Uncertainty has reigned so far in the Pac-12
Quick question — from what you’ve seen so far, who is the best football team in the Pac-12?
Quick answer — I have no earthly idea.
You’d think that with every week that passes, the picture would become more clear, but Week 3 in the “Conference of Champions” only muddied things more.
Yes, there are still four undefeated teams in the conference (Arizona, Cal, UCLA and Utah) and every team has a winning record, but just about every squad has shown warts to this point.
Going into Week 3, you probably would have said that USC was the strongest team. However, the 6th-ranked Trojans were shocked by Stanford, 41-31 in Los Angeles Saturday.
Stanford, a popular preseason pick to win the North (*raises hand), looked wretched in their season-opening loss at Northwestern in which they managed just two field goals. Saturday, they looked like, well, Stanford.
Jim Mora’s Bruins are undefeated after squeaking out a 24-23 win over BYU in Pasadena Saturday. But their freshman quarterback finally looked like a kid who was in high school at this time last year. Josh Rosen finished 11-of-23 for 106 yards and threw three first-half interceptions. The Bruins were able to overcome it by riding running backs Paul Perkins and Nate Starks and a stout defense to the win.
Oregon is 2-1 with wins over Eastern Washington and Georgia State. They actually looked better in their loss to Michigan State in Week 2 than in either of their victories. Don’t believe me? They’ve yielded an average of 490 yards and 35 points in those two wins.
Cal is undefeated after escaping Austin with a wild, one-point victory over Texas. But the Golden Bears defense looked like it did in 2013 and 2014, allowing 650 yards to the struggling Longhorns.
Arizona owns an unblemished record, but those wins have come against UTSA, Nevada and Northern Arizona. The Wildcats still have questions on defense as they head into conference play.
Anybody know what to make of Arizona State? Didn’t think so.
Utah? Labeled a sleeper in the preseason, the Utes have successfully used their blueprint of running the football, playing solid defense and special teams in going 3-0 against Michigan, Utah State and Fresno State.
Get the point? Uncertainty. I believe there are a lot of decent to good teams in the Pac-12, but I’m not sure, at this juncture, that any will be able avoid the cannibalism that could leave the conference without a year-two participant in the College Football Playoff.
Marotta’s Pac-12 Power Rankings through Week 3
1. UCLA Bruins (3-0) – Bonus points for not losing to BYU on a Hail Mary. We’ll know a lot more about the Bruins after the next four weeks — they’ve got at Arizona, vs. Arizona State, at Stanford and vs. Cal in that stretch.
2. Utah Utes (3-0) – Yeah, I’m putting Utah second. They’ve played without quarterback Travis Wilson for a game and a half, and have still walked away unscathed. The Utes really have a chance to solidify their position in the South with a road game at Oregon in Week 4.
3. Stanford Cardinal (2-1) – Would the real Cardinal please stand up? Awful in Week 1 against Northwestern, but it turns out the Wildcats defense is legit (they’ve allowed 16 points in three games). Stanford was great in Week 3, winning on the road at USC, but there is concern about quarterback Kevin Hogan. The senior was on crutches following Saturday’s win.
4. Cal Golden Bears (3-0) – The Bears went on the road to Texas and won (while scoring 45 points) without their top running back, Daniel Lasco. Quarterback Jared Goff has been as good as advertised. Cal opens conference play in Seattle against UW Saturday.
5. Arizona Wildcats (3-0) – The ‘Cats are legit offensively. They possess big-play ability in both the running game and the passing game. Defensively, they’ll get Scooby Wright back soon, and that will help. They need him as the Pac-12 slate opens up with back-to-back games against UCLA and Stanford. By the way, why doesn’t Rich Rod convert Jerrard Randall to RB? The backup QB is averaging 34.8 yards per carry!
6. Oregon Ducks (2-1) – The Ducks are still more than formidable offensively, but the defense is flat-out scary, and not in a good way. They’re tied for 105th in the nation in total defense, yielding 456 yards per game. Oh, Vernon Adams has a broken finger on his throwing hand, too — have you heard?
7. USC Trojans (2-1) – The Trojans looked great in their first two games, granted those games were against Arkansas State and Idaho. Facing their first real opposition in 2015, USC’s defense looked like it did for portions of the last two seasons. And the Trojans get marked off for being the only Pac-12 team yet to hit the road this year.
8. Arizona State Sun Devils (2-1) – Todd Graham’s team was looking for a “get right” game against New Mexico. It’s questionable whether they got it. Yes, ASU won 34-10, but struggled for a good portion of the first half. The second half was better, but a question — where is D.J. Foster? He’s banged up, yes, but the senior has not been productive thus far.
9. Washington Huskies (2-1) – While I have been somewhat surprised at the Huskies’ ability to put points on the board (40.0 ppg the last two weeks), but they rank 119th in the nation in rushing. Not exactly the kind of stress Chris Petersen wants on the shoulders of freshman QB Jake Browning.
10. Washington State Cougars (2-1) – QB Luke Falk has been good, the running game is improved (that’s not saying much) and Mike Leach’s team has bounced back with two wins after their embarrassing season-opening loss to Portland State. Stiff test at Cal in Week 4 for the Cougs.
11. Colorado Buffaloes (2-1) – Arguably the only thing separating the Buffs from a 3-0 start is some shoddy clock management at the end of the Hawaii game. Major concern about the health of their running backs — Michael Adkins and Phillip Lindsay are both banged up. One more tune-up against Nicholls State Saturday before things get real in Boulder.
12. Oregon State Beavers (2-1) – OSU bounced back from a stinker in Ann Arbor with a two-touchdown win over San Jose State Saturday. Storm Woods and quarterback Seth Collins ran wild against the Spartans, amassing 265 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.