Posted on September 25, 2023
Washington and Oregon had dominant performances over the weekend while USC played poorly on the road.
The results were eye-opening on several different levels and indicate a perception change within the league.
The Dawgs are now the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the AP Poll while Oregon cracked the Top 10.
With four games to judge each program by, I re-ranked the Conference’s team as I see them entering Week Five.
1. Washington (4-0, 1-0) ▲1The Dawgs continued their dominance with a 59-32 beat down of California.
Michael Penix Jr. is arguably the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy award and Washington looks like a team that belongs in the Playoff.
With flashes on defense and special teams against the Bears, Kalen DeBoer’s team arguably played their most complete game of the year.
Ryan Grubb’s offensive system has been unstoppable and the Huskies have a front seven that is among the best in the Pac-12. Perhaps the rest of the country is finally waking up to what’s going on in Seattle.
2. Oregon (4-0, 1-0) ▲2“Rooted in substance, not flash….The Cinderella story’s over, man. They’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins. There’s a difference. This game ain’t going to be played in Hollywood, it’s going to be played on the grass.”
Dan Lanning rallied his team with an all-time pregame speech that will go down in the lore of Oregon Football. The Ducks clearly felt snubbed by all the national attention given to Colorado, and showed it on the field.
UO’s 42-6 victory was a statement to the rest of the nation. But, perhaps more importantly, the dominant win was Oregon’s most put-together game on both sides of the ball this season.
3. USC (4-0, 2-0) ▼2Culture is what defines a program. A team coming off a bye week and facing one of the worst teams in the FBS should never come out flat.
The Trojans were five-touchdown favorites heading into Tempe and struggled throughout most of the game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that SC put some distance on Arizona State, a worrying sign for the rest of the year.
The poor performance is arguably entirely attributable to the coaching staff. The Trojans looked like they weren’t ready to play and didn’t want to be there.
If that’s the performance on the road against arguably the worst team in the Pac-12, how will they look against a competent opponent?
4. Utah (4-0, 1-0) ▼1Andy Ludwig better be hoping that Cam Rising’s return flicks a switch for his offense.
The Utes have been spectacularly incompetent on that side of the ball this season. If not for the elite defense, Utah could realistically be 1-3 entering the Friday night matchup with Oregon State.
But, a Pick Six from Karene Reid in the first play of the game made the difference on Saturday, and the offense has done just enough to topple Florida and Baylor during the nonconference.
Still, Utah is not going to win the Pac-12 solely on the back of its defense. Washington, USC, Oregon, and Washington State all field high-powered schemes that make Utah’s offense look like an FCS program.
5. Washington State (4-0, 1-0) ▲2Ben Arbuckle is the real deal.
The offensive coordinator’s system has produced the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense and led WSU to two wins over ranked opponents. Oregon State was regarded as having a strong defense and Wazzu embarrassed it with 528 total yards.
But, the problems scoring in the second half remain. Similar to the Wisconsin game, the Cougs nearly collapsed and were unable to score with any efficiency. The second-half issues figure to be a certified problem in road games this season.
A pair of wins over ranked opponents is respectable, but both came at home. The Cougars still have to play UCLA, Oregon, and Washington away from Pullman this season.
6. Oregon State (3-1, 0-1) ◄►Over the last few years, 25 has been the magic number for Oregon State. If the Beavers attempt more than 25 passes in a game, the odds of winning fall dramatically.
Such is the nature of a run-based offense that controls the time of possession.
If OSU is forced to play from behind, the tendencies have to be disregarded and the play calling gets skewed towards the pass.
DJ Uiagalelei attempted a season-high 34 passes in Pullman, connecting on just 50 percent for a season-low 198 yards passing (not counting the UC Davis game).
But, more worryingly, the Oregon State defense struggled against its first Power 5 opponent of the year.
7. UCLA (3-1, 0-1) ▼2All offseason, the consistent messaging out of Westwood was that there is a quarterback battle between three players.
Yet, in the first true test of the season—where the UCLA defense is playing at an elite level—there was not even a whisper of Collin Schlee or Ethan Garbers.
Instead, Chip Kelly let Dante Moore struggle drive after drive and the Bruins scored just seven points. It was an odd decision for a team that had Utah in a vulnerable position.
The Utes were dealing with injuries on both sides of the ball and were woefully ineffective on offense.
Even if sticking with Moore was a future-minded decision, there’s no denying that UCLA let one slip in Salt Lake City.
8. Colorado (3-1, 0-1) ◄►Coach Prime and the Buffs were humbled in Eugene. The 42-6 blowout loss shows just how far the program still has to go in order to compete with the top teams in the nation.
The offensive line is unable to protect Shedeur Sanders and is woefully incapable of generating a run game. Fortunately, the problems are fairly obvious to diagnose and are nothing that NIL money won’t be able to solve.
It will take another offseason of recruiting to beef up the front line, but that probably won’t be a problem with the television numbers CU has been putting up.
As for the rest of this year, the recipe for success in the Pac-12 is strength along both lines. Unfortunately, Colorado just doesn’t have the ingredients to produce the results.
9. Arizona (3-1, 1-0) ◄►On one hand, Arizona’s one-point victory over Stanford feels like a loss. The Wildcats were expected to beat the Cardinal by double-digits and instead were lucky to escape with the win.
On the flip side, the victory over the Tree was Arizona’s first since 2009 and snapped a six-game losing streak in the series. It was also the Cats’ first victory in Palo Alto since 2006 and they did it with a backup quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Noah Fifita stepped in for the injured Jayden de Laura and led UA to a come-from-behind win.
Still, one-point victories over Stanford don’t inspire confidence in Arizona’s bowl eligibility prospects.
10. California (2-2, 0-1) ◄►The Bears are squandering a respectable defense and elite running game with poor quarterback play.
Ben Finley threw three interceptions after getting the start in Seattle, dooming Cal by halftime. Sam Jackson V came in late in the game and played respectably against the UW backups, but the problems remain.
In the transfer portal and NIL era, it’s not acceptable to lack a quality starting quarterback. Taking a step back and viewing the state of the program in Justin Wilcox’s seventh season, it’s fair to question the direction of Cal Football.
The Bears have been mediocre and treading water for too many years.
11. Arizona State (1-3, 0-1) ▲1That’s more like it. Kenny Dillingham never should have delegated play-calling authorities to someone else and Saturday’s game against USC showed why.
The first-year coach climbed the coaching ladder through his play-calling skills, but gave those duties up when he became a head coach.
After three games of incompetent offense, he took the reigns back and led Arizona State to its highest-scoring output of the year.
Part of that was due to Drew Pyne being healthy, but there’s no denying the increased firepower ASU’s offense has with Dillingham calling plays.
Still, whether the performance against the Trojans was more an indication of USC’s woes or Arizona State’s rebirth remains to be seen.
12. Stanford (1-3, 0-2) ▼1Troy Taylor and the Cardinal nearly pulled off the upset against Arizona. The one-point defeat can be looked at one of two ways.
First, the surprising result was a positive bounce-back sign after losing to Sacramento State. Or, the defeat was a choke job after the Wildcats’ starting quarterback and starting running back left the game with injuries.
Either way it’s cut, the game was a loss. The 2023 season has always been a bridge year to implement the offensive system and bring in a strong recruiting class.
But, it’s games like this one that are simultaneously hard to swallow and provide glimmers of hope for the future.
—More from Dane Miller—
- Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Dec 9-10
- Dane Miller’s Week 4 Pac-12 Hoops Players of Week Votes
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Dec 2
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Pac-12 Championship Game Preview
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 14 Pac-12 Football Power Rankings
- Dane Miller’s Week 3 Pac-12 Hoops Players of Week Votes
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 13 Pac-12 Football Previews
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 13 Oregon-OSU Football Preview
- Dane Miller’s Arizona-Michigan State Men’s Hoops Preview
- Dane’s Miller’s UCLA-Gonzaga Maui Invitational Preview
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 13 Pac-12 Football Power Rankings
- Dane’s Miller’s UCLA-Marquette Maui Invitational Preview
- Dane Miller’s Week 2 Pac-12 Hoops Players of Week Votes
- Dane Miller’s 2023 Week 12 Pac-12 Football Previews
- Dane Miller’s Week 12 Colorado-Washington State Preview
Dane Miller’s Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Dec 9-10The top-ranked Wildcats face No. 23 Wisconsin while UCLA, UW, and CU face brand-name foes - December 8, 2023
Dane Miller’s Week 4 Pac-12 Hoops Players of Week VotesOur senior men's basketball writer gives us his weekly men's hoops selections with explanations - December 4, 2023
Dane Miller’s 2023 Pac-12 Men’s Hoops Previews for Dec 2Half of the Pac-12’s teams are in action and two of them face ranked opponents at neutral sites - December 2, 2023