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.
The Ducks and Utes couldn’t have scripted a better bye week, with both Alabama and Penn State losing. Three more wins each, and they’ll meet in the biggest Pac-12 Championship game ever. The winner could land a spot in the College Football Playoff, with the loser collecting a consolation prize to be redeemed in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Done deal, right?
Everyone knows the Utes will clobber UCLA in Rice-Eccles Stadium. To have a chance, the Bruins would need plenty of residual talent from past recruiting classes, and an overlooked genius of a coach, capable of masterminding a shocker.
Likewise, the Wildcats don’t stand a chance at Autzen. It would take a really talented quarterback, capable of coming out of a huge slump, and a group of motivated players with nothing to lose, to make a dent in Oregon’s defense.
So chalk up two sure-fire victories, and take them to the bank. The same bank that’s cashing all those Minnesota checks from last weekend.
1. Oregon (6-0, 8-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. Arizona
The Ducks are coming off a bye, and everyone is talking about the upsets that have improved their chances of making the College Football Playoff. Few are talking about the possibility of Arizona giving them a game. That could be a problem if Oregon isn’t focused and prepared to play on Saturday. Same goes with Arizona State the following week, and the heated rivalry to round out the year against Oregon State. It’s not enough to have the physicality and talent to outmatch those final opponents. The Ducks need to respect each one or risk suffering the same fate as Penn State at Minnesota. Look for Oregon to lean on their offensive line and explosive running backs, allowing quarterback Justin Herbert to put away games by adding to his phenomenal 2,329 yards and 24 touchdowns, having thrown only two interceptions. In the end, the Ducks will go as far as their defense takes them, and if it returns to early season form, they may go further than anyone expects.
2. Utah (5-1, 8-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⟺
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. UCLA
Coming off a win over the Huskies two weeks ago, the Utes had a bye to rest their walking wounded—most notably, quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. The break also gave Utah some extra time to prepare for UCLA, the surprise team of the Conference, after winning three straight. The Utes have no margin for error, and likely will need to win out to retain control of the South. Playing in front of the MUSS and the rest of their rabid fanbase in Rice-Eccles Stadium should give the Utes a boost, as always. But their real advantage lies in the awesome strength of their defense, ranked sixth nationally in points allowed at 12.2 per game. After UCLA, Utah faces Arizona and Colorado to round out the year. The Utes have the talent to win every game left on their schedule, but as with Oregon, they must respect every foe to avoid stumbling. If they can run the table and defeat the Ducks in the title game, they will have an outside shot at making the College Football Playoff.
3. Washington (3-4, 6-4) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Oregon State 19-7 | This Week: Bye
The Huskies played their most impressive defensive game of the year against Oregon State last week, shutting out the vaunted Beaver offense. OSU quarterback Jake Luton managed just 88 yards passing, tossing only his second interception. The only Beaver points came on a pick-six, which also served to highlight Washington’s continuing problems on the other side of the ball. UW quarterback Jacob Eason seemed to take another step backwards, throwing for 175 yards, two interceptions, and no touchdowns. If not for Washington’s defensive performance, OSU would have been well-positioned for an upset. The final two games on UW’s schedule, against Colorado and WSU, seem eminently winnable. But no victory is assured when a team struggles at the signal caller position. Eason’s ongoing problems make becoming bowl-eligible more difficult than it should be, raising significant questions about the status of the position heading into next season.
4. USC (5-2, 6-4) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Arizona State 31-26 | This Week: at California
Everything appeared to be going so well. The Trojans had jumped to an early 28-7 lead over Arizona State. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis was slinging it around like a dark horse Heisman candidate. His receivers were putting on a show, as usual. And freshman running back Kenan Christon was rushing like a clone of Reggie Bush. Then the bottom fell out, as it so often has this season. Bit by bit, the Sun Devils crept back in it, until they found themselves driving with the ball on USC’s 32-yard line, trailing by just five, with 26 seconds left. If not for a super-athletic play by Trojan defensive end Christian Rector, who tipped a Joey Yellen pass to himself for a diving interception, USC would be much further down this list. And out of the Pac-12 race. In some ways, the game was a metaphor for Helton’s career at SC: One moment, the Trojans seem godlike and unbeatable; the next, they look outmatched and pedestrian. What the future holds for the Trojan coach is anybody’s guess. But anything short of stealing the South title would not bode well.
— Nicholas Bartlett
5. UCLA (4-2, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at Utah
What’s more dangerous than a Chip Kelly-coached team over these past three games? Perhaps that same team with a bye week to prepare for a seemingly impossible matchup with a Playoff-caliber monster. Few give the Bruins any chance against brutally physical Utah. Especially in Rice-Eccles Stadium, where promising young teams go to learn they’re actually quite mediocre after all. Still, it’s fun to speculate about what Kelly might have cooked up for the Utes. Maybe some of that old Oregon tempo? Or perhaps his own version of the wishbone? How about simply going for it on every fourth down? Nah. UCLA’s best secret weapon remains its unrealized reserve of talent. All the once-tricky Bruin coach has done these past two seasons is bring out the best in his players, putting Westwood’s abundant athleticism to better use, though it hasn’t always been apparent. Remarkably, UCLA can sabotage the South with an upset on Saturday, retaining control of its own destiny, while doing a tremendous favor for USC. Of course, sensible people know that just can’t happen…Or can it?
— Andrew Corbett
6. Arizona State (2-4, 5-4) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Last Week: Lost to USC 31-26 | This Week: at Oregon State
In a battle of backup quarterbacks, the Sun Devils faired about as well as could be expected, overcoming a three-touchdown deficit to give themselves a chance to win in the final seconds. The interception that foiled their chance wasn’t so much a bad throw by Arizona State quarterback Joey Yellen as an outstanding play by USC’s Christian Rector. Nonetheless, ASU’s inability to close out the opportunity is emblematic of its season as a whole. After an impressive start, the Devils have fallen into a rut, losing their last three contests. But at 5-4 overall, they need just one more win in their final three contests to secure a bowl berth. Those games include two home matchups against Oregon and rival Arizona, in addition to this week’s road trip to Corvallis, in which starting quarterback Jayden Daniels is expected to return. Last season’s success was unexpected, but it raised the bar. How the Devils finish the year will determine the narrative going forward.
7. Oregon State (3-3, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬆
Last Week: Lost to Washington 19-7 | This Week: vs Arizona State
Entering last week’s matchup with back-to-back conference wins, it seemed plausible that the Beavers might upset the Huskies. But Washington’s defense came prepared, and it wasn’t about to let that happen. Oregon State looked outmatched from the beginning, and struggled to do anything offensively. Beavs quarterback Jake Luton rarely had time to throw, and when he did, his receivers were smothered. The result was an underwhelming 88 yards passing with no touchdowns, and a rare interception. OSU running back Jermar Jefferson was brutally assaulted, taking monstrous hit after monstrous hit. Neither he or fellow back Artavis Pierce rushed for more than 40 yards. Defense was another story. The Beavers held Washington to 19 points, scoring on a pick-six by defensive back Jaydon Grant. They also matched the physicality of the Huskies in the trenches, a testament to the overall improvement of the program. The Beavers must win two out of their remaining three games to become bowl eligible. That may not be likely, but to even be in a position to do so at this point in the season is an achievement in itself. Let that sink in. It’s Week 12, and OSU still has a chance.
8. Cal (2-4, 5-4) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Washington State | This Week: vs. USC
Oh, what good health can do for a football team. The Golden Bears got a taste for competitive football once again last week, thanks to the return of key offensive players against Washington State, including offensive lineman Mike Saffell and wide receiver Kekoa Crawford. Cal quarterback Devon Modster also returned, after missing the Utah game, two weeks earlier, due to a concussion. Justin Wilcox seemed to have some extra spring in his step on the sideline with the extra talent at his disposal. It enabled the Cal head coach to end an agonizing four-game losing streak that began in September. The Bear offense still isn’t capable of keeping pace with the Conference’s best offenses in high-scoring shootouts, but with Modster’s deep ball back, and the return of key weapons such as Crawford, the Bears seem ready to compete again. Cal needs just one more win to become bowl eligible, but that won’t be easy against in-state rivals USC, Stanford, and UCLA. Running the table seems unlikely, but at least the Bears have made the final month a lot more interesting.
9. Washington State (1-5, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to California 33-20 | This Week: vs. Stanford
This isn’t the Washington State team most expected to see this season. Despite having a bye week to prepare, the Cougars played poorly at Cal, to put it mildly. The Bears benefitted from an officiating mistake, but WSU made more than enough mental mistakes if its own. Mike Leach couldn’t hide his displeasure, calling out his players once again. The apparent regression of Wazzu’s defense, which seemed to be making strides, was especially disturbing. Cal did what every other team has done to the Cougs: pound the ball on the ground for 196 yards. Bear quarterback Devon Modster lit up the Cougs for three touchdowns and ran for one more. WSU’s one-dimensional offense wasn’t much better, gaining just 16 yards on the ground, with running back Max Borghi getting a scant eight carries. Anthony Gordon put up impressive numbers, throwing 407 yards and two touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough. Brandon Arconado’s 130 yards receiving and touchdown were wasted, as was Easop Winston’s 113 yards receiving. The Cougs have two winnable games left in Stanford and OSU before traveling to Seattle for the Apple Cup. They’ll likely need to play better in all three to make it to a bowl game.
10. Stanford (3-4, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⬇
Last Week: Lost to Colorado 16-13 | This Week: at Washington State
Just when it seemed that Stanford’s up-and-down season couldn’t get more confusing or chaotic, it did. Last week’s 16-13 loss at Colorado was the latest in a string of unpredictable results. In their last four contests, the Cardinal have beaten Washington, lost to UCLA, beaten Arizona, and lost to the Buffs. Against Colorado they struggled to score points: With the exception of a 79-yard touchdown strike to wideout Simi Fehoko, the Cardinal offense was held in check the entire day. Senior quarterback K.J. Costello threw for 245 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in his second game back from injury. He’ll need to do better going forward, as the road doesn’t get any smoother from here. Stanford has three strong opponents left on their schedule, including matchups with rivals Cal and Notre Dame. The Cardinal must win two of those last three to become bowl-eligible. This week’s game at WSU looks like Stanford’s best opportunity. But who knows? This season has been filled with so many twists, turns, and injuries, merely qualifying for a bowl would have to be considered a successful campaign.
11. Colorado (2-5, 4-6) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⬆
Last Week: Defeated Stanford 16-13 | This Week: Bye
The Buffs got just what the doctor ordered in their thrilling home victory over Stanford last week. Davis Price, a former walk-on kicker, won the day, going 3-3 on field goals, highlighted by a 37-yard kick as time expired. Price got his chance after starter James Stefanou was sidelined with a hip injury, and he made the best of it. Colorado wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. came through with 91 receiving yards on eight catches, adding a key first-down run on a fourth-and-one. He broke multiple tackles on the play, despite being banged-up. The Buff defense was equally impressive, holding K.J. Costello to 245 passing yards while allowing Stanford just 13 points in contrast to its season-average 32. Colorado has a bye this week before hosting Washington and visiting Utah in its final two games of the season. The Buffs will need to win both to play in a bowl. But that shouldn’t be the measuring stick in a year that saw new head coach Mel Tucker instill a new culture, setting an entirely different course for the future.
12. Arizona (2-3, 4-5) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬇
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at Oregon
Coming off a bye-week, Chuck Cecil and the Arizona defense had an extra week to prepare for the Ducks. The offensive line had time off to recover from injuries sustained to three starters. And the entire team had a chance to regroup. Realistically, though, the additional practice and rest are unlikely to make much difference this Saturday. Yes, the Cats dominated Oregon in Tucson last year, but that was then. For the Wildcats to win back-to-back games against UO and end their four-game losing streak, they will need to play their best game of the season. The Ducks will be thirsty for revenge, and motivated to impress the College Football Playoff Selection Committee with a substantial margin of victory. On the bright side, the trip to Autzen Stadium allows J.J. Taylor to make an impression on NFL scouts, who will be out in force to watch Justin Herbert, while also giving Grant Gunnell a chance to gain experience against an elite team. The Cats have nothing to lose and should play loose. With a good week of practice, and a decisive decision to start Gunnell, the Cats might just stay in the game long enough to spark a miraculous upset.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.