So, what did we learn about the PAC 12 after an action-packed week 5? I have a few observations:
- Washington is really the only team with a line of sight to a possible College Football Playoff berth. Still, their convincing win over BYU will more than be offset by the thrashing that a very good Notre Dame put on Stanford. At this point, the worst case scenario for UW is playing out both in the conference and across the country as it relates to Washington and the Playoff. But it is still early and there is still a lot of football to play.
- The Cougs have a lot more going for them then just the Air Raid. That defense that we all thought was undersized has some hustle in it which could make the Cougs a serious threat in the North race.
- Oregon is increasingly being defined by its ability to make big plays on both sides of the line of scrimmage. It’s big play or bust for Oregon.
- Colorado continues in the right direction and they may actually be able to claim to have two of the five best players in the league right now on their roster.
- The best running back in the conference may very well be based in Corvallis.
- Chip Kelly’s Bruins are a hot mess. And that is just fine by me.
Let’s jump into some power rankings, shall we?
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings — Week 5
12. UCLA (0-4, 0-1)
UCLA 16, Colorado 38
The Bruins are in trouble. No matter what you think of Chip Kelly and his youth movement, a 22-point loss to a South Division rival coming out of your bye week was not how the Bruins brass envisioned last weekend going.
The biggest issue that Kelly now has to contend with is losing his team. He’s provided repeatedly that old coaching refrain that every position is open to competition and that he’ll play the guy who gives his team the “best chance to win.” There are, to the contrary, several examples of where that is not happening. The most obvious is the quarterback.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson may someday be a good PAC 12 QB, but today is not that day. In fact, I think it is easy to agree that he is probably the poorest-performing QB in the conference as of right now. With Wilton Speight on the bench and Devon Modster now transferred, it is obvious to the rest of the roster that the coach is playing favorites with the future in mind. That may be ok for the younger players, but the upperclassmen are screwed…and they know it.
If you are looking for a bright side, Joshua Kelley made a claim to being the feature back for this offense. If you are looking for a downside, consider that the Huskies are coming to town this week.
POG: RB Joshua Kelley (12 carries, 124 yards)
Next up: vs #10 Washington
11. Oregon State (1-4, 0-2)
Oregon State 24, Arizona State 52
I think we pretty much know what Oregon State is going to be this season. Jonathan Smith has built himself a team that has a few playmakers on offense, a surprising new star in RB Jermar Jefferson (war daddy!) and a defense that has issues.
The presence of guys like Jefferson, WR Trevon Bradford, and WR Isaiah Hodgins gives the Beavs the chance of pulling an upset or two along the way. However, OSU’s rush defense couldn’t stop a one-legged running back in a tar pit. It’s going to be a slog.
POG: Jermar Jefferson (34 carries, 254 yards, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs Washington State
10. Arizona (2-3, 1-1)
USC 24, Arizona 20
I’m not sure what else to say about Arizona. After watching them get defeated at home by a not-very-sharp USC team, my thoughts on the Wildcats are pretty much the same as they’ve been. This is a team that has a poor match between offensive personnel and offensive coaching.
On the flip side, it was good to see that Wildcats defense bow up a little bit more than what we’ve seen. I thought the over-matched Arizona defensive line showed a little grit and I continue to be impressed with the activity of the linebackers (though Tony Fields got dinged up—something we’ll have to watch).
I’m not yet ready to back off the notion of Arizona being a bowl team this year. We still need to see how Khalil Tate looks once he gets his wheels back as he is clearly playing injured right now. But there are not four automatic wins left on the schedule. They are going to have to earn it.
POG: LB Colin Schooler (13 tckls, 1 sack, 1 PD)
Next up: vs Cal
9. Utah (2-2, 0-2)
Utah 24, WSU 28
The Utes are reeling and it isn’t clear to me what they can do to get back on track.
Utah’s offense was able to generate a bit of a rushing attack Saturday night against Washington State. However, QB Tyler Huntley continues to flounder behind his line of scrimmage looking completely confused by what he’s seeing in front of him. On those rare occasions that he is able to get off a pass, he is continuously betrayed by the least sure-handed receiving corps in the conference.
Defensively, the Utes were as stout as they’ve been all year. I think they were surprised a little bit in the first half as WSU was able to get chunks of plays out of the pass offense. But they adjusted and held the Cougs to less than a hundred yards in total offense in the second half (not counting a brilliant long TD reception by Easop Winston Jr.). They also held WSU’s runners to zero yards rushing on the night (counting sacks). Not bad.
I know that some Utes fans would point out that Britain Covey had a TD taken away on a questionable punt return penalty. Still, it’s not enough to offset just how bad this offense is. With two losses now in conference and a road trip to Stanford next, Utah’s prospects in the South are severely dimmed.
POG: DL Bradlee Anae (4 tckls, 1.5 sacks)
Next up: at #14 Stanford
8. California (3-1, 0-1)
#20 Oregon 42, #24 Cal 24
I’m feeling for Cal fans right now. It must really suck to have your team enter the top 25 for the first time in three years, after a bye week no less, and then see it get jettisoned out after playing its next game. It’s almost like they were gifted a ranking and then just fumbled it away.
Regardless, Cal has a quarterback problem. Brandon McIlwain is clearly their best playmaker—and he was electric in the loss to Oregon—but he simply can’t throw. Chase Garbers is a gamer, but he just hasn’t had time to develop into a good QB. Ross Bowers is an afterthought.
The other thing that jumped out at me in the Oregon game was just how much of Cal’s D is smoke and mirrors. They have some gritty, active players such as LB Jordan Kunaszyk and LB Evan Weaver, but Oregon exposed Cal’s lack of back-end speed in a pretty big way.
POG: QB Brandon McIlwain (PASS: 11/28, 121 yds, 1 TD, 2 INT; RUN: 15 cars, 123 yds, 1 TD)
Next up: at Arizona
7. Arizona State (3-2, 1-1)
Oregon State 24, Arizona State 52
ASU hosted the Beavers on Saturday night and did what teams in the PAC will continue to do to Oregon State: they shredded them with the running game.
Eno Benjamin had two scoring runs of over 40 yards and another from 10 yards out on his way to one of the best performances by a running back in conference history. In fact, combined with Jermar Jefferson’s 254 yards on the other sideline, it may have been the most impressive night from a pair of running backs in the history of the PAC.
Still, ASU had some issues that will certainly get attention. Manny Wilkins was not sharp for the second straight game, though he was better about trying to get WR N’Keal Harry involved. Also, the ASU defense was much less stout than they were against Washington, with missed tackles being a real glaring issue.
POG: RB Eno Benjamin (30 carries, 312 yards, 3 TDs)
Next up: at #21 Colorado
6. USC (3-2, 2-1)
USC 24, Arizona 20
That’s the best way I can describe USC’s win over Arizona. There wasn’t anything particularly impressive about it outside of some offensive line hustle (looking at you Toa Lobendahn) that I thought was notable.
I suppose 253 yards rushing (led by Aca’Cedric Ware’s 173) will keep the restless natives at bay. I think fans will also appreciate the USC D pitching a first half shutout even if it was against an injured Khalil Tate. But there was too much slop in this one (3 turnovers, 5 of 16 third down conversions, 18 penalties…yes, 18!) to lead one to believe that USC is on their way back.
But, hey, a win over a division rival is a win over a division rival. The Trojans will take it.
POG: OL Toa Lobendahn (awesome offensive line play)
Next up: BYE
5. Washington State (4-1, 1-1)
Utah 24, WSU 28
I have to say, the Cougs continue to impress me. Against Utah, all of the things that we’ve been seeing out of WSU came into play. Gardner Minshew, though he struggled a bit more than we’ve seen in previous games, is a true gunslinger who has no compunction about pushing the ball downfield. Tay Martin and Easop Winston are serious playmakers in their own right. And that #SpeedD is still a thing.
I thought that the win over Utah was impressive precisely because of how that defense played. Particularly in the second half when it seemed like Utah had cracked the code on completely shutting down the Air Raid. Peyton Pelluer was doing his best BBK impression by running all over the field to meet RB Zack Moss wherever he was while Logan Tago, I thought, was channeling his inner Hercules Mata’afa by changing plays through penetration in the backfield.
The Cougs are trying to let us know that they may be for real.
POG: DL Logan Tago (7 tackles, 2 TFLs)
Next up: at Oregon State
4. #18 Oregon (4-1, 1-1)
#19 Oregon 42, #24 Cal 24
The Ducks have two new shiny things to talk about today. First, they have their first conference win, over a ranked divisional rival no less. Second, they have themselves a new running back. Travis Dye, brother to star linebacker Troy Dye, had a huge game against Cal on Saturday and helped carry the explosive Oregon offense to victory.
As good as the offense was, it was the Duck defense that should get credit for the win. LB La’Mar Winston had a huge fumble return for a TD while safety/nickel Ugo Amadi had both a pick six and a brilliant breakup of a sure TD pass from Cal QB Brandon McIlwain.
There is a lot going on with this Oregon team. But you know it must be progressing when we can do an entire recap and not even mention how good Justin Herbert was. Up next is a week off as they prepare for Washington.
POG: DB Ugo Amadi (7 tckls, 2 INTs, 1 TD, 1 PD)
Next up: BYE
3. #14 Stanford (4-1, 2-0)
#7 Stanford 14, #8 Notre Dame 38
I’d like to personally thank Notre Dame for providing our annual reminder that Stanford is overrated. After completely dismantling the Cardinal in every phase of the game, the Irish have for the second season in a row given the national audience a reason to doubt the quality of ranked PAC 12 opponents.
What really jumped out at me in this one was the confirmation of something that we thought at the beginning of the season and that we’ve seen glimpses of through the first month: Stanford’s defensive front seven is not very effective. In fact, I might go so far as to say that they are not good. The Irish racked up 550 total yards against those guys and they split it almost evenly between rushing and passing.
I’m surprised by how much Stanford’s offensive line has struggled. Notre Dame is a good opponent, but the Cardinal line—particularly their tackles—just look lost in space and were completely neutralized last weekend. It’s no wonder that RB Bryce Love is struggling to even get over 4 yards per carry.
While their slim chances at the Playoff are now effectively doused, Stanford is still undefeated in the conference and has a clear line of sight to the North title thanks to their win over Oregon. It’s too early to start dropping Stanford from contention altogether.
POG: DB Paulson Adebo (8 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PD)
Next up: vs Utah
2. #21 Colorado (4-0, 1-0)
UCLA 16, Colorado 38
Pop Quiz! There are fourteen unbeaten teams remaining in the nation. Who are the PAC 12’s unbeatens?
Yup, there is just one: the surprising Colorado Buffaloes.
You can point out all you like the nature of Colorado’s schedule to date, and you’d be correct. The bottom line is that Colorado has beaten everybody that they’ve played. Impressively.
• CSU is 1-4 (thanks Arkansas!)
• NEB is 0-4
• UNH is 0-4
• UCLA is 0-4
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 30, 2018
On Friday night, you got to see Steven Montez dissect, Travon McMillian run, Drew Lewis blitz, and Nate Landman roam. And then there is this guy Laviska Shenault, who just keeps doing new things as he builds his résumé for a run at Offensive Player of the Year. I was originally thinking that I’d honor Lewis (2 sacks, 3 TFLs) as my POG, but then Shenault goes and adds a rushing TD to his 126 yards receiving (and a receiving TD). That guy simply does it all.
POG: WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (12 catches, 144 total yds, 2 TDs)
Next up: vs ASU
1. #10 Washington (4-1, 2-0)
#20 BYU 7, #11 Washington 35
Jake Browning has effectively ended the controversy surrounding his slow start to the season. In UW’s smothering win over BYU, Browning not only staked claim to the UW all-time passing yardage record, but he reminded everyone watching that he is still among the best in the nation when it comes to managing an offense, pushing the ball downfield, and throwing accurate passes. His 92% completion percentage was just one completion short of setting an NCAA record. Even more impressive? 11.1 yards per attempt with that kind of completion percentage against a ranked opponent.
And we haven’t even talked about the defense. Were it not for a Chico McClatcher muffed fair catch on a punt, UW would have pitched its first shutout against a ranked opponent since the 1990 USC game (31-0). You’ll remember that one as the famous “All I saw was purple” game. Even with that muffed punt, the backups—which included guys like Jason Scrempos, Jake Wambaugh and Kyler Manu—still almost kept BYU out of the end zone in garbage time.
So, yeah, UW is looking pretty good right now.
PS: shoutout to Drew Sample, who caught his first TD reception since his freshman year. The UW senior tight end was probably beginning to wonder if he was ever going to get another one.