the narrative that their team is capable of doing no more than the bare minimum required to win a game, even when the opponents are as overmatched as Oregon State appeared to be on Saturday. If you are judging by the numbers of butts in seats at the end of what was supposed to be a tribute to the 23 seniors honored on Senior Night, including key multi-year contributors such as Greg Gaines (the only senior to have played in all 51 of this senior class’s games), Myles Gaskin, Jake Browning, Ben Burr-Kirven, Tevis Bartlett, Jordan Miller, and Kaleb McGary, then you can see the effect this narrative might be having on the fans.
Nevertheless, the Dawgs still keep finding ways to win games. That is both a sign of their overall toughness and a testament to the discipline that they share as a team. Against OSU, it was the offense that carried the day, particularly in a first quarter that saw UW put up 28 points, rack up 252 yards, and capitalize on a fumble forced by little-known special teamer Edefuan Ulofoshio from Anchorage, Alaska. It was a pair of seniors that put an exclamation mark in their respective last games at Husky Stadium. Jake Browning threw for three TDs, a 74% completion rate, and 10.5 YPA (which allowed him to take over the conference lead in that stat). Myles Gaskin surpassed 100 yards in his first three carries and finished with 135 yards total.
The defense has some work to do. Oregon State’s offense, which entered the game eighth in the conference in scoring offense, put up the third highest point total the Dawgs have surrendered this season. They did so largely with the rushing attack, to the point where even star UW linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven expressed his discontent. “It was a frustrating game. I don’t think we played that well to be honest,” said BBK.
Still, UW’s D held OSU to 2-14 on third downs and demonstrated their prowess in pass defense going into the Apple Cup. That strength contrasts well against a surging WSU team that emphasizes passing and yards after catch to generate offense.
Up next: the Apple Cup at #7 Washington State
2. #17 Utah (6-3 / 8-3)
#18 Utah 30, Colorado 7
The Utes last weekend clinched the South Division title. Who would have guessed that they would have done so with backups installed in key positions on offense? QB Jason Shelley (221 yds, 2 TDs, 9.6 YPA) and RB Armand Shyne (55 yds, 1 TD) paced the Utes in blizzard-like conditions in Boulder on Saturday. In doing so, they claimed their first division title since joining the conference.
Utah will essentially get a tune-up game against BYU as they wait to find out who their opponent in the PAC 12 championship will be. Whomever it is, Utah will present them with a challenge built around stout line-of-scrimmage play.
Up next: the Holy War vs BYU
1. #7 Washington State (7-1 / 10-1)
Arizona 28, #8 WSU 69
What does it say about where WSU is at in their ascension that they took so seriously what was essentially a throwaway game and turned it into a rout? Week in and week out, the Cougs show up and play four quarters of football all the way through. While they are still youngish and still undersized on defense, they have an uncanny way of just making plays and pressuring the opposition in every phase of the game.
Gardner Minshew may have locked up his PAC OPOY award after throwing for seven TDs on 78% accuracy for 473 yards. He hit 11 different receivers on the night and spread his seven TDs to six different pass catchers. Not too shabby.
It’ll be interesting to see if UW will be able to handle WSU’s air attack. Minshew has shown the ability to sit in the pocket and take advantage of the time that his outstanding O-line provides in picking apart defenses. On the flip side, the Cougs haven’t yet faced a team with the kind of depth in pass coverage that UW possesses. With the PAC 12 North on the line and both teams sure to be highly ranked, it is sure to be an Apple Cup for the ages.