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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Cup half full, half empty edition

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Washington State v Oregon Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

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.

It was a weekend of near misses for two teams in the Pac-12. Oregon and USC came thisclose to being upset, which would have muddied the Pac-12 race a little and eliminated the conference from the playoff picture. But we solider on, because we must.

The conference has a good-news-bad-news situation when it comes to the league’s perception. Plus, K.J. Costello returns and the head coaches tell us what tunes they prefer.


1. Good News: The Pac-12 has two teams in the AP top-10!

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks, thanks to their last-second win over our beloved Washington State Cougars, come in at no. 7 while the Utah Utes are no. 9. This is good!

What’s that? Time to move on?

2. Bad News: The Pac-12 has just two teams in the AP top-25

NCAA Football: California at Utah Gabe Mayberry-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon and Utah are also the league’s only teams in the top-25, thanks to Arizona State’s loss to lowly UCLA (seriously, who loses to the Bruins?!?!).

So it’s a cup half full, half empty situation for the Pac-12. The ACC is clearly worse overall compared to the Pac-12 (it, too, has just two teams in the top-25). The Pac-12 has a mushy middle, where good but not great teams live. Until that changes, the poor perception will remain.

There once was a time this season where six Pac-12 teams were in the top-25. Those were the days.

3. Oregon needed just one minute to keep its playoff hopes alive

NCAA Football: Washington State at Oregon Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

We all knew one minute on the clock was way too much time to give the Ducks on Saturday night. The subsequent kickoff return didn’t help, either. But the Ducks have a clear path to a one-loss season. They have to go to USC this weekend and Arizona State on Nov. 23. Other than that, easy pickings. Did they look like a playoff team against WSU though? Meh.

They’ll need some more help, and got a little when Kansas State beat Oklahoma. Auburn losing to LSU didn’t help, but I don’t know how much it hurt, either.

The committee’s first rankings next week will tell us a lot.

The Utah Utes don’t have as clear of a path as Oregon does (remember, the Utes don’t even control their own destiny in the South). They get Washington this weekend, but if they survive, they should finish 11-1. They’ll need help to get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, where they would almost certainly meet Oregon.

In that case, the championship game could finally have some real national intrigue.

4. Speaking of the South, can you believe now UCLA also controls its own destiny?

NCAA Football: Arizona State at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Both Los Angeles schools are in a good spot, not having to rely on others to put them in a good position in the South. We mentioned the USC Trojans’ being in the driver’s seat last week, but with the Bruins beating Arizona State, they, too, control their own destiny in the South. The Bruins are a game behind both USC and Utah and still have games against those two teams this season. This is madness!

Of course, as Woody Paige always says, look at the schedule. Here are UCLA’s four remaining games:

  • Nov. 2 vs. Colorado
  • Nov. 16 at Utah
  • Nov. 23 at USC
  • Nov. 30 vs. Cal

I see at least two losses, and maybe four, but this is UCLA we’re talking about. So while it’s mind boggling that the Bruins are in the hunt in the South at the end of October, it won’t happen. Fun story, though.

5. USC nearly gave Utah some breathing room but came back to beat Colorado

USC v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

In the second half of Friday’s game at Colorado, national and Los Angeles-based media were probably scouting out locations on the LAX tarmac to get a shot of Clay Helton’s last moment as USC’s head coach.

Alas, USC was playing Colorado, so the Trojans eventually came back and won. Had the Buffaloes held on, it would have added to the wackiness we’ve seen in the Pac-12 this season. Bummer.

6. On the other hand, Colorado really missed an opportunity

USC v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

An upset win at home in front of a national audience on a Friday night would have made things a lot better in Boulder. The Buffaloes are reeling and were before the game. But without a victory, the Buffs are back to where they were: being a bad football team. They had much of America rooting for them, even with Ralphie sidelined. Win one for Ralphie!

7. Welcome back to Earth, Cal

California V Utah Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Admit it: it was really weird seeing the California Golden Bears ranked and having all sorts of national media fawn over them, even with tons of offensive flaws. Now, with injuries sidelining their quarterbacks, the Bears are back to being almost forgotten. Being shutout on the road at Utah will do that to a team.

Also, it’s kind of funny to see a Beau Baldwin offense struggle so much. We saw what Baldwin did developing guys at Eastern Washington University. He hasn’t been able to do the same at Cal, which is intriguing. Perhaps he struck oil in Cheney, but once the competition and admissions standards increased, he struggled. Who knows! Good thing he didn’t take that Nevada job.

8. Stanford finally gets good news with K.J. Costello returning

Arizona v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Only a few weeks ago, it seemed Cal would end its losing streak to the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford was dealing with a ton of injuries and down to its third-string quarterback. Cal was cruising, beating Washington and was the better team in the Bay.

Now the script has flipped, and it’s Cal down to its third-string and Stanford with its starter back. K.J. Costello helped Stanford to 41-31 win over the Arizona Wildcats. Sure, it was Arizona, but Costello’s 322 yard and three touchdowns were impressive. Stanford is in a similar spot as WSU: Needing two wins to get to a bowl game with a manageable schedule. One of those games is against WSU, which could be a huge one for both team’s postseason chances.

9. Arizona joins Washington State in dealing with an in-season coaching change - is Kevin Sumlin next?

Arizona State v Arizona Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The circumstances are different - Arizona fired its defensive coordinator, while WSU’s resigned - but Wildcat and Coug fans can relate. It’s really frustrating when your dangerous offense (more so in WSU’s case) is undercut by a poor defense.

Kevin Sumlin is just 9-11 in his first two seasons at Arizona with the typically difficult third season coming up. How long will the former WSU assistant last in Tucson? And how much of a bummer is it for Khalil Tate’s skill set to be so wasted?

Despite all that, the Wildcats are still just two wins away from bowl eligibility.

10. Pac-12 head coaches have a variety of tastes in music

NCAA Football: Washington State at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Stadium asked all FBS head coaches about their favorite music acts, and here’s what the Pac-12 coaches (plus Larry Scott) had to share:

Commissioner Larry Scott – The Rolling Stones
Kevin Sumlin, Arizona – Drake
Herm Edwards, Arizona State – Norman Brown
Justin Wilcox, Cal – Bruce Springsteen
Mel Tucker, Colorado – Jay-Z
Mario Cristobal, Oregon – Guns N’ Roses
Jonathan Smith, Oregon State – Eric Church
David Shaw, Stanford – Sade
Chip Kelly, UCLA – Mumford & Sons
Clay Helton, USC – Ed Sheeran
Kyle Whittingham, Utah – The Rolling Stones
Chris Petersen, Washington – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Mike Leach, Washington State – Neil Young

Justin Wilcox is like every sportswriter over 50.


Pac-12 Game of the Week

Utah at Washington

A win for the Utes and they’re alive in the South. Lose, and they’ll need even more help. What would be REALLY helpful for Utah is a win and an Oregon win over USC.