*Editor’s Note: Each week we combine rankings from all our writers to produce these consensus Power Rankings. Don’t like where your team stacks up? Tell us about it on Twitter.
With Utah reclaiming control of its own destiny, a showdown between the Utes and the Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship seems all but inevitable. But nothing is certain in Conference play, even if both teams have favorable remaining slates.
After a synchronized bye this week, Utah and Oregon each face three teams with a collective winning percentage of .500 or less. They share a common opponent in 4-5 Arizona; they play teams that started fast only to disappoint, in Colorado and ASU; and they face teams that started slow, but have since played its way into their division race in UCLA and Oregon State.
The teams in that last category pose the biggest threat. It’s unlikely, but the Bruins could wrest the South lead away from the Utes at Rice-Eccles in two weeks. The Beavers would need the Ducks to lose at least once before visiting Autzen in the season finale, but were that to happen, they could, likewise, steal the North.
But for the first time in a while, this week isn’t about Oregon or Utah. It’s about seven teams that seem to have lost their way: Arizona, ASU, Cal, Colorado, Stanford, Washington, and WSU have all seen their seasons veer off the rails for one reason or another. A win this week would go a long way toward getting them back on track.
1. Oregon (6-0, 8-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated USC 56-24 | This Week: Bye
The Ducks started slow last week, but once they got going, the Trojans couldn’t keep up. USC seemed to be in command after taking an early 10-0 lead, but an interception by Oregon cornerback Verone McKinley III irrevocably shifted the momentum. A subsequent touchdown run by Justin Herbert, followed by a half-ending kickoff return by Mykael Wright put the Ducks up 28-17. They never looked back. What made Oregon’s performance so impressive was the way its defense and special teams took the reins when the offense sputtered. Were the Ducks to make it to the College Football Playoff, they would need a complete showing in all three phases. But few teams have trampled the Trojans in the Coliseum the way Oregon did last week, and it likely won’t go unnoticed by the Committee. The Ducks have a bye this week before hosting Arizona in a game that could prove easy, but can’t be taken lightly. The Wildcats have bedeviled Oregon in successful seasons before and would love to do so again. The Ducks still have all their goals in front of them but need to stay focused and healthy.
2. Utah (5-1, 8-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Washington 33-28 | This Week: Bye
The Utes finally got the monkey off their backs, erasing an offseason worth of frustration with a win over Washington. Thanks to an assist from Oregon, Utah has reclaimed control of its own destiny in the South and isn’t likely to relinquish it anytime soon. Utah’s resilience and toughness in loud Husky Stadium last week bodes well for whatever comes next. After falling behind 14-3 early, the Utes went with what works, putting the ball in the hands of Zack Moss. The speedy and dependable running back bruised the Huskies for 100 yards on 27 carries, catching five passes for 41 yards, and punching the ball into the end zone twice, once each in the air and on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Huntley made precise third-down throws despite being hit, reaffirming his toughness by scrambling on a bum leg, as he has most of the season. Utah’s stingy defense, which limited the Dawgs to just 53 yards rushing, found their rhythm in the third quarter, changing the game on a pick-six by cornerback Jaylon Johnson. The Utes are well-positioned to make their second-straight Pac-12 Championship game appearance, with three remaining matchups against teams with losing records after this week’s bye.
3. Washington (2-4, 5-4) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to Utah 33-28 | This Week: at Oregon State
In retrospect, expectations may have been unreasonably high for the Huskies this season, given their inexperience on defense and the need to adapt to a new quarterback. On the whole, Washington signal-caller Jacob Eason hasn’t lived up to his hype. He certainly has all the tools, and likely will play in the NFL one day, but consistency has been an issue. The Georgia transfer made three critical mistakes against the Utes, the biggest being the pick-six he threw on a deep out-route off his back foot, telegraphing it to Utah’s best corner, Jaylon Johnson. The reaction of Eason’s teammates after he lost a fumble deep in Washington territory early on may have been even more concerning. No one came near him after the play, an indication that he may have lost his command as the team’s leader. The Huskies are much better than their 5-4 record suggests, having lost four games by an average of 4.5 points. But if head coach Chris Petersen and his staff don’t make the right adjustments this week, there may be more close losses in store. Washington faces a much-improved Oregon State team that is likely to put up 30-plus points. Eason and the Husky offense will have to respond in kind or watch an already disappointing season turn downright ugly.
4. UCLA (4-2, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Colorado 31-14 | This Week: Bye
Don’t look now, but those formerly-dismissed Bruins, led by that formerly used-up Wizard, have won three straight Conference games after steamrolling Colorado. A lot has gone right for UCLA in that stretch, especially for its dynamic rushing attack, which racked up 226 yards against the Buffs. Joshua Kelley led the way once again, gaining 126 yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns. The defense held up its end of the bargain, holding Steven Montez to 195 yards passing and picking him off once, due in large part to an effective pass rush. The Bruin defense stymied the Colorado run game, allowing a scant 88 yards, with no runs over 16 yards. UCLA gets a bye this week to prepare for Utah in Salt Lake City on November 16th, in what figures to be their toughest game of the season. Few expect the Bruins to survive that matchup, but even fewer expected them to be in control of their own destiny in the South with three games to play. After a failed stint in the NFL, and a season and a half of frustration in Westwood, Chip Kelly would like nothing better than to prove that he’s still the mastermind that changed college football.
— Andrew Corbett
5. USC (4-2, 5-4) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to Oregon 56-24 | This Week: at Arizona State
If Trojan coach Clay Helton was skating on thin ice heading into last week, the blowout loss to Oregon melted what remained of the frozen water beneath his feet. Realistically, the only scenario that might have saved his job at USC was one in which he maintained the head-to-head advantage over Utah in the South, and proceeded to beat the Ducks a second time in the Pac-12 Championship game. That possibility vaporized with the 10-0 lead the Trojans forged in the second quarter after freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis threw an interception and fumbled, altering the course of the game. But the real killer came near the end of the first half, when USC’s coverage team allowed Oregon’s Mykael Wright to return a kickoff untouched for a touchdown. The blunder sucked the air out of the stadium, and ultimately proved too much for SC to overcome. The Ducks dominated the rest of the way, forcing more Trojan turnovers, and turned all of them into points. USC will need to rebound quickly next week against a hungry ASU team to prevent a down year from turning into another disaster. A win in Tempe could be the difference between finishing second in the South or missing a bowl game for a second-straight season.
— Nicholas Bartlett
6. Washington State (1-4, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at California
Coming off a much-needed bye week following a tough loss to Oregon, Washington State needs to rebound at California this week. There’s reason for optimism, with the Cougar defense trending up since the departure of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, and the Golden Bears struggling on offense. Cal’s defense remains elite, but Wazzu’s offense has been difficult for all but Utah to stop this season. Senior quarterback Anthony Gordon is on the verge of adding his name to the list of Cougar legends, having thrown for 3,387 yards and 32 touchdowns. Sophomore running back Max Borghi has been the glue of the offense, rushing for 566 yards and catching 44 balls for 398 yards with a combined 10 touchdowns on the ground and through the air. WSU should be ready to go with two weeks of preparation heading into Berkeley, but can’t afford another loss with four games left. Two victories would get the Cougs into a bowl game. But if they can win the next three, they’ll put themselves in a better position to finally break through against the Dawgs in the Apple Cup. And that might just salvage an otherwise underwhelming season.
7. Arizona State (2-3, 5-3) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. USC
Arizona State had a bye last week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. After getting throttled by UCLA and Utah in back-to-back contests, the Sun Devils need to tighten some screws and regroup. In the first half of the season, they found ways to win close games with their defense, despite struggling on offense. But as the year progressed, they began faltering on both sides of the ball. The Sun Devils can still improve upon last year’s record, however. They need just one more win to become bowl eligible, and would then have a chance to secure a quality bowl with more. It starts with shell-shocked USC, in a game that could turn things around. ASU might want to get a few extra touches for running back Eno Benjamin. The workhorse adds an extra level of physicality, and when he gets going, the rest of the offense just seems to click. The Sun Devil defense will have a chance to build on its win over WSU against a lesser air-raid system, and might catch a break after facing run-dominate offenses in the Bruins and Utes. A win would provide head coach Herm Edwards and his fledgling program a significant boost, and help keep it trending in the right direction.
8. Oregon State (3-2, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Arizona 56-38 | This Week: vs Washington
Oregon State’s win over the Wildcats on the road last week proved just how far the Beavers have come in winning their first back-to-back games since 2016. More importantly, they retained sole possession of second place in the North as the only team with a reasonable shot at catching the 6-0 Ducks. The OSU offense played a complete game in Tucson, scoring 56 points, including a 28-point explosion in the second quarter. The unit dominated the contest on the ground with Artavis Pierce and Jermar Jefferson each gaining more than 100 yards. Wideout Isaiah Hodgins continued his prolific ways, finishing with seven catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. And senior quarterback Jake Luton had another outstanding contest, throwing for 328 yards and three touchdowns. This was a matchup OSU had to win to have a realistic shot at making a bowl game, and they handled their business with ease. The victory sets up a difficult stretch beginning with Washington this week, followed by Arizona State and Oregon. Think twice before betting against the Beavs in any of those games: They’re no longer cupcakes, and they won’t go down without a fight.
9. Stanford (3-3, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at Colorado
Stanford’s Jekyll and Hyde personality this season has made it difficult, if not impossible, to predict how the once-consistent David Shaw-coached team would perform. That remains the case this week in Boulder, even against the floundering Buffs, who have lost five straight. There are some certainties, however. Senior quarterback K.J. Costello is back, having played better than expected in his return against the Wildcats. His experience made all the difference in that game and will prove no less vital in the Tree’s road contest on Saturday. Defensively, the Cardinal matchup favorably with Colorado, which has been hot and cold passing the ball. Cornerback Paulson Adebo may be able to limit the effectiveness of CU wideout Laviska Shenault Jr., rendering the Buffaloes’ offense much less dangerous. Stanford dug itself into a deep hole with three loses early in the season, but has since won three out of its last four. That’s a good sign that the Cardinal may have finally found their identity, despite a slew of injuries. Having an extra week to prepare can’t hurt. In any case, Stanford must beat Colorado to have a realistic shot at a bowl.
10. Arizona (2-3, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to Oregon State 56-38 | This Week: Bye
There are problems a bye week can fix, and problems it can’t even begin to cure. The Cats were unable to end their three-game losing streak last week on Homecoming, allowing Oregon State to put up 56 points in a blowout loss. The Beavers did whatever they wanted, both through the air and on the ground, converting 70% of their third downs while punting the ball just three times. Jake Luton carved up the Arizona secondary for more than 300 yards passing with three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Artavis Pierce and Jemar Jefferson gashed the Wildcats for a combined 219 yards rushing and another four touchdowns. The lone bright spot for Arizona was J.J. Taylor. The redshirt-junior rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns while notching 89 yards receiving on seven receptions. Perplexingly, Grant Gunnell and Khalil Tate continued to alternate every handful of series, hindering both quarterback’s ability to establish a rhythm. The coaching staff must find a way to spark the defense and maximize the weapons on offense. With consecutive upcoming games against Top-10 programs, those are weaknesses the bye week can and must fix to avoid a six-game losing streak heading into the Territorial Cup.
11. Cal (1-4, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⟺
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. Washington State
The Golden Bears have had their share of bad breaks this season, from injuries to close losses, but what happened in Salt Lake City two weeks ago was nothing short of disastrous. Cal coach Justin Wilcox and his assistants have had a bye week to address a multitude of issues ahead of this week’s game with Washington State, beginning with an offense that seemed out of sync and failed to score. Quarterback Devon Modster could return from the concussion that sidelined him last week, but that won’t remedy the problems the Bears have at the line of scrimmage. To have a chance against the Cougars, Cal’s defense must return to its pre-Utes form, in which it gave up an average of just 18.3 points per contest. Unfortunately, that won’t be easy against Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack, which has a way of making even the best defenses look silly. When it isn’t dicing linebackers with its short, underneath passing darts, it’s slashing defensive backs with deep, downfield arrows. The Bears need two more wins to be bowl-eligible, and that path will only get harder if Saturday doesn’t end in a victory.
12. Colorado (1-4, 3-5) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to UCLA 31-14 | This Week: vs. Stanford
A season that started so promising, with three wins and a close loss in the first four games, has gone sour after taking a five-loss dive. Colorado’s most recent defeat to UCLA last week in the Rose Bowl may not have been the worst of them. But it reinforced the worst of the Buffs’ problems: Colorado’s offense struggled to gain just 283 total yards, with quarterback Steven Montez throwing for 195 yards and an interception to go with his touchdown. The Buffalo defense has been an even bigger problem. The unit gave up 426 yards to the Bruins, allowing Dorian Thompson-Robinson to throw for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Landman had another solid game, recording 11 tackles, but it wasn’t enough to keep UCLA’s Joshua Kelley from running for 126 yards and two more scores. Colorado gets another shot at redemption on Saturday, with Stanford coming to Folsom Field for Homecoming. The banged-up Cardinal have had problems of their own, lacking consistency on both sides of the ball, and they might just provide the Buffs with an opportunity they need to right the ship.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.