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.
Last week’s results had the potential to tighten or separate the top and bottom of the two divisions, and for the most part it tightened them. Washington’s win over Arizona kept the Huskies within striking distance of Oregon in the North, while also depriving the Wildcats of sole possession of first in the South. The inter-divisional contest between Oregon State and Utah contributed to that leveling effect, leaving every team in the South within a game of each other, and all but Oregon and Washington with two losses in the North.
What does that mean for this week’s full slate of six Conference matchups?
Only USC and Arizona State control their own destinies in the South, but that could change this week. If Oregon defeats Washington, however, the Ducks would be a virtual lock to win the North. Provided OSU doesn’t win out, Oregon would have to lose three of its last five games not to claim the title. And, one of those losses would have to come at home to the Cougars, who would have to win out.
In short, the fate of Washington—and every other team in the bruised and beat-up North—hangs on the outcome of Saturday’s renewal of the long-running rivalry between Oregon and the Dawgs. Only those in green and yellow will be pulling for the Ducks.
1. Oregon (3-0, 5-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
Great teams get stops and finish drives when they matter most. That’s what the Ducks did in picking off the Buffs with under two minutes left in the first half, stopping a Colorado drive inside the five, and driving the length of the field for a score. The Buffs never recovered, becoming the fifth-straight opponent to put up seven points or less against Oregon. Unfortunately, the Ducks lost Jacob Breeland for the season with a knee injury, and must now replace the star tight end’s team-leading 405 receiving yards and six touchdown catches. Running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye will need to step up as well. Both have been solid, but neither has had the breakout season some expected. The Ducks visit Washington next, and can put a stranglehold on the North with a win. Offensively, the game gives UO quarterback Justin Herbert an opportunity so show he can play as consistently in a big road game as he has at home. Ultimately, however, a smothering defense will once again be the key for the Ducks.
2. Utah (2-1, 5-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⟺
The Utes dominated Oregon State so completely—from start to finish—that it would be easy to make a case for them at the top of this list. However, the loss to USC still haunts their chances of winning the South, and a season-defining test awaits this week against ASU. The return of running back Zack Moss gave the already potent Utah offense a boost, beginning with his 91-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter. The Ute defense stifled prolific Beaver quarterback Jake Luton, holding him to 131 yards, no touchdowns, and forced an interception. By contrast, Utah signal caller Tyler Huntley looked calm and collected throughout, throwing for 247 yards and two touchdowns. This week’s matchup with the Sun Devils could prove pivotal as a tie-breaker later in the season. While both teams ooze talent at the skill positions, Utah has an experience advantage across the board. ASU seems sure to keep it exciting, as they have all year, but if the Utes play like they did against OSU, they’ll be tough to beat.
3. Arizona State (2-1, 5-1) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⟺
It may not be time to elect Jayden Daniels mayor of Tempe just yet, but he might just get a few write-in votes come 2020. The true freshman quarterback’s winning drive, capped by an acrobatic leap into the end zone with 34 seconds left, was the stuff of legends. The Cougars came ready to play, grabbing an early 17-7 lead, testing ASU’s resolve throughout. The Sun Devils answered. The dramatic win sets up what could be the most consequential Conference test in the Herm Edwards Era to date. The Devils have the skill players needed to keep pace with Utah in Daniels, running back Eno Benjamin, and receiver Brandon Aiyuk. And they have a solid defense capable of keeping the Utah offense in check if all goes right. But Utes running back Zack Moss and signal caller Tyler Huntley will give ASU all it wants, as will Utah pass rushers Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae. A victory in Rice-Eccles would keep the Sun Devils in the thick of the South Division race, and announce their arrival as a major player in the Pac-12.
4. Washington (2-2, 5-2) — Previous Ranking: 6 ⬆
The Huskies are a difficult group to fathom. They looked pedestrian against Cal, then elite in their next three games, before looking pedestrian again against Stanford. It was the same story against Arizona, with the transition from pedestrian to elite occurring at halftime, when Washington blew the contest open with a 38-point explosion in the final two quarters. The season was on the line for the Dawgs, as it will be again this week, with Oregon visiting Seattle. The rivalry figures to be as competitive as it is ugly. Oregon and Washington are built similarly, with solid defenses, stout offensive lines, and high-profile quarterbacks. The Huskies will rely on Aaron Fuller, Hunter Bryant, and Salvon Ahmed for points, while the Ducks will need big outings from CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and a flock of newly healed receivers to replace the production of injured tight end Jacob Breeland. A win would give the Huskies a reasonable shot at capturing the North title. A loss would likely send them to a bowl named after a salty orange snack, or worse.
5. Cal (1-2, 4-2) — Previous Ranking: 7 ⬆
Cal used a well-timed bye week to nurse its injuries and prepare for struggling Oregon State, hoping to rebound from a tough loss to the Ducks two weeks ago. The Golden Bears had Oregon on the ropes for a half before succumbing to turnovers. Part of that resulted from a lack of chemistry between Devon Modster and his receivers, despite the transfer quarterback’s marked improvement that week, after being thrust in against ASU. If Modster improves as much in his second full week of preparation, the Beavers could have their hands full with another explosive offense. As usual with Justin Wilcox-coached teams, everything starts with defense. The Bears won’t want to exchange scores with OSU’s potentially potent offense. Star linebacker Evan Weaver and Cal’s ball-hawking secondary will look to limit the effectiveness of Beaver quarterback Jake Luton and running back Artavis Pierce. The remaining Bear schedule is manageable, if not easy. Both of their losses came against quality teams, and the Bears might just jump back in the Top 25 with a win over Oregon State, preserving their chances in the North.
6. USC (2-1, 3-3) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⬇
The Trojans showed plenty of heart in their attempted comeback against the Fighting Irish. Clearly, the officials didn’t do them any favors in blowing a critical ball placement, but USC showed it can hang with one of the nation’s most talented teams. Despite last week’s loss and an overall 3-3 record, the Trojans remain in the driver’s seat in the South, with a win over preseason favorite Utah, and their only Conference loss coming against a North Division foe. Quarterback Kedon Slovis’ return gave SC reason for optimism going forward with his 255 yards and two touchdowns passing. Meanwhile, running back Markese Stepp breathed new life into a previously stagnant ground attack in rushing for 82 yards on ten carries. If the Trojans continue to execute a balanced offense, they could prove difficult to stop. USC hosts Arizona next week in a matchup that may test their defensive improvement. A healthy Talanoa Hufanga, the glue that holds the unit together, should help the Trojans contain Wildcat signal caller Khalil Tate. USC has the talent to win all of their remaining games and wrap up the Division, but they must play with more consistency.
— Nicholas Bartlett
7. Stanford (2-2, 3-3) — Previous Ranking: 8 ⬆
The Cardinal had a bye week, and a chance to savor their victory over Washington while preparing for UCLA. Stanford’s upset of the Dawgs seemed like a breakthrough that has the potential to springboard the Tree into the change of direction it needs to salvage their season. With three winnable matchups with UCLA, Arizona, and Colorado on the horizon in their next three weeks, and a head-to-head advantage over the Huskies, a North title remains within reach. Against the struggling Bruins this week, the Cardinal need only duplicate the game-plan that worked against UW, running the ball and playing characteristic smash-mouth defense. Stanford’s offensive line has suffered eight injuries this year, including three starters, and they’ll need to grow up fast in order to continue running the ball and burning up clock. Running back Cameron Scarlett appears to be playing the best football of his career, and he could provide the stability the Stanford offense needs to reclaim its identity. Whether head coach David Shaw starts Davis Mills or K.J. Costello, the quarterback must be prepared to play behind an inexperienced line, and scramble away from trouble when necessary.
8. Arizona (2-1, 4-2) — Previous Ranking: 5 ⬇
Arizona fumbled away one of its biggest opportunities of the season last week, relinquishing a half-time lead to a Washington team that had been struggling, and giving up 38 points in the final two quarters. The Wildcats’ offensive line was overpowered by the Husky pressure, rendering Khalil Tate ineffective, and stifling Arizona’s offensive attack. Moreover, the Cats shot themselves in the foot with four turnovers and a blocked punt, giving the Dawgs short fields, which they turned into easy points. Despite the miscues, Arizona’s defense played outstanding in the first half, holding Washington to just 13 points, and keeping the Cats in the game. However, the Dawgs clearly made smart adjustments in the locker room, and Arizona was unable to contain the one-two punch of Salvon Ahmed and Jacob Eason. The result was a sloppy, lopsided ending. The Wildcats will put this game behind them, address their problems, and turn their focus to USC. The coaching staff must figure out how to make things easier for Tate when dealing with the blitz packages the Trojans will undoubtedly bring. With a good week of practice, and strong leadership by Tate, the Cats have a chance to end their ten-year drought in the Coliseum on Saturday.
9. Washington State (0-3, 3-3) — Previous Ranking: 10 ⬆
Washington State took a step forward this week, despite losing a close shootout at Arizona State. They seemed to be in control for most of the game, leading 17-7 at one point. But in the end, Arizona State’s offense was too much for the Cougs to overcome. With defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys gone, the Wazzu defensive unit continued to struggle. ASU combined for 532 total yards, with quarterback Jayden Daniels putting on a show. The true freshman threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns to go with his game-winning rushing touchdown. The Cougs secondary had a rough day as Brandon Aiyule hauled in seven balls for 196 yards, and three touchdowns. Not only did ASU have a field day in the passing game, but they also ran the ball at will, with Eno Benjamin rushing for 137 yards and a touchdown. Washington State’s offense continued to carry the team, with Gordon throwing for 466 yards and three touchdowns, and Easop Winston and Dezmon Patmon combining for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Cougs played well enough to give themselves a chance to win, but the defense let them down once again. The unit must improve for the Cougs to have a shot at making a bowl game.
10. Colorado (1-2, 3-3) — Previous Ranking: 9 ⬇
Colorado’s close losses to Air Force and Arizona were tough to swallow, but last week’s blowout loss to the Ducks was devastatingly different. Like CU coach Mel Tucker, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal is a product of the SEC, and his team played with the kind of physicality Tucker seeks from his team one day. The beating drove home just how far the Buffs have to go: The Ducks racked up more than 500 yards of total offense while allowing less than 300. Justin Herbert threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns, while CJ Verdell ran for 171 yards and Cryus Habibi-Likio added three touchdowns on the ground. By contrast, Colorado became the fifth-straight UO opponent to score seven points or less, being held to one field goal. CU signal caller Steven Montez played poorly, throwing for just 131 yards with a career-high four interceptions, and running back Alex Fontenot was held to 71 yards. The lone encouraging sign for the Buffs was the play of Laviska Shenault Jr., who saw action for the first time since getting hurt in the first half of the Arizona State game. Colorado will need to win another three games to reach a bowl game, and that has to start with Saturday’s contest. It’s likely be a high scoring affair, and the Buffs have to keep up.
11. Oregon State (1-2, 2-4) — Previous Ranking: 11 ⟺
The Beavers were still soaring from their victory at UCLA when they welcomed Utah into Reser Stadium. The feeling didn’t last. The Utes brought their best game to Corvallis, clobbering OSU from the outset. In all fairness, not many, if any other Pac-12 teams would have beaten Utah that night. Consequently, it’s not the loss but how the Beavs respond that will determine the remaining trajectory of their season. If OSU hangs with Cal this week, the program will have taken another substantial step in the right direction. No one expected OSU to win more than a couple Conference games this season, but most assumed it would be an improved team. The Golden Bears enter the contest 4-2 overall, with both losses coming under transfer quarterback Devon Modster. The Beavers must take advantage of that potential vulnerability, and find some defensive mustard. Senior signal caller Jake Luton needs to capitalize on his experience, getting Oregon State off to a fast start. The Beavers likely will need more than twenty points against Cal’s sticky defense to give themselves a shot, and can’t afford to waste possessions.
12. UCLA (1-2, 1-5) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
The Bruins had an off week, allowing them to regroup and prepare for a surging Stanford team on the road. In the meantime, UCLA’s personnel problems continued, as wide receiver Theo Howard announced he would redshirt and enter the transfer portal, and defensive lineman Martin Andrus, who tore his ACL prior to the OSU game, and guard Michael Alves, who has been out with a back injury, were both ruled out for the season. On the field, the Bruins have struggled in just about every way imaginable, and will need to find any sort of answer on defense to have a chance at an upset. The Cardinal have overcome the loss of eight offensive linemen, three of them starters, yet still found a way to upset Washington two weeks ago. They aren’t likely to score a lot of points, but they won’t give up many either. The good news for UCLA is that quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson appears to be healthy, and has been practicing after missing the Oregon State game. Running back Demetric Felton has been the lone bright spot for the Bruins, and remains practically the only source of offense. Some other playmakers will need to step up against Stanford.
— Andrew Corbett
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.