Posted on September 20, 2021
The Conference suffered its second loss to an FCS program, dropped two games to Mountain West opponents, stumbled once again against BYU, and was blanked by a mediocre Big 10 team.
The defeats damaged the hopes of making the College Football Playoff, potentially forcing Oregon to win out the remainder of the year.
But the results weren’t all doom and gloom.
True freshman Jaxson Dart seized his opportunity in Pullman after Kedon Slovis was injured, while Stanford rolled an SEC program on the road. And in Seattle, the Husky offense found its rhythm.
The results sent our senior writers back to the whiteboard to once again rank the teams heading into Week Four. The list is a composite of each writer’s selections, with each individual’s ranking appearing at the bottom.
1. Oregon (3-0, 0-0) ◄►
The Ducks kept up their image in the eyes of the Selection Committee with a respectable box-score result against Stony Brook. The Oregon defense held the Seawolves to 271 total yards and forced four turnovers.
But in reality, the game was too close in the first half and UO struggled on third down throughout the game. Stony Brook converted 7-of-16 third down attempts and held Anthony Brown to just a single touchdown while sacking him twice.
Ty Thompson saw the first action of his career, starting the second half and finishing 6-for-9 with 82 yards and two touchdowns. But no Oregon running back breached 100 yards on the ground.
The result frustrated the Duck roster, despite it putting up the highest point total of the season.
With the Pac-12 as a whole struggling, UO may need to continue posting high-margin victories to maintain its grip on a birth in the Playoff.
2. Stanford (2-1, 1-0) ▲3
Tanner McKee continued his campaign for the Pac-12’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year honor with another strong showing on the road.
McKee’s three total touchdowns against Vanderbilt increased his total on the year to seven, all while maintaining his zero turnover mark.
The efficiency passing the ball allowed the Stanford running backs to shine, with Austin Jones and Nathaniel Peat combining for 10.9 yards per carry in Nashville.
The result sets the Tree on a collision coarse with UCLA this Saturday, a game that will shape the remainder of the Cardinal’s season.
A victory against the Bruins would almost guarantee a bowl game for David Shaw’s program, while setting up a showdown with the Ducks in Week Five.
And holding a 12-1 record against UCLA since 2009, Shaw must like his chances.
3. USC (2-1, 1-1) ▲3
The Trojans may have found their quarterback of the future.
Jaxson Dart was arguably set to replace Kedon Slovis if the third-year starter continued to struggle in Pullman, but the injury to the junior made Donte Williams’ decision easy.
And down seven in the rain, the true freshman never looked back.
Passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns in his debut, Dart led the USC offense to 45 points in a blowout victory on the road. His 32 yards rushing led the team as well, simultaneously displaying Dart’s mobility and the Trojans’ struggles running the ball.
But the school record for passing yards in a debut was not enough for Williams to name Dart as the starter moving forward, a decision that is probably gamesmanship in advance of the matchup with Oregon State.
4. UCLA (2-1, 0-0) ▼2
Jerry Azzinaro’s defense did Jerry Azzinaro things on Fresno State’s final drive of the game late Saturday night.
Playing against soft coverage, a visibly injured Jake Haener carved up the Bruin secondary and engineered a 75-yard march down the field in just over half a minute.
The collapse hearkened to the criticism of UCLA’s defense over the past several seasons, an issue that was flipped on its head in the first two games of the year.
But Azzinaro’s 4-2-5 scheme has always been susceptible to a pass-heavy offense, giving up 569 total yards to the Bulldogs this weekend.
Tellingly, the 40 points allowed marked the 13th time in the Chip Kelly Era an opponent put up 40 points or more on the Bruin defense.
And although the defeat all but destroyed any hopes of making the Playoff, the goal of winning the Pac-12 South remains fully intact.
5. ASU (2-1, 0-0) ▼2
The Sun Devils’ flaws were exposed against BYU.
Penalties and turnovers were the glaring issues Arizona State dealt with in its first two games of the season, and both problems were capitalized on by the Cougars.
Committing 16 penalties for 121 yards and turning the ball over four times, ASU couldn’t get out of its own way.
Jayden Daniels threw two interceptions and ran for only eight yards, failing to register a touchdown in Provo.
And Rachaad White averaged just 4.7 yards per carry, as the Sun Devil rushing attack was held to its lowest output since facing Florida State in the 2019 Sun Bowl.
The defeat doesn’t derail the goal of winning the South, but it throws a wet blanket on the expectations for the remainder of the year.
6. Oregon State (2-1, 0-0) ▲2
Chance Nolan and the Beavers boat-raced Idaho at Reser Stadium.
The 42-0 win was the largest margin of victory in the Jonathan Smith Era and Oregon State’s first shutout since the 2008 Sun Bowl.
Nolan and B.J. Baylor combined for five touchdowns, increasing the duo’s season total to 12 after just three games. Spreading the love against the Vandals, 11 different players caught a pass and eight registered yards rushing.
The lopsided win put an exclamation point on the program’s revitalized perception under Nolan, posting back-to-back 40-plus point games for the first time since the 2013 season.
The former junior college transfer provides OSU a shot at bowl eligibility, but facing what could be the toughest remaining schedule in the Pac-12, the Beavers need an upset or two to get it done.
7. Utah (1-2, 0-0) ▼3
The loss to San Diego State in triple overtime caps what might be the worst start to a season since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
For the first time since Kyle Whittingham took over the program in 2005, Utah suffered back-to-back nonconference defeats.
The Ute offense managed just 70 yards rushing on Saturday, its lowest output since the 2018 season, and Utah wasn’t able to pull out the win despite its defense holding the Aztecs to 3-for-15 on third down.
And after losing to BYU for the first time since 2009, the alarm bells are ringing in Salt Lake City. The goal of winning the Pac-12 South remains alive, but the offensive challenges remain.
Cameron Rising could be the answer, after pitching three touchdowns in the loss–and the departure of Charlie Brewer on Tuesday—but consistency remains a problem at nearly every skill position on offense.
8. Washington (1-2, 0-0) ▲3
John Donovan’s offense broke out of its funk on Saturday against Arkansas State. The 52-3 win was the highest margin of victory of the Jimmy Lake Era and the most points the Dawgs have scored since he took over.
Washington’s top three running backs averaged 5.4 yards per carry and put up three touchdowns, a welcome sign that had been missing from UW’s offense through two games.
But the quality of the opponent skews the perception, and it remains to be seen if the Huskies can repeat the offensive performance against conference opponents.
Peeling back the success, Dylan Morris threw two interceptions, bringing his season total to five, and Washington committed three total turnovers.
Yet, a win is a win, and a 49-point trouncing is ideal for the team’s confidence heading into Pac-12 play.
9. Cal (1-2, 0-0) ◄►
Scoring its most points since the middle of the 2018 season, California secured a 42-30 victory over FCS opponent Sacramento State.
Justin Wilcox can’t be happy with the 30 points surrendered, but the Bear offense posted 534 total yards in a balanced attack.
Chase Garbers notched three total touchdowns and 356 total yards in the win, including a 22-yard score on the ground in the third quarter.
Entering conference play, Cal is a play or two away from being undefeated. On a knife’s edge between success and failure, defensive improvement is arguably the key to the remainder of the year.
For what seems like the first time in the Wilcox Era, the California offense could be described as capable, while its defense is its biggest question. With such a flipped script, it’s anyone’s guess how the Bears finish the year.
10. Colorado (1-2, 0-0) ▼3
The Colorado offense is broken.
Brendon Lewis isn’t able to effectively run Karl Dorrell’s system, leading CU to just 7 total yards in the first half against Minnesota.
The 30-0 loss at home is a worrying sign for the remainder of the year, with the Buffs posting just 63 total yards in the entire game.
With a defense capable of keeping games within reach, drastic changes must be made.
Lewis was sacked four times against the Gophers and hasn’t found the end zone since the second quarter of the opener against Northern Colorado.
Designed quarterback runs might be the spark that reignites the offense, as the freshman has been at his most effective when carrying the ball.
Worryingly, the offensive problems have no apparent solution and Colorado could be in a for a long season.
11. Washington State (1-2, 0-0) ▼1
Blowing another lead in the Nick Rolovich Era, Washington State was shutout after scoring the first 14 points of the game.
The injury to Jayden de Laura played a role, but the WSU defense had no answer for Jaxson Dart.
The 4-2-5 scheme Jake Dickert utilizes struggles against the pass, but allowing a true freshman to set a school record for yards passing in a debut, in your own building no less, is a punch to the mouth.
And the Cougar offense wasn’t any better.
Putting up just 279 total yards and committing four turnovers, the problems in Pullman are piling up. Max Borghi failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season, and Rolovich was forced to go with a walk-on under center.
Going on the road for the next two weeks, the pressure is on Rolovich to deliver.
12. Arizona (0-3, 0-0) ◄►
The Arizona football program is at rock bottom.
For the first time since 1932, the Wildcats lost to Northern Arizona after Jedd Fisch’s offense continued to struggle.
The first-time head coach questionably demoted former starting quarterback Gunner Cruz to the scout team after the loss to San Diego State, deciding to go with Will Plummer against the Lumberjacks.
But the sophomore threw two interceptions, including a Pick-Six, and Fisch refused to take him out of the game until it was too late. Third-string QB Jordan McCloud provided a spark in the fourth quarter, but there wasn’t enough time left to turn the tide.
Running back Jalen John surprised with 7.4 yards per carry on five attempts, and Boobie Curry snagged two touchdowns in the loss. Yet Fisch’s scheme has proved woefully incompetent through three games.
Still, the Cats have the Pac-12’s fourth-best recruiting class and the staff’s primary job is keeping it intact.
How our Senior Football Writers Voted
A note on our tiebreakers: This week, Stanford, USC, and UCLA all received the same number of points. The Cardinal and Trojans both had more second-place votes, pushing them above the Bruins in the first tiebreaker. Our second tiebreaker, head-to-head results, pushed Stanford over USC.
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