2020 Pac-12 Football Power Rankings: Week 3

Our three senior Pac-12 football writers rank the teams based on recent performances

Posted on November 17, 2020

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Week Two saw 10 teams in action after COVID-19 protocols kept Arizona State and Utah from competing. Fortunately, the Pac-12 Conference allowed Cal and UCLA to play on Sunday morning, preventing even more cancellation.

The ASU-Colorado game has already been declared a no contest heading into Week Three, but once again, we offer Power Rankings for the entire Pac-12, based on our senior football writers’ composite rankings, which appear in the table at the bottom of this page.

Rankings can and will change rapidly in this shortened season, so if you don’t like where your team stands, a win this week could dramatically change things next week, as the wild ride continues.

1. Oregon (2-0)

With 30 seconds to go in the first half, the Ducks looked to be in trouble against Washington State as the deficit was extended to 19-7 on a Blake Mazza field goal.

Oregon football twitter was in a mild panic, seemingly conceding that it may just be “one of those games” against the Cougs. After all, WSU had won four of the last five and UO hadn’t won in Pullman since 2014. And the Ducks had already turned the ball over on three-straight possessions.

Enter Mykael Wright. The speedy returner brought the kickoff to the Oregon 40, providing a jolt of energy to Joe Moorhead’s offense. On the next snap, Tyler Shough found Jaylon Redd for a 57-yard gain, and CJ Verdell punched in the score with 18 seconds remaining.

In the blink of an eye, the momentum had flipped.

The Ducks rode that wave the rest of the game, outscoring Washington State 29-10 in the second half to seal the 43-29 victory with 581 total yards.

Shough passed for over 300 yards with four touchdowns and added 81 on the ground in just nine carries. Verdell rushed for 118 yards with a score, and Travis Dye put up 141 total yards rushing and receiving, with two touchdowns.

The road victory was a relief considering how poorly Oregon played in the first 29 minutes. Now at 2-0, the Ducks’ Playoff hopes are still alive and well, though a more decisive victory in prime time may have gone further in impressing East Coast viewers.

2. USC (2-0)

usc logoAnother last-minute comeback, another hit to the Trojans’ national reputation. Despite USC improving to 2-0, this isn’t the team that most people expected to see. Kedon Slovis appeared hampered as the Men of Troy struggled to beat an Arizona program that has logged just six conference wins over the last two seasons.

How bad was it? The Wildcats started two walk-ons at linebacker and seven new players on defense that were pulled from recruiting classes ranked 10th, 11th, 11th, and 11th in the Pac-12 over the past four years.

Had Arizona’s Christian Roland-Wallace managed to intercept Slovis’ pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown with a minute remaining, USC’s season would’ve arguably been lost.

That’s where the program is right now in the Clay Helton Era: one play away from losing to Arizona.

Worryingly, the Cats managed to mostly negate the Trojans’ superior athleticism with the game-plan that Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce used so effectively in Week One. The proverbial cat is out of the bag for stopping the Air Raid, and Graham Harrell hasn’t adjusted properly.

The soft-zone that UA and ASU utilized gives up underneath routes all game, and can be negated with an effective rushing attack on first down, as Harrell utilized on occasion. But Markese Stepp and Stephen Carr were only afforded a combined 23 attempts, while Slovis chucked it 43 times.

Eventually, the Trojans’  inefficient play is going to catch up to them. But for now, it’s on to the next one.

3. Arizona State (0-1)

A COVID-19 outbreak in the program forced the cancellation of its matchup with California this past weekend, as well as the battle with Colorado previously set for Week Three. At this point, football is mostly irrelevant for the players and staff dealing with the virus. It’s unclear what caused the increase in cases, and USC didn’t report any positive tests after their game with the Sun Devils in Week One.

With four additional games remaining on the schedule, ASU will be back at some point. Until then, health is Priority One.

4. Washington (1-0)

The Jimmy Lake Era began with a 27-21 win over Oregon State in Seattle. The Dawg defense limited Tristan Gebbia to 85 yards passing and held Jermar Jefferson to his average. Lake’s defense gave up just 252 total yards and held stout on third down 66% of the time.

The offense didn’t turn the ball over, converted 8-of-16 third-down attempts, and put up 408 yards, primarily on the ground. UW’s starting quarterback was finally revealed, and redshirt freshman Dylan Morris didn’t make any mistakes. Morris threw for just 141 yards without a touchdown, but did scamper for 21 on the ground with a score.

The game was won, though, in the backfield. Sean McGrew averaged 10.1 yards per carry on nine attempts, Kamari Pleasant added 61 yards on 12 carries, and Richard Newton tacked on 41 yards with 15 attempts. Both McGrew and Pleasant found the end zone, resulting in a balanced three-pronged rushing attack that projects to be effective all year.

Moving forward, Morris needs to continue developing chemistry with his receivers. Terrell Bynum pulled down four grabs for 66 yards, but Puka Nacua only caught two for 19 yards. Expanding the passing attack should help the run game, and the improvement of both could make things easier for UW against tougher opponents.

The difference in the game on Saturday were two short field goals hit by Peyton Henry, a closer finish than most were anticipating.

5. Colorado (2-0)

After two weeks, Karl Dorrell is arguably the front runner for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Nobody expected CU to start the season 2-0, but Dorrell has quarterback Sam Noyer playing like a multi-year starter. The senior scored four touchdowns, two on the ground and two in the air, as Colorado took down Stanford 35-32 on the Farm.

Jarek Broussard went for 121 out of the backfield, and Jaren Mangham nabbed a touchdown on one of his eight attempts. Highly regarded freshman Ashaad Clayton also saw the field for the first time in his career.

The story of the day, though, was redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stanley. The pass-catcher hauled in six for 126 yards and a touchdown, including a 55-yard play to open the scoring for CU.

But similar to the UCLA game, Colorado nearly blew a lead in the second half. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Buffs extended their advantage to 35-16 only to allow the Cardinal to score two unanswered touchdowns with successful two-point conversions on both.

Just like in Week One, Dorrell and Company held on to the game and emerged with a win. Still, finishing second halves with emphasis are what separates good teams from great ones. CU is in a strong position to contend for the South Division championship and can’t afford slow finishes the rest of the season.

6. Utah (0-0)

Dealing with the lingering quarantine protocols from their initial outbreak prior to Week One, Utah had its matchup with UCLA cancelled. The frustration of the players and fans is understandable, as the Utes are now the only FBS program yet to play a game out of those that did not cancel their season.

The team may finally take the field this weekend, but with daily testing that could change in a moment’s notice, nothing is guaranteed. If that happens, the open questions about replacing the production lost to the NFL remain, without any film to judge.

7. Washington State (1-1)

The Cougs played about as good as one could have asked for in the first 29 minutes of their battle against Oregon. Jayden de Laura threw two touchdown passes, and Nick Rolovich was aggressive with an onside kick and a two-point conversion attempt. It seemed to be paying off, until the Ducks’ quick-strike with thirty seconds remaining in the second quarter changed the game.

Washington State then failed to score in the third quarter, and was unable to stop UO late in the game after narrowing the lead to seven. Though the game ended in defeat, Rolovich can take solace in his team’s fight.

WSU put up 421 total yards on Oregon’s defense, with 321 of it coming through the air without an interception. Deon McIntosh had another strong night, putting up 92 yards rushing and a touchdown on 16 attempts. And Renard Bell caught 10 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown to go along with Travell Harris’ nine grabs for 94 yards.

The problem was the Cougar defense. After generating three turnovers in the first half, the wheels fell off the wagon. The Ducks put up 581 total yards, converted 7-of-11 third down attempts, and were 2-for-2 on fourth down.

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert now knows what it’s going to take to defeat Oregon over the next few years. It’s a work in progress on the Palouse.

8. UCLA (1-1)

Early on Sunday morning, Chip Kelly led the Bruins to a 34-10 domination of California. Dorian Thompson-Robinson threw three touchdowns in the first half and the UCLA defense held the Bears scoreless after the break.

Duke transfer Brittain Brown scored his first touchdown as a Bruin on a 31-yard run, Demetric Felton posted 107 yards rushing on 25 carries, and DTR notched 52 on the ground with a touchdown. And in the middle, tight end Greg Dulcich had another respectable game with 80 yards receiving on three catches.

Unexpectedly, Jerry Azzinaro’s defense held the Bears to a total of 176 yards and 11 first downs. Much of the performance may have been due to Cal’s lack of practice time due to Coronavirus restrictions, but it was a strong outing nonetheless.

For the first time in the Kelly Era, the Bruins are .500 with genuine hope for a strong finish. DTR still makes mistakes, but the junior is playing at the highest level of his career, and the CU loss looks better by the day. If the defense can continue playing like they did on Sunday, Kelly could lead the program back to a bowl game for the first time since 2017.

To do so, the offensive line must continue protecting the quarterback as they have been. The unit has relented just a single sack through two games, keeping Thompson-Robinson healthy and providing enough time to carve up defenses.

9. Oregon State (0-2)

Jonathan Smith and the Beaver offense appeared to be the victim of a Pac-12 After Dark officiating error. On a fourth down attempt near the UW goal-line in the fourth quarter, Jermar Jefferson appeared to gain enough yards to move the sticks. But the officials marked it short and there wasn’t a definitive camera angle to overturn the call on the field.

The Dawgs then took the ball and managed to flip the field, eventually punting to the OSU 1 yard line. Still down three, Oregon State was never able to advance the ball back into Husky territory the rest of the game.

Washington then milked the clock with a seven minute drive capped by a field goal, and Gebbia threw an interception near midfield on a last-ditch fourth down play with just over a minute remaining.

Though Jefferson played well again, Gebbia took a noticeable step back. The UW defense is certainly better than the WSU unit from Week One, but going 11-of-24 for 85 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, and two sacks is less than ideal. As a first year starter, growing pains are anticipated but they can cost the team games.

Even so, the Beavers were a play or two away from pulling off the upset and Smith could have chosen to tie the game instead of going for it on fourth down.

And on the bright side, special teams forced a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown. Continued plays like that could be the X-Factor moving forward.

10. Arizona (0-1)

Nobody was expecting the Wildcats to take USC down to the wire, especially after losing so many contributors on defense. It was David v. Goliath, and David nearly won.

In an emblematic play of the Wildcats’ effort, late in the third quarter walk-on linebacker Rourke Freeburg stuffed Markese Stepp on fourth down near the Arizona goal line. The turnover gave the Cats life, eventually leading to a field goal in the middle of the fourth quarter.

And with just over three minutes remaining in the game, Grant Gunnell led the Cats on a 65-yard scoring drive to take the lead with 90 seconds to go. Unfortunately, the Arizona defense couldn’t get it done in the end, allowing the Trojans to march 75 yards in under a minute to score the game-winning touchdown.

Running back Gary Brightwell rushed for 112 yards and added 20 through the air, while Tayvian Cunningham snagged five balls for 110 yards and a touchdown on a 75-yard strike. Stanley Berryhill III pulled his own weight, too, grabbing eight catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

The most impressive performance, though, came from Grant Gunnell. The sophomore quarterback went 24-of-36 for 286 yards, three touchdowns, and scampered for 40 on the ground. A handful of his runs were for pivotal first downs that kept drives alive, and his willingness to take the hits necessary to move the sticks inspired the rest of the offense.

Moving forward, the improvement of new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads’ unit should continue to keep Arizona in games.

11. California (0-1)

The City of Berkeley’s stringent restrictions on Cal’s practice methods showed in its first game of the year. Not only was the offense sluggish and ineffective, but the supposedly vaunted defense gave up 34 points without much fight. It’s too early to know just how much the lack of preparation affected the performance, and it’s not unreasonable to chalk this game up to the various hurdles the program has faced just to get to this point.

There aren’t many positives to take away from the disaster in Pasadena. The defense surrendered 27 points in the first half, and the offense went scoreless in the final two quarters. Garbers was sacked five times, the entire team managed just 54 yards rushing, and totaled only 11 first downs.

Perhaps the lone bright spot was Cal scoring on its opening possession and Garbers rushing for the sole touchdown in the second quarter. Otherwise, the tape should be burned.

Moving forward, an effective run game must be established outside of Garbers. Christopher Brown Jr. was given the ball just eight times and the longest run of the game was a measly 11 yards.

But it’s too early to make a definitive evaluation of the Bears at this point. At the very least, the defense can and should play better, as should Chase Garbers and the offense.

12. Stanford (0-2)

In another losing effort, the Cardinal couldn’t score for most of the game. A valiant comeback was mounted, and the two touchdowns and two-point conversions in the fourth quarter were respectable. But the Tree have yet to play a complete game.

Down nearly the entire day, Stanford managed just 70 yards rushing and threw the ball 56 times. That’s not Cardinal football, by any means. And even with 56 passing attempts, Davis Mills threw just a single touchdown and barely broke 300 yards through the air.

Simi Fehoko had another nice game, as did Connor Wedington and Michael Wilson, but when was the last time David Shaw’s team was known as a pass-heavy squad? The lack of a run game is concerning, to say the least.

Mills led the way on the ground with 36 yards, while Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat combined for just 30 yards on 14 attempts.

The defense didn’t perform any better, either. The Buffs went 8-for-14 on third down and put up 432 total yards. The 35 points given up equaled the Oregon game, and only CU has allowed more points in the Pac-12 through the first two weeks.

Though the opening game defeat could have been justified by the lack of Mills, and this game may even legitimately be chalked up to his lack of preparation due to quarantine, those excuses are gone moving forward.

On paper, the Tree can beat any of their remaining opponents and project to be favored in half of the games. It’s time to turn things around.

How Our Senior Football Writers Voted
3Arizona StateArizona StateWashington
4UtahWashingtonArizona State
6Washington StateColoradoWashington State
7ColoradoWashington StateUCLA
8UCLACalOregon State
10Oregon StateOregon StateUtah

—More from Dane Miller—