Posted on September 7, 2021
Apart from UCLA’s victory over LSU, the Conference’s image took hit after hit as its top teams struggled in games they were predicted to win handily.
Washington’s loss to Montana might be the worst defeat in the history of the Husky program, while Washington State’s stumble to lowly Utah State was disconcerting.
And earlier in the day, Oregon squeaked by Fresno State in Eugene after Stanford was shut down by Kansas State in Arlington, TX.
Without many positives to take away, each team must regroup and move forward as Week Two quickly approaches.
After the shocking losses, our Senior Writers got together and ranked the teams as they’re viewed after Saturday’s struggles. Once again, our opinions varied significantly, especially at the bottom, with three different teams voted last.
The individual rankings of our writers appear at the bottom, while the list below is a composite of their rankings.
1. UCLA (2-0, 0-0) ▲2
In what is probably the biggest win of the Chip Kelly Era, the Bruins took down LSU at the Rose Bowl.
The victory captured the attention of the nation, putting UCLA back in the national spotlight for the first time in half a decade or more.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson proved his doubters wrong in the 38-27 victory, throwing for three touchdowns including a 75-yard strike to Greg Dulcich in the second quarter.
The win sets the Bruins on a path to contend for the Pac-12 Championship in a South Division that set itself above the North for the first time since the Conference expanded in 2011.
Jerry Azzinaro’s defense continues to show its improvement, while Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet is a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year candidate.
The Bruins have a bye this week, but face another quality opponent on September 18th, in Fresno State, providing another opportunity to prove why they’re one of the top teams in the Conference of Champions.
2. USC (1-0, 0-0) ◄►
Graham Harrell’s offense struggled at times in USC’s 30-7 win over defending Mountain West Champion San Jose State. Kedon Slovis passed for just 256 yards and the Trojans were forced to settle for three field goals in the Red Zone.
But Texas transfer Keaontay Ingram averaged 5.7 yards per rush and the SC ground game put up 160 yards, its most since facing Arizona in Week Two of the 2020 season.
And in what could be an indication of things to come, Todd Orlando’s defense stole the spotlight. Greg Johnson had a Pick-Six in the fourth quarter and the Trojans held SJSU to 3-for-14 on third down.
It might not have been pretty, but the victory is in the books and preparations begin for Stanford.
3. Oregon (1-0, 0-0) ▼2
The Ducks went up early against Fresno State, but the Bulldogs scored 18 unanswered points to take a three point lead in the fourth quarter.
Camden Lewis knocked in the tying field goal midway through the fourth, and Anthony Brown punched in a 30-yard keeper on fourth down with just under four minutes to go.
A win is a win, but the close victory was not what many anticipated. Expected to stomp Fresno State, the struggles in the middle part of the game may have been rust, or it could be a worrying sign of UO’s flaws.
The rest of the Pac-12 didn’t fare much better, which can be viewed as a glass half-full or an ominous sign before the matchup with Ohio State.
4. ASU (1-0, 0-0) ▲2
There isn’t much to be gleaned from a blowout win against an FCS opponent, but Arizona State did what it needed to do in its 41-14 rout of Southern Utah.
The Sun Devils had too many penalties and lost two fumbles, yet the ASU rushing attack scored six touchdowns, even as Herm Edwards limited the touches of his starters.
And forcing four turnovers, the Arizona State defense showed why expectations are so high in Tempe. Linebacker Darien Butler snagged two interceptions and lineman DJ Davidson recovered a fumble.
But the cupcake matchups continue this week, as Arizona State faces UNLV in Tempe. Until the Sun Devils prove their worth against a quality opponent, the knee-jerk reactions to the lopsided victories will continue.
5. Utah (1-0, 0-0) ▼2
Charlie Brewer shined in his debut as a Ute, throwing two touchdowns and managing the offense like the seasoned vet he is.
The offensive questions coming into the matchup were somewhat answered, with Cincinnati transfer Tavion Thomas scoring two touchdowns and getting the bulk of the carries out of the backfield.
And in the most productive game of his career as a Ute, tight end Dalton Kincaid exploited the Weber State defense for 75 yards and two TDs on just four catches.
Still, the Utes were 2-for-8 on third down. The 40-17 victory was an acceptable Week One result, but arguably left something to be desired.
Facing rival BYU on Saturday, the quality of this year’s Utah squad should be revealed in the result against the Cougars.
6. Colorado (1-0, 0-0) ▲3
The Brendon Lewis Era got off to a bit of a rocky start in the first half against Northern Colorado. The Buffs entered the locker room at halftime up just 14-0, and Lewis finished the game with only 102 yards passing.
But after a scoreless first quarter, CU punched in 21 straight points and its defense held UNCO without a touchdown until late in the third quarter.
The 20 yards allowed on the ground and the 3-for-13 mark on third down bode well for Karl Dorrell’s defense, even considering the quality of the opponent.
Yet, facing Texas A&M this week, the pressure is on Lewis to operate with more efficiency. Dimitri Stanley had just a single catch and Dorrell likely ensures that doesn’t happen again against the Aggies on Saturday.
7. Oregon State (0-1, 0-0) ▲3
On the road against Purdue, the Beavers kept the game within reach. Jonathan Smith’s team was held to just 78 yards rushing, exemplifying the offensive concerns the program faces after the departure of Jermar Jefferson.
But Chance Nolan provided a spark in the second half and the Beavs cut the lead to two with just under four minutes to go in the fourth.
The grit displayed on a rainy day in Big Ten country could be a positive sign for the program’s ceiling. Increasing the efficiency on the ground will remain the primary hurdle, but Smith’s team proved it won’t go down without a fight.
Returning home to face Hawaii on Saturday, the OSU coaching staff faces a decision on its starting quarterback.
8. Stanford (0-1, 0-0) ▼1
Two quarterback systems rarely work, and the flaws in the gameplan reared their ugly heads against Kansas State. Despite Tanner McKee seeming to run the offense better, David Shaw continued to split his reps with Jack West.
But after West threw two interceptions and McKee went 15-for-18 with a touchdown, the quarterback competition should be over on the Farm.
Yet, the most concerning aspect of the Tree’s 24-7 defeat to KSU was the lack of production on the ground.
Austin Jones averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, as the Wildcat defense held the Cardinal to 39 yards rushing. For an offense designed to run the ball, that’s a chilling outcome that could derail the season if it’s not fixed.
9. Cal (0-1, 0-0) ▼1
Suffering a defeat in a game it should have won, the Bears must find a way to put the 22-17 loss to Nevada behind them.
The Wolfpack returned most of their starters on offense, but the 22-straight points given up in the second and third quarters was abnormal for a Justin Wilcox coached defense.
Perhaps more worryingly, Chase Garbers threw an interception and posted just 177 yards passing against a Nevada defense that is not highly regarded.
The defeat stoked the fires of the struggles Bill Musgrave’s offense had through five games, and the 22-straight points given up might indicate the effect of the loss of Tim DeRuyter to Oregon.
It doesn’t get any easier on Saturday, as Cal faces TCU in Fort Worth.
10. Washington (0-1, 0-0) ▼5
After what could very well be the worst loss in program history, the Dawgs are left to pick up the pieces.
Dylan Morris threw three interceptions in the 13-7 defeat to FCS opponent Montana, as UW was held to just 65 yards on the ground. Injuries on the offensive side of the ball might have played a role, but the defeat is inexcusable.
Washington must rebound quickly before its matchup in Ann Arbor against Michigan, or the sudden hot seat on Jimmy Lake could ratchet up significantly.
The writing was arguably on the wall after the slew of transfers and decommitments over the past nine months, but expectations were still high in Seattle prior to Saturday.
If Morris continues to struggle, putting trust in Sam Huard might be the only option for Lake to turn the season around.
11. Arizona (0-1,0-0) ▲1
Despite the 24-16 loss to BYU, optimism within the Arizona program is at its highest point in years.
Missed field goals, untimely sacks, and an interception doomed the Wildcats’ comeback attempt in Las Vegas. But Don Brown’s defense kept UA within striking distance.
Registering a safety, the unit held the Cougars to fewer first downs and total yards than the Cats. And on offense, Arizona connected on a two-point conversion while putting up 426 total yards.
Jedd Fisch has a three-headed monster in his wide receiver corps with Stanley Berryhill III, Tayvian Cunningham, and BJ Casteel combining for nearly half of UA’s offensive production at Allegiant Stadium.
Returning to Tucson to face San Diego State on Saturday, the stars might be aligned to end the Cats’ 13-game losing streak.
12. Washington State (0-1, 0-0) ▼1
There’s no excuse for Washington State’s loss to Utah State. The Mountain West program was 1-5 last year and the Cougs were favored by more than 17 points.
The go-ahead touchdown scored with 10 seconds remaining capped a game that saw Tennessee transfer Jarret Guarantano struggle, and Jayden de Laura enter too late.
Max Borghi only touched the ball 12 times, yet still put up more than 100 yards from scrimmage.
The shock defeat puts a greater emphasis on Nick Rolovich’s off-the-field issues, with the program appearing to be in a state of disarray.
But de Laura knows how to run the WSU offense and should be the starter moving forward. FCS opponent Portland State presents an opportunity to begin to right the ship on Saturday.
How our Senior Football Writers Voted
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