A fun and wild weekend didn’t give the Utes the separation in the South they were hoping for, but it did generate some unprecedented changes in the PAC 12 pecking order.
1. Stanford (last week: 1)- UCLA gave them all they could handle, and it took until the final seconds of the game to score a touchdown, but Stanford stays undefeated and no one else in the conference looks quite as ready for prime-time. Now they head to Washington to sort out the North.
T-2. Washington (last week: 2)- This is the first week the Huskies played a real opponent; taking on Arizona on the road. They got the W but not without exposing a few chinks in the armor. They stay at second until they prove they can beat Stanford.
T-2. Utah (last week: 4)- The Utes took USC’s best shot and closed out the game with three masterful drives, getting a comeback win in the waning seconds. A road tilt against Cal could be another check box on the way to a South title... or the start of a slide into the muddled pack of South contenders.
4. UCLA (last week: 3)- Our panel didn’t dock the Bruins much for taking a hard fought loss to a top 10 team. They scored some points and managed to stifle the Stanford offense for 55 minutes. They get Arizona at home next week, a must-win if they want to stay South contenders.
5. Colorado (last week: 7)- Colorado beat Oregon, on the road, with their backup QB. The Ducks scored some points, but right now the Buffaloes seem to be as good as anybody in the South. If that’s true, they should lay the lumber to the Beavers next week.
6. Arizona State (last week: 9)- The Devils are 4-0 despite never really having looked like a good football team. They knocked off Cal by scoring a baffling 31 points in the 4th quarter. If USC hasn’t completely quit at this point, they’ll look to bring ASU back to earth next week in LA.
7. USC (last week: 8)- The Trojans took the loss, but looked better than they had all year, racking up big yardage behind a strong performance by Sam Darnold. ASU is no gimme, and if Troy should fall again there’s a strong chance they don’t make a bowl game.
8. California (last week: 5)- Another year, another Sonny Dykes team that won’t play defense. The Bears surrendered 31 points in the 4th quarter en route to a loss to ASU. If they can knock off an undefeated and ranked Utah team this week, all will be forgiven.
9. Arizona (last week: 10)- The Wildcats looked pretty good, but close losses don’t earn the respect of our panel. They’ve got to win a game if they want to prove anything; Arizona hopes that starts in Pasadena.
10. Oregon (last week: 6)- Oregon is just not the team they used to be any more. Flashy uniforms and explosive plays can’t cover up a thin, injured roster or a total lack of defensive execution. Teams play them without fear, and it’s costing them. Washington State comes to town next week; a must watch for fans who like fireworks with their football.
11. WSU (last week: 11)- WSU didn’t lose to their bye week, and now get to start conference play. Last year, the Cougars turned in an early, embarrassing loss and then shaped up and played spoiler the rest of the way. Hand the Ducks their third loss and they’ll be well on their way again this season.
12. Oregon State (last week: 12)- The final score made it look respectable, but the Beavers got run out of town by a Boise State team that is not messing around as it makes a run at a New Year’s Six berth. They face a Colorado team that has rounded into form this week.
Conference losses for UCLA, Arizona, and USC put Utah in a strong position in the South, although they are going to have to win games to stay there. Colorado is more than a spoiler in the South; they’ve got as good a shot as anyone to win the conference right now. Their upset over Oregon also makes the North a pretty dull picture. Stanford and Washington looks like it will decide the division this season, and everything else a mere formality.
Utah’s win over USC has convinced the national media, who put the Utes in major bowls. My algorithm gives a downright shocking South champ: the Colorado Buffaloes. It’s also started placing a two-loss conference champ in the playoff, a move I suspect Houston fans will object to. Whether any of this actually takes shape is up in the air. What happens next is anyone’s guess.