Welcome to the unofficial halfway point of the college football season, and a momentary escape from the unrelenting drama surrounding Arizona’s men’s basketball team.
Boy, did we have a doozy of a week in the Conference of Champions, with the Mighty Cougars of Washington State slaying USC, while fellow Evergreen State power Washington trounced lowly Oregon State.
Four Pac-12 teams find themselves in this week’s AP poll, with the aforementioned Huskies leading the way, slotting in at sixth overall, followed by the Cougars, Trojans and Utes.
There are plenty of eye-opening games to keep watch of this weekend, including Washington State heading to Autzen to face Oregon, and Utah hosting the Cardinal of Stanford.
The hometown Wildcats enter another must-win matchup in Boulder against Mike McIntyre’s Colorado Buffaloes, who lost to the “Rosen One” and UCLA on Saturday night.
I’ll dig deeper into those matchups and more below, but rest assured there will be plenty of reasons to stay glued to your recliner come Saturday.
Without further adieu, here’s how I see the pecking order out west standing as of now:
1. Washington Huskies (5-0)
The Huskies have stomped their competition thus far, beating a who’s-who of Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State, Colorado and Oregon State by a combined score of 220-54.
Junior gunslinger Jake Browning has somehow one-upped his Heisman-worthy output from a year ago, throwing for 1,251 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Browning is, in my opinion, the best quarterback in the league, followed by Rosen, with USC’s Sam Darnold being a distant third.
The Huskies should cruise Saturday, hosting Justin Wilcox and Cal in a game that puts Washington’s high-powered offense against a Bears defense ranks ninth in the conference in points allowed (28.2) and yards per game allowed (483.6).
It’s insane that the Huskies have Browning and do-it-all back Myles Gaskin, who’s averaging a mind-boggling 7.1 yards per carry, at their disposal.
Browning, Gaskin and deep threat receiver Dante Pettis make up the backbone of the Huskies’ attack, and have a legit chance of guiding the team to its second straight College Football Playoff appearance come January.
2. Washington State Cougars (5-0)
Words cannot express how gleeful I was to watch Mike Leach and company slay the mighty Trojans of USC in Pullman on Friday night, given my year-long pro-Cougar stance.
There’s still room on the Cougar bandwagon, but we’re taking on a lot of weight in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s 30-27 WSU triumph. We all knew coming into the year how good Wazzu would be offensively, with Luke Falk, who broke the conference’s career completions record of 1,188 passes, previously held by Oregon State’s Sean Mannion leading the charge.
What many (myself included) did not expect was the defensive fortitude put in by Leach’s team, with the Cougars ranking fourth in the conference in scoring defense (20.2), and second in total defense (275.2).
Things don’t get any easier for the Cougars this weekend, however, with Washington State traveling 460 miles to play 4-1 Oregon at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The Cougars can’t afford a letdown against the Ducks if they’re going to make a run at the playoff, so Saturday’s game will be must-watch television.
3. USC Trojans (4-1)
Anyone with a functioning brain knew how tough it’d be for Coach Clay Helton and company to weather a brutal 12 game in as many weeks schedule, a task that seems criminal for unpaid athletes.
The litany of injuries afflicting the Men of Troy have been staggering to say the least, with offensive linemen Chuma Edoga and Viane Talamaivao joining a laundry list of injured players, with Edoga going down with an ankle injury, while Talavaivao hurt his pectoral muscle. T
he team’s continuing injury-related drama casts a dark picture for the Trojans’ dimming playoff odds, with games against Utah in LA and at Notre Dame in successive weeks on the horizon. Helton needs his signal-caller, Sam Darnold, to play a hell of a lot better than he did against the Cougars, when he threw for a career-low 164 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception (though he did run for two scores).
It’s hard to see how USC can muster enough cohesiveness and confidence to win their division, much less knock off Washington, Washington State or even Oregon in the conference championship game.
4. Utah Utes (4-0)
The Pac-12 South leaders, fresh off a bye week, welcome Bryce Love and company Saturday in a matchup that could be do-or-die for the Utes in its quest to capture its first division crown since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
The Utes haven’t played the greatest competition so far, beating up on North Dakota, BYU, San Jose State and lowly Arizona in successive weeks, but feature another rock-solid defensive unit.
The Utes currently rank second in the conference in scoring defense (17.2) and third in total defense (296.5) — covering for an anemic offensive that’s look pedestrian at best through four games. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley, who’s thrown for 966 yards and six touchdowns so far, will likely target Oregon transfer Darren Carrington all night against the Cardinal, with Carrington hauling in 30 catches for 485 yards and four touchdowns this year.
5. Oregon Ducks (4-1)
To quote Shakespeare, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times for the Ducks on Saturday, slamming longtime rival Cal 45-24 to shake off a disastrous loss in Tempe the week before.
The win came with a big asterisk, however, as quarterback Justin Herbert broke his collarbone. To make matters worse, backup Taylor Alie also went down in the fourth quarter with an injury of his own, forcing them to turn to former Arizona commit Braxton Burmeister, burning his redshirt.
Coach Willie Taggart will certainly miss Herbert’s steady play, as the prodigal son of Eugene posted a 68.3 completion percentage, with 1,264 passing yards and 12 touchdowns as the starter. Taggart hasn’t announced his starter for Saturday’s clash against the Cougars, but trouble could be brewing in the Willamette if Herbert and Alie miss significant time.
6. Stanford Cardinal (3-2)
Those of us in the elitist media (myself included) that jammed on the panic button after the Cardinal lost consecutive games to USC and San Diego State look awful foolish now, given the team’s recent resurgence.
Chalk the team’s much-improved play of late to the performance turned in by Bryce Love, who has eclipsed 1,000 yards for the year, after breaking the school’s single-game rushing record against the Sun Devils on Saturday, with 301 yards and three scores on 25 carries. Love is averaging an insane 11.1 yards per carry this season, and is on pace to run for 2,611 yards this season.
This year’s Cardinal team doesn’t have the typically staunch defense, ranking eighth in total defense (444.2), and sixth in points allowed (25.4). Those stats are meaningless though, so long as Love and company keep posting gaudy numbers down the stretch.
7. UCLA Bruins (3-2)
What a difference a week makes for Rosen and company, fresh off a thrilling 27-23 white-out win over Colorado at the Rose Bowl.
Rosen was stellar as always against the Buffs, throwing for 372 yards and a touchdown, while Soso Jamabo ran for 70 yards and a touchdown for the Bruins. The Bruins survived; despite giving up 351 yards and a touchdown to Colorado quarterback Steven Montez, who ran for 108 yards on 15 carries.
It’s hard to believe that Mora can survive the rest of the season in Westwood, given cauldron he sits on, but the win keeps the trolls of the City of Angels off his back for another week.
The Bruins enter its bye week on a high note, ahead of a road matchup against the Wildcats next week. Expect a high-scoring affair that could be a make-or-break game for Rich Rodriguez and company in Tucson.
8. California Golden Bears (3-2)
Coach Wilcox and company suffered a setback in their road to bowl eligibility Saturday, bumbling through a 21-point loss to Oregon. The Bears face a four-game gauntlet, facing Washington, Washington State, Arizona and Colorado in succession.
Wilcox would probably jump for joy if his squad can go 2-2 in that stretch, leaving them one win shy of bowl eligibility, with Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA to close out the year.
Wilcox needs sophomore quarterback Ross Bower to play like he did against the Ducks, when he threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns.
The issue for Wilcox is his defense’s inability to stop opponents on the ground, surrendering 328 yards and five scores to the Ducks’ rushing attack on Saturday.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (3-2)
It’s been an ugly start to the conference season for the Buffs, losing to Washington at home and UCLA in Pasadena. A big reason for the Buffs’ slide has been the team’s sloppy defensive play, giving up 254 rushing yards two weeks ago to Gaskin and company in a monsoon of biblical proportions, before getting torched through the air by Rosen on Saturday.
The Buffs have a chance to get back on the right track, with games against conference lightweights Arizona and Oregon State, before playing Washington State in Pullman, with two more winnable games against Cal at home and ASU in Tempe after that. A
nine-win season is still a definite possibility for the Buffs, but it’ll require much more discipline than what they’ve shown of-late.
10. Arizona State Sun Devils (2-3)
The Devils’ place in this week’s rankings has a lot more to do with the weakness of the conference’s bottom tier than about Todd Graham’s coaching skills.
ASU is fresh off a 10-point beat-down in Palo Alto, in which Graham’s sorry excuse for a defense surrendered 328 rushing yards to the Cardinal, while also failing to sack Cardinal quarterback K.J. Costello at all.
The Devils head into their bye week with lots of work to do, ahead of a clash against the Huskies at Sun Devil Stadium on Oct. 14. The Devils play a brutal triad of games against UW, Utah and USC, which could be the final nail in the coffin for Graham and his staff.
11. Arizona Wildcats (2-2)
The Wildcats have fallen into relative anonymity in the Old Pueblo, thanks to the unfolding FBI drama hammering the men’s basketball team.
It’s been nine days since the Wildcats’ meltdown at Arizona Stadium against the Utes, and some of you may have forgotten that football season is still a thing given the aforementioned drama, so let’s take this moment to remind you of the season’s course to this point.
The Wildcats find themselves ranked fourth in the conference in points per game (41.2), and shockingly rank fifth in points per game surrendered (22.2), but also feature the worst passing offense in the league (182.8) with five touchdowns total between Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate.
Things don’t look rosy going forward for Rodriguez’s team either, with successive games against CU (in Boulder), UCLA (at home), Cal (in Berkeley), Washington State (at home) and USC (in LA).
It’s hard to envision the Cats finding a way to win six or more games this fall, the benchmark reportedly put in place by first-year Athletic Director Dave Heeke and President Robert C. Robbins, which means the sun could be setting over the rugged Tucson Mountains for the long-time ballcoach.
12. Oregon State Beavers (1-4)
It’s been a horrid year for Gary Andersen and company in Corvallis, who has to be counting the hours until the season’s conclusion.
The Beavers have found a way to be anemic on both sides of the ball, ranking second-to-last in FBS in terms of points allowed (46.4), while posting an equally-mediocre 21.2 points per game on offense, ranking 112th overall.
It’s hard to see the Beavers winning a single conference game this fall, with home games against Colorado, Stanford and ASU, with road matchups against USC, Cal, Arizona and Oregon remaining.
The Beavers’ best hope for a winner may rest at the feet of men’s basketball coach Wayne Tinkle, which is a damning portrait of the Oregon State athletic department as a whole.
Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan