Going into Week 13 play, eight of the twelve conference members are eligible for bowl games with Washington State waiting in the back of the line to join the rest of the crew, sitting at the five win plateau. This record ties the Pac-12 with the Big 10 Conference, second only to the big bad SEC.
While the Pac-12 likely will miss out on participating in the BCS Championship Game once again, it showed its strength out of conference over the course of the early season, fighting for national respect and recognition.
These last two weeks will finally show us what we’ve been waiting to see since late August: how the Pac-12 teams truly rank against one another.
1. #5 Oregon (9-1 Overall, 6-1 Pac-12)
The Ducks had to knock off the cobwebs against Utah in the third quarter last week, before pulling away like they seemingly always do in the second half of games in 2013 — just because they are faster, deeper, and more skilled than any of the other 11 teams in this conference.
2. #9 Stanford (8-2 Overall, 6-2 Pac-12)
I don’t blame Stanford for the way they played against USC. Take away either of Kevin Hogan’s ill-advised interceptions and this team probably pulls it out against a tough Trojan squad on the road. Stanford doesn’t necessarily blow out opponents, but it usually handles its own business and wears you down over the course of the game. And to see the USC defense pull it off against the Cardinal using just two subs on defense really made the game one of the most memorable of this college football season.
3. #17 Arizona State (8-2 Overall, 6-1 Pac-12)
For the second straight week, ASU turned in an incomplete game — this time at home. It played in top gear against Utah down the stretch two weeks ago on its way to a 20-19 victory on Rice-Eccles Field — a tough place to play. But the players really seemed to be coasting at times in the second half last against Oregon State and it nearly came back to bite them (had Robert Nelson not put in the performance of his Sun Devil career).
What’s disappointing is the fact that the Sun Devils had a chance to leapfrog a few of the pretenders in the BCS had they played a fully dominant four quarters, and their place in the national standings could have been closer to UCLA heading into this weekend’s big showdown. But much of that can still be sorted out with a convincing win at the Rose Bowl.
4. #23 USC (8-3 Overall, 5-2 Pac-12)
USC has been steadily climbing up the rankings since the school ripped the black heart of Lane Kiffin out of his chest and handed over the sword of the Trojan over to intern coach Ed Orgeron. As it turns out, Orgeron is a pretty darn good as a replacement head coach when handed a team with loads of talent, but very little confidence in itself. But just don’t ask him head the rebuilding process of an SEC team.
The Trojans have finally found an identity, built a solid game plan and stuck with it through the six games Ed O. has been in charge. Their formula: let a defense stacked with talent lead the team, don’t let a young quarterback try to do too much and get the ball to a stable of playmakers. This approach has led to USC going on a 5-1 run since Kiffin was asked to turn in his whistle on one ominous night in late September at LAX.
Make it six of seven for the Trojans, who play Colorado this week before finishing up at the home against UCLA.
5. #14 UCLA (8-2 Overall, 5-2 Pac-12)
With a backfield decimated by injuries and inconsistent play, the reigns of the run game — and possibly the fate of the team — have been handed in part to freshman linebacker/part-time running back Myles Jack. The sensation who is taking over highlight shows covering the Pac-12 has now totaled 179 yards rushing and six touchdowns over the last two games while averaging a robust 9.4 yards/carry. All while pitching in 13 tackles at outside linebacker, his full-time job.
6. Washington (6-4 Overall, 3-4 Pac-12)
Washington made a game of it for as long as it could against UCLA with young backup quarterback Cyler Miles. But the Huskies had a few things going against them besides the injury to their starting QB: the Bruins are dominant at home, horrible officiating, and Myles Jack.
7. Oregon State (6-4 Overall, 4-3 Pac-12)
Oregon State demonstrated once again that it can be considered a good team when all systems are go on offense. But when you pressure quarterback Sean Mannion and take away the threat of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, the Beavers’ weaknesses are exposed and they becomes very average.
While Mike Riley made some changes in the second half of the game against ASU, it still shows that in order to compete in this conference you have to establish some sort of a threatening run game on offense.
8. Washington State (5-5 Overall, 3-4 Pac-12)
The Cougars have a shot at a bowl game for the first time in a long time, and it could be thanks, in part, to the final drive QB Connor Halliday orchestrated, going 6-for-6 and producing the go-ahead touchdown at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. Halliday’s seventh 300-yard passing game of the season might have been the biggest of his career.
Only a game at home this week against Utah and the Apple Cup stand in the way of Mike Leach’s team building its way back up to respectability in the Pac-12 North.
9. Arizona (6-4 Overall, 3-4 Pac-12)
While Arizona has three conference wins — two of the three on the road — they have come against Colorado, Cal and Utah. No one can speak ill of the UA running game led by Ka’Deem Carey, who has now rushed for 100+ yards in 13 straight games. But allowing Washington State to rush for over 100 yards speaks volumes about a Wildcat defense that is still rebuilding and re-shaping under defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
10. Utah (4-6 Overall, 1-6 Pac-12)
Unless you are Stanford fan, you have to feel a bit for Utah. The Utes have beaten a top 10 team, played two top 25 teams to the final whistle, were down only three points to Oregon last week in the third quarter, and beat their in-state rival, albeit out of conference. And all they have to show for it is four total wins and just one in their league.
The news got even worse earlier this week as Utah learned it would be without sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson for the remainder of the season due to a head injury, possibly preventing him from ever returning to the team.
11. Colorado (4-6 Overall, 1-6 Pac-12)
Not many outside of the Colorado/Northern California areas were watching the Buffaloes/Golden Bears game last week. And if you were at Sun Devil Stadium watching ASU beat Oregon State you missed a snails race to determine the worst team in the league. You also didn’t see wide receiver Paul Richardson etch his name into the mantle as one of the best at his position in the long, rich history of the Colorado Buffaloes as he broke the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,201 to go with his 71 receptions and nine touchdowns. The Buffs also snapped their 14-game conference losing streak.
12. California (1-10 Overall, 0-8 Pac-12)
While Cal may not have lost as many games in a row as the Buffs going into last week, there’s not much to brag about in Berkley. The Golden Bear defense has been atrocious, and the offense just doesn’t have the depth or overall skill to be at a level of even Washington State.
Bay Area fans shouldn’t look for any improvement this week, as Cal will inevitably get beaten down to a nub against Stanford.
Topics: Arizona State Sun Devils, Brandin Cooks, Connor Halliday, Cyler Miles, Ed Orgeron, Football, Ka'Deem Carey, Kevin Hogan, Mike Leach, Myles Jack, Pac-12 Conference, Paul Richardson, Sean Mannion, Travis Wilson