Week 1 in the Pac-12 was adventure, to say the least, but the conference went a perfect 11-0 this weekend. Of course, some wins were more impressive than others and at the moment, there seems to be significant stratification of quality in the conference. Here’s your inaugural weekly Pac-12 Power Rankings:
1. USC Trojans (1-0)
Last week: 49-31 win vs. Western Michigan
USC is as hyped as they’ve been in a long time (read: since 2012), but they struggled a bit with Western Michigan before pulling away in the fourth quarter. The Trojans probably aren’t as good as they were expected to be, but don’t look too much into that one game. For one, quarterback Sam Darnold didn’t play his best, but he was unlucky and perhaps a little rusty. For another, that USC defense is still terrifying. Also, don’t dismiss Western Michigan as some random mid-major — that was their first regular season loss since November 2015. USC won’t run through the Pac-12 unimpeded like some thought, but they’re still the best in the conference as of this week.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Stanford (FOX)
2. Stanford Cardinal (1-0)
Last week: 62-7 win vs. Rice
Stanford does what Stanford does, and that’s steamroll anyone in their way. There’s a decent chance I could run for 100 yards behind their offensive line; Stanford happens to have one of the best backs in the conference in Bryce Love. The Cardinal also passed for 369 yards because why not. If quarterback Keller Chryst is this good, Stanford would be the team to beat USC.
Next week: 9/9 at USC (FOX)
3. Washington Huskies (1-0)
Last week: 30-14 win vs. Rutgers
Like USC, Washington didn’t quite perform up to their preseason hype, but they played well enough to beat a Big Ten opponent. (Rutgers is barely a Big Ten team, but still.) Washington struggled to get the ground game going, but Jake Browning and Dante Pettis carried the day. The Huskies defense also showed that they’re capable of replacing talent they lost to the NFL Draft.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Montana (Pac-12 Networks)
4. Colorado Buffaloes (1-0)
Last week: 17-3 win vs. Colorado State
The Colorado Buffaloes were able to win their third straight Rocky Mountain Showdown by virtue of their excellent secondary shutting down a dangerous Colorado State passing attack. The main questions surrounding the defending Pac-12 South champs were of the inexperienced defense, but if this Colorado defense is for real, and if the offense finds consistency, watch out for the Buffs.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Texas State (Pac-12)
5. Washington State Cougars (1-0)
Last week: 31-0 win vs. Montana State
Washington State has struggled with season openers against FCS teams in recent years, but this time Luke Falk led them to a decisive win over Montana State. The Bobcats are an elite FCS team — capable of beating a Power 5 team every once in a while, especially those coached by Dan Hawkins — and the Cougars shutting them out is quite impressive.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Boise State (ESPN)
6. Utah Utes (1-0)
Last week: 37-16 win over North Dakota
I’m not going to pretend I watched this game, but based on the box score, Utah looks fine. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley will have growing pains, but it helps that he can throw to Oregon transfer Darren Carrington II. Another good sign for Utah is that none of their star players been injured (yet), so they have another couple of weeks to believe in themselves.
Next week: 9/9 at BYU (ESPN2)
7. Oregon Ducks (1-0)
Last week: 77-21 win vs. Southern Utah
As expected, the Oregon Ducks gashed Southern Utah as Ducks’ running backs combined for 348 yards and 9 touchdowns (!). Though Oregon dominated on offense and special teams, it must be uncomfortable to see the defense struggle as they did in Jim Leavitt’s debut. Even more uncomfortable is that even if the Ducks pitch a shutout next weekend, they still won’t know the quality of their defense, since their next opponent is so awful.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Nebraska (FOX)
8. UCLA Bruins (1-0)
Last week: 45-44 win vs. Texas A&M
UCLA had a game to remember on Sunday. The Bruins were trailing Texas A&M, 44-10 with two minutes left in the third quarter, but they scored 35 unanswered points to pull off the miraculous comeback. The Bruins (and the Aggies) are always inconsistent, and this game did everything to prove that no team bifurcates quite like them. Your opinion on UCLA should depend on which UCLA team you expect going forward: the team that looked like burning trash as they allowed a 44-10 lead, or the team that looked capable of scoring on any defense in the country in their crazy comeback. I’ll go with the former because, from what I saw in the highlight reel because I turned off the TV when the game was out of reach, it looks like UCLA’s comeback was fueled mostly by luck and the incompetence of their opponent.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Hawai’i (Pac-12)
9. California Golden Bears (1-0)
Last week: 35-30 win at North Carolina
Having lost most of their offensive talent from last season, Cal was widely expected to be the worst team in the Pac-12, but after an impressive opening road win over North Carolina, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Quarterback Ross Bowers had a very Davis Webb-like performance as he threw for 363 yards, 4 TDs and 2 interceptions. He looks like he can lead the dangerous “Bear Raid.” Also, that Cal defense looked mediocre, but mediocre is a huge improvement over last year, and they look capable of not allowing 43 points per game this season.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Weber State (Pac-12 Bay Area)
10. Arizona Wildcats (1-0)
Last week: 62-24 win vs. Northern Arizona
If there’s anything we learned about Arizona, it’s that their rushing attack is absolutely bonkers . . . and that’s all they’re good at. Led by quarterback Brandon Dawkins, the Wildcats ran for 506 yards and 7 touchdowns in their blowout of Northern Arizona. But Arizona only passed for 89 yards, so it’s difficult to imagine Pac-12 teams not putting nine or ten defenders in the box. Also, Arizona’s 595 total yards look less impressive considering their defense was gashed for 562 total yards by an FCS team, and that this was only a blowout because of special teams and turnovers.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Houston (ESPNU)
11. Arizona State Sun Devils (1-0)
Last week: 37-31 win vs. New Mexico State
New Mexico State has won 11 games in the last five years and they haven’t had a winning season since 2002, but that didn’t stop them from almost beating Arizona State on Thursday. Sure, Manny Wilkins looked superb as he threw for 300 yards and 2 TDs on 81% passing accuracy, but the ASU passing defense gave all that back on the other side of the ball. Also of note, the Sun Devils’ offensive line sure did give up 7 sacks and 14 tackles for loss against a Sun Belt defense.
Next week: 9/9 vs. San Diego State (Pac-12)
12. Oregon State Beavers (1-1)
Last week: 35-32 (OT) win vs. Portland State
The Colorado State hype was founded on the assumption that Oregon State was a decent team. The Rams’ 58-27 Week 0 win looked fantastic, but after Colorado held them to 3 points and Oregon State needed overtime to beat FCS Portland State, CSU’s victory looks much less impressive. And yes, I purposefully used this space to make fun of CSU instead of talking about how bad my second favorite team is.
Next week: 9/9 vs. Minnesota (FS1)