*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.
Thrilling upsets such as USC’s victory against Utah last week, and UCLA’s stunner over Washington State, are the entertaining benefits of playing in a balanced and competitive Pac-12. It’s also a drawback. The Utes and Cougs might still be atop their respective divisions in another conference, rather than digging themselves out of a hole at 0-1.
But we’ll leave that to the three-letter leagues in the southeastern part of the country.
Whatever the cost, few fans would trade the opportunity to watch 12 competitive teams cannibalize each other for nine weeks, whether it’s early morning or After Dark, than simply play patsies for an automatic spot in the Playoff each season. At least, that’s what we’ll keep telling ourselves as the meat grinder continues.
1. Oregon (1-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⬆
The Oregon defense—yes, defense—overwhelmed Stanford in Palo Alto, thwarting its rhythm, while banishing the Cardinal from the end zone. It was the third-straight game in which the Ducks have limited an opponent to mere field goals. That makes them especially dangerous when the offense is clicking. But against a Stanford team that had given up 90 points the previous two outings, UO’s offense sputtered, playing just well enough to win. Still, a win on the road, snapping a three-game losing streak to a rival, was exactly what the Ducks needed. Herbert continued his record-setting pace, throwing for 259 yards and three touchdowns; his 13 touchdown passes over the past three games is a program record. Oregon gets a bye-week next before hosting Cal, the Pac-12’s only remaining undefeated team. It figures to be a defensive contest with the most effective offense sneaking out a win. And if the Bears beat ASU on Saturday, it might just attract ESPN’s College GameDay back to Eugene.
2. Cal (1-0, 4-0) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬆
With its normally reliable defense banged up, Cal turned in one of its most consistent offensive performances of the past two seasons against Ole Miss. The Golden Bears piled up just enough points to stave off a late charge from the Rebels, with Chase Garbers throwing for 357 yards and four touchdowns. Cal gave up an uncharacteristic 525 yards of total offense in the absence of two defensive starters. But Evan Weaver took up the slack, recording a mind-bending 22 tackles. The impressive road victory against an SEC team pushed the Bears up to 15 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since 2009. A similar challenge awaits this week at Arizona State. Like Ole Miss, the Devils start a talented freshman at quarterback and feature a proven defense that struggled last week to maintain its stingy identity. With a victory on Saturday, the Bears would travel to Eugene the following week with the North Division lead on the line.
3. Washington (0-1, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬆
The Huskies showed they’re still one of the most dominant teams in the Pac-12 with their blowout win over BYU. Washington controlled the game from start to finish, save for a brief lull towards the end of the second quarter. It was a confidence-boosting performance against a surging BYU team that had beaten USC the week before. Jacob Eason played like a top NFL prospect, zipping bullet passes into tight windows for 290 yards and three touchdowns. With starting running back Salvon Ahmed out, backup Sean McGrew took advantage of his opportunity, racking up 110 yards on the ground. The Dawgs played a complete game in all facets, capping it off with Aaron Fuller’s 89-yard punt return for a touchdown. Washington hosts USC this week in a pivotal inter-divisional matchup with Pac-12 championship implications. The Husky secondary will have to lock down some of the best receivers in the nation to keep their Conference title hopes alive.
4. USC (2-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Did the Trojans just find their newest star quarterback? Third-string signal-caller Matt Fink tore up one of the toughest defenses in the nation, throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Even more impressive, Fink looked poised and fearless throughout, trusting his trio of receivers to haul in long throws for big plays. Trojan defensive tackles Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipuloto dominated Utah’s front, while safety Talanoa Hufanga performed like the best player on the field, speeding in for tackles everywhere. If defenders continue to play at that level, the Trojan defense will be feared the rest of the way. With last week’s win, USC finds itself in the thick of the South title race. The Trojans can’t afford to get cocky, however, as they head north to Seattle to face the red-hot Huskies in one of the country’s most hostile environments. If they find a way to prevail in that one, they’ll be among the favorites to win the Pac-12.
— Nicholas Bartlett
5. Utah (0-1, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⬇
The Utes may not have lived up to their No. 10 AP ranking in the Coliseum, but it would be foolish to count them out of the Conference race. Ironically, Utah was dominating on defense when it knocked USC’s starting quarterback, Kedon Slovis, out of the game, only to watch the stars align around third-stringer Matt Fink and his super-human trio of receivers. Ordinarily, that would give a secondary cause for concern, but USC rarely lacks for depth at any position, and the Utes aren’t likely to face a more dangerous group of wideouts this season. Utah’s biggest concern going forward has to be the status of running back Zack Moss, who landed on his shoulder in the second quarter and didn’t return. Utah looked confused in the red-zone thereafter, struggling to find consistency on the ground, despite some great runs by Devin Brumfield. For the Utes to bounce back and stay in the hunt for a South title, they’ll need to put the loss behind them. This week’s matchup with an angry WSU team could make or break their season.
6. Washington State (0-1, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⬇
Washington State wilted in the face of one of the biggest comebacks in Conference history, and the pain of it still lingers. Despite leading by 32 midway through the third quarter, the Cougars allowed a 50-point explosion from a previously anemic Bruin offense. The jaw-dropping loss all but overshadowed a record-breaking nine-touchdown performance by WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon. But while the Cougs fell from the rankings and dug themselves a hole in the North, there’s plenty of time to get their season back on track. And they have the offensive talent to do it. Max Borghi continues to amaze, posting his second 100-yard game, with Easop Winston Jr. hauling in four touchdown passes. Except for the costly turnovers, the Coug offense looked sharp throughout. The defense, which made UCLA look like a blue-and-gold version of Oregon’s blur offense under Chip Kelly, is another matter. A victory over Utah in Salt Lake City would go a long way toward setting things right.
7. Colorado (1-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬆
Colorado arrived in Tempe at a crossroads, having upset Nebraska before getting upset at home in back-to-back weeks. The urgency was apparent from the start, with the Buffs jumping out to what seemed like a decisive a 14-0 lead. But it takes more than momentum to win on the road, and CU proved its mettle when the Sun Devils stormed back, tying the game at 21, and matching the Buffaloes score-for-score to the final field goal. Senior quarterback Steven Montez connected on 76% of his passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, without a pick, and his leadership made the difference for Colorado. Defensively, safety Derrion Rakestraw filled in nicely for the injured Aaron Maddox, leading the unit with nine tackles and an interception. Mustafa Johnson and Laviska Shenault, Jr. left the game with injuries, and Colorado hopes to regain their services during the bye week before hosting Arizona.
8. Arizona State (0-1, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬇
The Sun Devils started hot, upsetting Michigan State on the road, and rising to No. 23 in the AP poll. But upstart Colorado cooled them off in a back-and-forth contest that came down to the final-drive. Freshman signal-caller Jayden Daniels continued to build his legacy, throwing for 345 yards and two touchdowns. But he came up just short in his comeback bid against the well-coached Buffs. At this stage for Daniels, it isn’t so much about winning as development, and his growth has been evident on virtually every possession. Yes, this loss stings, but the Devils don’t have time to lick their wounds. Not with a ranked opponent looming on the horizon. A victory in Berkeley over No. 15 Cal would instantly boost ASU’s status and morale. Upsetting the only remaining undefeated team in the Conference will require Arizona State to regroup on defense. The unit performed well in its first three games before bending against Colorado. This week will likely be a pivot point for the Devils, determining the fate of their 2019 campaign.
9. Arizona (0-0, 2-1) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⟺
Coming off a bye week, the Wildcats had some extra time to game-plan for UCLA. J.J. Taylor used it to recover from an injury he sustained against Texas Tech, giving Bam Smith, Michael Wiley, and Nathan Tilford more practice reps than usual. Arizona may need the added running back depth to control the time of possession against a surprisingly explosive Bruin offense, which put up 50 points in 19 minutes against WSU last week. Khalil Tate missed the UCLA game last year, due to an injury, and should be motivated to light up the scoreboard against a porous Bruin defense, which has been allowing 39.5 points per game. The Wildcats also need to improve their special teams play, which currently ranks 115th in Net Punting, and their Third-Down Defense, which ranks 123rd in allowing conversions 50% of the time. The Cats are still brimming with confidence from their Texas Tech victory, and will be looking to make another statement with a win over a breakout South Division rival.
10. UCLA (1-0, 1-3) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⬆
Midway through the third quarter against Wazzu, the Bruins looked as bad as their 0-3 record, trailing 49-17 against No. 19 Washington State. Then something clicked. Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s incremental progress over the first three games reached critical mass, propelling him to lead one of the greatest comebacks in Conference history. DTR passed for more than 500 yards, accounted for seven touchdowns, and played like a star. Not only did the Bruins shock the college football world with their first win of the season, they catapulted themselves into the South Division race. So what happened? For starters, the offense really opened up, using more of Chip Kelly-style tempo and spread formations. UCLA’s defense continued to struggle, but it also forced six turnovers. And while the Bruins allowed a WSU-record nine passing touchdowns, they made the big plays when they had to down the stretch, including linebacker Keisean Lucier-South’s strip-sack to seal the win. Can UCLA’s offense replicate its explosiveness in Tucson? If so, we might be in for another wild shootout in the desert.
— Andrew Corbett
11. Stanford (0-2, 1-3) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬇
Despite their struggles, the Cardinal may have had a better shot against Oregon than in their past two contests, in holding the Ducks to three touchdowns. But Stanford couldn’t crack Oregon’s surprisingly tough defense, getting just 120 yards from quarterback K.J. Costello. The erosion of Stanford’s smash-mouth identity is even more concerning. Against UCF two weeks ago, the Cardinal offense seemed to find a rhythm in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t carry over to last week. Conversely, the Stanford defense improved 10-fold against an Oregon team that had been averaging 44 points per game. It’s still early, but if Stanford doesn’t turn things around, they could find themselves in a lackluster Bowl, if they play in one at all. The Cardinal have shown that they can get it done on both sides of the ball, but haven’t yet put it all together. They head north to Corvallis next week in what could be their best chance to right the ship. If they lose to the Beavers, their season will have become an absolute dumpster fire.
12. Oregon State (0-0, 1-2) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⬇
Oregon State coasted into its bye week after dismantling Cal Poly in Week 3. Watching Stanford play Oregon during their time off, the Beavers had to think they’re prepping for a winnable contest this week. In overall scheme of things, this could be the most important game of OSU’s season. By finding a way to knock off struggling Stanford, the Beavs would match their overall win total from last season, at 2-2, while remaining undefeated in conference play. And that might just give them an outside shot at a bowl game. Senior quarterback Jake Luton needs to play smart and trust the talent around him to do their part. Jonathan Smith may want to acclimate the sixth-year senior to the Cardinal pass rush with easy throws, allowing him to find his rhythm and avoid early sacks. It would be wise to get the ball to wideout Isaiah Hodgins as well, enabling him to add to his 347 yards and five touchdowns. Make no mistake, this home matchup with Stanford represents an opportunity for a program-changing win.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.