Let’s not sugar coat things: the PAC 12 has not had a good out-of-conference season.
The downward spiral kicked off when Washington failed to seal the deal in what would have been a trajectory-changing win over Auburn in Week 1. It was momentarily staved off when ASU upset Michigan State and Colorado won in Lincoln in Week 2. But perceptions of the conference as the bottom feeders of the Power 5 only accelerated as the South division began imploding last weekend.
The latest dagger to the conference image was USC’s embarrassing effort at Texas on Saturday. We’ll talk more about that below. Needless to say, Clay Helton is the first coach to get placed firmly on the conference hot seat so far this season. This is even in light of the embarrassing efforts put forth by Chip Kelly’s UCLA Bruins (0-3) and Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin (1-2 with a Heisman-worthy QB on his roster).
You may have heard that the Big Ten had its own share of struggle last weekend. It is true. Seven members of that conference lost on Saturday, each of them to Group of Five schools. Still, with Ohio State blowing out TCU and with Penn State seemingly back to “juggernaut” status, the Big Ten still looks like a powerful conference overall.
The PAC, on the other hand, is running out of opportunities to cement themselves as a respectable viewing option for national audiences and as a legitimate resistance to SEC and Big Ten hegemony. A few more match-ups with Notre Dame and UW’s contest against the now-interesting BYU Cougars is pretty much it.
Fortunately, the out-of-conference torture chamber is now for the most part complete and we can focus on what you all came here for: the PAC 12 Power Rankings.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings — Week 2
12. UCLA (0-3)
Fresno State 38, UCLA 14
Chip Kelly has now accomplished what no other UCLA coach in modern history has. Not his good buddy Rick Neuheisel. Not Terry Donahue. Not Jim Mora. Not even Karl Dorrell. Nope, this is a milestone that Chip owns himself. He’s become the first UCLA head coach since 1971 to open a season with three straight losses.
Consider that for a minute. Kelly was brought in with much fanfare and a sense that he could “save” UCLA. Bruins fans were certain that Kelly’s offensive creativity paired with their talent-rich roster was going to translate into instant success. Heck, I even bought into the hype.
Little did we know that Kelly was going to eviscerate the two-deeps and rebuild it with the younger players that are going to be with him for more of the long haul. That strategy may well pay dividends in the future, but it is causing a mess of epic proportions in the here and now.
Nowhere is this more evident than with young QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. He was awful against Jeff Tedford’s Fresno State defense and was the second best QB on the field after FSU’s Marcus McMaryion (yes, the former Oregon State fourth-stringer). That DTR is still starting ahead of experienced Devon Modster and the maybe-healthy senior Wilton Speight should be a clear signal of how committed to this youth movement the Kelly really is.
The road is going to be rough for the Bruins for the foreseeable future. There may not be a winnable game on their slate until UCLA travels to Berkeley on October 13th. And even that seems like a stretch.
POG: DB Quentin Lake (5 tckls, 2 PBUs, 1 TFL)
Next up: BYE
11. Arizona (1-2)
Southern Utah 31, Arizona 62
The Wildcats picked up their first victory of the season with an easy win over an FCS opponent. Something is clearly up with Khalil Tate, though. The Arizona star QB once again could not get anything going with his legs. He rushed just 4 times for a meaningless 19 yards. Fortunately, his arm looked just fine as he jacked the ball up 20 times for a ridiculous 349 yards and 5 TDs. WRs Shun Brown and Tony Ellison (9 recs and 308 combined yards) were the primary beneficiaries of the Tate air show.
It was good to see Arizona get some plays from its special teams. I do remain concerned about that defense. But it is hard to know what is what when 14 of Southern Utah’s 31 points came in garbage time.
POG: QB Khalil Tate (13/20, 349 yds, 5 TDs, 17.5 ypa)
Next up: @ Oregon State
10. Oregon State (1-2)
Oregon State 35, Nevada 37
The story for the Beavers is the same as it has been: the offense looks great while the defense is one step barely in front of a dumpster fire rolling down a hill.
I’ll give the scrappy Beavers some credit here. They fell behind by double digits in the first quarter. After opening game starter Jake Luton got inserted into the game in place of struggling QB Conor Blount, the Beavers offense came alive. Freshman Isaiah Hodgins had a breakout game with 200 yards receiving while RB Jermar Jefferson posted his second straight impressive outing with over 100 yards and another score.
The Beavs were positioned to win this one at the end with a last-second FG, but it veered just off target. It’s a tough loss for Jonathan Smith to swallow, but his team will learn. They are getting better. This weekend’s bout with Arizona could be a fireworks spectacular.
POG: WR Isaiah Hodgins (14 recs, 200 yds, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs Arizona
9. USC (1-2, 0-1)
#22 USC 14, Texas 37
I get that every defense the Trojans have faced to date have completely sold out against the run and challenged freshman J.T. Daniels to make plays. And, for the most part, he’s delivered. But, for the love of Chuck Knox, -5 yards rushing from Tailback U is completely and utterly unacceptable. USC fans won’t stand for it and you can be sure that head coach Clay Helton now resides on the hottest seat in the conference.
It’s also not like the problems with USC begin and end with their tailback rotation. The offensive line—one that I heralded in the preseason as one of the two best in the conference—has been a total bust. The defensive line isn’t much better given all of the talent that they have available (I wonder if Marlon Tuipulotu ever looks North with wistful feelings of longing).
If there was a silver lining, it is the breakout of true freshman Amon-Ra St. Brown. The freshman wideout had a breakout game against a decent Texas secondary and made a firm argument that he has surpassed Tyler Vaughns as USC’s top receiver.
POG: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (9 recs, 167 yds)
Next up: vs Washington State (9/21)
8. California (3-0)
Idaho State 23, Cal 45
We’ve got good news/bad news for Cal. The good news is that the QB controversy has now shrunk from three players to two. Even with that, it seems pretty clear that the platoon of Chase Garbers as the main man with Brandon McIlwain being inserted as the running QB is something that Justin Wilcox is willing to stick with for the foreseeable future. The Ross Bowers transfer watch should be activated immediately.
The bad news is that we might now have a RB controversy as incumbent Patrick Laird seems to be losing ground to challenger Marcel Dancy. This would not be much of a negative signal if it were not for the fact that the Cal offense is choppy at best. Against FCS Idaho State, the Bears were able to amass 482 total yards (not horrible) but were forced into just 5-14 on third down. That’s probably not good enough to get it done in league play.
There are a few other flags to look out for. 11 penalties for 111 yards isn’t good. 320 total yards surrendered with 8 YPA allowed in the pass game also warrants some attention.
Nevertheless, the Bears are undefeated and in good position to go bowling. While I think that their offense is up to the task, finding those last three wins in conference is going to be fairly challenging. The best route for the Bears is to notch three wins among their next four including Oregon, @ Arizona, UCLA, and @ Oregon State. The road gets much rougher after that.
POG: RB Marcel Dancy (11 rushes, 80 yds, 1 TD)
Next up: BYE
7. Arizona State (2-1)
#23 Arizona State 21, San Diego State 28
Oh, Herm Edwards, why do you tease us so?
The Sun Devils followed up an impressive upset over Michigan State last weekend with a dud of a game in which they were manhandled and outclassed by a physically superior San Diego State team. The close score belies the actual domination that the Aztecs demonstrated. This was particularly true in the second half when the Sun Devils failed to register a single first down until the final four minutes of the game.
I get that traveling to San Diego is always a dangerous proposition for PAC 12 teams. I also get that a bizarre ending affected the outcome. For those of you that missed it, a targeting review on a play where ASU receiver Frank Darby had apparently caught a 48-yard pass that put the ball on the two turned into an overturned reception that resulted in ASU having the ball on the 35 for one last play. Obviously, it didn’t work out.
Despite the photo finish, the red flags for ASU were popping up all over the place: an offensive line that couldn’t get any push, a RB (Eno Benjamin) who showed no wiggle with just 1.6 yds per rush, and a QB who couldn’t reliably convert achievable third downs.
It’s starting to look like ASU’s offense is going to have a real problem putting up points against good defenses, especially if WR N’Keal Harry gets challenged at all. This bodes poorly for them with a trip to Seattle against UW and their secondary up next.
POG: S Jalen Harvey (13 tckls, 1 TFL)
Next up: @ #10 Washington
6. Washington State (3-0)
Eastern Washington 24, Washington State 52
While it is true that this year’s Eastern Washington isn’t the dynamic EWU of years past, one can’t simply disregard the punishment that WSU meted out to them. The Mike Leach Air Raid was in full effect with QB Gardner Minshew executing it in mid-season form. Most impressive to me were the 8.3 YPA that Minshew posted on 57 attempts. That tells me that he is reading his spacing correctly and getting the ball to the receivers who have the best opportunity for yards after catch. That twelve Coug receivers caught passes on Saturday is evidence of how well Minshew is operating.
I know that there are still questions. Twenty-four fourth-quarter points may have fluffed up the score unnecessarily. The D gave up a lot of yards and a high third-down conversion percentage once you adjust for the competition. Still, we are picking at nits with that. WSU did what they had to do with the opponent that they had to play. I’m bumping them in the ranks.
POG: QB Gardner Minshew (45/57, 470 yds, 8.2 ypa, 2 TDs)
Next up: @ USC (9/21)
5. #20 Oregon (3-0)
San Jose State 22, #20 Oregon 35
The Ducks are quickly garnering a reputation as a feast or famine kind of team with a one-dimensional offense oriented around QB Justin Herbert’s big arm and the hit-or-miss nature of its defense. Make no mistake, San Jose State is one of the worst teams at the FBS level. Despite that, the Ducks struggled with their rushing attack (2.7 ypc), their pass defense (nearly 8 YPA to SJSU QB Josh Love) and inefficiency in the passing game (Herbert with less than 50% completions, 3 TDs and 2 INTs). If not for a big punt return and a couple of bombs that Herbert converted, we might be talking about Oregon’s offense submerging into pre-Bellotti levels – particularly in rush offense – after this one.
The schedule has been kind to Oregon thus far in the season and has allowed Mario Cristobal to get situated within the program and among the fanbase. But I’m beginning to wonder if the Ducks have been peddling fool’s gold. Their last two efforts have been chock full of mistakes in simple fundamentals which have allowed clearly inferior opponents to make these games less an exercise in dominance than one would expect.
We will soon find out just how good the Ducks are as they transition into conference play. Stanford is coming to town this week. No pressure there.
POG: LB Justin Hollins (8 tckls, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 sack, 2 TFL)
Next up: vs #7 Stanford
4. Utah (2-1, 0-1)
#10 Washington 21, Utah 7
Give Utah credit: they came out against Washington on Saturday night ready to brawl.
Unfortunately for them, their collective sharpness did not match their collective toughness. Three turnovers, a handful of unnecessary penalties (including one that negated a Jake Browning INT), a bevy of dropped passes (including two certain TD catches) and weird/crazy plays, like the Pita Tonga near-certain pick six that he somehow was fumbled out of bounds on the 11, all conspired to keep Utah from pulling off the home upset.
Still, I didn’t see anything from the Utes that couldn’t be fixed with more practice. The O-line held up pretty well, particularly in pass blocking. Zack Moss looks like a true workhorse. Britain Covey may be the toughest SOB slot receiver in the conference. QB Tyler Huntley is still young and can make better passes against teams not named UW. Chase Hansen might be the best linebacker in the conference, full stop.
As I look around the South, I’m not sure there is another team as good as Utah. Now that the UW game is out of the way, the Utes might well have the clearest shot of anyone at what would be their first division title. Thus, I’m bumping Utah despite the loss.
POG: LB Chase Hansen (11 tckls, 1.5 TFLs)
Next up: BYE
3. Colorado (3-0)
New Hampshire 14, Colorado 45
Colorado did what they had to do in managing a relatively easy win against New Hampshire. They got some rhythm going in the rushing attack with Travon McMillian. They were efficient on defense. They didn’t give upcoming in-conference opponents too much film to study in the passing game.
For the most part, Colorado is Steady Eddie with regard to the Power Rankings. I am a little concerned about the quality of that Nebraska win after watching the Huskers get upset by Troy over the weekend. But I’m willing to chalk that up to the Buffs knocking Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez out of that game the week before.
The South right now looks like a two-man race between Utah and Colorado with both USC and ASU lurking in the shadows. That is good news for a Buffs team that few expected to contend.
POG: RB Travon McMillian (15 rushes, 162 yds, 2 TDs)
Next up: BYE
2. #7 Stanford (3-0, 1-0)
UC Davis 10, #9 Stanford 30
It’s hard to assess what we saw from Stanford against UC Davis. The defense was pretty good, albeit against another inferior offense (and we’ll just attribute their zero sacks as a bit of an aberration—for now). The Cardinal offense, however, left something to be desired.
A couple of key absences on that side of the ball, namely OT Foster Sarell and RB Bryce Love, certainly factor into an explanation as to why the unit looked so lethargic overall. But this was still an offense that had QB K.J. Costello, WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, OT Walker Little (who came back from being dinged up vs USC), and experienced reserve RBs in Trevor Speights and Cameron Scarlett.
Despite all of that, the Cardinal produced just 351 total yards against a not-very-good (even by FCS) standards UC Davis team. Even more shocking? Stanford was just 3 of 14 on third downs thanks in large part to Costello’s 43.5 QBR. That’s not good.
In light of this, and in light of UW equaling them in the in-conference win column, I have to drop Stanford a spot at least until we learn more about the status of their injured players.
POG: CB Alijah Holder (5 tckls, 3 PBUs)
Next up: @ #20 Oregon
1. #10 Washington (2-1, 1-0)
#10 Washington 21, Utah 7
The Huskies are not a perfect team. But this is not a “perfection ranking”, this is a “power ranking.” And Washington, if nothing else, demonstrated just how powerful this year’s team really is—particularly on defense.
That defense was laying wood in one of the nation’s most imposing venues on Saturday night. The secondary demonstrated why ESPN commentators were calling them the best such unit in the PAC. Byron Murphy broke out not just as a shutdown corner, but as an intimidator. At one point, Gabey Lucas posted on our staff chat “My God Byron Murphy, Britain Covey has a family!” You can bet that every future opponent will be watching tape on what happened to Covey and the entire Utah receiving corps and adjust accordingly after what was one of the more physically dominating nights we’ve seen out of this UW defense in the last few years.
The offense is still a work in progress. Jake Browning’s struggles under pressure and the difficulties that Nick Harris, Jared Hilbers, Luke Wattenburg and Jesse Sosebee all had on the line are frustrating. But Browning did make some pinpoint throws and Myles Gaskin (30 carries, 137 yards) erupted with a real War Daddy kind of outing.