Posted on September 13, 2021
The Conference is on a path for its first Playoff appearance since 2016-17, after Oregon took down Ohio State in Columbus.
Combined with UCLA’s win over LSU at the Rose Bowl, the Pac-12 holds what could be the top two victories in College Football this season.
The success of the weekend is in stark contrast to the struggles of Week One, proving how quickly perceptions can change.
But behind the allure of the respected upsets is a darker reality.
Utah lost to BYU, USC was rolled by Stanford, and California blew a lead against TCU. The results sent our senior writer’s back to the drawing board to re-rank the teams as they are viewed heading into Week Three.
The list below is a composite of each writer’s rankings, with the individual lists appearing at the bottom.
1. Oregon (2-0, 0-0) ▲2
The Ducks were bigger, faster, and stronger in their matchup with Ohio State.
Controlling the line of scrimmage from the jump, Oregon ran the ball down the Buckeyes’ throat. Able to do almost anything it wanted, Mario Cristobal’s offense converted 8-of-16 third downs while moving the chains on its lone fourth down attempt.
But the depth of UO carried the day in its win over then No. 3 Ohio State, as defensive starters Kayvon Thibodeaux and Justin Flowe were unable to go.
The win puts Oregon in the driver’s seat to represent the Pac-12 in the Playoff, and sets up a potential matchup with UCLA in the Conference’s Championship Game.
It’s still early, but the winner would have a strong argument for the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the Playoff.
And the rest of the nation has rightfully taken note, as Oregon is now No. 4 in the AP Top 25.
2. UCLA (2-0, 0-0) ▼1
The benefactors of several Top 25 teams suffering defeats, UCLA moved up to No. 13 in the AP Poll.
The bye week allowed the Bruins to regroup and set their sights on Fresno State, a matchup that takes on far greater meaning than anticipated at the beginning of the season.
The Bulldogs battled Oregon to the bitter end, and the final score on Saturday should provide fodder for the comparison to the Ducks.
But Chip Kelly’s offense has shown no signs of slowing down, with Zach Charbonnet the early-season favorite for the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year honor.
There’s still a long way to go, yet UCLA’s path to winning the South appears clearer than it did last week.
3. ASU (2-0, 0-0) ▲1
After a slow start, Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils put it together against UNLV. Jayden Daniels posted a career-high 122 yards rushing, and Rachaad White tagged on another 90 with two touchdowns.
And holding the Running Rebels to just 11 first downs and 155 total yards, Antonio Pierce’s defense showed why Arizona State is a legitimate contender in the South Division.
But ASU has yet to be tested after facing two cupcake opponents to open its season. That changes this Saturday, with the Sun Devils traveling to Provo to take on BYU.
The matchup provides an opportunity to make a statement and doubles as the lone marquee nonconference game of Arizona State’s campaign.
Running back Chip Trayanum should be available for the road test after missing the game against UNLV. His availability is vital as Edwards will need all hands on deck to topple the Cougars on their home field.
4. Utah (1-1, 0-0) ▲1
For the first time since 2009, Utah dropped a game to rival BYU.
Although the defeat doesn’t affect the Pac-12 standings, the loss does serve a dose of reality to the Ute program. Projected by some to win the South, the lack of weapons in the wide receiver group was brought to light.
Charlie Brewer passed for just 147 yards, Utah’s lowest total passing yard since its 24-21 defeat to Washington last season. And with no apparent fix in sight, the issue could continue throughout the year.
The struggles through the air overshadowed a stellar performance from freshman Micah Bernard, who posted 146 yards rushing on only 12 attempts.
But the biggest cause for concern may be Kyle Whittingham’s third-down defense. His unit allowed BYU to convert 11-of-19 third downs, a backbreaking statistic that arguably cost his team the game.
5. Stanford (1-1, 1-0) ▲3
The Tanner McKee Era got off to a rampant start, as Stanford dismantled USC in the quarterback’s first game as a starter. With their QB of the future locked in, the Tree appear re-energized for a run to bowl eligibility.
Nathaniel Peat took advantage of the improved passing game, gashing the Trojans for an 87-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
And David Shaw’s defense stepped up, with corner Kyu Blu Kelly snagging a Pick-Six in a pivotal moment of the third quarter.
Up 42-13 midway through the fourth, the Cardinal sent a message to the rest of the Pac-12: What happened against Kansas State was a fluke.
Whether that message has staying power remains to be seen, but the confidence gained from embarrassing SC at the Coliseum is immeasurable.
And holding a four-game winning streak in true road games, Stanford heads to SEC territory to take on Vanderbilt.
6. USC (1-1, 0-1) ▼4
Clay Helton’s hot seat got even hotter in Los Angeles this weekend, after the Trojans unexpectedly lost to Stanford in convincing fashion.
Kedon Slovis continued to struggle in Graham Harrell’s offense, passing for just 223 yards after putting up 256 the week prior. Despite out-gaining the Cardinal and putting up its most yards rushing in 14 games, the SC offense was held to a single touchdown through three quarters.
Penalties and a devastating Pick-Six changed the game, but the offense isn’t jiving the way it should in Year Three of Harell’s system. Backup Jaxson Dart has yet to see the field, though that could change if Slovis continues to struggle.
The Trojans’ resolve will be tested over the next few games as they face opponents they’re expected to handle, but ones that sense blood in the water. A slip up in Pullman this weekend could very well be the end of the Helton Era.
7. Colorado (1-1, 0-0) ▼1
Giving Texas A&M all they had, Colorado couldn’t quite close the deal in Denver.
Brendon Lewis wasn’t effective through the air once again, but the freshman put up 76 yards on the ground.
And although the CU defense held steady until giving up a touchdown with just over three minutes to go in the game, Karl Dorrell can’t help but feel this one got away.
Yet, the defeat was expected and CU can take confidence from the 10-7 result.
Star running back Jarek Broussard suffered a lower-leg injury in the loss, and his status for this week’s matchup with Minnesota is unknown. If he can’t go, Ashaad Clayton and Alex Fontenot will be tasked with easing the burden on Lewis.
Through two games, the freshman quarterback has passed for just 191 yards. If he can emerge as a more consistent thrower, CU can do damage in the Pac-12.
8. Oregon State (1-1, 0-0) ▼1
The Chance Nolan Era may have officially begun in Corvallis this weekend, after the Beavs handled Hawaii 45-27.
Passing for 302 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, the OSU offense operated efficiently under his command. B.J. Baylor was the primary beneficiary, as the redshirt junior ran for 171 yards and three touchdowns.
If the Oregon State rushing attack continues to thrive with Nolan under center, the trajectory of its season increases dramatically. Baylor now has five touchdowns through two games, and Jonathan Smith’s offense has its vital ingredient.
Nolan is also the top passer of the three quarterbacks in OSU’s stable, a weapon that adds another dimension to the Beaver offense.
And although the Rainbow Warrior defense probably isn’t the ideal measuring stick, Oregon State appears to have taken a step forward under Nolan’s leadership.
9. Cal (0-2, 0-0) ◄►
The Bears came out with something to prove against TCU, and it was working through two quarters.
But up 19-7 midway through the second, the Horned Frogs scored 14 unanswered points over the next quarter and a half to take a two-point lead into the fourth.
Cal briefly regained the lead, but quickly surrendered it and failed to convert a two-point attempt that would have tied the game with just under five minutes to go.
For the first time since 2001, California has suffered back-to-back defeats to nonconference opponents to open the season. For a program expecting to make a bowl game, the margin for error is gone over the remainder of the year.
Justin Wilcox may take some solace in the margin of defeats and use it to rally his team in practice. And in reality, the Bears aren’t that far off from turning the corner.
10. Washington State (1-1, 0-0) ▲2
The ship was righted in Pullman over the weekend, if only temporarily.
Max Borghi continued to struggle in Nick Rolovich’s offense, averaging just 4.5 yards per carry against FCS opponent Portland State. But Deon McIntosh flashed his potential, posting 8 yards per carry in the Run-and-Shoot scheme.
Wide receiver Travell Harris had six catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns, finally getting into the grove of the game after putting up just 23 yards in the loss to Utah State.
And Jayden de Laura played the way many expected him to, dropping 303 yards passing and four total touchdowns.
Still, the quality of the opponent distorts the perception of the statistics and the Cougs face USC on Saturday.
Coming off a defeat, the Trojans figure to play angry and come out firing. But a Washington State victory this weekend would invigorate the program’s march to bowl eligibility.
11. Washington (0-2, 0-0) ▼1
Through two games, the Huskies have scored just 17 points and put up only 115 yards rushing.
For a team expected to contend for the Pac-12 Championship, the stumbles through the first contests of the season are as shocking as they are confounding.
Dylan Morris is handicapped by an ineffective ground game, forcing Jimmy Lake to become a one-dimensional offense.
But the offensive struggles might be the result of scheme more than anything. Apart from the game last year against Arizona, Washington is averaging 15.6 points per night under Jimmy Lake.
Even with an elite defense, that’s an unsustainable mark that must be fixed.
Albert Einstein famously stated the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result. What’s going on in Seattle appears to fit Einstein’s definition.
At the end of the day, Lake must take decisive action or face the music.
12. Arizona (0-2,0-0) ▼1
Bridges were burned in Tucson on Saturday night.
A botched new stadium entry policy caused thousands of fans to miss half the first quarter, and the Cats were down 21-0 before the blink of an eye.
The Zona Zoo student section was filled to the brim for the kickoff, a sight unseen in a decade, but most left at halftime with Arizona down 35-7.
The goodwill Jedd Fisch built in the community over the past nine months was all but thrown away, as the UA defense allowed San Diego State to run wild in the first two quarters.
To Don Brown’s credit, his second half adjustments worked and the Aztecs scored just three points the remainder of the game. But the damage was done.
Left to pick up the pieces, questions abound regarding the ability of Fisch’s Pro Style offense to put up points.
How our Senior Football Writers Voted
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