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.
Many have called for an extended College Football Playoff, but for teams in the running this time of year, it already exists: Every matchup in the final two weeks of the regular season is a de facto playoff. The Utes won theirs last week; the Ducks did not.
The difference, of course, is that Oregon could still knock Utah out of the CFP race in the Pac-12 Championship game, barring a stunning loss by the Utes to Colorado. But expectations and reality don’t always align in November, which is why, as the saying goes, this month’s games are the ones we tend to remember.
In any case, the Utes would be wise to heed the warning of Oregon’s stumble. Much like the Sun Devils last week, the Buffs will be playing for bowl eligibility, with nothing to lose, and the odds stacked heavily against them. The football gods won’t be counting them out. Nor should the Ducks overlook the Beavers. We may not have seen the final surprise of the season.
1. Utah (7-1, 10-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Arizona 35-7 | This Week: vs. Colorado
The Utes continued their torrent pace, handling the Wildcats with ease. Utah’s defense dominated throughout, and its offense did what it’s been doing all season, racking up enough points to foil any real threat of a comeback. Tyler Huntley posted another solid outing, completing 19 of 23 passes for 211 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He may not have the flash and name-recognition to reap the Heisman consideration he deserves, but his rating numbers are as good as any quarterback in the country. Utah running back Zack Moss put up video game numbers, finishing with 203 yards and a touchdown. And tight end Brant Kuithe contributed two rushing touchdowns on end arounds to go with his 81 yards receiving. Utah is now just one win away from locking up the South, and booking a return trip to the Pac-12 Championship. The Utes host Colorado next week in a Conference-created rivalry that’s still looking for a reason to feel like one. With a legitimate shot at making the College Football Playoff, the Utes don’t want this to be the year they start hating the Buffs.
2. Oregon (7-1, 9-2) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to ASU 31-28 | This Week: vs. OSU
The Ducks have been playing with fire all season. But it took a trip to the Valley of the Sun for them to finally get burned. Perhaps it was the wake-up they needed. Oregon sleep-walked through three quarters before a 17-point deficit got their attention. Right on cue, the Ducks mounted a comeback, and it might have succeeded if ASU quarterback Jayden Daniels hadn’t torched the secondary for an 81-yard touchdown on third-and-16. Ultimately, the Ducks lost the game in the first half by not trusting their offensive line, which bullied ASU’s defensive front whenever they ran the ball. Under those circumstances, airing the ball out seemed unthinkable. As unthinkable as Justin Herbert throwing interceptions on back-to-back possessions. The senior signal-caller didn’t have his best game, but neither should the blame be placed on his shoulders. Oregon needs to regroup as a team this week, all egos aside, to defeat explosive Oregon State in the Civil War. The surprising Beavers are a win away from bowl eligibility, and they won’t go away easy. Despite being eliminated from the College Football Playoff, Oregon can still claim the Conference championship and land a Rose Bowl bid with two more wins.
3. USC (7-2, 8-4) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated UCLA 52-35 | This Week: Bye
The Trojans dominated the Bruins in what may have been their most impressive performance of the season. True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis set a school record for passing yards in a game with 515, tossing four touchdowns without an interception. Four different receivers racked up more than 100 receiving yards each, led by Drake London’s 142 and one touchdown. The Trojans found success on the ground as well, with running backs Stephen Carr and Vavae Malepeai rushing for a combined 147 yards and three scores. USC’s regular season may be over, but the Men of Troy still have a chance to steal the South, should Utah stumble this week against Colorado. That unlikely possibility could just save head Coach Clay Helton’s job. All things considered, he did a credible job this year, given the setbacks and injuries. But perhaps not credible enough by USC standards. New Trojan athletic director Mike Bohn isn’t showing his hand, but his decision seems likely before the Pac-12 Championship game kicks off, if the Trojans aren’t in it.
— Nicholas Bartlett
4. Arizona State (3-5, 6-5) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Oregon 31-28 | This Week: vs Arizona
After four straight losses, without leading a single contest in the month of November, the Sun Devils pulled off the biggest shocker of the Pac-12 season. Arizona State’s upset of Oregon is a testament to Herm Edwards’ recruiting and NFL system—and to the poise of his players, who were never rattled. ASU dominated the first three quarters, building up a 24-7 lead in the fourth before the Ducks rallied in a frenzied comeback attempt. The play that broke their backs, on a third-and-16, showcased the arm of quarterback Jayden Daniels. Had his 81-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Aiyuk been thrown a foot further, or a foot shorter, Oregon would have been back in business, down just three, with more than enough time to win. But the true freshman’s pass was perfect, as inspiring as the smile on his face. The win earned the Sun Devils a second-straight bowl berth and restored some national respect. To keep it, ASU needs to take care of Arizona in the Territorial Cup on Saturday. It’s the difference between coming of age and playing the spoiler.
5. Washington State (3-5, 6-5) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated defeated OSU 54-53 | This Week: at Washington
The Cougars had every opportunity to lose to Oregon State last week, but just one final chance to steal a win. Anthony Gordon and Max Borghi weren’t about to let it slip away. Down by five, the pair led WSU 56 yards to the OSU two with two seconds left to play. Everyone knew who would get the ball on the final play. Borghi’s touchdown salvaged a winning season, securing bowl eligibility for Wazzu. The Cougars had watched yet another lead disappear in the fourth quarter, and seemed helpless to stop the Beavers, who recovered the ensuing onside kick. But WSU’s struggling defense held one last time, on a fourth-and-four, giving the offense its final shot. Gordon’s 600 yards and six touchdowns gave the senior quarterback Pac-12 season records in both categories. Renard Bell contributed in a big way as well, pulling in eight balls for 108 yards and two touchdowns. The most amazing stat of the game was this: The Cougs turned the ball over five times and still won. It was a fitting if unlikely end to a Senior Night in honor of Tyler Hilinski on the Palouse. This week’s heated rivalry in Seattle will determine bowl rankings, and decide who takes home bragging rights for the State.
6. Washington (3-5, 6-5) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to Colorado 20-14 | This Week: vs. WSU
In a way, the Huskies’ loss to Colorado stands as a microcosm of their entire season. A talented, well-coached Washington team that has underperformed more often than not, squandered yet another opportunity to redeem itself. Once again, the offense couldn’t get on track, gaining just 238 total yards, while the defense foundered, allowing 430. Most telling, perhaps, the Dawgs finished with a net 32 yards rushing, with sacks and losses subtracting from Richard Newton’s scant 32 yards on 12 carries, and Salvon Ahmed 29 on 13. Once again, quarterback Jacob Eason struggled to find his rhythm, throwing for 206 yards, a touchdown, and a costly red-zone interception. The one bright spot was tight end Hunter Bryant’s five catches for 82 yards. Heading into the Apple Cup, Washington has a lot to be concerned about. Never mind the setback of this season; that can’t be repaired. But the Huskies cannot let the trends that tanked 2019 seep into 2020. Ending the regular season with a seventh-straight victory over rival Washington State would go a long way toward setting things right, and likely bump the Dawgs into a better bowl.
7. Oregon State (4-4, 5-6) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to WSU 54-53 | This Week: at Oregon
“Improved” and “close” no longer seem good enough for OSU. The Beavers came up just short in a wild contest in Pullman that came down to the final play, and the disappointment was palpable. Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith made a controversial decision to go on fourth-and-four, and the Beavs failed to convert with 1:14 left. That decision, in and of itself, didn’t cost OSU the game. But had the Beavers chosen to punt, the Cougs likely would have had to drive the length of the field to score the game-winning touchdown. Or it might not have mattered at all, given the explosiveness of WSU’s offense. Regardless, Wazzu made the most of the opportunity, moving the ball from near midfield to the two, and punching it in with two seconds left. The stinging loss left the Beavers needing a win against Oregon this week to become bowl-eligible, and they aren’t likely to catch the shell-shocked Ducks napping. Whether or not the Beavs upset their I-5 rival, Oregon State football has come a long way this year as a program, laying a solid foundation, both on and off the field, for future seasons.
8. Cal (3-5, 6-5) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Stanford 24-20 | This Week: at UCLA
Chase Garbers, welcome to Big Game history. Cal’s sophomore quarterback wrestled a stubborn monkey off the Golden Bear’s back, one that had been residing there for nearly a decade. His late-game heroics reclaimed the ax for Berkeley, defeating Stanford for the first time since 2009. That also happens to be the last time the Bears became bowl eligible for a second-straight season. Garbers put up solid numbers, throwing for 285 yards and a touchdown, despite not being cleared to play until Thursday, and without veteran offensive linemen Valentino Daltoso and wide receiver Kekoa Crawford. But it was the courage Garbers showed in running for 72 yards, including the game-winning score, a 16-yard scramble with just over a minute left, that stood out. Running back Christopher Brown Jr. stood out as well, adding 55 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Most of all, the victory confirmed the vital role Garbers plays for Cal, not only as a talented quarterback but also as the team’s leader. The Bears visit a dangerous but vulnerable UCLA team next, looking to guarantee a winning record, move up in the North, and position themselves for the best possible bowl.
9. UCLA (4-4, 4-7) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to USC 52-35 | This Week: vs. Cal
After winning three in a row, and threatening to disrupt the South Division race, the Bruins dropped their second straight last week, losing to crosstown rival USC. Offensively, a lot went right—especially when juxtaposed to last week’s rout at the hands of Utah—with UCLA racking up 540 total yards and Dorion Thompson-Robinson passing for 367 yards and three scores. But once again, the defense was abysmal, giving up 643 yards and seven touchdowns. USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis made the Bruin secondary look silly, becoming the first Trojan quarterback to pass for more than 500 yards in a game. UCLA had no answers for him or his receivers, five of whom combined for 37 receptions, 515 yards, and four scores. The Bruins host Cal next week. With Chase Garbers back at quarterback for the Bears, a fifth win won’t come easy. After missing a bowl game for a second-straight season, UCLA will likely need to make some changes in the offseason, particularly on the defensive staff, which has come under heavy criticism throughout the 2019 campaign.
— Andrew Corbett
10. Colorado (3-5, 5-6) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Washington 20-14 | This Week: at Utah
The Buffs finally got the signature Pac-12 win they needed to go with their non-conference victory over Nebraska, validating Mel Tucker’s culture change in Boulder. In directing Colorado to an upset of Washington at Folsom Field, quarterback Steven Montez played about as well as could be expected, passing for 223 yards and a touchdown without turning the ball over. CU running back Alex Fontenot added 105 yards rushing and a score, while Laviska Shenault caught seven balls for 100 yards receiving, including an incredible touchdown catch late in the first quarter. Defensively, the Buffs continued their resurgence of the past two games, allow just 32 yards rushing. They also held Jacob Eason to 206 yards passing, nabbing a pivotal interception in the red zone. Colorado now needs just one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2016. Unfortunately, they’ll have to upset No. 6 Utah in Salt Lake City to do it. It’s a tall order, but if the Buffs play as well as they did against the Dawgs, they might give the Utes a tougher game than expected.
11. Stanford (3-6, 4-7) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to Cal 24-20 | This Week: vs Notre Dame
Stanford’s identity crisis reared its ugly head again in The Big Game. That ended up being the determining factor in a rivalry that turns on pride and a defining method of operation. In past seasons, the Cardinal have relied on their rushing attack to gain critical yards in key situations. But with under three minutes left in the game, Stanford couldn’t pick up either a third-and-short or a fourth-and-one on the ground when their season depended on it. The loss eliminates the Cardinal from bowl contention, assuring that they’ll end the year with a losing record. But that doesn’t mean they should hang their heads. And there will be no talk of firing David Shaw, who has rebounded from worse. The team withstood a rash of injuries at multiple positions, especially on the offensive line. Yet the Cardinal still found a way to pick up significant wins over Northwestern and Washington. The remaining opponent on Stanford’s schedule figures to be just as rough, a home contest against Notre Dame. A shocking upset or even a strong showing against the Fighting Irish would give Stanford a much-needed boost heading into the offseason.
12. Arizona (2-6, 4-7) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to Utah 35-7 | This Week: at ASU
The Wildcats have hit rock bottom after losing to Utah in front of roughly 20,000 fans, extending their losing streak to six. The Cats were outmatched from the opening kickoff, though the defense held firm in the first half, limiting the Utes to just 14 points. The offense couldn’t capitalize, however, posting a season-low 196 total yards, and only 11 first downs. In fairness, the offensive line is down three starters, but Noel Mazzone’s system has proven incapable of competing with the Conference’s top teams. Arizona fans have turned from angry to apathetic, and there’s a general sense that Kevin Sumlin may not be the guy to right the ship. Especially given his lackluster recruiting to date. Former players from the Rich Rodriguez and Mike Stoops eras have vented their frustration about the coaching staff on social media. Local writers have begun speculating about Sumlin’s buyout. All the while, athletic director Dave Heeke is raising money to rebuild the stadium’s west side. If the Wildcats get blown out in the Territorial Cup, he may find himself talking with boosters about Sumlin’s future instead.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.