With the playoffs a distant memory, the PAC 12 has turned into a chaotic run for the roses. After a week in which every team played, the conference got very little clarity in terms of who the favorites ought to be in either division.
In the South, Utah continues to surge and has taken the momentary pole position in the divisional race. Of all the teams still contending down there, they are the only one that definitively holds their destiny in their own hands as both of their losses came to North teams.
There are, nevertheless, four teams all sitting atop the division standings tied with two losses in the L column. The situation is so nuts that one of those teams is UCLA. And they can still win this thing.
The North is just as crazy. Washington State’s win over Oregon means that they can control their own destiny. However, their road still has to go through a Husky team (the Apple Cup is in Pullman) that also controls its own destiny. Oh, and Stanford is still sitting there with one conference loss also in control of their own destiny. Those three teams all share the distinction of having just one conference loss, a situation that will further reduce when WSU plays Stanford this week. And don’t forget about Oregon. They have a tiebreaker against UW which means that they are just a little bit of help away from getting right back into the race.
Chaos reigns supreme on the west coast. Let’s jump into the spaghetti chart.
12. Oregon State (1-6 / 0-4)
Cal 49, OSU 7
There are no two ways around it: losing by 6 touchdowns to a division rival on your own turf is the surest way to find yourself at the bottom of the power rankings.
The Beavers’ surging offense was certainly handicapped due to a hamstring injury to star tailback Jermar Jefferson and a concussion injury that starting QB Conor Blount suffered after a targeting play by Cal safety Jaylinn Hawkins. Third string QB Jack Colletto – a local fav around here – was thrust into duty and was completely overwhelmed.
Cal at home may have been OSU’s best shot at an in-conference victory. If Jefferson or Blount are out for multiple weeks, the Beavs are roasted.
POG: P Daniel Rodriguez (8 punts, 331 total yds, 55 long)
Next up: at Colorado
11. Arizona (3-5 / 2-3)
Arizona 30, UCLA 31
That thumping sound emanating from this screen isn’t your device. It’s the pulse of the Arizona Wildcat team emerging from its season-long slumber.
It’s amazing what a healthy QB can do for an offense. With third-stringer Rhett Rodriguez now firmly installed as the starter and having garnered a full week of first-team practice reps, everything seemed to click on offense for the Wildcats. The rushing game shined with both Gary Brightwell and JJ Taylor going over 100 yards. The passing game arrived as star WR Shawn Poindexter went for two scores and 100+ yards. RhettRod, who was far from perfect, managed to deliver 231 yards and a handful of nice plays. If it were not for two fluky Arizona turnovers inside of UCLA’s five yard line, Arizona may well have won this one going away.
As it is, the Wildcats have their work cut out for them. To get bowl eligible, they are going to have to win three of their last four. The first three are all against PAC 12 teams with winning records and the last is against their hated rival. I’m not seeing a happy ending to 2018 in Tucson.
POG: WR Shawn Poindexter (6 recs, 106 yds, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs Oregon
10. UCLA (2-5 / 2-2)
Arizona 30, UCLA 31
It took a surprising visit from an old friend to help get UCLA over the top in a game that, really, they should have lost. Former Michigan star and UCLA starter Wilton Speight ended his long, strange trip on the Bruins bench when he came in to relieve injured QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. His two TD passes and steady ball control (zero INTs) helped UCLA rescue a victory from the jaws of defeat against Arizona in a classic #PAC12AfterDark affair.
The Bruins, who had put up two straight solid games against UW and Cal, seemed to regress to a bit of sloppiness in this one. But Speight’s steadiness and the running of Joshua Kelley – who is really starting to emerge – gave UCLA just enough juice to overcome what was a shaky defensive effort.
UCLA’s schedule is incredibly back-loaded. Their margin of error is just one game if Chip Kelly hopes to get this team into the post-season. This looks like a murky proposition, especially if the injury bug continues to plague the team.
POG: RB Joshua Kelley (31 rushes, 136 yds, 43 yds receiving, 1 TD)
Next up: vs Utah (Friday Night)
9. Arizona State (3-4, 1-3)
Stanford 20, ASU 13
The conversion of ASU into a “grind it out”, NFL style team that drags its opponents into a mud-pit and dares them to win in the fourth quarter continues. Unfortunately, the results keep working against the Sun Devils, at least as far as the conference schedule is concerned.
ASU’s defense certainly played well enough to beat Stanford last Thursday. But ASU’s three turnovers (including one N’Keal Harry pick) and their platry 84 yds total rushing (including just 38 from Eno Benjamin) were too much for the defense to overcome. Even still, efforts by guys like young star LB Merlin Robertson made things interesting.
The Sun Devils now start wondering if their bowl hopes are over. Consider their challenge. They need to win three of their last five to get bowl eligible. Three of those five games are on the road and one of the home games is Utah. So, yeah, the road looks rocky.
POG: LB Merlin Robertson (6 tckls, 1 sack)
8. California (4-3 / 1-3)
Cal 49, OSU 7
Unfortunately, whipping an OSU team playing with a severely limited Jermar Jefferson doesn’t buy you a whole lot of goodwill in the power rankings. That said, I’m sure Cal fans are feeling pretty good right now for the following reasons:
- Chase Garbers was re-inserted as the starting QB and delivered a no turnover performance
- Patrick Laird seemed to respond well to having Garbers in there and had his best game of the season
- The Cal D played about as well as you could hope after the UCLA debacle
The Bears are one of those teams with a significantly back-loaded schedule. As such, it is hard to find the two more wins that they need to get bowl eligible. One of their best chances might be next weekend. Justin Wilcox and co could well copy the playbooks of ASU and Oregon as they try to grind out a low-scoring win over a visiting UW team who is struggling with their own offense.
POG: RB Patrick Laird (241 yds total, 3 TDs)
Next up: vs #15 Washington
7. Colorado (5-2 / 2-2)
Colorado 13, #15 Washington 27
The Buffs have some trouble coming their way. Their loss to UW on Saturday paired with Utah’s win over USC drop CU to the third position in the race for the South (but with a home game against Utah still ahead). Injuries to star WR Laviska Shenault and to starting CB Delrick Abrams linger as significant issues.
Still, Colorado marched into Husky Stadium on Saturday and put up as much of a fight as they could without Shenault and Abrams. I shudder to think what the outcome might have been had those two been available. Colorado is demonstrating that they have a good enough QB to win and that their defense is improving.
Colorado is probably the most complete team left in the South. But they will need to beat Utah and get some help against USC.
POG: LB Nate Landman (11 tckls, 2 TFLs)
Next up: vs Oregon State
6. USC (4-3 / 3-2)
USC 28, Utah 41
If you got Clay Helton in this year’s P12 Coaching Dead Pool, you are probably already dreaming about the new set of golf clubs that you are going to buy with your winnings. The USC head coach looks to be the one man in the most precarious position as the season enters its final stage. Getting blown out by a division rival when you are expected to compete for conference titles will do that to you.
The Trojans certainly look to be reeling right now. In their first full game without Porter Gustin and with LB Cam Smith on the sideline, their defense was completely and utterly demolished to the tune of 541 yards surrendered. And they were gashed in every way possible in every quarter of the game.
Offensively, the Trojans finished the game with Matt Fink at QB in place of starter JT Daniels. The official explanation is that Daniels suffered a “head injury” and that he is going through the concussion protocol. Fink actually suffered three fractured ribs at the end of the game. With those two questionable, Jack Sears is left as the only healthy scholarship QB on the roster. Those injuries plus the ongoing issue that RB Stephen Carr is having with a herniated disc seems destined to continue to handcuff the Trojans for the time being.
If that isn’t enough, we have entitled Trojan players sounding off in the media in a way that is certain to draw scrutiny:
None of this looks good for USC. Their win over Colorado is useful, but they still need someone else to beat Utah all while making sure that they don’t slip up in their last four conference games. With the QB situation, the Gustin injury, the lack of internal controls on players and a reeling defense, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
POG: LB John Houston, Jr. (15 tckls, 1 sack)
Next up: vs Arizona State
5. #19 Oregon (5-2 / 2-2)
Oregon 20, WSU 34
That didn’t last long. The glow that lit up Eugene following after their fortuitous upset over Washington a little over a week ago has since rescinded into a gloomy haze that now absconds Oregon’s path to the PAC 12 North title. In short, it doesn’t look good for the Ducks.
Mario Cristobal and company now need help from the one team that they all love to hate in Eugene. Because Oregon’s only win over any of the other “North 4” teams is UW, the Ducks need Washington to beat both WSU and Stanford in the weeks ahead while hoping that either Cal or Oregon State can upset the Dawgs. There are other paths to get there, but this one seems the most direct. So don’t be surprised to see purple and gold parties popping up down south in the weeks ahead.
On the field, Oregon looks like it looked before they upset Washington on that fateful day. QB Justin Herbert continues to look more “toolsy” than “productive” (maybe he’s not the overall top pick in the NFL draft after all?) despite solid development among the offensive linemen and wide receivers (particularly Dillon Mitchell). The defense showed a nice ability to create havoc along WSU’s o-line, but the secondary was clearly overmatched again … that is even with DC Jim Leavitt dropping seven into coverage routinely against WSU’s air raid. They need to get right in a hurry as road trips to Tuscon are never that enjoyable.
POG: LB Troy Dye (12 tckls, 1 TFL, 2 PBUs)
Next up: at Arizona
4. #24 Stanford (5-2 / 3-1)
Stanford 20, ASU 13
Stanford is back in the rankings after squeaking by the Sun Devils in a hard-fought Thursday night game. Being out-gained 437-358 and averaging just 3.0 yards per rush wasn’t what David Shaw may have been hoping for coming out of a BYE, but a win in the desert is always welcome.
The Cardinal still look like a team that is just barely hanging on. The state of the offensive line does not appear to be improving. This might continue to hold back both the rushing attack (even more so than the Bryce Love injury) as well as the deep passing game. On a positive note, the defense was able to force another three turnovers and keep ASU below 50% on third down conversions.
Whether or not that D can hold up against WSU this weekend will be a critical question. This game may well be an elimination game in the PAC 12 North race. Time to get the game face firmly affixed.
POG: P Jake Bailey (8 punts, 41.9 yd avg, 61 yd long)
Next up: vs #14 Washington State
3. Utah (5-2 / 3-2)
USC 20, Utah 41
The Utes are surging at just the right time. Ever since OC Troy Taylor changed his scheme to accommodate more Tyler Huntley freelancing, the productivity has taken off. In their last three games, the Utes have put up well over 485 yards in offense per game while averaging 41 points. Against USC, Huntley threw for 76% accuracy and led Utah to 541 yards of total offense.
Teams have streaks like this in the PAC. I have little doubt that Utah will be challenged again sometime over the remainder of the year. However, they are hot at exactly the right time and the only team that clearly controls its own destiny in the South. After the slow start to their season, this is as good as it can get for Utah fans.
POG: QB Tyler Huntley (22 / 29, 341 yds, 4 TDs, 33 yds rush, 1 rush TD)
Next up: at UCLA (Friday Night)
2. #15 Washington (6-2 / 4-1)
Colorado 13, #15 Washington 27
The Huskies keep doing what the Huskies do, no matter how much it drives fans crazy. At this point, it is fair to characterize the Dawgs as a very efficient dink-and-dunk offense paired with an extremely efficient bend-don’t-break defense. Their strategy to win games is purely about points prevention (they are second in the PAC in fewest points allowed with 125). They seem to only generate chunk plays on offense during scramble drills and they don’t force many turnovers.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s about as frustrating and unsatisfying to watch as a political debate, but there can be no doubt that it is effective.
To put this in perspective, the Huskies are one of only two teams in the PAC to have just one offensive play over 50 yards (the other being Oregon State) so far this season. However, they are second in the conference with plays over 10 yards (91). They also lead the league in fewest plays from scrimmage over 20 yards surrendered (17). These kinds of stats scream “efficiency”.
The goal, of course, is to translate all of that discipline and efficiency into the North division title. The Cougar victory over Oregon puts UW back in control of its own destiny. With a BYE week still ahead and two of the four teams remaining among the bottom half of the conference, the table is setting up nicely for a Huskies run to the Rose Bowl.
POG: LB Ben Burr-Kirven (15 tckls, 1 FF, 1 INT)
Next up: at Cal
1. #14 Washington State (6-1 / 3-1)
#12 Oregon 20, #25 Washington State 34
Let’s give the Cougs their due. Not only did they deliver a huge knockout blow against a legit contender to set up what may well be an epic Apple Cup in Pullman, but they did it in style with a versatile defense and a relentless offense.
Oh, and they crushed ESPN’s College Gameday.
I know people want to debate whether or not the “real” Cougars were the ones that dominated the first half or the ones that let Oregon back into the game after surrendering 17 third-quarter points. The WSU team that I saw was the one that won the game with a definitive Gardner Minshew led TD drive to finish the Ducks off in the fourth quarter. It’s that team exactly that now leads the PAC 12 in total point differential and the one that, at least for now, is the surprising standard bearer in the conference.
POG: S Jalen Thompson (7 tckls, 3 PBUs)
Next up: at Stanford