Editor’s Note: Each week we combine rankings from all our SportsPac12 writers to produce these consensus Power Rankings. Don’t like where your team stacks up? Tell us about it on Twitter.
Since the formation of the Pac-12 in 2011, the North Division has dominated, winning seven of the eight Championship games. That pattern seems likely to prevail again this year, with No. 13 Oregon and No. 15 Washington on a collision course for another Pac-12 title appearance.
However, whichever team gets there may have a harder time dispatching the South representative this time around.
No South team has lost more than one conference game thus far, and two (Arizona and Colorado) remain undefeated. By contrast, only the Ducks are yet to lose a Pac-12 game in the North, and two (Oregon State and Stanford) have lost twice. Collectively, South teams boast a 7-4 Conference record, while the North remains upside-down at 4-7.
All that could change in a week or two. But for now, the South gets its due in this list, holding down the third, fourth, and fifth spots in our Week 6 Power Rankings.
1. Oregon (1-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
The Ducks retain the top spot as the highest-rated team without a Conference loss, having also sustained the least-damaging overall defeat. The bye week gave Oregon some extra time to get healthy and prepare for Cal, which lost both their game and their starting quarterback Chase Garbers against Arizona State. While the Golden Bears won’t bring a Top 25 ranking and GameDay with them to Autzen Stadium, the Ducks can’t afford to overlook Cal’s stout and angry defense. Nor can Oregon disrespect talented Bear backup signal caller Devon Modster, who will have a full week to prepare. A key area of focus for the Ducks last week was fine-tuning a high-octane offense that seemed to sputter at Stanford. Look for future NFL quarterback Justin Herbert to throw the ball down field more with his starting center and a pair of starting receivers back from injuries. Oregon’s potential North-deciding matchup with Washington on October 19th looms larger by the week, but it won’t mean anywhere near as much if the Ducks stumble in their next two outings.
2. Washington (1-1, 4-1) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⬆
What to make of Washington’s victory over the Trojans last week? On one hand, the Huskies won despite making a multitude of mistakes. Jacob Eason missed on several throws, the offense turned the ball over, and the Dawgs seemed to lack their usual all-around killer instinct. Down the road these characteristics could cost Washington a game or two. On the other hand, UW dominated a talented team without playing their best football. The defense looked amazing, led by nickel-back Elijah Molden, who made a game-changing interception in the red-zone. The offense didn’t fare as well, and most of the responsibility for that falls on Eason. The junior has all the physical tools to be an NFL signal caller, but still needs to improve his in-game understanding and decision-making, such as knowing when to soft-touch his passes on screens and checkdowns. While the Dawgs got the job done against USC, a similar performance against Oregon or Utah could prove disastrous. Cal’s loss to ASU didn’t help UW’s resume, giving the Huskies an even smaller margin for error.
3. Utah (1-1, 4-1) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬆
The Utes were easily the most impressive Pac-12 team in action last week. Utah’s defense staged a dominating bounce-back performance, holding the Cougars to a fraction of their average points and yards, while shutting them out in the second half. The Ute secondary did what few other teams have done over the past two years, making WSU’s vaunted Air Raid system look pedestrian. The Ute offense, meanwhile, put up a jaw-dropping 526 total yards, with quarterback Tyler Huntley playing a near-perfect game. The Senior threw for 334 of those yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. And he did it without the help of star running back Zack Moss, still out after leaving the game injured against USC. Utah has a bye this week before traveling to Corvallis to face the Beavers. With an important South matchup against ASU the following week, the Utes need to keep what should be a simple tune-up against OSU from becoming a season-rattling trap game. If they continue to play as well as they did against Washington State, they could be well on their way to a South Division title.
4. Arizona State (1-1, 4-1) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬆
The Sun Devils looked like a team poised to make a South title run in their victory over Cal Friday night. Arizona State faced down an undefeated opponent in a loud and hostile environment, and had the Bears on the ropes even before starting signal caller Chase Garbers went down. Three takeaways from this game might be used to measure the balance of ASU’s season. First, the defense dominated once again. With the exception of the 34 points it gave up in a loss to Colorado, the unit has not allowed more than 17 points in a game. Offensively, true freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels is starting to perform like a veteran. In leading the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against Cal’s ball-hawking secondary, he didn’t force the ball, trusted the run game, and made key throws when needed. But the biggest hero in the final minutes may have been running back Eno Benjamin, whose physical running style proved too much. Moving forward, the Devils need to continue winning close games, as they’re not likely to blow many teams out. Do that, and they could be on their way to a Pac-12 Championship.
5. Colorado (1-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Colorado used its bye week to prepare for an Arizona team that has won three straight, while also hoping to regain the services of wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. and defensive end Mustafa Johnson. Both were injured two weeks ago against Arizona State. Arizona could be missing two key starters as well, in quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor, both of whom sat out the UCLA game. The Buffs would be happy to miss playing Tate: The last time Colorado and Arizona met, in Boulder, he ran wild for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Buffalo quarterback Steven Montez has been solid over the first four contests, averaging almost 300 passing yards per game. Sustaining that pace will be more challenging if Shenault is not cleared to play. Defense remains a concern for CU after giving up 31 points to an ASU team that has been averaging a touchdown less than that per game. Forcing fumbles and interceptions has been an equalizer and mainstay for the Buffs, who have taken away 11 for a Conference-leading +7 turnover margin. That trend likely needs to continue for Colorado to stay atop the South Division race.
6. Cal (1-1, 4-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⬇
The Golden Bears lost more than a game to Arizona State last week, after losing starting quarterback Chase Garbers to a shoulder injury. Cal also fell from grace in the eyes of AP Top 25 voters, who dropped the Bears 16 spots, pushing them out of the poll after just one loss. The dramatic fall shows how tenuous Cal’s rise had been perceived, and how much work remains for the program to gain the respect it believes it deserves. All is not lost, however. The Bears continue to field a daunting defense, and backup quarterback Devon Modster should benefit from a full week of preparation. There’s also this: Those who have followed Cal football closely under Justin Wilcox know better than to count him out. Oregon probably isn’t the best bounce-back opponent, especially not at Autzen, but third-year offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin can earn his keep by putting together a viable game plan with Modster at the helm. Whatever Cal’s fate this week, the Bears can count on tackle-machine Evan Weaver to make the Ducks work for their scores.
7. USC (2-1, 3-2) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬇
The Matt Fink for President campaign came to a quick and ugly end in Seattle. The former third-string quarterback, who took down Utah the week before, struggled to find his rhythm against an opportunistic Huskies defense. But let’s pump the brakes here just a bit. Despite ushering the South’s most talented team into Husky Stadium, it probably wasn’t realistic to think Fink would pick apart one of the west coast’s most feared secondaries in his first game on the road. Defensively, it didn’t help USC to be without star safety Talanoa Hufanga. And as bad as SC looked at times, they remain in the thick of the Pac-12 race, having secured a head-to-head advantage over Utah. The Trojans have a bye week to regroup and rest up. They may get previous starting quarterback Kedon Slovis back for Notre Dame, which would give them a much-needed boost. And while wideouts Tyler Vaughns, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Michael Pittman Jr. were held in check last week at Washington, they’re sure to re-emerge in a big way, perhaps even in an upset of the Irish.
— Nicholas Bartlett
8. Washington State (0-2, 3-2) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬇
Clearly, the Cougars did not play up to their capabilities in Salt Lake City. Part of it may have been a hangover from the previous week’s shocking loss to UCLA. But the Utah defense was a much bigger factor, limiting an offense that had been averaging 605 yards per game to just 313 yards and a season-low 13 points. WSU couldn’t establish the kind of rhythm upon which their offense depends, and were forced to keep their defense on the field for too much of the game. Anthony Gordon didn’t look himself, finishing with more interceptions than touchdown passes, despite leading the country in the latter category. To make matters worse, the Cougar defense continued to struggle. Wazzu defenders were visibly worn down by the bigger physical Utes, who pounded the ball on the ground. Fortunately, WSU has a much-needed bye next week, giving the Cougs some time to rediscover their identity and return to their winning ways. On paper, Wazzu remains as talented and dangerous as ever, but the Cougars must turn things around on the field to have any chance of remaining in the Pac-12 North race.
9. Arizona (1-0, 3-1) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⟺
Down their starting quarterback and running back due to injuries, the Wildcats held on to beat UCLA with a gutsy performance from backup quarterback Grant Gunnell. The true freshman threw for 352 yards and didn’t commit a turnover. Arizona got it done, in part, with a strong special teams performance, controlling the field position battle and hitting key field goals. The running backs contributed as well, especially in the second half, with Bam Smith catching a 75-yard touchdown pass and Gary Brightwell powering for a 10-yard touchdown on the ground. On defense, the Cats contained the Bruins, holding them to just 17 points before forcing a missed field goal in the final minute to seal the game. Still, the offensive play-calling in the first half was head-scratching at times, particularly the lack of rushing attempts afforded Brightwell. The team as a whole committed far too many penalties. With a tough road test coming up against Colorado, and no indication of getting Khalil Tate or J.J. Taylor back, the Cats will need to address their discipline issues and trust that their rushing attack will be strong enough to steal a win in Boulder.
10. Stanford (1-2, 2-3) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⬆
The Cardinal won a game they had to win against Oregon State, jumping to an early lead with backup quarterback Davis Mills at the helm. It wasn’t the most impressive victory, but losing would have had been catastrophic. The Cardinal face Washington at home this week in what some might call “Mission Impossible.” To win this game, and turnaround its season, Stanford has to get back to its characteristic consistency under David Shaw the past eight years. The wily head coach has been in this position before, rebounding from previous slow starts to secure a bowl. So what went wrong last week? After bolting to a 21-0 lead against the Beavers, the Cardinal devolved into a shell of themselves, nearly losing the contest for lack of effort. Had the Beavers not committed special teams mistakes, Stanford would be buried at the bottom of the North with a 1-4 record. Leadership is key, and it has been lacking so far. Starter K.J. Costello was the glue last year, but his injuries and less-than-stellar performance have left the door wide open. Costello remains questionable for the Husky game, and should Mills engineer a win or close loss, the job could be his for the taking. Saturday’s outcome could drastically impact the Cardinal’s season.
11. UCLA (1-1, 1-4) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬇
After lighting a fire under their fans and the media two weeks ago, the Bruins couldn’t produce more than a spark of that excitement against Arizona last week. The offense had some nice drives, but it looked more like the early-season version of itself than the one that burned down Pullman. UCLA defenders had to be smiling when they learned that the Cats would be without star quarterback Khalil Tate and starting running back J.J. Taylor. And for what it’s worth, they played better than expected. But the perceived advantage didn’t materialize. The defense still allowed nearly 400 yards passing to Grant Gunnell, a quarterback making his first start. The unit was gassed by the fourth quarter, missing tackles and giving up explosion plays. UCLA needs to establish the run next week against the Beavers, and keep its defense off the field. Historically, the appearance of Oregon State on the schedule has been a welcome sight. The Bruins should have a good chance to improve to 2-1 in conference play, but they can’t afford to mail this one in. The Beavers are much-improved on both sides of the ball, and UCLA often finds ways to lose games it should win, or so it seems.
— Andrew Corbett
12. Oregon State (0-1, 1-3) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
It was a perfect setup for Oregon State: a home game against a struggling opponent led by a winless backup quarterback. But the program-changing opportunity was squandered. And it wasn’t so much that the Beavers lost; it was how they lost. OSU special teams allowed a blocked field goal in the second quarter, and a big kickoff return with the game tied, launching Stanford’s game-winning drive. Of course, a lack of offensive production put OSU in the position of needing those special teams plays in the first place. In light of that, changes may need to be made in Corvallis. Head coach Jonathan Smith may want to consider giving backup signal caller Tristan Gebbia a shot. It took the Jake Luton-led Beavs far too long to get clicking, and by then, they were down three touchdowns. The senior quarterback has all the tools, but he needs to do better. If not for a spectacular one-handed tip-it-to-yourself catch by wideout Isaiah Hodgins, OSU may never have comeback at all. Yes, the Beavers deserve credit for the comeback they staged, but the situation was ripe for the picking. They face another vulnerable team this week in UCLA at Los Angeles, but the road has been even less friendly these past few years. Lose that matchup, and the Beavs likely finish last in the North…Again.
*This Story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.