*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.
It’s a debate that rages whenever two top teams with similar records don’t play each other in the regular season: How do we judge which is better? Compare scores against common opponents? Or is win a win? It’s never cut-and-dry when they only do battle in the minds of fans and media.
Oregon hasn’t lost a Conference game…Utah beat Cal and WSU by more points…The Ducks have better wins…The Utes pass the eyeball test…Oregon is ranked higher…Utah is more dominant…
And so on.
Ideally, the argument surrounding the relative strength of 7-1 Oregon and 7-1 Utah would be settled in the Pac-12 Championship game come December, but that isn’t a sure thing. In fact, it won’t happen if USC wins out. Fortunately, two key games this week could provide a measuring stick.
Utah visits Husky Stadium, where the Ducks won, and Oregon visits the L.A. Coliseum, where the Utes lost. If both teams win, or both teams lose, the situation remains muddled and the debate rages on. But should either team stumble, we might just have our answer.
At least, for now.
Whichever team fares better on Saturday, these two interdivisional games will go a long way toward determining the South Division champion—and in shaping the Pac-12’s chances of sending a team to the College Football Playoff.
1. Oregon (5-0, 7-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Washington State 37-35 | This Week: at USC
The Ducks survived a scare against the Cougars, winning on Camden Lewis’ 26-yard field goal as time expired. While the victory didn’t clinch the Division, it gave Oregon a nearly air-tight lock on the North. The Ducks offensive line, anchored by two mid-season AP All-Americans, opened up gaping holes for sophomore running back CJ Verdell. And the numbers he put up—257 yards and three touchdowns—were mind-boggling. If Alex Mirabal’s “hog mollies” continue to play at this level, the Ducks could be playing for more than a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 title game. Defensively, Oregon seemed to take a step backward, with Wazzu quarterback Anthony Gordon dissecting UO linebackers and defensive backs for 406 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with under two minutes left. But then, the Coug Air Raid has a way of making most defenses look bad. Duck defenders need to return to their early-season form after allowing 30-plus points in their last two outings. The bottom line: Oregon beat a dangerous WSU team, and kept their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
2. Utah (4-1, 7-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated California 35-0 | This Week: at Washington
Since their early-season loss to USC in the Coliseum, the Utes have looked flawless. That trend continued last week with a 35-0 manhandling of the Golden Bears. Utah’s defense, one of only two FBS teams to have recorded two or more shutouts, has been jaw-dropping dominant. Third-string Cal quarterback Spencer Brasch couldn’t have been dealt a more difficult debut opponent: The true freshman was held to 39 yards passing and lost 23 yards on the ground. Granted, the Bears were banged up and vulnerable, but the Utah steamroller seemed poised to crush any team in its path. The Utes travel to Seattle next week for the biggest remaining game on their regular-season schedule, and it’s a doozie. Chris Petersen has had a bye week to prepare, and the Dawgs will be angling for redemption. A win could give the Utes the outright lead in the South should Oregon defeat USC in L.A. as expected. Utah lost twice to the Huskies last year, including a 10-3 defensive fight in the Conference Championship. This feels like a hurdle the Utes must clear to cement their reputation on the national landscape.
3. Washington (2-3, 5-3) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬆
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. Utah
The Huskies certainly didn’t expect to be playing the spoiler this season, but that’s exactly where they find themselves. Defeating Utah in a game with Playoff implications on Saturday won’t put the Dawgs back in the North race, but it would reaffirm their status as an elite team that just happens to be in the midst of a slightly down season. A loss, on the other hand, could renew questions about coaching decisions dating back to preseason, including Chris Petersen’s choice to start quarterback Jacob Eason. With a bye week to prepare, the Dawgs should have a solid game plan in place. The key will be executing it with better consistency. The Huskies have already beaten USC and they played Oregon tough. Unfortunately, they’ve also lost to Cal and Stanford. From a pure talent standpoint, the Dawgs should be better than the Utes, but that doesn’t mean anything if they can’t keep pace on the field. The team that makes the least mistakes is likely to win. So forget about the records. This is a heavyweight fight and a chance for the Huskies to flip the script on their season.
4. USC (4-1, 5-3) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Colorado 35-31 | This Week: vs. Oregon
The Trojans traveled to Colorado with a pedestrian overall record and looked every bit the part—until the fourth quarter. In the last 15 minutes, wideout Michael Pittman Jr. took over the contest, catching touchdown passes of 44 and 37 yards and securing the win on his second score with 2:15 left. As has often been the case this season, the Trojans didn’t play up to their potential, relying on depth and talent to bail them out in the end. Regardless, with the win, USC retains its head-to-head advantage over Utah for first-place in the South. The biggest takeaway? This was Troy’s first road win of the season, an accomplishment they must build on going forward. True freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis played well enough but committed some untimely mistakes. His interception in the first half shifted momentum to the Buffs, and his fumble in the red zone could have proved disastrous if it hadn’t been recovered by a teammate. The Trojans host Oregon this week in a pivotal game that could alter the fate of their season. Which version of SC will show up? The team we saw in the first three quarters last week, or the team we saw in the fourth?
— Nicholas Bartlett
5. Washington State (1-4, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬆
Last Week: Lost to Oregon 37-35 | This Week: Bye
The Cougars put themselves in a position to knock off the 11th-ranked team in the country, taking a one-point lead with a minute left in the game. Unfortunately, the Wazzu defense, which has been brutal all season, broke down yet again, and at the worst possible moment. Oregon’s game-winning field goal as time expired negated what may have been Wazzu’s best performance of the year. Save for a few key turnovers that allowed Oregon to stay in the game, the Cougar offense played well enough to win. The biggest miscue was Anthony Gordon’s pick-six, giving the Ducks a temporary lead near the end of the first half before the Cougars answered. Gordon finished the day with 406 yards and three touchdowns, and Max Borghi turned in another well-rounded outing with 124 total yards and a touchdown. Teams have ran the ball all over the Cougs this season, and Oregon took full advantage. Ducks running back CJ Verdell rushed for a career-high 257 yards and three touchdowns, as Oregon’s experienced offensive line took control of the game. Physically, the Cougars could not keep up. WSU has a bye this week before resuming action against a tough but battered Cal defense.
6. Arizona State (2-3, 5-3) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to UCLA 42-32 | This Week: Bye
It’s official, the Sun Devils have returned to planet earth. After a surprisingly hot start, ASU faltered the last two weeks, getting shut down by Utah, and outscored by UCLA. The loss to the Bruins likely qualifies as Arizona State’s worst performance of the year. The Sun Devils were dominated from start to finish, falling behind 42-10 before scoring 22 unanswered points with the game out of hand. The spirited comeback attempt showed character, but it was too little too late. ASU’s South title aspirations may be over but their season isn’t done yet. With a 5-3 record, the Devils still have the opportunity to finish with a 9-win season and play in a quality bowl game. After a bye this week, they host USC next, in a matchup that could either serve as their rebirth or put another nail in a once-promising campaign. Of course, containing Trojan wideout Michael Pittman Jr. won’t be easy. And on offense, true freshman Jayden Daniels will need to rally the group, providing the spark that seemed to be missing last week.
7. UCLA (3-2, 3-5) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Arizona State 42-32 | This Week: vs. Colorado
The Bruins pulled off their second upset over a ranked team of the season last week, taking down the No. 24 Sun Devils. But unlike their historic comeback against Washington State in Week 4, UCLA took control of the game early, jumping to a 42-10 lead before giving up 22 straight points. Albeit, those late points came during “garbage time,” against prevent coverage. In recording their second-straight double-digit win, the Bruins seem to have hit their midseason stride. The rushing attack has produced more than 200 yards in four consecutive games, with Joshua Kelley grinding teams up the middle for 340 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games. The UCLA defense has played much better as well, capitalizing on its newfound pass rush, and getting respectable performances from its defensive backs. There was some concern last week when Dorian Thompson-Robinson left with what proved to be a minor knee injury, but he seems good to go. The surprising Bruins control their own destiny in the South, and will be looking to extend their winning streak against struggling Colorado at home this week.
— Andrew Corbett
8. Stanford (3-3, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Arizona 41-31 | This Week: Bye
Hold on tight. This Cardinal season is a roller coaster, and there might just be another tight, steep turn ahead. One week Stanford looks terrible, the next they look solid, almost like the Tree of old. In their last three matchups, the Cardinal have beaten Washington, lost to UCLA, and defeated Arizona. Of course much of it has been due to injuries at quarterback, and last week, they got a big boost with the return of K.J. Costello, who threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns. In fact, his performance may have precipitated the firing of Wildcat defensive coordinator Marcel Yates. If Costello can remain healthy, Stanford has a shot to win their next three games and finish second in the North. That’s providing the Cardinal defense becomes more consistent. It will need to improve against the run and the pass during this week’s bye to stop Colorado’s high-flying offense the following week. The Buffs have dangerous skill position players led by receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., and if Stanford’s defense doesn’t limit big plays, the roller coaster could find itself barreling downhill yet again.
9. Oregon State (2-2, 3-4) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at Arizona
Coming off a bye, the Beavers are sitting on their best record in years at 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Conference. The difference between this Oregon State team and recent incarnations can be summed up in a word: Attitude. They believe they can win Conference games, and they’re putting that belief into action. Senior quarterback Jake Luton is quietly compiling a phenomenal season with 1,602 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and just one interception. Wideout Isaiah Hodgins, an NFL caliber receiver, leads the team with 745 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The duo will look to exploit an Arizona defense undergoing a defensive coordinator change. On defense, the Beavers need to limit the explosion plays of a Wildcat offense that can be hot and cold, but remains dangerous. To play in the postseason, they likely must win on Saturday. The program seems to have taken several big steps forward under Head Coach Jonathan Smith; another three wins would be a giant leap, taking the program to the next level. It’s one thing to win a few games, quite another to make a bowl. The Arizona game is an opportunity the Beavers must seize, and they have the talent to do it.
10. Arizona (2-3, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to Stanford 41-31 | This Week: vs. Oregon State
The Wildcats weren’t sure who to prepare for at quarterback last week, and they certainly weren’t ready for K.J. Costello. The senior quarterback returned Stanford’s offense to early-season form, riddling the Arizona defense for 31 first-half points en route to a third-straight loss. By Monday, Wildcat coach Kevin Sumlin had seen enough, firing defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, and promoting Chuck Cecil. Arizona’s offense didn’t fare much better, with Khalil Tate throwing two interceptions, including a backbreaker in the fourth quarter, with the Cats trailing by a touchdown. His 103 yards and one touchdown rushing weren’t enough to overcome the damage. True freshman back-up Grant Gunnell played in a few series, going 7-7 for 68 yards and a touchdown, generating still more clamor to name him the starter. J.J. Taylor’s best game of the season was all but wasted on the loss: The junior rushed for 107 yards and caught five passes for 53 yards, only to be yanked inexplicably in the fourth quarter. The Cats need to focus on the things they can control and keep a positive mindset. A bowl game and several other team goals remain achievable if they take care of Oregon State in Tucson this weekend.
11. Cal (1-4, 4-4) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to Utah 35-0 | This Week: Bye
The fall continues. After starting the season 4-0, the Golden Bears find themselves at 4-4 overall, reeling from a tumultuous four-week stretch of conference play, leaving them tied for last place in the North. Cal needs just two more wins to make a bowl game, but those wins won’t come easy. After their upcoming bye week, the Bears will be clawing at Washington State, which came within a minute of upsetting Oregon, followed by all three of their California rivals. As bad as it seems, Cal coach Justin Wilcox isn’t about to throw in the towel. Anyone who has tried to predict these past two months of Pac-12 football has likely been wrong as often as not. On the bright side, Evan Weaver turned in another 20-tackle performance against Utah, and continues to lead the nation in that category. The Cal offense must find a way to get into the same stratosphere—and soon—though that doesn’t seem likely to happen before Chase Garbers returns. In the meantime, the Bears need to make the best of their week off, getting players healthy, rested, and recharged.
12. Colorado (1-4, 3-5) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to USC 35-31 | This Week: at UCLA
Colorado had a golden opportunity to upset USC and return to relevancy last week, but they couldn’t contain the explosive Trojan receivers for four quarters. Offensively, the Buffs played well enough to win with Steven Montez looking like his old self in a 320-yard, three-touchdown performance. CU wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. reaffirmed that he’s as talented as any receiver on USC’s roster, catching nine balls for 172 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately, Colorado’s defense gave up 520 total yards, and too many of them came near the end. The Trojans scored 14 points in the final 15 minutes, with USC wideout Michael Pittman Jr. pulling in a pair of touchdown catches. The Buffs are now in sole possession of last place in the South and will need to dispatch UCLA in Pasadena to end their four-game losing streak. The timing couldn’t be worse. The Bruins seem to have finally found some answers on both sides of the ball, and appear to be on the verge of becoming the team most envisioned when Chip Kelly was hired.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.