Even while Utah had a bye this week, there were plenty of fireworks and lessons to be learned in the Pac-12. After week seven, there isn't an unbeaten team left in the conference. So what did we learn from the games this weekend?
Playoff Picture Looks Murky for the Pac-12:
The conference of champions is now without an undefeated team. Arizona was climbing up the ladder and peaked at No. 10 in the polls, but will be on its way back down. Several "experts" are projecting the SEC with more than one team in the playoff picture, which could leave two Power 5 conferences and possibly Notre Dame out of the playoffs. With just one loss, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, ASU, and Utah are all in the hunt for both the conference title and a playoff berth. Even USC, with just one loss in conference play, is in the conference title picture, but the kind of dominant team that impresses voters and playoff committees hasn't emerged yet. Each of the current contenders have had a head-scratcher of a loss. The Pac-12 teams are clearly good, but are any of them great?
USC is Still... USC:
Even after being embarrassed by Boston College a month ago, USC bounced back from a stunning Hail Mary loss to Arizona State by knocking off previously unabated Arizona in Tucson, 28-26. The Trojan defense limited Rich Rodriguez's high-powered offense, getting critical stops when needed and holding the Wildcats to just 2.7 yards per rushing attempt. On the other side of the ball, Tailback U rode Javorius Allen's 205 yards rushing and three touchdowns to the win, pouring the ball ahead with impunity against the Arizona defense. Reeling just one week ago, USC is now in the Pac-12 South driver's seat at 3-1 in conference play.
Oregon Isn't Going Anywhere:
Left for dead by some in the media just one week after getting beaten at their own game by Arizona in Autzen, Oregon took their act on the road and roughed up UCLA 42-30 in a game that really wasn't as close as the final score. Super Mariota went 17-of-27 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed seven times for 75 and two more TDs, helping the Ducks serve notice that their hiccup in Eugene was just that. The preseason conference title favorite isn't going anywhere any time soon, and the road to the title may still go through Autzen Stadium.
UCLA In Turmoil:
Anyone who watched UCLA go unbeaten in the non-conference season saw a vulnerable team, a team with a shaky offense at times, a team with a shaky defense at times, and a team with a questionable kicker. In conference play, those vulnerabilities have been exploited. Last week, Utah went into the Rose Bowl and abused the Bruins' offensive line to the tune of 10 sacks on Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley. Saturday, Oregon came to town and ran around and passed over the suddenly porous UCLA defense en route to a 42-30 victory in Los Angeles.
Things go so heated on the sidelines, that UCLA head coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had a very public confrontation near the end of the first half. Mora said after halftime that everything had been resolved.
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One week after missing not one but two potential game-winning field goal attempts, UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn hit a second quarter 20-yard field goal, but missed another from 40+ to continue his struggles from distance.
UCLA, the preseason media favorite to win the Pac-12 south title and possible the conference championship, sits at 4-2 on the season, 1-2 in conference play and still has a road date at Cal, followed by Arizona, Washington, USC, and Stanford to close out the season. If the boos heard in the Rose Bowl Saturday are any indication, Mora could start feeling some heat from the fans and media.
Washington Quietly in Contention:
The Huskies haven't had the most challenging non-conference schedule with Hawaii, Eastern Washington, and Georgia State. Washington even struggled with both Hawaii and Eastern Washington, but they did manage to finish the non-conference portion of the season 4-0. After a loss to Stanford at home, Washington went into Berkley needing a win against the surging Golden Bears to stay in the conference conversation. They definitely got it in a 31-7 domination of the previously highly regarded Cal offense.
No one is talking about Washington, but the Huskies are 5-1 on the season, and at 1-1 in the Pac-12 quietly in contention for the North division title. We'll see how legitimate head coach Chris Peterson's squad is over the next five games, as four of the five are against ranked Oregon (Eugene), Arizona State, UCLA, and in Tucson against Arizona.
The Golden Bears are definitely improved from last year, with a dynamic quarterback in 6-4 sophomore Jared Goff. But while Cal has been the recent media darling after victories over the two conference bottom feeders, Colorado and Washington State, they haven't faired as well against the top contenders. Cal faced Arizona on the road and, while the game was competitive, lost 49-45. Saturday, Washington took them to the woodshed in Berkley, and Cal took it on the chin 7-31.
Cal is 4-2 on the season and in good shape for bowl eligibility, except for one tiny little thing. Their remaining schedule may only have one more win left on it, a road date in Provo against ailing BYU. The rest of the games feature UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, and Stanford, not a murderers row this season, but even one win might be quite an accomplishment.
Utah Moving Up:
Yes, it's true the Utes didn't play a game this weekend. Their next game comes Thursday in Corvalis against a dangerous, Oregon State team (4-1, 1-1). However, the No. 24-ranked Utes could move up in the polls today, as the Nos. 23-, 22-, 18-, and 14-ranked teams all lost. (And, honestly, any voter in their right mind would drop 5-1 Oklahoma after that dismal performance against a 2-4 wreck of a Texas team.) The chaos near the bottom of the Top 25 provides Utah with an opportunity to improve their ranking without even having played.
Home Field is No Advantage:
Stanford beats Washington in Seattle. Cal beats Washington State in Pullman. Washington State beats Utah in Salt Lake City. UCLA beats Arizona State in Tempe. Utah beats UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Arizona State beats USC in Los Angeles. Arizona beats Oregon in Eugene. USC beats Arizona in Tucson. Washington Beats Cal in Berkley. The road has been awfully friendly in the Pac-12 this season. The conference title may come down to whichever team can protect their own house from here on out.