Quarterback play (for better or worse in the case of the USC Trojans) is the dominant narrative going into Week 3 games in the Pac-12. For the majority of the teams the output at this position has been much more productive than that of the remainder of their offense or on the other side of the ball.
We have also seen stand-out performances so far in non-conference games from players with schools we may not have predicted would be doing so. But that’s the beauty of September games in college football. The cream will surely rise to the top once the page turns to October on the conference calendar.
1. Oregon (2-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
The Ducks have slayed their first two inferior opponents to the tune a combined score of 125-13. Virginia was able to do some things consistently against the Oregon defense this past week, but it was short and meaningless in the end. The skill positions on offense have piled on the numbers, specifically the best quarterback/running back pair in the league. First year head coach Mark Helfrich has yet to be tested, and so far has shown he isn’t rocking the boat, sticking with the founding philosophies that got this team to the upper echelon of college football under his predecessor.
2. Stanford (1-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
It’s tempting to put Stanford at the top spot because the Cardinal front seven on the defensive side of the ball looked so good against a pretty decent quarterback in San Jose State’s David Fales. Linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy were just men among boys in this game, holding the Spartans offense to 3 of 12 on 3rd down.
Tyler Gaffney is the new starter replacing Stepfan Taylor, walking away from a minor league baseball career to run behind the best offensive line in the league. Looking on Saturday like he belonged, scoring two touchdowns and rushing for over 100 yards. Stanford has not lost a game since head coach Brian Shaw inserted quarterback Kevin Shaw into the starting lineup mid-way through last season.
3. Washington (1-0, Pac-12)
Washington demonstrated in the first week of play that if its defense comes to play it will be a formidable opponent in the Pac-12 North, as shown by its 38-6 win over a very solid Boise State offense in the newly remodeled Husky Stadium. Some might argue the Bruins’ spot here, but when comparing opening opponents, Washington gets the nod.
The Huskies have the unfortunate pleasure of being in the same division as two of the best teams in the country, although they have the talent to stick with them both, at least offensively. But you never know what you’re going to get as far as production and consistency with senior quarterback Keith Price. One thing is certain, however; this is his final year as a college quarterback, and Steve Sarkisian has surrounded him with plenty of talent that is getting exponentially better each game. The result was 324 passing yards and two touchdowns in the season opener.
4. UCLA (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12)
First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out the Bruins program, not to mention the family and friends of Nick Pasquale, who was tragically killed during the bye week. As a result, Bruins coach Jim Mora announced this week that the Bruins will dedicate the remainder of the season in his name.
On the field, UCLA has developed some new players on offense for Brett Hundley to go to on third down and on short yardage plays, as we witnessed the Bruins struggle in this area against Nevada in the first half of the opener. But if this evolution takes place sooner rather than later in Lincoln this weekend, the Bruins might be moving up on this list next week. Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone is licking his chops with an extra week of preparation against a Huskers defense that looked vulnerable against Wyoming.
5. Arizona State (1-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
The Sun Devils did exactly what was expected of them against an inferior Sacramento State team to the tune of 55-0 opener. ASU head coach Todd Graham has stated that if they are to reach their goals of winning a Rose Bowl, they will have to eliminate turnovers and penalties. Following that premise, they avoided turning the ball over the entire night and committed just one penalty. Not to mention the fact that QB Taylor Kelly looked much more comfortable delivering the ball to his receivers downfield. Some of that has to do with the talent he faced on defense, but most of it is a result of his improvements since the spring and the addition of wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
Personnel questions could be answered on the Sun Devil defense at both linebacker and in the secondary as soon as this week as Wisconsin comes to town. With a convincing win, the Devils could push all the way up to the third spot in the rankings next week. Conversely, if the team doesn’t show improvement defending the run it will preview tough times to come the following week against Stanford.
6. Arizona (2-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
Ka’Deem Carey’s suspension continued until the second quarter of Arizona’s game last week against UNLV. And when it concluded he took his first carry 58 yards into the end zone. Carey didn’t look rusty at all, accumulating 171 yards on the ground and averaging over ten yards a carry on the night. But as good as the Wildcats looked in the run game, they were equally as feeble throwing the ball downfield consistently. They haven’t found a replacement for Austin Hill, but will have one more warm-up game against UTSA before heading out to play Washington in Seattle the following week.
7. USC (1-1 Overall, 0-1 Pac-12)
Flash back to Iraq towards the end of Operation Desert Storm, with fires blazing in oil fields throughout the country. This is the present state of USC football with no rain on the horizon, little hope, and much despair. Lane Kiffin took his sweet time to pick a starting quarterback, longer than nearly any head coach running a team in a BCS conference. And we’re starting to see why as Cody Kessler and Max Wittek combined to average less than three yards an attempt in their 10-7 loss at the Coliseum to Washington State. This game followed up their disjointed performance against Norm Chow’s less-than-formidable Hawaii defense in the season opener.
The defense is there for the Trojans, as are the playmakers surrounding the quarterback position on offense. In fact, every team in this league would love to have players like Agholor, Grimble, Madden, Davis and Rogers, let alone the best wide receiver in the country on their roster. Yet, somehow, Kiffin can’t find results. We’ll see if things change this week against Boston College with Kessler finally being tabbed the starting quarterback on Monday.
8. Cal (0-1 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
Cal has proven through two games that while the talent might not be there top-to-bottom on the roster as the team develops under new heach coach Sonny Dykes’ first year, the firepower in the passing game might be enough to keep them in games and make things interesting. Wide receivers Bryce Treggs and Chris Harper should give mid-level Pac-12 opponents fits this season — catching ball after ball from true freshman quarterback Jared Goff. But the freshman was unlucky throwing two interceptions against a very good Northwestern team at home to open the season, costing the Golden Bears a program-building victory.
But Dykes showed that his Achilles heel at Louisiana Tech — his defense — has followed him to Berkeley, as the Bears have allowed over 1,000 yards of offense by teams on opposite ends of the spectrum in the quality department to start the season.
9. Oregon State (1-1 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
Mike Reilly, the second coming of Mr. October, needs to get things sorted out in his defensive secondary that lost one of the best defenders in the Pac-12 in 2012, and he needs to do it fast. Jordan Poyer was many things to the Beavers defense, and it has sorely lacked all of them through two games this season.
The loss to Eastern Washington was one of the worst in the history of the program, and the trouble against Hawaii were hardly a step in the right direction. The plan is simple: get organized on defense and emphasize running the football more. While it’s fun watching Sean Mannion throw all over the field to Brandin Cooks, it doesn’t always fit the feel of the game in terms of ball security. The offense needs to slow things down and keep the defense off the field until it can learn its way this season.
10. Washington State (1-1 Overall, 1-0 Pac-12)
Mike Leach is finally fulfilling the vision the Cougars AD had when they hired him back in 2010, as Washington State sits on top of the Pac-12 North. Not to mention their first win over the Trojans in more than a decade. Sadly, Wazzou’s stay in this position should be as long as an average drive on offense for the team.
The win on the road is a blip on the schedule if quarterback Connor Halliday doesn’t learn to take care of the football better as the season matures. That being said, the Cougar defense has a chance to steal another game or two this season if the offense gives them a rest every now and then.
11. Utah (2-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
Quarterback Travis Wilson has received a lot of positive press early on in the Utes’ 2013 campaign, and it’s tough to poke holes in any argument. He has played within the confines of the new-look offensive scheme, taking what the defense gives him — be it on screens, intermediate throws, and even tucking the ball and running. In fact, when you dig a little deeper into the numbers you’ll find that Wilson currently ranks just behind the likes of Mariota, Hundley and Kelly in many advanced metrics. But as we saw with Oregon State, all the quarterback play in the world can’t hide a defense that is still trying to find its identity after the loss of Lotulelei and Kruger to the NFL.
12. Colorado (2-0 Overall, 0-0 Pac-12)
Junior WR Paul Richardson is trying his hardest to change the perception of the Colorado football program. His 400 yards receiving in two games shows he is a legit performer outside for the Buffs. But we knew that coming into the season. What happens this week, however, is still to be decided as undefeated teams collide at Folsom Field before the Buffs begin what should still be a grueling trip through Pac-12 play the remainder of the year.