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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Utah is back. Again.

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NCAA Football: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Power rankings are often all the same, so we’re mixing things up. Each week you’ll get a rundown of 12 or fewer highlights, storylines and anything in between from the Conference of Champions.


We got a little clarity in the Pac-12 South after the latest batch of games. Half the teams in that division are now eliminated, and Clay Helton’s seat is beginning to simmer.

Meanwhile, the path to the College Football Playoff is there for WSU, but a few things need to happen, particularly in the Big Ten.

Here are this week’s Pac-12 Power Rankings:

1. Utah continues its roller coaster ride

NCAA Football: Oregon at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The ups and downs of the Utah Utes have been intense this season. First, they started Pac-12 play with losses to the Washington Huskies and the Washington State Cougars to start 0-2. Put a fork in them, they’re done, we all said.

Then, their offense erupted and scored at least 40 points in their next four games—all wins. The Utes aren’t a team to mess with, we all said. Utah is the best team in the Pac-12, Kirk Herbstreit said.

Then, in a Nov. 3 game at the Arizona State Sun Devils, Tyler Huntley went down with a regular season-ending injury. The Utes lost, and came crashing back down to earth. Then things got worse when Zack Moss busted his knee getting into bed (seriously), proving that Utah’s November curse might be real.

A 32-25 win over the Oregon Ducks followed, and the Utes are now one of the most baffling teams in the country. Utah has two games left: on the road at Colorado and at home against bitter rival BYU. It’s only two games, but a host of things both bad and good could happen before the season is over.

Stay tuned.

2. The Pac-12 South is now just a three-team race

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Blame Arizona State for spoiling our wishes. The Sun Devils dealt UCLA a 31-28 loss on Saturday, eliminating the Bruins from the Pac-12 South race and also eliminating the possibility of a six-team tie in the South. Apparently the Sun Devils don’t like chaos like the rest of us.

Then WSU beat Colorado to eliminate the Buffaloes and Cal beat USC to eliminate the Trojans.

What was a six-team race last week is now just a three-team race. That just doesn’t have the same carnage appeal as it once did.

3. Believe it or not, the Pac-12 South might not be the worst division in the Power 5

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona State The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY N

But it’s close!

Northwestern, which lost at home to Akron in September, has already clinched the Big Ten West with two weeks to play. Northwestern! The Wildcats have only one conference loss to date, but the six teams behind them each have at least three.

Meanwhile, The ACC Coastal Division is only slightly better. Pitt leads the way at 5-1 in conference play, one game ahead of Virginia. Miami, a team I’m sure the ACC suits hoped would be atop the division each year, sits at just 2-4 in conference play.

Yes, the Pac-12 South is weak, but it’s not the only soft division in the Power 5.

4. Colorado may follow up 5-0 with 0-7.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

If Utah is one of the more baffling teams this season, the Colorado Buffaloes are one of the most futile. As you all know, the Buffs started 5-0 and were the class of the Pac-12 before losing five straight, the most recent one to our Cougs.

Colorado’s next two games are at home against Utah and on the road at Cal. After what we’ve seen from both teams, it’s a very real possibility Colorado ends the season on a seven-game losing streak. If becoming bowl eligible is the barometer for some, Colorado has had seven chances to clinch that sixth win and might not be able to do it. That Oregon State loss is going to loom very large in the coming weeks.

On top of all this, Mike MacIntyre’s future is unclear and a Denver TV station may or may not have jumped the gun on his firing. So, things could be better in Boulder, I’d say.

5. WSU’s path to the Playoff might hinge on Northwestern

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are again with another rendition of Let’s Evaluate WSU’s Playoff Chances. I’ll gladly play this game as long as we can.

FiveThirtyEight currently gives WSU a 13 percent chance to make the playoff. After a look at the latest CFP rankings and a quick Slack conversation with people smarter than me, here is how WSU can make the playoff, assuming Clemson and Notre Dame go undefeated:

  1. Win out
  2. Alabama beats Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
  3. West Virginia and Oklahoma split the season finale and the Big 12 Championship Game.
  4. Northwestern wins the Big Ten Championship Game.

No. 4 is key, but even if it’s Ohio State defeating Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game, that would put a 12-1 Ohio State against a 12-1 Washington State for the final playoff spot. WSU’s one loss is a three-point defeat to USC that wasn’t without controversy. Ohio State’s loss was a 29-point blowout to Purdue.

Now, in this scenario, Ohio State would have a quality win over Michigan, but WSU would have quality wins over Washington and perhaps two wins over Utah.

Even with my crimson colored glasses, I’d take WSU.

6. The Clay Helton farewell tour begins this weekend

California v USC Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

If Clay Helton’s seat wasn’t already hot, it became Phoenix-in-July hot after the 15-14 loss to Cal. Sure, you can blame Imam Marshall and his dumb taunting penalty for allowing Cal to keep the ball late in the game and never giving it up, but Helton’s fingerprints are all over this loss and this season’s shortcomings.

So, with a rivalry game coming up against UCLA—my goodness, can you imagine what might happen should the Trojans lose to the Bruins?—and then the finale against Notre Dame in another rivalry game, all you Helton fans better get a glimpse of him before he packs his boxes.

7. Rivalry games begin in the Pac-12

NCAA Football: Stanford at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since teams started playing 12 games each regular season, we started to get some rivalry games on weekends that weren’t the season finale. This weekend we get:

  • USC at UCLA
  • Stanford at Cal
  • Utah at Colorado

That last one isn’t a traditional rivalry game but the Pac-12 wants it to be one so I’m including it.

The best part about rivalry games is the traditions, of course. So, I look forward to the Trojans and Bruins each wearing solid colors, and I also look forward to that weird stare down between students from Stanford and Cal (pictured). As for Utah and Colorado…..I don’t have anything to look forward to except Colorado’s continue futility.

8. How do we feel about a WSU-Ohio State Rose Bowl?

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I know, there are still a lot of moving parts, and as we wrote above, there is a path to the playoff for WSU. But this matchup has been projected for a few weeks and continued this week. CBS, The Athletic, SB Nation and ESPN are just a handful of the outlets projecting a WSU-Ohio State Rose Bowl. It gets a little easier to project these things later in the season.

Personally, I love it, and not because Ohio State is very beatable. There are several enticing storylines:

  • WSU vs. Alex Grinch
  • Will this be Urban Meyer’s last game at Ohio State?
  • Two possible Heisman finalists in action
  • Will Brett McMurphy cover the game?

Please let it happen.

9. Pay no attention to Mike Leach here. Pay attention to Josh Watson.

Bonus Nnamdi.

10. I have no idea what this Liam Ryan thing is and I don’t want to know