We saw our first Pac-12 Conference game in week two, and there were a few other match ups between Pac-12 teams and other Power Five teams. The Pac-12 could not match their perfect record in non conference games again this week, but the teams at the top and middle of the conference all won.
The preseason favorites looked the part this week
Many were writing USC and Washington off after lackluster performances in week one, but both teams handled their business convincingly in week two. Washington blasted FCS foe Montana 63-7. There is not much to say other than the Huskies did what they were supposed to do. We will not learn just how good they are until they travel to Colorado in two weeks (they play Fresno State at home next week). USC on the other hand made a statement against a team many expected them to lose to. The Trojans took it to the Stanford Cardinal 42-24, amassing 623 yards of total offense in the game. Quarterback Sam Darnold does need to cut down on the interceptions (he has thrown two picks in each of USC’s first two games), but he was otherwise flawless against Stanford. USC put the rest of the Pac-12 on notice that the Trojans are the team to beat right now. The Trojans get Texas at home in a game that looked a lot better on paper before the season started than it does now.
Four teams are emerging at the bottom
Oregon State looks like the worst team in the conference. They were throttled at home 48-14 by Minnesota. The two Arizona schools are not far behind the Beavers. Both lost to Group of Five teams, albeit good ones, at home. Cal is 2-0, but they gave up 571 yards of offense to Weber State and were trailing the game by three entering the fourth quarter. Those four teams appear to be a step behind the rest of the conference. Three of these four teams have lost at least one game, and three of them won a game by a slim margin against a team that they should have dominated. Only Cal has a decent win on the season, but they are in this group because they gave up over 400 yards passing to Weber State. We will actually learn some about this group this week. Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon State all hit the road. Arizona will face UTSA, a game where Arizona is favored by almost three touchdowns. Arizona State, Cal, and Oregon State all face Power Five teams. ASU is at Texas Tech, who will test the Sun Devils’s defense, which was one of the worst in the nation last year. Texas Tech is favored by just over a touchdown and has am 82.5% chance to win according to ESPN’s FPI metric. The Sun Devils could realistically not win a game until the middle of November if they lose this one (just look at their schedule coming up). Cal hosts Ole Miss, a program reeling from the prospect of NCAA sanctions and the departure of head coach Hugh Freeze. Cal is an underdog by about a field goal in this game. If they can win and are sitting at 3-0 with wins over two Power Five teams, the Bears have a good shot to go to a bowl and prove voters wrong who had them at the bottom of the Pac-12 North. Oregon State faces Pac-12 opponent Washington State in Pullman, Wash. Let’s not sugarcoat it, the Beavers are a bad football team this year. They got smashed by Minnesota and Colorado State and nearly lost to an FCS team. They are three touchdown underdogs in this, and I would not be surprised if they lose by a lot more than that even if WSU quarterback Luke Falk is hurt and does not play.
The middle is even messier
I thought we would learn some more about the teams in the middle of the Pac-12, figuring some might separate themselves from the pack, but the opposite happened. It looks more congested in the middle than it did after week one. Oregon was up 42-14 on Nebraska at home at halftime. They won the game 42-35. The Oregon team of the first half looked like one of the best teams in the Pac-12. In the second half, they looked closer to 2016 Oregon. It remains to be seen which Ducks team will show up the rest of the season. Not much could be gleaned from UCLA’s game against Hawaii or Colorado’s game against Texas State. Both teams dominated like they were supposed to against lesser competition. Utah dominated BYU statistically, but they made some key mistakes that made the game close. We will not beat a dead horse on the Utes when we covered our thoughts here. Washington State beat Boise State at home to start 2-0, but they needed three overtime periods to do it, and quarterback Luke Falk was injured in the game. Utah, Colorado, and Washington State all are favored by three touchdowns or more in home games this week. Oregon and UCLA have sneaky tough games on the road at Group of Five teams Wyoming and Memphis respectively.
Where does Stanford fit in?
Are the Cardinal an elite team like USC and Washington? Well, if their result against USC is any indication, it is a resounding no. Should we consider Stanford as a middle of the pack Pac-12 team? It seems weird to think of the Cardinal like that, but we will learn about their resolve when they travel to San Diego State on Saturday and try to shake off the beating they took from USC. There were people picking the Cardinal to go to the College Football Playoff in the preseason, but that looks in doubt after their game against USC. Stanford is a hard team to place, should they be just outside the elite teams atop the North and South, or are there other teams that are better? The middle is so messy that it is hard to know. If Oregon had not disappointed in the second half, the Ducks would have had a case to move above the Cardinal. I just do not think any team made a strong enough case to dethrone the Cardinal at the No. 3 spot in the Pac-12 in week two, but it may be a few weeks before we really learn about the teams in the three through eight range of the power rankings.