Editor’s Note: Each week we combine rankings from all our writers to produce these consensus Power Rankings. Curious to know how each writer ranked the teams? Scroll down to the table at the bottom of the page. Don’t like where your team stacks up? Tell us about it on Twitter.
No one doubted that last week’s Oregon-Auburn game had the potential to transform the Pac-12’s image this season. But few expected injuries to be just as transformative. As it turned out, the Ducks let one of the biggest games of the year slip away, and both USC and Stanford saw their starting quarterbacks go down.
What will this week bring?
For starters, the first matchups between Pac-12 teams, with Cal visiting Washington, and USC hosting Stanford. That can only mean one thing: The Conference meat-grinder has begun.
1. Washington (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
If there were questions about how Jacob Eason would fit into the Washington Huskies scheme, they’ve been answered. The new quarterback played within the Game Plan, made smart throws and put up big stats. As a collective unit, the Dawgs looked, well, great. Eastern Washington is not a pushover and UW made them look bad. But have we learned all we need to know? Probably not. Chris Petersen’s teams are always prepared, and Eastern doesn’t weigh up to an elite Pac-12 school. Next week, the Dawgs host California, which beat them 12-10 last season. The Golden Bears have a solid defense that could cause problems for the Husky offense once again. This will be Eason’s first test in Pac-12 league play. If UW can remain humble, keep working, and execute the little things, they could win their second-straight Conference championship. The Dawgs certainly looked the part in their opener, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of their year unfolds.
2. Utah (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⬆
Not surprisingly, the Utes won last week with defense, playing in their typical grind-it-out fashion, wearing down BYU over four quarters. It was impressive to see Zack Moss run the ball with so much authority, showing why he could be the best running back in the Pac-12. Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley didn’t have to do much, but what he did, he did right. The influence of his veteran leadership was as evident in his on-field presence as in his performance. However, aside from Utah’s defensive dominance, BYU played toe-to-toe with Utah for a half. Could this be a potential red flag? Or was it just Utah being Utah, winning ugly while competing for Conference titles? Most likely the latter, but if the Utes are going to have a chance to play for the College Football Playoff, they may need to start winning more impressively. Their schedule isn’t tough enough to afford a slip-up, and given the Pac-12’s current low standing, margin of victory could end up being a factor in the Playoff committee’s decision.
3. Oregon (0-0, 0-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⬇
The Ducks played well enough to beat Auburn until the last two drives, when they couldn’t gain a yard on fourth down, and couldn’t keep the Tigers out of the end zone with time running out. In fact, Oregon led for all but nine seconds, showing plenty of heart and toughness in the process. Unlike previous meetings with SEC foes, the Ducks matched up well in the trenches, especially in the first half—a clear dividend of Mario Cristobal’s Top 10 recruiting classes. However, Auburn did a much better job of clamping down Oregon’s running game in the last 30 minutes. While the loss could potentially make it tougher for the Ducks to land a Playoff berth, a one-loss Pac-12 champion still figures to be a strong contender. The good news? The Ducks won’t face a tougher opponent than Auburn the rest of the season. But with their most difficult games coming on the road, it won’t be easy to win out. To have a chance, Oregon must put the hurt of this big loss aside, and focus on the opportunities that remain ahead.
4. Washington State (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬆
Washington State was clicking on all cylinders on the offensive side against New Mexico State last week. Quarterback Anthony Gordon looked like a seasoned veteran in his first career start, throwing for 420 yards and five touchdowns. Not only was the Air Raid at full force, but sophomore running back Max Borghi also put up 128 yards. The one downside to the 51-point blowout was that the WSU defense looked out-of-synch at times, despite giving up just seven points. New Mexico State moved the ball effectively early in the game, and in spots throughout. The Cougs will need to tighten this up, especially once they begin facing Conference opponents. Overall, Wazzu seemed to pick up where they left off last season. It remains to be seen if the Cougars can dominate a stronger opponent the way they did the Aggies. But if this was a preview of things to come, Wazzu is likely to put a scare into Pac-12 opponents, as the team nobody wants to play.
5. Stanford (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬇
The Cardinal looked like Stanford of old against Northwestern, running the rock and controlling the tempo with their defense. Exactly the Game Plan they need to execute to win big matchups this season. Ordinarily, opening the campaign with a victory over a tough Big XII opponent would be an indication of their readiness to start Conference play. However, this win may have come at a tremendous cost: Tackle Walker Little was lost for about half the season with a leg injury; and at the end of the first half, quarterback K.J. Costello took a vicious hit and did not return. He’s questionable for Saturday’s game as of Tuesday, and his absence, if extended, could really hurt Stanford’s inexperienced offense. Costello was supposed to be the constant in this group. The Cardinal might still be fine without him this week, with starting USC quarterback JT Daniels out. But if Costello misses much more than that, the retooled Cardinal running game and defense will need to carry them more than ever.
6. Arizona State (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Everything seemingly went right for the Sun Devils in their season-opening win against Kent State. Eno Benjamin looked like the premier back he is, making big plays through the air and on the ground. Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels appeared ready for the challenge, making good decisions and living up to his billing throughout. For the most part, head coach Herm Edwards has kept the momentum rolling from last’s year’s squad. But in the second quarter, the Devils struggled to score, allowing the Golden Flashes to hang around, taking a slim 10-0 advantage in at halftime. This could be a problem against more talented opponents, especially on the road, as it was last year against San Diego State. Look for Arizona State to deliver an earlier knock out next week against Sacramento State, while also improving consistency and execution on both sides of the ball. ASU had a great first week, but they must continue to grow in order to make an upset run at the South title.
7. USC (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬇
Out of all the Pac-12 performances this week USC’s had to be the most confusing. The Trojans beat a talented Fresno State team that finished 12-2 last season—no easy task, especially without their starting quarterback. The season-ending ACL injury to JT Daniels might have rattled another team, but the Trojans appeared to pick up their intensity, making plays they had to make to win. Running back Vavae Malepeai controlled the offensive tempo with 134 yards, and that needs to continue in Daniels’s absence. Before the sophomore signal caller’s injury, he completed 15 of his first 17 passes, and was looking like an excellent fit for Graham Harrell’s Air Raid system. For the Trojans to finish better than last year’s 5-7 record his replacement, freshman Kedon Slovis, must realize his full potential. The Trojans are a different team without Daniels, and this week’s Conference opener against Stanford will give us a better sense of USC’s new destiny.
— Nicholas Bartlett
8. Colorado (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⬆
There was a lot to like in Colorado’s 51-32 victory over the Rams last week, with the Buffs putting up 475 yards of total offense and not committing a single turnover. Much of that came from Steven Montez’s 232 passing yards and two touchdowns. But running back Alex Fontenot shined the brightest in CU’s retooled offense. Colorado has featured a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past three seasons; Fontenot looks like he could be the fourth, after racking up 125 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Defense was another matter. The Buffs played poorly by new coach Mel Tucker’s standards, allowing 505 total yards, with Rams quarterback Collin Hill throwing for 374. The Buffs did force five turnovers, however, and they made all the difference. Colorado needs to improve defensively to have a good shot at beating Nebraska next week.
9. Cal (0-0, 1-0) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⟺
The rumored growth of Chase Garbers had many fans excited to see a revamped offense against UC Davis in Week One. But Cal’s lack of production left them disappointed after the sophomore quarterback seemed to perform at an identical level as last year. Granted, most teams tend to improve the most between the first and second game, and the emergence of Christopher Brown Jr. as a workhorse back may lead Cal to new heights. But such developments are speculative at this point, considering the discrepancy in size and talent between UC Davis and Cal’s eventual Pac-12 foes. The Golden Bear defense did not have its best outing in the first half against Davis, though it played as advertised in the second. JUCO transfer and “Last Chance U” TV show alum Kuony Deng is a force in the middle, with a freakish talent for dropping back into zones with his 6-foot-6 frame. Cal has a chance to shock the Conference with a win over Washington for the second straight year on the road next week. It will take a big leap of growth to realize that improbable outcome.
10. UCLA (0-0, 0-1) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬇
Not much went right for the Bruins in their 24-14 season-opening loss at Cincinnati. The game started off well enough, with UCLA forcing a Bearcats punt, and then driving into the red zone. But then things began to fall apart. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled the ball at the 5, and Cincinnati answered with two straight scores. The defense was surprisingly OK, limiting the Bearcat rushing attack to 175 yards. But the offense was pitiful. With four starters out due to injury, including All-Conference running back Johsua Kelley, UCLA struggled to get anything going, producing less than 70 yards rushing to go with four turnovers. Thompson-Robinson played his worst game at UCLA, totaling a QBR of 12.5. The Bruins need to scheme around the loss of two offensive linemen, wide receiver Theo Howard, and Kelley if they’re going to improve the offense this week, and throughout the season.
— Andrew Corbett
11. Arizona (0-0, 0-1) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬇
Coming off a bye week, the Arizona coaches had a chance to address some of the glaring issues from the Week 0 disaster against Hawaii. The defense has to find a way to improve on third-down after letting Hawaii convert 50% of the time, while forcing them to punt the ball only once. Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates will need to improve his play-calling, or he may be looking for a new job when his contract runs out at the end of the season. Conversely, the offense must start the first and third quarters with more success. With a struggling defense, the Cats can’t afford quick three-and-outs to start each half. In order to address the slow starts, look for J.J. Taylor to play a bigger role against Northern Arizona this weekend, after inexplicably being limited to 14 carries in the season-opener. While the sky isn’t officially falling, it may be if Arizona struggles against the Lumberjacks. In any case, you can expect the extremely frustrated fan base to get even more riled up.
12. Oregon State (0-0, 0-1) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
For the first twenty minutes or so, the Beavers appeared as though they just might pull off an incredible upset. OSU opened with a beautiful nine-play, 70-yard drive to take an early 7-0 lead. Then Oklahoma State ran off three straight touchdowns. But while the upset bubble burst, bright spots remained. Jake Luton looked like a quarterback poised to make some big plays this season, and running back Jermar Jefferson showed off his elusiveness. Offensively, the Beavs appear to be much-improved over last year. But the Oregon State defense was atrocious. They couldn’t get pressure up-front, they couldn’t tackle, and they made Cowboys running back Chuba Hubbard look like Barry Sanders. It didn’t get any better when Oklahoma State decided to pass; wide receiver Tylan Wallace amazed whenever he touched the ball. If the Beavers hope to win a Pac-12 game this year, their defense must improve. On the positive side, if Luton keeps managing the offense well, OSU could put up plenty of points and steal a victory here or there.
This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.