Posted on December 8, 2020
After yet another weekend of upsets and exciting finishes, we once again offer Power Rankings, based on a composite of our senior football writers’ rankings, which appear in the table at the bottom of this page.
The rankings have changed rapidly in this shortened year, but our writers are mostly in agreement as the season nears its end. It’s been a wild ride and it’s not over yet, so check back next week if you don’t like your team’s spot.
1. USC (4-0)
USC’s 15-day break between matchups with Utah and Washington State appears to have revitalized the program. In a season without any bye weeks, the time off may have been just what Clay Helton’s team needed.
Kedon Slovis tossed five touchdowns in the first half against the Cougars, including four to Amon-Ra St. Brown in the first quarter alone. St. Brown’s four touchdown receptions in a single quarter set a Trojan record, even as Graham Harrell’s offense posted just five yards rushing in the game.
Though the Trojans scored only three points in the second half, the 38-13 victory over WSU was a statement to the rest of the Pac-12. Todd Orlando’s defense forced three Cougar turnovers in the first half and did something Oregon and Oregon State couldn’t: Make Jayden de Laura play like a freshman.
With a Pac-12 South championship within reach, all eyes turn toward the matchup with UCLA on Saturday.
2. Colorado (3-0, 4-0)
The Buffs overcame a slow start in the desert to advance to 4-0 on the season, thanks to Jarek Broussard’s 301 yards on the ground. The redshirt sophomore running back gashed the Wildcats for several big runs, helping to negate three CU turnovers and an early 13-0 deficit.
And for the first time since 2018, Colorado is ranked in the AP Top 25.
Though undefeated and No. 21 in the nation, CU doesn’t control its own destiny. The two COVID cancellations it was dealt earlier in the year could end up costing the Buffs a South Division championship, but that doesn’t take away from what Karl Dorrell has accomplished in his first season in Boulder.
Still, work remains to be done. Sam Noyer is coming off his worst game of the season and can’t afford another 92-yard passing and two-interception performance against rival Utah on Friday night.
3. Washington (3-1)
In control of their own fate, the Dawgs dropped the ball.
Another poor start led to a 24-3 halftime deficit, but this time Washington was unable to engineer a comeback against Stanford.
Down eight in the fourth quarter, the Husky defense forced a fumble and returned it to the Cardinal 10 yard line. But a holding penalty negated a Dylan Morris touchdown pass on the next play, and a second holding penalty eventually forced a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Peyton Henry knocked it through, but UW never got the ball back, and fell 31-26 to the Tree.
The loss to Stanford was the seventh to David Shaw in the Pac-12 Era, but it didn’t eliminate the Huskies from the North Division race. Because Oregon lost later in the night, the matchup with the Ducks on Saturday will determine the division championship.
Still, the UW defense allowed Stanford to go 10-for-13 on third down and 2-for-2 on fourth down in an uncharacteristic performance. To win the North, the Dawg defense must play better.
4. Oregon (3-2)
For the first time since 2018, the Ducks suffered back-to-back defeats.
After a two-touchdown second quarter, the Oregon offense was blanked in the second half. Though Andy Avalos’ defense played well, his unit surrendered the game-winning touchdown pass in the middle of the third quarter.
The ugly final thirty minutes put an exclamation point on UO’s struggles over the past two weeks. First-year starter Tyler Shough struggled in the third and fourth quarters, resulting in three Oregon three-and-outs, and just three drives that advanced into Bear territory.
But with a chance to attempt a short field goal early in the fourth quarter, Mario Cristobal instead went for it on the Cal 18 yard line. The attempt failed, forcing the Ducks to engineer a late touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game.
Shough was unable to get it done, and Oregon dropped its opportunity to takeover first place in the North. Nonetheless, the Ducks can still capture the North with a win over Washington.
5. UCLA (3-2)
Dorian Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins to a 25-18 win over the Sun Devils after missing two weeks due to contact tracing protocols. Down by one with just over four minutes remaining in the game, DTR engineered a 75-yard touchdown drive to give UCLA the lead.
Needing a two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game, the junior found Chase Cota to cap his 192 yards passing and 49 yards rushing night in the desert. Though Demetric Felton was contained for the first time this season, the UCLA defense limited Arizona State to just two touchdowns.
Jerry Azzinaro’s unit contained Jayden Daniels on the ground, limiting the dual-threat quarterback to just six yards rushing with a longest run of only 11 yards.
Now at 3-2, the Bruins are above .500 for the first time in the Chip Kelly Era. With two games remaining, UCLA is on track for its first bowl appearance since 2017.
6. Stanford (2-2)
When David Shaw and the Cardinal started off 0-2 it looked as though the season might be over before the halfway point. But with two straight victories, the Tree have rebounded and are on track to be bowl eligible for the ninth time in the Shaw Era.
In Saturday’s 31-26 victory over then No. 22 Washington, Davis Mills threw for 252 yards and a touchdown while connecting on 66% of his passes. Austin Jones shined with 138 yards on the ground and two scores, but nearly cost the team the win with a late fumble in the fourth quarter.
But the Cardinal defense held UW to just three points in the first half and just 371 total yards on the day.
With one game remaining prior to the Week Seven cross-divisional matchup, a winning season and a bowl game is within reach, especially with the possibility of Oregon State being without Jermar Jefferson this Saturday.
7. Utah (1-2)
Heading into the matchup with Oregon State, Kyle Whittingham and the Utes were winless on the year. COVID-19 issues had prevented his team from taking the field for several weeks, and the first two matchups against USC and UW were unsuccessful.
But thanks to a consistent offensive performance in Salt Lake City, the Utes held off a late Beaver run to secure their first victory of the season. True freshman running back Ty Jordan went off for 167 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and tagged on an additional 22 yards on two receptions from Jake Bentley.
Though he didn’t turn any heads, Bentley didn’t turn the ball over and found Brant Kuithe eight times for 76 yards. Despite missing two throws that should have resulted in touchdowns, the Utah offense took care of the ball, hit all three field goals it attempted, and emerged with the win.
To be eligible for their eighth bowl game of the Pac-12 Era, the Utes must win their final two games of the season.
8. Oregon State (2-3)
Without Jermar Jefferson and Tristan Gebbia, the Beavs put up a valiant fight in Salt Lake City. Chance Nolan started the first game of his D1 career, and at times it showed.
The junior college transfer was sacked three times and threw an interception that led to a Utah field goal, but otherwise connected on 20 of his 38 throws for 202 yards. In the fourth quarter, Nolan nearly led a successful comeback that came down to a fourth down attempt with just over 30 seconds remaining.
But without Jefferson to establish a run threat, Oregon State struggled most of the game. OSU was 2-for-12 on third down and managed to put up just 133 yards on the ground.
Facing Stanford in the final game of the regular season, Oregon State must find a way to win in order to keep the possibility of a bowl game on the table. A defeat on Saturday would eliminate it from contention, and the status of Jefferson remains to be seen.
9. California (1-3)
With a win over then No. 23 Oregon, California may have saved its season.
Though sitting at 1-3 after five weeks, the possibility of bowl eligibility remains. To get there, Chase Garbers and Company must win out.
And with the momentum from the upset win over the Ducks, that appears to be achievable.
Despite putting up just 271 total yards and only 88 on the ground against UO, the Cal offense didn’t turn the ball over and scored the lone touchdown of the second half. The go-ahead pass and catch between Garbers and Nikko Remigio was enough to secure the win, as the Bear defense stifled the potent Oregon offense in the final thirty minutes.
A late-season rally for bowl eligibility would be emblematic of the tenacity of Cal football under Justin Wilcox, but a snowy night in Pullman against the Cougars stands in their way.
10. Arizona State (0-2)
Unable to overcome self-inflicted wounds, the Sun Devils fell to the Bruins in Tempe. Several key penalties prevented big plays or touchdowns that would likely have changed the outcome, but Herm Edwards’ defense had the opportunity to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Instead, Dorian Thompson-Robinson led his team to the go-ahead score, and Jayden Daniels was unable to deliver a game-tying drive in the final minute.
Through four quarters, Daniels was sacked five times and the offense turned the ball over twice, but the untimely penalties were arguably what resulted in the loss.
At 0-2, Arizona State enters the Territorial Cup needing to win out in order to make a bowl game. This season was always going to be wild, but entering Week Six with just two games played was something nobody expected.
Fortunately, ASU is 6-3 against Arizona in the Pac-12 Era, and that margin figures to be expanded on Friday.
11. Washington State (1-2)
After 22 days of a COVID-19-induced break, the Cougars finally returned to the field. And after the first 15 minutes against the Trojans, Nick Rolovich may have wished it was 23.
USC put up 28 points in the first quarter and in the process made Jayden de Laura look like a deer in the headlights. The Trojans scored on their first four possessions after denying a fourth down attempt on WSU’s first drive, forcing a punt, and generating back-to-back de Laura interceptions.
For the first time this year, de Laura looked rattled.
To retain the freshman’s confidence, it may be best to watch the tape once and then burn it. De Laura did lead the Cougs on a seven minute touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter, but by then the game was already lost.
And even despite the shellacking in Los Angeles, Washington State can still reach a bowl game if it wins out.
12. Arizona (0-4)
When Arizona jumped out to a 13-0 lead over Colorado on Saturday night, it looked as though the Cats might finally snap their 10-game losing streak. But Noel Mazzone’s offense wasn’t able to put up any points in the final two quarters, and Arizona’s program-record losing streak was extended to 11 games.
The 24 unanswered points and record-setting 301 yards conceded to Jarek Broussard wasn’t the worst part of the collapse: The Cats forced three CU turnovers that the Arizona offense wasn’t able to convert into touchdowns.
True freshman Will Plummer got the nod in the first start of his career after Grant Gunnell remained sidelined due to a shoulder injury, and Gary Brightwell and Michael Wiley both rushed for over 100 yards.
But Arizona went 0-for-2 in the red zone and now enters the Territorial Cup 0-4.
How Our Senior Football Writers Voted
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