Welcome to week five of the Pac-12 football schedule, better known as hell week to the teams actually taking the field.
With the hometown Arizona Wildcats taking a much-needed week off, there is a dearth of action on the gridiron here in Baja Arizona.
There’s still plenty of red-hot potential in the games that will happen, however, including USC’s less-than-triumphant return to The Palouse, fresh off a shaky win against Cal last Saturday.
We’ll delve into those games and more below, but rest assured that there will be plenty of potential for some good, old-fashioned Pac-12 After Dark action in the week ahead.
Without further adieu, here’s how I see the conference hierarchy stacking up right now:
1. Washington Huskies (4-0)
Things did not look promising for Coach Chris Petersen and company in the land of Boulder for most of the night Saturday.
The Huskies battled a hail of bone-chilling rain for the better half of two quarters, before finally blowing the door open — en route to a 37-10 romp at Folsom Field.
The Huskies, in their conference opener, looked shaky in the game’s opening half, with a 10-7 lead going into the half, before trouncing the hapless Buffs into oblivion down the stretch.
In doing so, the Huskies proved themselves to be the premier team out west, with a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball and the type of coaching accruement unrivaled in the conference since USC’s heyday a decade ago.
Do-it-all back Myles Gaskin gashed the Colorado defense, galloping through defenders to the tune of 202 yards and two touchdowns, while Pedersen’s top-notch defense snagged three picks against woebegone Buffs QB Steven Montez.
The Huskies out-rushed Colorado to the tune of 254-120 Saturday, and survived despite an uncharacteristically shaky performance by dynamic gunslinger Jake Browning, who only completed 11 of 21 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.
The Huskies get a bye of sorts this week, traveling to Corvallis to play Oregon State, which should be a blowout by halftime. Expect Washington, now ranked sixth in the latest AP poll, to continue its steady climb up the hierarchy of collegiate football, because these Dogs can play.
2. Washington State Cougars (4-0)
Here’s our first plot twist of the season, folks! The boys from Pullman are 4-0 for the first time since 2001 — when Mike Price led the Wazzu to a 10-2 record and a Sun Bowl appearance.
The Cougars come in to Friday’s battle fresh off a 45-7 slaughter of poor Nevada, thanks to 478 yards and five touchdowns from the aforementioned Falk.
Speaking of Falk, the six foot four inch senior now has 1,378 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, to only one interception so far this year, with an unreal completion percentage of 76.9 — ahead of Colt McCoy’s single-season record of 76.67 percent in 2008.
The Cougars find themselves ranking fourth in the conference in points per game (43.8), but average a whopping 504.2 yards per game so far, while leading the Pac in total defense, giving up a mere 262.2 yards per game this season.
I am fully on-board the Cougar Bandwagon Express — and have no problem keeping the Cougars in the number-two spot from here on out (assuming, of course, they don’t lose to USC on Friday).
3. USC Trojans (4-0)
The Trojans find themselves in the number three spot this week, but are by no means the dominating force of the past.
The Trojans, behind another shaky performance by quarterback Sam Darnold, escaped the rolling hills of Berkeley relatively unscathed, with the game’s 10-point margin looking far superior in style than substance.
It’s troubling to me that Darnold — who ESPN’s announcers fawned over to the point of criminality — has seven interceptions in four games, and continues to try to force the issue instead of taking what the defense gives him.
It’s also troubling that the Trojans’ vaunted defense is currently seventh in the conference in points per game allowed (24.8) and total defense (370.2 YPG), which are good for seventh and sixth in the conference, respectively.
The lone saving grace for the Trojans’ defense is their ability to force turnovers, with the third-most interceptions so far, which will come in handy Friday, when they’ll face Arizona’s four-letter word (Falk) and Washington State in The Palouse.
Weird things happen to the Men of Troy when they venture to Martin Stadium, where Pete Carroll and company famously lost in 2002.
Expect Washington State to push the Trojans to the edge Friday, and don’t be surprised if the Trojans, tasked with the unenviable 12 games in as many weeks schedule, take the L in Pullman.
4. Utah Utes (4-0)
Here’s where the Conference of Champions gets a little dicey in my opinion.
Kyle Whittingham’s Utes are fresh off a stinker at Arizona Stadium, outlasting an abysmal Wildcats team in front of an embarrassingly small crowd.
The Utes find themselves undefeated after four weeks, mainly due to a schedule that ranks 110th out of 130 FBS teams, according to Sports Reference.
The Utes survived in Tucson, despite losing dual-threat quarterback Tyler Huntley to a shoulder injury in Friday’s 30-24 win over the Wildcats — the Utes first win in Tucson in six years.
Utah seems to have its typical lockdown defense, allowing the third fewest points per game (17.2) and yards per game (296.5) in the conference. We’ll see whether the Utes are for real or not Saturday, when Stanford comes calling, fresh off a 24-point win over UCLA last Saturday.
The player to watch for Utah going forward lines up at the receiver position, though, as Oregon transfer Darren Carrington has been phenomenal so far, with 485 yards and four touchdowns.
Whittingham and company will need Carrington to be there for whoever lines up under-center, with a nascent rushing attack that averages 165 yards per game, down from the 214 yards per game they averaged in 2016.
5. California Golden Bears (3-1)
The Bears might have put up the most impressive 10-point loss in recent memory in its ultimate defeat at the hands of USC on Saturday.
The Bears showed signs of life throughout, and a dual-threat offensive attack that could lead to the school’s first bowl berth in three years under new Coach Justin Wilcox.
Sophomore receiver Kanawai Noa showed bursts of glory Saturday, with a game-and-career-high 110 receiving yards on six catches, including a 38-yard catch in the game’s opening half.
The Bears, heading into Saturday’s intra-conference showdown against Oregon, have a better defense than advertised, allowing 24 points per game, good for sixth in the conference, with the fifth-most interceptions (6) so far.
The Bears’ game against Oregon at Autzen will clarify whether the team has the chops to win seven or eight games this fall, which would be a smashing success for Wilcox and company, given the radical facelift that’s taking place in Berkeley right now.
6. Colorado Buffaloes (3-1)
This spot should, and would have gone to the Ducks, had they not choked away Saturday’s game in Tempe.
Given that embarrassing loss, the middle of the Pac position falls to the Buffs, despite an awful performance down the stretch against Washington.
The Buffs, who entered Saturday’s matchup with three interceptions in its first three games against CSU, Texas State and Northern Colorado, matched that number in a rain-slogged hellscape Saturday.
Quarterback Steven Montez — fresh off a career-high 357 yard, four-touchdown performance against UNC — struggled mightily in the second half Saturday, tossing three picks with a Quarterback Ranking of 25 percent, his lowest of the year.
Montez wasn’t helped by the fact that dynamic back Phillip Lindsay, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 126 rushing yards per game, was held to 68 yards on 19 carries against the Huskies, dooming the Buffaloes to a performance as gloomy as the weather along the Front Range that night.
Colorado has a prime chance to get back on the right track Saturday night, when they’ll make the 1,020-mile jaunt to Pasadena to face UCLA, against a Bruins defense that ranks second-to-last in the conference in points per game allowed (43.2) and dead-last in defensive yards per game (524.8).
7. Oregon Ducks (3-1)
Boy howdy, did the wheels come off the Willie Taggart Express Saturday night under the LED lights of Sun Devil Stadium.
The Ducks, who entered Saturday’s game a 13-point favorite, looked downright embarrassing at times against ASU, trailing by as much as 17, before quarterback Justin Herbert hit Johnny Johnson III for a 20-yard score, kicking off a 14-0 Ducks run to pull within three.
Herbert’s four-yard score with 6:41 to go gave Oregon its first (and only) lead of the night, before freshman kicker Brandon Ruiz nailed a 41-yard kick to dash the Ducks hopes, with the hometown Devils winning 37-35.
The Ducks were manhandled all night by a Devils offense that ranks eighth in the conference in yards per game (431.2), with the Devils outgaining them 489-401 Saturday.
It’s clear that Herbert and company are not the dominating offensive juggernaut we’ve come to expect from Ducks teams of yole, converting on an embarrassingly-low 11.1 percent of its third down tries.
The Ducks schedule doesn’t get much easier from here, with games at home against the Bears and Cougars, before heading to Palo Alto on Oct. 14 to face Stanford. It’s not meltdown time for Ducks fans in Eugene and beyond just yet, but Saturday’s result does give indication that all is not well in the Willamette Valley.
8. Stanford Cardinal (2-2)
Few teams have been as disappointing so far than Coach David Shaw’s Cardinal team, who vacillate between outright ineptitude and abject mediocrity each week.
The Cardinal looked list its old self against UCLA Saturday, pummeling the Bruins to the tune of 58 points and 553 offensive yards, while keeping the ball for more than 36 minutes in a 24-point victory.
Running back Bryce Love looked like the real deal too, with a career-best 263 yards and a touchdown to lead the way, while sophomore K.J. Costello came off the bench to throw for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
The win was Stanford’s 10th straight over UCLA, and another stone on top of UCLA Coach Jim Mora’s ultimate grave (more on that later).
That performance, however, cannot undo the two clunkers turned in against USC and San Diego State, who combined to outscore the Cardinal 62-41.
Luckily for Shaw and company, ASU comes to town for a matinee at Stanford Stadium, which should get the Cardinal back above .500 for the year.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils (2-2)
Boy have we reached the bottom of the barrel, or the “soon to be actively searching for new coaches” portion of the conference.
The Devils, fresh off a thrilling two-point win over the Ducks on Saturday, earn the right to call themselves the best of the worst this week, though that’s damning with faint praise.
The Devils will be hard-pressed to slow down Bryce Love, who leads the conference in rushing yards (787). I say this, not out of partisanship towards the Wildcats, but because ASU’s rush defense is fourth worst in the conference, giving up 155.5 yards per game.
Even Arizona, whose defense is the football equivalent to two tin cans and a string, is holding opponents to 118 yards per game on the ground, which paints a dire portrait for Todd Graham and Baylor castaway Phil Bennett, who could find themselves in the unemployment line soon.
10. UCLA Bruins (2-2)
Few coaches could actively so thoroughly screw up the gift from the football gods that is Josh Rosen quite like Jim Mora and company.
The Bruins somehow find themselves at 2-2 for the year, despite Rosen’s Heisman level output thus far, leading FBS in passing yards (1,763) and touchdowns (16), with a mere four interceptions so far, despite throwing the second-most passes this year (200).
Even the “Rosen One” can’t save the Bruins, however, as Mora’s husk of a defense is surrendering the second-most points per game (43.2), and most yards per game (524.8) so far, thanks to giving up a mind-boggling 307.5 rushing yards per contest.
Mora’s team also ranks 10th in rushing yards per game (120), which seems hard to believe, given how dominant UCLA’s been historically in said facet of the game.
The Bruins will be hard-pressed to avoid a second-straight losing season this fall, given their only winnable games are against Arizona, ASU and Cal, with the latter two at home.
It may be time to start the “Chip Kelly to Westwood,” chants, if that’s not already a thing.
11. Arizona Wildcats (2-2)
At long last, we’ve reached the team that serves as an unsavory appetizer on the sports calendar to the promise of basketball season in Tucson.
The Wildcats are fresh off another clunker, losing to Utah 30-24 in front of an announced crowd of 36,651 fans — the smallest turnout at Arizona Stadium since a 1997 contest against Alabama-Birmingham, which drew 36,309 to the unfriendly confines of Arizona Stadium.
It’s clear that the team’s 63-point outburst two weeks ago against UTEP was a one-week mirage in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, as redshirt junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins bumbled (and fumbled) his way through a night of abject failure under-center, with three interceptions and a fumble, while posting a season-low 100.3 quarterback ranking in the loss.
The chorus of boos that rained down from those who ventured to the stadium on Star Wars Night made it clear that we’re living in dark times in Tucson.
Coach Rich Rodriguez enters the team’s bye week scratching his head, with a team that leads the conference in rushing yards per game (296), while ranking dead-last in passing (182.8).
12. Oregon State Beavers (1-3)
Rodriguez and company should breath a deep sigh of relief that the Beavers are in their conference, for it provides them a scapegoat.
The Beavers might be the worst Power Five team in the nation, with Kansas at least showing some signs of life in the Big 12, ranking ninth in rushing yards (135.2) and 10th in passing yards (220.8).
Coach Gary Andersen’s defense isn’t much better — ranking 10th in pass defense (286.8) and 11th against the run (198.8).
The Beavers’ failure to show much, if any, signs of progress on either side of the ball is downright shocking, considering how much was said about Andersen’s coaching talents coming into the year.
Given Wayne Tinkle’s struggles of-late on the hardwood, it might be time to start the countdown clock to next spring’s baseball campaign in Corvallis.
Follow Christopher Boan on Twitter at @cgboan