Pac-12 Power Rankings: Washington State Survives Cal, Stays Atop the Conference

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Welcome to another wild and (sure-to-be) wacky weekend in the Conference of Champions, which nobody wants to win, evidently.

Last week, we saw the Washington State Cougars win an ugly game in the Palouse against Cal, the Sun Devils hammering an injury-stricken Utah squad, the Arizona Wildcats surviving against a woebegone Colorado team and much, much more.

This week, we’ll be treated to a trap game of sorts for Mike Leach’s bunch, as they’ll travel to the hippy city known as Boulder for a Saturday matinee against the Buffs.

ASU hosts a UCLA squad that squashed any of its midseason momentum by losing to Utah and Oregon in succession by a sum of 83-31.

Elsewhere, the Oregon Ducks head to the SLC to face the Utes, the Oregon State Beavers head to Palo Alto to face Stanford, and Cal heads to the City of Angels to face the USC Trojans in Saturday’s nightcap.

It’ll be interesting to see whether the conference’s relative heavyweights, in Washington State and Washington, can avoid a face-planting defeat this week.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether Utah can keep its Pac-12 title game hopes alive, now that starting quarterback Tyler Huntley is out indefinitely with a broken collarbone.

Without further ado, here’s how I see the conference that made bad officiating and Bill Walton famous shaking out:

1. Washington State Cougars (8-1, 5-1)

Last Week: Beat Cal, 19-13

This Week: At Colorado, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Cougars proved that they can win ugly in their six-point victory over Cal in Pullman last Saturday. The Cougars did so, thanks to a last-minute heave by mustache aficionado-turned-quarterback Gardner Minshew, who hit receiver Easop Winston Jr. for a 10-yard score with 32 seconds remaining to ensure the home side’s victory. The win propelled the Cougs’ to their first 8-1 start since Mike Price led the team to the Rose Bowl in 2002. The mighty Cougars will be put to the test again this Saturday, when they’ll head to Colorado to face a Buffs squad that’s fallen and can’t get up, before closing out the year with consecutive home games against Arizona and Washington. A win over the Buffs, and the Cougars might be in for a year that no one in scarlet and silver will forget. A loss, and it’s Alamo Bowl or bust for Leach’s band of misfits in Pullman. 

2. Washington Huskies (7-3, 5-2)

Last Week: Beat Stanford, 27-23

This Week: Bye Week

The Huskies survived a 60-minute fistfight with the Cardinal on Saturday, thanks to a herculean effort by senior back Myles Gaskin. Gaskin, who’s run for 4,826 yards and 51 touchdowns in his career with the Huskies, gained 148 yards on 28 carries in the victory. He did so, despite missing the team’s previous two games against Colorado and Cal, raging to life at the best moment possible for coach Chris Petersen and his staff. The Huskies get a week off to rest and recover, before their stretch run against lowly Oregon State and in-state rival Washington State to close the season on Thanksgiving weekend.

3. Utah Utes (6-3, 4-3)

Last Week: Lost to ASU, 38-20

This Week: Vs. Oregon, 3:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The wheels on the Utes’ gravy train fell off mighty fast in Saturday’s fall from grace against the Sun Devils. Much of that degradation hinged on the brutal broken collarbone that senior quarterback Tyler Huntley suffered, as the Utes’ offense went from the penthouse to the outhouse in the immediate aftermath. The Utes’ vaunted defense was no match for Sun Devil QB Manny Wilkins and generation wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who connected for three scores in the ASU victory. The Utes get the benefit of the doubt heading into a crucial home matchup with Oregon this week, but a loss to the Ducks and it’s back to the bottom of the list by the time I do this whole song and dance again next week.

4. Oregon Ducks (6-3, 3-3)

Last Week: Beat UCLA, 42-21

This Week: At Utah, 3:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Ducks reared to life against a hapless UCLA team in Eugene on Saturday, after back-to-back losses to Washington State and Arizona on the road. Generational quarterback Justin Herbert found his groove early and often against the Bruins, throwing for 264 yards and two scores in the Ducks’ 21-point win over former coach Chip Kelly. The Ducks have a shot at ruining the Utes season in SLC on Saturday, facing a battered and beaten Utah squad that’s missing its starting quarterback and much of its midseason swagger. Expect the Ducks to keep their recent roll alive, thumping the Utes in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

5. Stanford Cardinal (5-4, 3-3)

Last Week: Lost to Washington, 27-23

This Week: Vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Cardinal fell on their face yet again against the Huskies in a Pac-12 North elimination game, thanks to a run defense that makes Swiss cheese look solid by comparison. David Shaw’s squad stormed back from a 21-0 deficit in Seattle to get within four points with 3:24 left, only to fail on an onside kick and fall to .500 in Pac-12 play. The Cardinal look woefully inept offensively without back Bryce Love, who has been plagued by ankle issues this season. The Cardinal get a break this week, with the Beavers coming to Stanford Stadium, ensuring bowl eligibility in what’s been an otherwise disappointing year in the Bay Area.

6. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-4, 3-3)

Last Week: Beat Utah, 38-20

This Week: Vs. UCLA, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

The Sun Devils opened a can of good, old-fashioned whoop-ass on the Utes in Tempe on Saturday, thanks to the phenom known as N’Keal Harry. Harry, who has to be a first round NFL draft pick, came up with 161 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the Devils’ three-score win over Utah, showing once again that he’s one of the best receivers in the nation. Running back Eno Benjamin eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in the win, with 175 yards and two scores against the Utes’ much-touted run defense, which bodes well ahead of the team’s home matchup with the Bruins. Expect Herm and company to beat the living hell out of Chip Kelly’s team this week, guaranteeing a bowl game in valley of the sun.

7. USC Trojans (5-4, 4-3)

Last Week: Beat Oregon State, 38-21

This Week: Vs. Cal, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN

The Trojans pounded the hell out Corvallis with a win over a woeful Oregon State squad on Saturday, thanks to a career night for running back Aca’Cedric Ware, who gained 205 yards on the ground with three scores in the Trojans’ 18-point victory. Freshman QB JT Daniels did just enough to ensure the win, with 177 passing yards and a touchdown, helping the Men of Troy snap their two-game losing streak. The Trojans have a tough final stretch, with home games against Cal and Notre Dame bookended by a road clash with crosstown rival UCLA. It’ll be interesting to see whether a 2-1 mark against those foes will be enough to save coach Clay Helton’s job, with rumors swirling about his job security in what’s been a tumultuous year in Los Angeles. Expect the Trojans to get a hell of a fight against Cal on Saturday night.

8. Arizona Wildcats (5-5, 4-3)

Last Week: Beat Colorado, 42-34

This Week: Bye Week

The Wildcats have finally reached their lone bye week of the season, hot off an 8-point win over Colorado on Friday night. Running back JJ Taylor has been the team’s star so far, with 1,221 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns this year to pace Kevin Sumlin’s offense. Senior wideout Shawn Poindexter has emerged as a potential late-round steal in next year’s NFL Draft, with 622 yards on 34 catches this season, pulling down a team-best 8 touchdowns. The Wildcats finish the year with games against Washington State in Pullman and ASU in Tucson. A split would be a season-saving measure for the squad, which struggled to do much of anything in the first half of the year.

9. Cal Golden Bears (5-4, 2-4)

Last Week: Lost to Washington State, 19-13

This Week: At USC, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

The Golden Bears damn near earned the signature upset victory that coach Justin Wilcox has been aching for on Saturday. Unfortunately for Wilcox and his crew, they fell asleep on defense at the worst possible moment, giving Washington State a 19-13 win on Saturday. Things don’t get any easier for the Bears, who close out the year with a road game at USC this week, followed by home games against Stanford and Colorado to close out the season. Wilcox would greatly benefit from a bowl berth this season, which means the Golden Bears need to win one of their final three games to ensure postseason eligibility. Whether they can do so will hinge on redshirt freshman QB Chase Garbers, who has looked equal parts excellent and erratic this season. Expect a defensive bloodbath in LA this week, with the Golden Bears poised for an upset win inside the LA Coliseum.

10. Colorado Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4)

Last Week: Lost to Arizona, 42-34

This Week: Vs. Washington State, 1:30 p.m.

The Buffs have taken a total and complete nosedive since starting 5-0, losing four-straight contests. Mike MacIntyre’s squad saved its most embarrassing performance for Friday night’s road clash in Tucson, where the Buffs made Khalil Tate look like the second-coming of Steve Young, giving up 350 passing yards and a 97.2 Quarterback Rating to a man that averaged a 42.8 QBR during the first nine weeks of the season. It’s obvious that the Buffs have serious issues on the defensive side of the ball and it’s doubtful that they’ll solve them ahead of this week’s home clash with powerhouse Washington State. It might be time to start updating your résumé if you’re Mike MacIntyre, because it’s going to be a rough rest of the year for the Buffs, with games against Washington State, Utah and Cal in succession.

11. UCLA Bruins (2-7, 2-4)

Lost to Oregon, 42-21

This Week: At ASU, 12 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

Chip Kelly’s squad was outright embarrassed in his much-touted return to Eugene, giving up 492 yards, while committing three turnovers in a 21-point defeat. The Bruins’ midseason renaissance has fallen flatter than UCLA alum Nicolas Cage’s career, which is saying something.

12. Oregon State Beavers (2-7, 1-5)

Last Week: Lost to USC, 38-21

This Week: At Stanford, 7 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)

If you’re still reading this, than I don’t know whether to congratulate you or ask if your life is devoid of meaning. Either way, the Beavers are a consummate ‘work-in-progress’ team led by a work-in-progress coach in a work-in-progress conference. The year’s results will continue to be butt ugly for all involved, but hey, at least they somehow erased a 31-3 second half deficit to stun Colorado a few weeks ago… 

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