With seven ranked teams, the Pac-12 is loaded with choice matchups down the stretch
The final Pac-12 football season is halfway through and only getting started.
This weekend’s highly anticipated trip to Washington by Oregon kicks off an unprecedented barrage of conference matchups between ranked teams over the final seven Saturdays.
It’s not even the only game of its type this week.
After the No. 7 Huskies and No. 8 Ducks finish their 12:30 p.m. bloodbath, No. 18 UCLA and No. 15 Oregon State square off on FOX in a primetime showdown.
Pac-12 executives in charge of the schedule crafted a lineup that would offer one premier game each week for ESPN and Fox, anticipating a stellar season long before they knew it would be the last.
It turns out that there may be more than one.
The Pac-12 has 12 conference games scheduled between ranked teams over the next seven weeks, according to the current AP top-25 poll.
Oct. 14 No. 8 Oregon at No. 7 Washington No. 18 UCLA at No. 15 Oregon State (Also: No. 10 USC at No. 21 Notre Dame)f
Oct. 21 No. 19 Washington State at No. 8 Oregon No. 16 Utah at No. 10 USC
Oct. 28 No. 8 Oregon at No. 16 Utah
Nov. 4 No. 7 Washington at No. 10 USC
Nov. 11 No. 10 USC at No. 8 Oregon No. 16 Utah at No. 7 Washington
Nov. 18 No. 7 Washington at No. 15 Oregon State No. 18 UCLA at No. 10 USC
Nov. 24 and 25 No. 15 Oregon State at No. 8 Oregon No. 19 Washington State at No. 7 Washington
Of course, due to the eat-your-own nature of conference play, one or more of the seven ranked teams could fall out of the AP poll. As a result, a few of the above-mentioned matchups may lose significance by the time kickoff arrives.
The benefit of having so many top-25 teams — not just in the Pac-12, but in any Power Five conference — is that the floor is much higher.
AP voters typically do not punish ranked teams that lose to other ranked teams in the same way that they do unranked opponents.
As a result, the eat-your-own damage could be mitigated, preserving the stellar lineup of showdowns.
In terms of power ratings…
1. Oregon (5-0/2-0)
1 last week As a result, he did not play. Following that, at Washington (12:30 p.m. on ABC), Comment: We’ll have much more on the showdown later this week, but let’s start with the first of two key questions right now: How much pressure will the Ducks put on Michael Penix Jr. with only four or five rushers? Because if they need to send six to disrupt UW’s aerial game, Rome Odunze and company will have plenty of open space downfield.
2. Washington (5-0/2-0)
2 last week As a result, he did not play. Next up: a game against Oregon (12:30 p.m. on ABC). Comment: The second key question is how frequently UW’s defensive front will limit Oregon’s rushing attack to five yards or less on first down. Because if the Ducks consistently have second-and-short, Bo Nix and company will be difficult to contain.
3. Oregon State (5-1/2-1)
5 last week Cal was victorious 52-40. Next up: a game against UCLA (5 p.m. on FOX). Comment: The offense’s 52 points are slightly more impressive than the defense’s 40 points, which is troubling. However, that includes two conference road games (Berkeley and Pullman) and 78 points surrendered. OSU’s defense appears to dislike traveling.
4. USC (6-0/4-0)
4 last week Arizona was defeated 43-41 in overtime. Next up: a game against Notre Dame (4:30 p.m. on NBC). Comment: In the midst of the uproar over Alex Grinch’s defense’s yards and points allowed, let us not forget: Last season, USC had the best turnover margin in the country at +1.5 per game. It’s +0.67 per game this year. That difference is significant over the course of 12 games.
5. UCLA (4-1/1-1)
7 last week 25-17 victory over Washington State Next up: a game against Oregon State (5 p.m. on FOX). Comment: The Bruins appear to have undergone a complete personality shift since last season, with a first-rate defense — by far the best of the Chip Kelly era — and an erratic offense. We’re not sure the end result (a finish in the middle of the pack) will be any different.
6. Washington State (4-1/1-1)
3 last week UCLA was defeated 25-17. Next up: a game against Arizona (4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks). Comment: Now comes the interesting part: UCLA provided a blueprint for future WSU opponents to confuse quarterback Cam Ward and slow the Cougars. Will Ben Arbuckle, the team’s first-year offensive coordinator, find a solution this week? (He certainly didn’t provide an effective adjustment on Saturday.) Otherwise, the early success may fade quickly.
7. Utah (4-1/1-1)
6 last week As a result, he did not play. Next up: a game against Cal (12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks). Comment: Given the severity of Cam Rising’s knee injuries — basically, every ligament, tendon, fiber, and cell was shredded — we’re left wondering why the Utes didn’t lower expectations for his early-season return. How could he have been prepared for Florida? Keeping your opponents guessing has only so many advantages.
9 last week Loss at USC, 43-41 (3OT). Next up is a game against Washington State (4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks). Yes, the Wildcats were doomed by unnecessary penalties on Saturday night. However, we believe they were the result of the same intense emotional core that produced the effort that allowed Arizona to take USC to the wire. In other words, penalties and results were inextricably linked. Last month, we saw the same thing with Colorado State’s hot-headed approach in an overtime loss at Colorado.
9. Colorado (4-2/1-2)
8 last week The game was won by Arizona State, 27-24. Next up: a game against Stanford (Friday, 7 p.m. on ESPN). Comment: USC struggled against Arizona; TCU was soundly defeated at Iowa State; Colorado State was run off the field by Utah State; and Nebraska has one Power Five win. Other results paint the Buffaloes as much improved but still not very good. This in a sport where nuance is frowned upon.
10. Cal (3-3/1-2)
10 last week The final score was 52-40 in favor of Oregon State. Next up: a game against Utah (12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks). When you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have any quarterbacks. When a program has three quarterbacks, it is stuck in a multi-year muck with little chance of escape, no chance of a bowl bid, and a head coach under increasing pressure to figure it out.
11. Arizona State (1-5/0-3)
11 last week The final score was 27-24 in favor of Colorado. Next up: idling. Comment: After their bye week, the Sun Devils face Washington, Washington State, Utah, UCLA, Oregon, and Arizona in quick succession. To put it another way, 0-9 became a very real possibility on Saturday night.
12. Stanford (1-4/0-3)
12 last week As a result, he did not play. Next up: a trip to Colorado (ESPN, 7 p.m. Friday). Given the taxing game Colorado played Saturday in Tempe, the extra week is a huge advantage for the Cardinal. It could even help Stanford stay competitive for three quarters.