BY SPORTSPAC12 via Oregon Sports News
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.
One spot filled. Two weeks to go. The Ducks are in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship game, and the Utes are two wins away. But given their dominance and their remaining opponents, that may be the least interesting storyline this Saturday.
What could be more eventful than a race for a South Division title and all that could potentially come with it? How about two teams battling for a low-level bowl game, one having risen from the dregs of college football, the other having fallen from its heights.
Oregon State, a team that won a combined six games over the past three years, can post six wins this season with a victory over Washington State. The Cougars, a team that won 11 games last year, can salvage an otherwise disastrous season with a victory over the Beavers.
It won’t be on ESPN, ABC, or FS1, but it might just say more about the parity and resilience of the Conference of Champions than any other game this week.
1. Oregon (7-0, 9-1) — Previous Ranking: 1 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Arizona 34-6 | This Week: at ASU
The Ducks continued their string of nine consecutive victories with a rout of Arizona last week. The offense played well enough, but the big takeaway was the re-emergence of Oregon’s defense, which kept the Wildcats out of the end zone for the first time in their last 51 games. Duck defenders held the two-headed quarterback combination of Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell to under 200 yards passing on the day, while limiting Arizona running back J.J. Taylor to 74 yards on the ground. Building on this defensive performance this week would be ideal preparation for postseason play. The blowout win over the Wildcats enabled Oregon to clinch the North division title; though, in reality, the Ducks locked it up months ago. They’ll round out their season against struggling Arizona State in a primetime game in Tempe, before facing their dangerous rival Oregon State at home. One final victory over the South champs, most likely the Utes, would give Oregon an opportunity to claim its third Conference Championship in the Pac-12 Era. But the Ducks clearly have a shot at a more momentous goal in the College Football Playoff.
2. Utah (6-1, 9-1) — Previous Ranking: 2 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated UCLA 49-3 | This Week: at Arizona
The Utes didn’t waste any time reintroducing themselves to the Bruins last week. After a slow first quarter, Utah piled on 21 points in the second, taking a 28-3 lead into halftime. They didn’t look back. The win made a statement that isn’t likely to be lost on the Playoff Committee, or anyone else who witnessed the onslaught. Quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns, sans interceptions. Running back Zack Moss added 127 yards on the ground, with two touchdowns. As usual, the Utes impressed on the other side of the ball as well, holding Bruin halfback Joshua Kelley—who entered the matchup on a tear—to 78 yards, while also keeping him out of the end zone. The Utes face an underperforming Arizona team next week before playing rival Colorado to top off their regular-season campaign. But that shouldn’t be the end of Utah’s rise. Provided the Utes don’t slip-up, the Rose Bowl would be the lesser of their two possible postseason destinations.
3. Washington (3-4, 6-4) — Previous Ranking: 3 ⟺
Last Week: Bye | This Week: at Colorado
The Huskies made use of a bye this week before heading into the remainder of their season against Colorado and Washington State. For Washington, the goal of repeating as Conference champions has long since passed them by, but the Dawgs still have plenty to play for, and to prove. If they can win out, finishing second in the North division, they could keep program morale high, and boost an already terrific recruiting class. But losing even one of their two final matchups would do more than simply drop them further down the conference ladder; it would be a huge step back for the program. The Huskies should be able to win in Boulder, leaving them with the Apple Cup against an inconsistent Wazzu team to end their 2019 campaign. To finish strong, the Dawgs need to keep the game plan simple, run the ball, get the defense off the field, and do it again. Washington has the physicality to dominate its final two opponents and must take advantage. If the Huskies can’t control the line of scrimmage with the talent they have, their troubles may run deeper than suspected.
4. USC (6-2, 7-4) — Previous Ranking: 4 ⟺
Last Week: Defeated Cal 41-17 | This Week: vs. UCLA
The Trojans dominated Cal in Berkeley, putting their foot on the gas after a slow first half, and running up the score. In fact, they ran it up as no other team had on the Bears this season. Quarterback Kedon Slovis threw for 406 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. But for once, it wasn’t USC’s offense that drew most of the attention. The Trojans posted their best defensive performance of the year, holding Cal’s passing attack in-check the entire game, despite the return of Golden Bear starting quarterback Chase Garbers. The Trojans pressured Garbers nonstop, sacking him five times with six different players. If SC’s defense can play like it did last week for the remainder of the season, the Trojans will land in a decent bowl. And they still have a slim and unlikely shot to win the South, should Utah stumble. Unfortunately, last week’s solid performance also reinforced what could have been this season, had USC played well early, and caught a break here or there. The Trojans have Playoff-level talent, but they won’t be sniffing that rarified air this season.
— Nicholas Bartlett
5. Oregon State (4-3, 5-5) — Previous Ranking: 7
Last Week: Defeated ASU 35-34 | This Week: at WSU
The Beavers bounced back from their throttling at the hands of Washington two weeks ago, holding off a late charge from Arizona State to redeem themselves at home. Needless to say, the Oregon State football program is no longer a bottom feeder in the Conference, sitting alone in second place in the North. The Beavs survived another key test last week, making a pivotal stop on a two-point conversion that would have given ASU the lead with under two minutes left. Sixth-year senior quarterback Jake Luton had another phenomenal outing, throwing for 288 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. It was more than a feel-good senior night win for the Beavs, who have given themselves a realistic shot at making a bowl game. If OSU can beat Washington State next week in Pullman, they will have eclipsed the six-win mark for the first time since 2013, earning themselves a spot in postseason play. The matchup with the Cougs figures to be a high-scoring affair, in which the last team with the ball wins.
6. UCLA (4-3, 4-6) — Previous Ranking: 5
Last Week: Lost to Utah 49-3 | This Week: at USC
UCLA reverted to their early-season sloppy play last week, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. As the only other South team still in control of its own destiny, the Bruins traveled to Salt Lake City expecting to give Utah a game, if not shock the world. Instead, UCLA squandered away nearly every opportunity. Its defense was torched all night, both through the air and on the ground, and the offense managed just three points, despite getting into Utah territory seven times. In fairness, the Utes have made all of their opponents look bad this season. But going forward, UCLA needs to avoid turnovers, which have been the biggest barometer of their offensive struggles and get back to the basics of tackling on defense. Next up for the Bruins comes a short road trip across town to face the Trojans, who played one of their best games in defeating Cal last week, and will be looking to avenge last year’s loss to Chip Kelly’s UCLA team.
— Andrew Corbett
7. Washington State (2-5, 5-5) — Previous Ranking: 9
Last Week: Defeated Stanford 49-22 | This Week: vs. OSU
Washington State is coming off one of their best performances of the year, in all three phases, including Travell Harris’ 83-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Anthony Gordon threw for 520 yards and five touchdowns, prompting WSU coach Mike Leach to suggest he might be “playing quarterback better than anyone in the country.” Gordon had a lot of help from sophomore running back Max Borghi, who racked up 111 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. The wide receivers did their part as well, with Brandon Arconado catching nine balls for 148 yards and a score. Easop Winston pulled in 11 catches for two touchdowns, and Tay Martin added four receptions for 76 yards and one touchdown. Martin also made a couple of blocks that led to Cougar scores. Despite giving up 510 total yards, the Cougar defense held firm and was able to force some turnovers, nabbing two interceptions. That generated momentum for Wazzu late in the second half, and augers well for this weekend’s matchup with Oregon State. The winner of that game becomes bowl-eligible to cap an unexpected season.
8. Arizona State (2-5, 5-5) — Previous Ranking: 6
Last Week: Lost to OSU 35-34 | This Week: vs Oregon
After a hot start this season, ASU has sputtered badly, losing four straight games, and falling from the top to the bottom of the South division. The main problem for the Sun Devils in the last two contests has been falling behind early. That was the case last week, with Oregon State jumping out to a 28-7 lead. Failed comebacks proved problematic in losses to Colorado and USC as well. ASU doesn’t yet have the talent to pull off miracles week in and week out. Head coach Herm Edwards needs to find a way to fix his team’s struggling defensive unit, which has looked lackluster in their last three outings. After holding teams to less than 10 points per game in their first three contests, the Devils have given up more than 30 points in the last three. ASU still has an opportunity to qualify for a bowl, but they’ll have to win one of their two final contests against Oregon or Arizona. An upset of the Ducks on Saturday seems unlikely, to say the least, leaving the Territorial Cup to determine their post-season aspirations and the direction of the program in the near future.
9. Cal (2-5, 5-5) — Previous Ranking: 8
Last Week: Lost to USC 41-17 | This Week: at Stanford
The Golden Bears fell back to Earth last week after taking down Wazzu two weeks ago. The return of Cal quarterback Chase Garbers was expected to make all the difference against USC, but the offense struggled, and Chase landed back on the injured list. A lack of depth continues to plague the Bears on both sides of the ball. Cal’s defense had no answer for USC’s Kedon Slovis, who threw for 406 yards, completing 29 passes to seven different receivers, including 11 to Michael Pittman for 180 yards and a score. The Bear defense undoubtedly lost some of its luster in the 41 point thrashing by the Trojan Air Raid, an offensive system Justin Wilcox once seemed to have a grip on. Saturday’s Big Game against Stanford, as well as the regular-season finale against UCLA, provide Cal with two more chances to become bowl-eligible for a second straight year. The Bears haven’t defeated the Cardinal in nine years, but might just have their best shot this week since their 48-14 victory in 2010.
10. Colorado (2-5, 4-6) — Previous Ranking: 11
Last Week: Bye | This Week: vs. Washington
Colorado used a bye week to prepare for its Senior Day game against Washington on Saturday. Despite defeating Sanford two weeks ago, the Buffs will have virtually no margin of error against a Husky defense that shut down a slashing and prolific Oregon State offense in its last outing. A lot depends on which Washington team shows up in Boulder: the one that lost to Cal and Stanford or the one that beat BYU and USC? Either way, Colorado will need to play its best game to have a chance. Realistically, the Buffs must focus on laying the foundation for future improvement, with two formidable final opponents on the horizon in the Dawgs and Utah. Where Colorado, currently tied for last with a 2-5 record, ends up in the South Division is less relevant than how Mel Tucker’s team finishes out the season with its back against the wall and prospective recruits watching. Rebuilding the Buffalo football program will take time, and Tucker’s transformation of a culture not accustomed to winning regularly will be the lasting legacy of his first year in Boulder.
11. Stanford (3-5, 4-6) — Previous Ranking: 10
Last Week: Lost to WSU 49-22 | This Week: vs Cal
The Cardinal spotted the Cougars 19 points last week, and couldn’t get them back, despite a tremendous effort. Stanford showed a lot of heart in fighting to within three points before giving up a kickoff return that swung momentum dramatically in Washington State’s favor. Going forward, there were some positive takeaways that could help the Cardinal close out their season. Most notably, backup quarterback Davis Mills impressed in his fourth start, throwing for 504 yards, three touchdowns, in spite of his two interceptions. He seemed to find his groove in the midst of Stanford’s comeback bid, leading some to believe that the Cardinal have found their quarterback of the future. Stanford’s defense was outmatched the entire game, getting shredded through the air, with Wazzu quarterback Anthony Gordon throwing for 520 yards and five touchdowns. The loss realistically eliminated the Cardinal from bowl contention, requiring them to sweep rivals Notre Dame and Cal to be eligible.
12. Arizona (2-5, 4-6) — Previous Ranking: 12 ⟺
Last Week: Lost to Oregon 34-6 | This Week: vs. Utah
The Wildcats took a step forward last week, playing better than expected against Oregon, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Chuck Cecil schemed up new blitz packages, sacking Justin Herbert three times and forcing his third interception of the season. The 34 points allowed comprised the lowest total since Week Five, and the fourth-lowest total of the year. The newfound confidence should be useful for the team’s mindset, and may spark another closer-than-expected contest against Utah this weekend. Even if the performance doesn’t carry over to this Saturday, it will likely aid them as they gear up for the Territorial Cup at the end of the month. On offense, the dual quarterback strategy remains in place, despite a five-game losing streak. Grant Gunnell was yanked after a handful of series and was reinserted too late to make a difference. The true freshman gained some good experience, though, which should aid his development for next season. As for Utah, the Cats historically pull off a shocking win each season, and the stars may be aligned for an upset on Senior Night. Unfortunately, the Utes appear to present a bigger challenge than Oregon.
*This story was originally published at sportspac12.com. Syndicated with permission.