Posted on December 15, 2020
Consequently, we’ll see Oregon take on the Trojans in Los Angles for the title—provided both teams are able to remain Coronavirus-free.
If either team were to test positive, however, Colorado would step in as the second alternate, and that has left the Buffs in a quandary. While the Conference has given CU permission to schedule a makeup opponent, the Buffaloes would have to cancel any such game and fly to L.A., if needed. So they’ll take the week off and wait.
Such are the breaks, or lack of them, in this pandemic-transformed season. It hasn’t been without a few classy gestures here and there, though. Jimmy Lake’s comment to Dennis Dodd stands out among them.
The UW head coach made it clear that “If [the Ducks] win the game, they should have the Pac-12 championship trophy…Through this crazy, challenging year, they should be viewed as Pac-12 champion.”
Here are our Power Rankings for Week Seven, with the votes of our senior football writers tallied at the bottom of the page.
1. USC (5-0)
For the third time this season, the Trojans pulled a rabbit out of the hat.
Down 35-22 to the Bruins at the start of the fourth quarter, USC rallied to score three touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to secure the comeback victory. With under 30 seconds to go, Kedon Slovis connected with Amon-Ra St. Brown on a well-thrown fade in the corner of the end zone to take the lead.
And with no time left on the clock, the Trojan defense batted down a desperation Hail Mary heaved by Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
The win kept USC’s unbeaten streak alive, secured the Pac-12 South Division title, and set the program up for a Fiesta Bowl appearance, pending a win over Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday.
In a season filled with surprise losses and missed expectations, the Trojans have carried the Conference’s flag and anchored its national reputation. But with the most important games of the year remaining, the season has the chance to turn from good to great.
Or vice versa.
2. Washington (3-1)
Flash forward to a decade from now, and Oregon fans are still tweeting about the cancellation of the UW-UO game in 2020.
Due to the Pac-12’s method of determining the divisional champions, the Huskies won the North after the Coronavirus caused the cancellation of the rivalry matchup in Eugene. The Dawgs had no say in how the Conference made its decision, but that doesn’t matter to the Oregon faithful.
In the end, Washington is the 2020 North Division champion in Jimmy Lake’s first season. With a record of 3-1 and a quality victory over Utah, the Huskies are primed for a respectable bowl appearance should they choose to play in the postseason.
And if anything, the perception of an asterisk next to the banner should only motivate Lake and his players over the offseason. The more they are questioned, the stronger they may be in 2021.
3. Oregon (3-2)
With nothing to do but twiddle their fingers and watch games on television, the Ducks couldn’t help but feel that something was taken from them last weekend. After staying COVID safe and being lucky enough to avoid a cancellation through five weeks, outside forces finally caught up to Oregon.
But with the Pac-12 North title and a trip to the Championship Game on the line, the cancellation of the UW game created the appearance that the Dawgs were ducking out of the fight. After all, Oregon is 7-2 against Washington in the Pac-12 Era, winning 14 of the last 16 contests.
And even though the cancellation was based on the Conference’s protocols which are designed for player safety, Duck fans may never recognize the Huskies as the legitimate North champion in 2020.
In a rivalry that was already heated, the cancellation was like throwing a propane tank on the bonfire. Playing USC in the title game takes some of the edge off, but that fire will keep burning for decades to come.
4. Colorado (3-1, 4-1)
The injury to Nate Landman devastated the Buffs in their matchup with Utah on a snowy Folsom Field. The senior was arguably the best linebacker in the country this year, and undoubtedly the heart and soul of Colorado’s defense.
His injury left a gaping hole in the CU linebacker corps, and Utah’s Ty Jordan exploited it to perfection. Add in a fumble that led to a Ute field goal to end the first half, and Colorado’s undefeated season fell by the wayside.
To make matters worse, Washington’s inability to play USC left the Buffs without an opponent on Saturday.
Regardless, there’s no denying that Karl Dorrell is years ahead of schedule after a surprisingly successful first season. Even without a sixth game, CU is still likely receive a bowl invitation after many were projecting a two or three-win season.
And with plenty of young talent and an extra year of eligibility for the upperclassmen, things are looking very bright in Boulder.
5. Utah (2-2)
Utah finally has it together.
After replacing nearly the entire defense, its veteran quarterback, and an NFL-caliber running back, it was always going to be a struggle for the Utes at the beginning of the year. Normally, those ghosts would have been exorcised in nonconference play, but 2020 dropped the new faces right into the fire.
Even so, it only took Kyle Whittingham two full games to get his team on track. The win against Oregon State in Salt Lake City was solid, but it didn’t garner the same respect that a win over Colorado in Boulder has.
As such, the 38-21 victory over CU was the type of win Utah fans were looking for to signal a turnaround. Freshman Ty Jordan ran wild on the Buffaloes’ defense, posting 147 yards, two touchdowns, and several long runs in the road victory over a Top 25 team.
And with bowl eligibility on the line against Washington State, the momentum for a strong finish is in full swing.
6. Stanford (3-2)
Winners of three-straight, David Shaw and the Cardinal have turned the corner.
In a fairly even and tightly contested game in Corvallis, the Tree hit the game-winning field goal with just under two minutes remaining. Jet Toner’s late boot may have been the go-ahead score, but the Stanford defense sealed the deal.
Oregon State was driving in the final minute when Chance Nolan fumbled the ball and Curtis Robinson jumped on it. The turnover was the only one of the night, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
The win secured the Cardinal’s bowl eligibility, though they have since announced they won’t be accepting a bid. Nonetheless, it put a capstone on a revitalized year after an 0-2 start.
But in a strange twist of fate, the Tree are not the North Division champions despite having the best record against divisional opponents. Shaw and Company are 3-1 against intra-divisional rivals, have a head-to-head victory over the named champion, and have more divisional wins and the same amount of losses as Washington.
Apparently, the divisions don’t really matter. Until they do. The loss to Oregon, which also finished 3-2, proved decisive.
7. UCLA (3-3)
When Dorian Thompson-Robinson led the Bruins into field goal range on a late fourth quarter drive, it appeared that UCLA would take down the Trojans for the second time in the Chip Kelly Era.
But the Bruins’ special teams allowed a deep return on the ensuing kickoff, setting up a long Kedon Slovis pass play to bring USC into the red zone. In just the blink of an eye the Trojans regained the lead.
It took just two plays from scrimmage.
The collapse was hard to swallow considering how well DTR played for most of the game. The junior was 30-for-36 for 364 yards and four touchdowns, and added 50 on the ground.
But the more than 400 total yards wasn’t enough in the end, and a pivotal interception helped spark the Trojan comeback.
Still, at 3-3 the Bruins enter the final week of the season with a chance for bowl eligibility and the most momentum they’ve had in years.
8. Arizona State (1-2)
In a bit of redemption after missing an inordinate amount of time due to the Coronavirus, the Sun Devils stomped Arizona in Tucson.
The 70-7 beatdown was one of the worst in Territorial Cup history; so bad, in fact, that it led to the firing of Kevin Sumlin. Though 2020 has been a difficult season, the historic demolition of the Wildcats makes it feel a whole lot better.
The primary question mark heading into this year was the run game. But Chip Trayanum and Rachaad White have put those concerns to bed. With several freshman and underclassmen taking on key roles, the Sun Devil roster projects to only grow stronger in 2021.
And with a final matchup against Oregon State on Saturday, the possibility of a .500 season and bowl eligibility is within reach. It may not have been the year anyone was expecting, but Arizona State has the chance to put a shine on its season with a victory in Corvallis.
9. Oregon State (2-4)
Though Tristan Gebbia struggled at times this season, it has become clear that his leadership was an intangible part of the Beavers’ success.
After the Nebraska transfer went down in the Oregon game, OSU has lost two-straight despite hanging tough in both matchups. Chance Nolan has shown improvement, but his late fumble doomed Oregon State’s chance to tie the game against Stanford with a last-second field goal.
And for the first time this season, Jermar Jefferson was held under 100 yards and scoreless. Nolan was effective running the ball, but Jefferson’s 4.4 yards per carry was arguably the reason OSU lost.
Now at 2-4, a bowl game will have to wait until next year.
Still, Oregon State didn’t have a game cancelled through six weeks and got more experience out of the shortened season than just about any other team in the Conference.
The experienced gained should bode well for the Beavs in 2021.
10. Washington State (1-2)
As the Cougars were warming up on the field, they received notice that their game against California would not be played due to a positive test within the Bears’ program. As far as 2020 Pac-12 play goes, that cancellation was a brutal as they come.
Cal had traveled all the way from Berkeley and were set to take on the Cougars who were coming off a loss in Los Angeles. Jayden de Laura was geared up to prove the trip to Southern California was a fluke, and Nick Rolovich likely had a few surprises up his sleeve.
But for the third time this season, Washington State had to sit one out.
With a final matchup against Utah on the docket, the Cougs can reach bowl eligibility and a .500 season in Salt Lake City. If that doesn’t motivate Rolovich’s players in this abbreviated season, WSU may as well stay in Pullman.
11. California (1-3)
One positive test was all it took.
At the end of the day, all the Cal players could do was throw up their hands and move on.
Despite taking precautions, constant testing, and world-class monitoring, this entire season was akin to walking a tight rope due to contact tracing. With the announcement of the cancellation of the Bears’ Week Seven matchup with Arizona, the 2020 nightmare has officially come to a merciful end.
Fortunately, none of the players’ eligibility was lost.
Justin Wilcox can now begin preparing for the 2021 campaign by addressing some of the flaws exposed this season. The California defense didn’t live up to expectations, but the offense was one of the worst in the country.
Though things were beginning to turn around on defense, the offense’s production remained underwhelming. Shoring up that side of the ball is the clear focus this offseason.
12. Arizona (0-5)
The Kevin Sumlin Era has come to an end in Tucson, and Athletic Director Dave Heeke is tasked with finding a new head coach. The Wildcats’ South Division championship and Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2014 seems like ages ago, but Arizona is not that far removed from success.
The fan base is clamoring for a coach who isn’t a proverbial “retread” and views the job as a step up from his current role. San Jose State coach Brent Brennan has emerged as the apparent front-runner, followed by Nevada’s Jay Norvell.
Either one of the Mountain West options would be tasked with recruiting to a program with average facilities, minimal tradition, and no recent track record of developing NFL talent. The challenges facing whoever ends up in Tucson are great. But as Rich Rodriguez proved, it can be done.
And with Grant Gunnell on the roster, there’s at least something to build around.
How Our Senior Football Writers Voted
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