Posted on October 4, 2021
With Clemson struggling in the ACC, and the SEC likely to get two invitations, the Conference of Champions will likely battle the Big 10 and Big 12 for one of the coveted spots.
The headline-grabbing result on the Farm might be what the rest of the country focuses on, but Oregon State’s victory over Washington and Arizona State’s win against UCLA have just as much impact on the race for the North and South divisional championships.
The results sent our writers back to the keyboard to rank the 12 teams heading into Week 6. This list is a composite of each writers’ rankings, and the individual lists appear at the bottom.
1. ASU (4-1, 2-0) ▲2
Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils made a statement at the Rose Bowl: The path to the Pac-12 Championship Game now runs through Tempe.
Jayden Daniels had 331 total yards against the UCLA defense, and Ricky Pearsall dominated Jerry Azzinaro’s secondary with 132 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The 42-23 victory put Arizona State back in the AP Top 25 and into first place in the South standings. Heading into Week Six as the No. 22 team in the nation, ASU faces a Stanford run defense that is nowhere near the stoutness of the Bruins.
A win on Saturday over the Cardinal would boost the Sun Devils even further up the polls, while generating rumblings of a potential run to the Playoff.
And with the lone blemish of the 4-1 record coming on the road to No. 10 BYU, Arizona State has a chance to throw its name in the hat.
2. Oregon (4-1, 1-1) ▼1
The Ducks may have been on the short end of a few pivotal penalties on the final drive of the fourth quarter, but a poor first half put Oregon in a precarious position.
Down 10 with one minute remaining in the second quarter, Anthony Brown chose not to pitch the ball to his running back and instead tried running for the touchdown on his own.
That decision cost UO seven points and gave the Stanford defense momentum heading into the second half. But the Ducks came out swinging in the final thirty minutes, holding the Tree to a single touchdown in regulation while its offense put up 17 points.
The road loss sets Mario Cristobal’s team on the back foot, but it doesn’t eliminate them from the Playoff. The victory over Ohio State still holds sway back East, and every Pac-12 team that’s made the Playoff had one loss on their record.
3. Oregon State (4-1, 2-0) ▲1
In what might be one of the top Oregon State victories of the Pac-12 Era, the Beavers took down Washington on a last-second field goal.
The 27-24 win came despite Chance Nolan having his worst game since arriving in Corvallis, a 7-for-15, 48 yards passing outing, complete with a fumble that led to a UW go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
But the resilient Oregon State ground game made the difference.
B.J. Baylor put up 5.6 yards per carry and two touchdowns, including the game-tying 27-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter. And Deshaun Fenwick contributed his most productive game of the season with 12 carries for 70 yards at 5.8 per pop.
The win puts OSU at the top of the North standings and in control of their own destiny. But facing a Washington State team that it’s lost seven-straight to, there’s no time for resting on laurels.
4. Stanford (3-2, 2-1) ▲1
Overlooked during the offseason, the Cardinal now have victories over Oregon and USC to start the year. Tanner McKee has emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and Nathanial Peat is on pace for a breakout season.
The duo combined for 322 of Stanford’s 354 total yards in the upset over the Ducks.
The better-than-expected offensive performances have brought the Tree to its 3-2 record, even as Austin Jones has struggled through five games.
If the back hits his stride in the second half of the year, a fifth Pac-12 North Division championship could be a realistic possibility.
But facing No. 22 Arizona State at home this weekend, David Shaw faces another tall task.
A win in Tempe would secure a second road victory over a South opponent, and arguably make Stanford the favorite in the North.
5. UCLA (3-2, 1-1) ▼3
For the 14th time of the Chip Kelly Era, UCLA’s opponent scored 40 points or more. And in those games, the Bruins are 1-13.
The 42-23 defeat to Arizona State was a damaging box score result for a game that ended around 2 a.m. Eastern Time. Most of the country won’t know that the matchup hung in the balance at the start of the fourth quarter.
And most won’t see the highlight of Dorian Thompson Robinson getting stuffed on a fourth-and-goal play that would have brought the game within one point.
But that’s life in the Pac-12. At least it was on prime time in the Philippines.
Left to pick up the pieces, UCLA has two road games in front of it before facing Oregon in Pasadena later this month.
6. USC (3-2, 2-2) ▲2
The Donte Williams-led Trojans bounced back in Boulder after getting embarrassed the week prior against Oregon State. Kedon Slovis had his best game of the season, throwing for three touchdowns with zero interceptions or sacks.
Drake London continued to do his thing with 130 yards receiving on nine grabs, and Keaontay Ingram had his strongest showing of the season with 124 yards rushing on 8.9 yards per carry.
The victory improved USC’s All-Time record against CU to 15-0 and generated much needed momentum heading into the matchup with Utah this weekend.
A win over the Utes would be the Trojans’ first back-to-back victory of the year, and set up a clash with Norte Dame the following week.
Jaxson Dart remains sidelined following his meniscus surgery, putting the pressure on Slovis to make his performance at Colorado the norm moving forward.
7. Utah (2-2, 1-0) ▼1
On a bye week, the Utes were able to honor Aaron Lowe and gather themselves after the second passing of a teammate in less than a year.
The matchup with USC on Saturday presents an opportunity to get back to football and regain a semblance of normality.
And coming off a win against Washington State, Kyle Whittingham’s team is 1-0 in Pac-12 play with the rest of the season ahead of them.
It’s never easy to win at the Coliseum, and the Utes haven’t taken down the Trojans at home since 1916. But USC is as vulnerable as it’s been since Utah joined the Conference. If ever there was a year for the upset to happen, this is it.
8. Washington (2-3, 1-1) ▼1
The Dawgs lost to Oregon State for just the second time in the Pac-12 Era, another sign that the Jimmy Lake Era might be a short one.
Dylan Morris threw for just 142 yards with an interception, as the Washington offense put up just 318 total yards and 15 first downs.
The state of the program can be traced back to Lake’s first offseason, when several quarterbacks transferred out after Morris was named the starter.
Left to make due in the bed that was made, UW is losing games it shouldn’t be and Lake has been hesitant to go to Sam Huard.
The result is an ineffective Husky offense and a potent defense being wasted.
Those are tough pills to swallow for a fan base that’s only a few seasons removed from a Playoff and Rose Bowl appearance.
9. Washington State (2-3, 1-1) ▲1
Jake Dickert’s defense appears to have turned a corner in the second year of his 4-2-5 scheme. Taking away the USC game, his unit is holding opponents to 20 points per night.
Cal’s six points scored was the fewest Washington State has given up since blanking San Jose State in 2018, and the fewest allowed to a Pac-12 opponent since shutting out Colorado in 2017.
Apart from the opening drive, the Cougs held the potent Bear offense in check. Dickert’s scheme forced California to become one-dimensional, shutting down Cal’s run.
WSU limited Chase Garbers to 152 total yards with four sacks and an interception, while Jayden de Laura threw for three touchdowns to secure the win.
The improvement on defense could be a taste of things to come, showing why Dickert was hired away from Wyoming at the end of the 2019 season.
10. Cal (1-4, 0-2) ▼1
Winless against FBS teams, California’s season has arguably reached a tipping point.
Justin Wilcox’s defense isn’t the same without Tim DeRuyter as its coordinator, and the Bear offense could only score once against lowly Washington State.
It only takes one week to turn things around, but starting the year 1-4 wasn’t what anyone was expecting.
And with Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Stanford, and UCLA left on the schedule, the only remaining winnable games appear to be Colorado and Arizona.
The poor start begs the question: Was Cal’s resurgence due to Wilcox or DeRuyter? There’s still half the season to change the answer, but the writing might be on the wall.
Rumors seem to fly around every offseason linking Wilcox to open jobs, and with Garbers in his senior season, this may be the beginning of the end for the Wilcox Era in Berkeley.
11. Colorado (1-4, 0-2) ◄►
The Buffs’ 14 points scored was its highest of the season against FBS programs, but the 37 points given up by its defense was the most it has allowed this year.
The offense showed sparks at times, with Brendon Lewis passing for a season-high 162 yards. Yet, CU was 1-for-10 on third down and put up just 242 total yards.
The result solidifies the 2021 season as building year, unless drastic changes are made during the bye week. It’s probably too late to implement a new offense scheme, making a change at quarterback the only realistic option.
Karl Dorrell must make that decision after weighing the balance of his options. At this point, a bowl game is an unlikely scenario. If Lewis is the quarterback of the future, Dorrell might not have a choice but to keep playing him.
12. Arizona (0-4, 0-1) ◄►
Jedd Fisch and the Wildcats had a bye week to focus on recruiting and preparing for UCLA.
The first-year coach visited quarterback commit Noah Fifita and tight end commit Keyan Burnett for their Servite High School game in Southern California.
But as preparations begin for the Bruins, Fisch must find a way to replicate the rushing success Arizona had in Eugene. Jordan McCloud’s mobility and willingness to run should help Fisch’s game plan, but the UCLA run defense is stout.
The 16-game losing streak remains the elephant in the room, but momentum was gained against Oregon, and it’s up to Fisch to continue the upswing on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
How our Senior Football Writers Voted
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