Posted on September 19, 2023
The Conference of Champions is elite.
Washington dominated Michigan State in Week Three while several teams posted blowouts over FCS programs.
There were a few stumbles, though, including Stanford’s loss to FCS Sacramento State and Arizona State’s disastrous performance against Fresno State.
Still, there’s no denying that the Pac-12 is the strongest conference in America, from top to bottom.
I’ve said since fall camp that two teams from the league could be deserving of Playoff invitations and there’s nothing that has changed to indicate otherwise.
With the nonconference season over, it’s time to tweak the Power Rankings to take into consideration the state of the Conference after three weeks.
Below is my ranking of all 12 teams in the Pac-12.
1. USC (3-0, 1-0) ◄►
The Trojans are coming off a bye week used to regroup as they prepare for their first road test of the year.
After three games, Lincoln Riley’s offense is No. 1 in the nation in points per game, No. 3 in total offense, and tied for No. 3 in turnovers lost.
That’s a dangerous combination, which makes USC capable of beating anyone it plays.
At the same time, the often-beleaguered defense is 41st in points allowed per game and 8th in tackles for loss.
But until USC plays a noteworthy opponent, the naysayers will remain loud.
2. Washington (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
Domination. That’s the only word to describe what Washington did to Michigan State in East Lansing.
The Big Ten program presented zero challenges to Kalen DeBoer’s offense and Michael Penix Jr. was pulled from the game at the end of the third quarter.
The victory was a statement to the rest of the nation and emphasized the strength of the Pac-12 this season.
Yet, there’s no resting on laurels. Conference play begins with a matchup against California and it would be unwise to overlook any team in this stacked league.
3. Utah (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
If Kyle Whittingham was told during the offseason that Cam Rising would miss the first three games of the year but the Utes would go 3-0, he would have taken it with no questions asked.
The offensive struggles in the second half against Florida and most of the game against Baylor are water under the bridge. The only results that matter are the three W’s from the nonconference contests.
Utah remains a shell of itself on offense, and the jury is still out on the season until Rising returns.
Assuming the senior quarterback is back soon and plays at his normal form, it’s fair to expect the Utes to compete for a Pac-12 Championship.
4. Oregon (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
The Ducks throttled Hawai’i and ended their nonconference season with a grade of “meets expectations.”
The game against Texas Tech was too close, but a win is a win and the other two matchups were blowout victories. With everything left to play for, the sky is the limit for Oregon.
Will Stein’s offense is No. 2 nationally in points per game, No. 4 in total offense, and No. 9 in passing efficiency. That’s an elite combination that puts UO firmly in Playoff contention.
Still, there’s not much noise nationally about the Ducks and this week’s matchup with Colorado is an opportunity to make a statement.
5. UCLA (3-0, 0-0) ▲3
The end of the nonconference season presents an opportunity to evaluate where UCLA stands.
Arguably exceeding expectations, the emergence of Dante Moore as the starting quarterback has changed the trajectory of the year.
Perhaps more importantly, though, is the production of the Bruins’ defense under first-year coordinator D’Anton Lynn.
His unit is tied for 7th in the country in points allowed per game, tied for 8th in tackles for loss per game, and tied for 12th in sacks per game.
Combined with an elite offensive system and Moore’s high-level execution, UCLA is quietly emerging as a complete team.
6. Oregon State (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
There’s no point in beating around the bush, Oregon State did not look great against San Diego State.
The game was an apples-to-apples comparison with UCLA and the Beavers dropped the ball.
Managing to score just 12 points by halftime, the 26-9 victory was closer than expected and arguably dampers expectations for the remainder of the year.
Still, the OSU defense is one of the best in the Pac-12 and one underwhelming game from the offense doesn’t define the year.
Taking on Washington State in Pullman this Saturday, the ceiling of Oregon State’s potential figures to come into sharper focus.
7. Washington State (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
Jake Dickert and the Cougars are riding the wave from their nonconference results.
After Colorado State took Colorado to double-overtime, Wazzu’s 50-24 drubbing of the Rams is viewed more positively.
Combined with the win over a ranked Wisconsin team and last week’s 64-21 shellacking of Northern Colorado, the mood is bright on the Palouse.
But there’s a bad taste that lingers from the second half of the Badger game and Oregon State’s defense figures to be the toughest “D” WSU has faced so far this season.
A team is only as good as their most recent game, and the perception of Washington State is still in wait-and-see mode.
8. Colorado (3-0, 0-0) ▼3
There’s no way to grade Colorado’s double-overtime win against Colorado State with anything other than an “F.”
The Buffs were expected to blow CSU out of the water and were instead lucky to leave with the win.
The issues running the ball remain and the offensive line is 128th in sacks allowed per game. But, there’s no denying that Shedeur Sanders is clutch and Coach Prime continues to win.
Still, the struggle against the Rams puts the victories over TCU and Nebraska into poorer context.
The fact could be that CU has yet to play a quality team and might get exposed over the next two weeks.
9. Arizona (2-1, 0-0) ◄►
The Wildcats topped off their nonconference schedule with a convincing victory over UTEP.
The 2-1 record keeps Arizona in contention to reach bowl eligibility and the improvement along the defensive line makes that a realistic possibility.
The offense has roughly met expectations, but the slow starts in all three of the games are a cause for concern.
In fact, UA has only scored seven points in the first quarter this season and is averaging just 10.5 points in the first half against FBS opponents.
The poor offensive starts have been masked by the drastically improved defense, but are a cause for concern entering conference play.
10. California (2-1, 0-0) ◄►
Look, Idaho is a better team than many give them credit for, and the 31-17 victory over the Vandals was a character win for California.
All that being said, there’s no reason the Bears should have gone down 17-0 and been forced to play from behind.
Justin Wilcox’s team has one of the top secondaries in the Pac-12 and arguably the top running back in Jaydn Ott.
But the Bears have issues at quarterback and that’s problematic with the Conference as deep as it is this season.
There was a reason why it took so long to name a starter during fall camp and the results on the field speak for themselves.
11. Stanford (1-2, 0-1) ▲1
In many ways, the defeat to Sacramento State was not a surprise.
The Hornets’ coaching staff was integrally familiar with Troy Taylor’s offensive schemes and, frankly, the FCS program has better players at this point in the Stanford rebuild.
But focusing on the smaller picture, the Cardinal have a certified quarterback controversy.
Ashton Daniels was pulled from the game after stalling out in the second quarter and Justin Lamson wasn’t able to get the job done in the second half.
That’s a sign that Stanford is in for an ugly season unless Taylor gets it resolved soon.
12. Arizona State (1-2, 0-0) ▼1
Arizona State is a better team than they have shown to start the year.
The defense is the clear strength of the program and defensive coordinator Brian Ward is arguably exceeding expectations considering the overall state of the team.
Still, with a plethora of injuries within the offensive line and quarterback corps, the Sun Devils are in a difficult position.
Jaden Rashada, Trenton Bourguet, and Drew Pyne all figure to be out for an extended period. That leaves fourth-string BYU transfer Jacob Conover to carry the weight.
Facing one of the top teams in college football on Saturday, the Sun Devil faithful could be in for the worst result in program history.
—More from Dane Miller—
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