Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

Kevin Foote/Senior Staff

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1. Oregon (5-0, 2-0)

There is no stopping the Ducks; they just keep rolling. Sixth in rushing yards per game (303), fourth in points per game (52.4), Oregon’s offense this year is perhaps more explosive than previous years. The squad poured 51 points on Washington State last week despite a mortal performance from De’Anthony Thomas (just 126 all-purpose yards). A Saturday visit from No. 23 Washington is the Ducks’ biggest test thus far, but the Huskies’ upset over Stanford last week was arguably more a result od Stanford’s offensive woes than Washington’s defense. With Keith Price leading the way, the Huskies have a dynamic offense, but no team will beat Oregon in a shootout.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

2. Oregon State (3-0, 2-0)

The combo of quarterback Sean Mannion and wide receiver Markus Wheaton might be the deadliest in the Pac-12. In a 38-35 win over Arizona on Saturday, the duo was near unstoppable, connecting 10 times for 166 yards and two scores. While the defense looked far more porous than it had in its previous two games — giving up nearly 600 yards of offense to the Wildcats — the Beavers proved they can win high scoring games, too. A visit from Washington State should have Oregon State poised for a 4-0 start, and Mike Riley looks poised for a contract extension.

—Connor Byrne

3. USC (3-1, 1-1)

The Trojans gained ground in the conference rankings this week by virtue of having a bye. USC fans will look for an encouraging performance from quarterback Matt Barkley against Utah on Saturday to get their hopes up after a couple of discouraging performances against Stanford and Cal, in which Barkley looked nothing like his Heisman frontrunner self. A healthy Robert Woods at wide receiver would certainly not hurt his cause. The defense was looking a little banged up, but an abysmal Utes offense should fill the unit with confidence as they head into a road matchup with Washington in two weeks.

— Michael Rosen

4. Washington (3-1, 1-0)

Yes, Stanford was overrated at No. 8 in the country, but that shouldn’t make Washington’s upset last Thursday any less impressive. The Huskies ran all over the Cardinal’s usually stout defense with Bishop Sankey rushing for 144 yards. Quarterback Keith Price threw for only 177 yards, but 129 of them — as well as 10 of his 19 completion — went to sophomore Kasen Williams. On the other side of the ball, Washington contained Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, as the hero of the USC win averaged just 3.6 yards a carry. That put pressure on quarterback Josh Nunes, who had more incompletions than completions. This formula won’t work against Oregon’s spread offense, but if Steve Sarkisian and company were able to gameplan for Stanford successfully, they may have a few tricks up their sleeve for the undefeated Ducks.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

5. Stanford (3-1, 1-1)

There’s the Josh Nunes we expected to see. Andrew Luck’s heir to the throne was awful on Thursday against Washington in a 17-13 loss, connecting on just 18 of his 37 passes for 170 yards a game ending pick. The Huskies essentially laid out the formula for beating the Cardinal: pack the box and make Nunes try to beat you — an ability he has yet to show. Stepfan Taylor is still arguably the best running back in the conference, and the defensive front seven absolutely abused Washington’s offensive line — but none of that is going to matter unless Nunes can start sustaining drives and winning games with his arm.

—Connor Byrne

6. UCLA (4-1, 1-1)

What’s the best medicine for getting your offensive groove back after it gets knocked out of sync by a stifling Oregon State defense? Heading out to Boulder to take on Colorado. Against the hapless Buffaloes, the Bruins racked up almost 500 yards of offense in their 42-14 win, as quarterback Brett Hundley found his touch again for 281 passing yards a pair of scores. Running back Johnathan Franklin hurting his hand was reason for a slight scare, but head coach Jim Mora Jr. claims that he’s fine and shouldn’t miss anytime. On Saturday, UCLA will try to add to its best start since 2007 when it faces a reeling Cal team.

—Connor Byrne

7. Arizona (3-2, 0-2) 

The Wildcats’ season has been quite the roller coaster. After winning their first three games and entering the national polls with their powerful offensive showings, Arizona has dropped two consecutive games to both Oregon teams to drop to the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. The offense failed to show up against the Ducks and couldn’t finish a close contest with Oregon State. Quarterback Matt Scott threw for 403 in the three-point loss. He’ll need to do it again if the Wildcats want to have a shot against the Cardinal, whose front seven have wreaked havoc on every opponent they’ve faced.

Michael Rosen

8. Arizona State (4-1, 2-0)

No matter what you think of the current iteration of the Bears, a road win against Cal added legitimacy to the Sun Devils’ resume. Quarterback Taylor Kelly was efficient and managed the game well, and the Arizona State defensive line tore the Bears apart. A win versus Colorado next week will make the Sun Devils 5-1 heading into a big game against Oregon. Coach Todd Graham has done a great job in the desert thus far, obtaining maximum contributions from each member of his team and executing a quality game plan.

Michael Rosen

9. Cal (1-4, 0-2)

Where oh where has Brendan Bigelow gone? The sophomore tailback did not touch the ball once in Saturday’s loss to Arizona State. On kickoffs, the Sun Devils specifically targeted Mike Manuel so as to keep the ball out of Bigelow’s hands. But on offense, Bigelow did not receive any handoffs (he did line up at receiver, but no passes went his way). Granted, starters Isi Sofele and C.J. Anderson gained an impressive 183 yards on 23 collective carries. The team keeps losing, however, so maybe the coaches will switch things up.

If so, giving a few more handoffs to a running back averaging 20.6 yards a carry might seem like a good idea. Head coach Jeff Tedford usually defers to running backs coach Ron Gould when it comes to number of carries. Tedford said that different defenses and offensive formations and tactics dictate different running backs. And sometimes when Bigelow is in the backfield, the quarterback’s read on the play is to throw or keep the ball. Nonetheless, Bigelow’s play thus far — minimal as it is — speaks for itself.
Jonathan Kuperberg

10. Utah (2-2, 0-1)

The Utes have won every other game this season, a streak that is likely to end this Thursday against USC, the first of three straight games against top-25 teams. Utah beat then-No. 25 BYU on Sept. 15, but the squad seemed to regress in its 37-7 loss to Arizona State the following week. Jon Hays completed 10-of-15 passes versus ASU, but he threw for just 117 yards. A bye week surely helps leading up to the contest with the Trojans. Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei does not have the stats per se to back up his billing as the top defensive lineman prospect in the country. However, the double teams he commands allows more opportunities for the rest of his defensive line, the key to slowing down Matt Barkley and the USC offense. Still, Utah will have to put points on the board to beat the Trojans, and the Utes’ offense does not seem to have the explosiveness to pull off the upset.

— Jonathan Kuperberg

11. Washington State (2-3, 0-2)

At least the Cougars kept it close for awhile against Oregon. Quarterback Connor Halliday’s lone TD of the night pulled his squad within 4 points of the Ducks with six minutes left in the second quarter, setting up a 23-19 halftime score. Then the Ducks remembered who they were playing and scored the next 28 points. If nothing else, Mike Leach’s offense appears to finally be clicking for the Cougars, who managed more than 400 yards of offense against a normally stingy Oregon defense. However, a repeat performance on Saturday in Corvallis against Oregon State might be a bit much to ask.

—Connor Byrne

12. Colorado (1-4, 1-1)

Now that’s more like it. The Buffs went back to their horrible ways against UCLA this past Saturday, suffering through what should be the first of many conference blowouts. There’s really not much to say about Colorado week-to-week except that they are probably the worst team in college football, so instead I’ll give a one sentence critique of tonight’s presidential debate, which was held in Colorado (therefore relevant). Barack Obama is tired and clearly doesn’t have the time to prepare for these debates, and Mitt Romney is a slimy hypocrite. The Buffaloes take on Arizona State next week. It probably won’t be pretty.

Michael Rosen