Posted on November 24, 2020
Yet another week opens with cancellations, as the Conference announced first that Washington State would be unable to play Washington due to COVID-19 protocols, and then—a couple of days later—that the Arizona State at Utah game had been canceled for the same reason.
Rankings can and will change rapidly in this shortened season, so if you don’t like where your team stands, a win this week could dramatically change things.
1. Oregon (3-0)
The Ducks squeaked by UCLA 38-35 on the back of a final minute defensive stop. The game was much closer than expected, despite the Bruins not having star quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. The Oregon victory was due in large part to the four forced turnovers, including a game-changing pick-six on the last play of the first half.
Throughout the game, the UO rushing attack was virtually nonexistent. The Duck offense put up just 88 yards on 34 attempts, forcing Tyler Shough to carry the team with his arm. The redshirt sophomore delivered the goods, throwing for over 300 yards with three touchdowns and zero turnovers.
Still, the underwhelming performance probably wasn’t what the Playoff Committee was looking for, and it’s an open question whether the result would have been different had DTR been available.
2. USC (3-0)
Clay Helton and the Trojans put together their best performance of the season with a 33-17 road win over Utah. Facing a Ute squad playing in their first game, Todd Orlando’s defense forced five turnovers and held the Utah offense scoreless in the second half.
However, Kedon Slovis had his lowest output of the season and was sacked three times. But Tyler Vaughns and Vavae Malepeai chipped in enough production in the first half to seal the win. And kicker Parker Lewis tagged on four field goals to extend the advantage.
On paper, it wasn’t pretty, but in reality the 16-point victory over Utah was exactly what the program needed.
The road win should boost the team’s confidence heading into this weekend’s pivotal matchup with Colorado, a game that could decide the South Division race.
3. Washington (2-0)
Jimmy Lake’s defense dismantled Arizona’s offense and Dylan Morris and Company scored at will on the Wildcat defense. On the first drive, Lake called a fake punt that was converted and a few plays later Morris hit Puka Nacua for a 65-yard strike. Things just kept on rolling from there, and the Dawg defense limited the Wildcats to just 45 yards at halftime.
By the start of the fourth quarter, it was 37-0 and backup Jacob Simon was inserted into the game. In the final fifteen minutes, the third and fourth-string defenders surrendered 27 points to the Wildcats, but by then the statement had been made.
After the opener against the Beavers, it wasn’t clear just how good this Washington team could be. But after this performance, the rest of the conference has been put on notice: UW is for real.
4. Arizona State (0-1)
Sidelined from the Coronavirus for the second week in a row, the Sun Devils’ opening game against the Trojans feels like ages ago. This weekend’s matchup with Utah has been canceled as well.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to rate Arizona State based on their inactivity, due to no fault of their own, but for this week, the land here.
5. Colorado (2-0)
The Pac-12 changed its scheduling rules mid-week to allow for its members to schedule non-conference opponents in the event their game were to be cancelled. One would think the Conference would have already initiated that rule at the beginning of the season, and the latent decision didn’t afford CU enough time to find an opponent.
But such subpar management has become par for the course in the Conference of Champions, though the effect was that it allowed the Buffs a bye week to prepare for USC. The winner of this weekend’s matchup will likely find itself in the driver’s seat in the South, and the showdown with the Trojans is arguably CU’s biggest game since the 2016 Pac-12 Championship.
6. UCLA (1-2)
Without Dorian Thompson-Robinson, nobody was giving the Bruins a chance against Oregon. Redshirt freshman Chase Griffin performed better than anyone could have expected, running Chip Kelley’s offense effectively. Had it not been for the four egregious turnovers, including one due to a questionable coaching decision to throw a Hail Mary at the end of the first half, UCLA could have pulled off the upset.
Demetric Felton went off for 167 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 34 carries, while Kyle Phillips snagged eight balls for 91 yards. Tight end Greg Dulcich continued his fantastic season with four receptions, 55 yards, and a touchdown.
And most surprisingly, the UCLA defense held Oregon in check, especially on the ground. In the end, the Bruins were one first down away from field goal range and a chance to force overtime. The fan base can only wonder what could’ve been had DTR been available.
7. Washington State (1-1)
After reports that Jayden de Laura contracted the virus, it still appeared that the WSU-Stanford matchup would take place. But because of a combination of contact tracing and injuries, the Cougars didn’t have enough scholarship players to make the trip.
The COVID-19 precautions have already cancelled this weekend’s Apple Cup, preventing Nick Rolovich’s team from playing yet again. Nobody was expecting this season to be normal, but it doesn’t soften the emotional letdown the cancellations bring.
8. Utah (0-1)
The Utes looked exactly like a team playing in their first game in almost a year. The uncharacteristic five turnovers prevented Utah from doing what it wanted to do, effectively sealing the defeat in the opener. Starting quarterback Cameron Rising appeared to suffer an injury after throwing just six passes, forcing Jake Bentley to play most of the game.
The graduate transfer was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, but those decisions arguably were a byproduct of playing from behind. Still, getting shut out in the second half after scoring 17 in the first is not an ideal start to the season.
On the bright side, the defense played better than some predicted, considering the talent lost to the NFL. The unit held USC to their lowest yardage total of the season, despite the Trojans’ five extra possessions.
With a game in the books, things should only get better from here.
9. Oregon State (1-2)
On a cold day in Corvallis, the Beavs found a way to win. With the opening play from scrimmage, Jermar Jefferson busted a 75-yard touchdown run and sent a resounding message to the Cal defense. Oregon State finished the game with 205 yards rushing, and Jefferson was responsible for 196 of them on just 18 carries.
And even though Gebbia continued to struggle through the air, throwing two interceptions while passing for just 147 yards, the OSU special teams took up the slack. The unit blocked its second punt of the season with just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, leading to the game-winning touchdown run from Gebbia.
Though the gunslinger still hasn’t found his rhythm passing the ball, he managed the rare trifecta: a touchdown by pass, catch, and run, respectively.
It wasn’t pretty, but Jonathan Smith got it done.
10. California (0-2)
Once projected to contend for the North title, the Bears are still dealing with roster availability issues due to COVID-19. Yet, at a certain point, the responsibility for the team’s performance can’t be blamed on outside forces.
Chase Garbers threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns, but without Christopher Brown Jr. to anchor the rushing attack, the Bears were unable to find the end zone on the ground. Kekoa Crawford snagged 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Makai Polk caught four for 81 yards and a score.
But it just wasn’t enough in the end.
All California needed was to cleanly execute a punt late in the game and it’s defense likely would have come up with the game-winning stop. Still, Garbers had a chance to win the game on the final drive, but his pass on first-and-goal was tipped and intercepted with just over a minute remaining.
11. Arizona (0-2)
On a record-setting nine-game losing streak, the Cats are searching for answers. The strength of Arizona is supposed to be its offense, but the Husky defense stonewalled the Wildcats through three quarters.
Grant Gunnell was flustered by the UW defensive line, and the run game never got going. It wasn’t until the Dawgs put in their third and fourth-string players that UA was able to move the ball. Freshman Ma’Jon Wright scored the first touchdown of his career, and Jalen John got his first carries of the season.
But moral victories and individual accomplishments are meaningless in the midst of an historic losing streak. And with poor recruiting classes over the last five years, and walk-ons starting on defense, it’s fair to wonder when things will begin to turn around in Tucson.
12. Stanford (0-2)
Due to the Coronavirus issues at Washington State, the Cardinal had their first game of the year cancelled. Without enough time to find a replacement, the Tree were forced to treat the weekend as a bye week.
That’s probably not the worst thing in the world, as it likely allowed Davis Mills to catch up on the practice reps he missed due to his false-positive test result earlier this season. But the Cardinal’s rushing attack and defensive problems remain, and it’s unclear if they will be adequately addressed in time for this weekend’s Big Game.
How Our Senior Football Writers Voted
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