There was some major separation in the conference this week, and now there are only five teams truly in the thick of the divisional races. The North takes on the South this weekend in a set of games that could knock a couple more teams out of the running.
1. Washington (last week: 1)- The Huskies put up 21 in the first quarter and never looked back en route to a cruise-control win over Oregon State. Gameday in Salt Lake City is next.
2. Utah (last week: 3)- Utah’s offense is healthy and re-energized behind Rumblin’ Joe Williams as they put up half a hundred in a win over UCLA. The defense showed some flaws, problems they don’t have much time to fix with Washington coming to town.
3. USC (last week: 2)- USC was on bye this weekend stayed strong near the top of the conference. Cal travels to LA in a game Ute and Buffalo fans will be watching with great interest.
4. Colorado (last week: 4)- Colorado’s offense was held in check, but their defense completely stifled the Cardinal on the way to yet another win. They get their bye to get ready for the home stretch.
5. WSU (last week: 5)- WSU wasn’t dominant in defeating ASU, but they got the win on the road and continue their improbable run at the North championship. They’ll need to be vigilant next week to avoid a slip up against Oregon State.
6. Stanford (last week: 6)- Stanford just can’t score any points lately, and their excellent defense just wasn’t enough against Colorado. If they can’t score against Arizona on Saturday, they can’t score against anyone.
7. ASU (last week: 8)- ASU almost managed the upset against the Cougars, but fell short in the final minutes and are now irrelevant in the division race. They’ve got to win to make a bowl game, and Oregon is their last best chance.
8. UCLA (last week: 7)- A strong offensive performance by a backup QB wasn’t enough to overcome Joe Williams’ magnificent showing, and the Bruins continue to slip. They get a bye week to get it right.
9. California (last week: 9)- A last minute defensive stand won the game against Oregon for the Bears. Cal continues to win games, but beating USC on the road is a new level of challenge.
10. Oregon State (last week: 10)- The Beavers fought valiantly, but just were no match for the Huskies. They look to give WSU their best shot on Saturday, and it just might be enough.
11. Oregon (last week: 11)- Oregon looked better against Cal, but a loss is a loss and the Ducks are 2-5. A bowl game seems nearly out of reach, and they have no hope at all if they can’t knock off the Sun Devils.
12. Arizona (last week: 11)- We’ll see if the bye week helped Arizona get back on track this week as they welcome Stanford to town. It’s a tough matchup for the Wildcats though, and odds are their slide will continue.
It’s starting to look like there won’t be enough teams to fill the bowl slots for the PAC 12 this season. Utah’s strong record is less distinguishing when you pare it down to in-conference records, where USC, Colorado, and Utah are close competitors. The Utes’ record does mean a high ranking and a good shot at some exciting bowl opportunities.
Washington State made strides forward as other North teams fell off, and now they have good odds at being 8-1 or better in conference for the Apple Cup, which means it’s almost certainly the game that will decide the North. Right now, Washington is heavily favored.
The win over the heavily favored Bruins has satisfied my algorithm, which now pegs the Utes as a 9-3 team in the Alamo Bowl. The experts are even more favorable, with all of them predicting the Utes make it to the Rose Bowl, which presumably means winning the South. Washington isn’t a must-win for the Utes, who will still control their destiny with a loss. However, a win over the Huskies would put the playoffs in reach, and that’s something worth fighting for.