Pac-12 football, you never fail to produce surprises! The fact that almost nothing is going as expected makes things all the more interesting while making most college football analysts look foolish at the same time. Colorado breaking the top 25? Totally. Oregon losing at home by 49 points? Sure. Stanford losing by a combined 64 points in back-to-back weeks? You bet.
Anybody who says they saw this coming either traveled back in time or is lying, because no one predicted the Pac-12 conference to be this inconsistent. To the players, this is likely frustrating and not a good sign for the reputation of the conference. To the fans, this is a sign that we are in for one hell of a second half. While the inconsistency is likely not going to slow down anytime soon, here is my best stab at where I believe these 11 mediocre (and one dominant) teams stack up halfway through the season.
12) Oregon Ducks (2-4, 0-3) (Trending: Down)
The Mighty Ducks coming in at No. 12? Absolutely. After beginning the season with two straight wins, albeit against UC Davis and Virginia, the Ducks settled in with a No. 22 ranking in the nation heading into a week three matchup with Nebraska. Since then, the Ducks have lost four straight games, don’t have a solid foundation at the quarterback position and have allowed opponents to score 35, 41, 51 and an astounding 70 points in those four consecutive losses. Outside of tailback Royce Freeman, there isn’t a lot going for the Ducks, who have arguably played even worse run defense than the Bears, if that’s even possible. Although Oregon has been struggling, it’s hard to imagine that this team won’t come off its bye week swinging for the fences and looking to turn its season around in big way when it visits Berkeley on Oct. 21. While the Ducks won’t accomplish many of the goals they hoped for this season, don’t count them out just yet.
11) Oregon State Beavers (2-3, 1-1) (Trending: Up? Sort of …)
Remember the name: Ryan Nall. The sophomore’s 221-yard performance capped off a shocker in Corvallis last weekend when the Beavers upset the Bears and captured coach Gary Andersen’s first ever Pac-12 victory. Nall and senior Victor Bolden Jr. have provided the offensive fire-power to make up for quarterback Darell Garretson’s inconsistency in recent weeks. That being said, don’t expect the Beavers to overcome the offensive attacks of No. 21 Utah and No. 5 Washington over the next two weeks and score another upset. The Beavers likely won’t be competing for a bowl game this year, but the program will undoubtedly view last week’s 47-44 win in overtime as a huge confidence booster.
10) Arizona Wildcats (2-4, 0-3) (Trending: Down)
Outside of a 45-24 loss at UCLA, the Wildcats have played competitive games all year long, even against the Utes and Huskies. Injuries have played a big part of those three Pac-12 losses, as both junior Anu Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins have been limited due to a knee injury and concussion, respectively. With a rejuvenated USC team coming into Tucson next week, it would be hard to see the Wildcats potentially upsetting the Trojans with their third-string quarterback. Then again, this is the Pac-12 conference in 2016.
9) California Bears (3-3, 1-2) (Trending: Down)
The road woes continue for Sonny Dykes and the Bears. It’s hard to not blame the defense for giving up 45 points to San Diego State, 51 to Arizona State and 47 to lowly Oregon State. Yet during all three losses, one could argue that the offense took a big step back from its impressive and efficient performances at home against Texas and Utah. The defense has not been Cal’s strength, but when a team that has just upset the Utes loses to the Beavers the following week, people must question the team’s execution on both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Davis Webb threw for a season-low 113 yards and no touchdowns (while also dealing with a hand injury), having to deal with the absence of injured leading receiver Chad Hansen late in the game. As bad as the defense was early in the game, it gave the offense — which has delivered time and time again this year — a legitimate chance to win. It just didn’t work out, as Cal dropped all the way down to No. 9 in the conference. It’ll get a shot to redeem itself, thankfully at home, when the anxious Ducks come to town in two weekends.
8) UCLA Bruins (3-3, 1-2) (Trending: Down)
After being just seconds away from scoring a huge upset over the Cardinal a few weeks ago, the Josh Rosen-led Bruins have been a major disappointment halfway through the season. UCLA began the year with Pac-12 South title hopes, only to have those dashed quickly with two close conference losses to the Cardinal and Arizona State. The Bruins’ run game has been held in check for six straight games, as top running backs Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks have both averaged under four yards per rush. While the Bruins aren’t totally out of it yet, things won’t get any easier when they travel to Pullman this weekend to take on a rising Washington State team that defeated Oregon and Stanford (the latter on the road) in its last two matchups.
7) USC Trojans (3-3, 2-2) (Trending: Up)
While the Trojans were leaking oil early and often, they appear to have gotten into a nice rhythm over the past couple of weeks. The bad news is the team still has two conference losses and still has to face Washington on the road. The good news is the team’s only losses on the year are to No. 1 Alabama, a Stanford team that had its shit together early on, and a last minute slip-up to Utah. Meanwhile, the Trojans defeated fellow Pac-12 South competitors in Arizona State and Colorado in back-to-back weeks, finally deciding to put faith in redshirt freshman Sam Darnold rather than put up with redshirt junior Max Browne’s struggles. With Arizona, Cal and Oregon coming up, the much-improved Trojans are in prime position to move up the rankings and make up for early ground lost.
6) Stanford Cardinal (3-2, 2-2) (Trending: Down. Shockingly.)
As disappointing as Oregon’s season has been, one could argue that in just two games, the Cardinal have fallen below any threshold that their fans set before the season. Phenom tailback Christian McCaffrey has been held to just four touchdowns on the year, not to mention that the entire Cardinal offense has found the endzone just nine times teams all year. Senior quarterback Ryan Burns has struggled mightily in recent weeks, resulting in opposing defenses stacking the box and focusing solely on stopping McCaffrey. It’s unlikely that the Cardinal will continue to play as poorly as they have while being swept by the Washington schools, but if they can’t get it done next week against Notre Dame, prepare for major changes on both sides of the ball.
5) Colorado Buffaloes (4-2, 2-1) (Trending: Up and Down)
If I were told that the Buffaloes would lose their starting quarterback, senior Sefo Liufau, to injury for at least a couple games and still be tied for first in the Pac-12 South halfway into the season, I would have said “that’s impossible.” Redshirt freshman Steven Montez has been impressive in limited duty, and even though Liufau will likely reclaim his rightful starting role this upcoming week, head coach Mike MacIntyre has to be excited for a future with Montez at the helm. Colorado fell short against USC last week 21-17, but being tied for first has to feel great for a team that many predicted to finish last in the division. It cracked the top 25 after throttling Oregon State 47-6 and is just two wins away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2007.
4) Washington State Cougars (3-2, 2-0) (Trending: Up)
The Cougars have been arguably the most interesting team in the Pac-12 this season, even after starting the season 0-2 with a meltdown against Eastern Washington and a tough loss at Boise State. Redshirt junior Luke Falk has completed passes at a solid 74.1 percent rate on his way to a 16-to-:4 touchdown-interception ratio. Even with Stanford’s recent let-downs, winning by 26 points on the road against the Cardinal is a very impressive feat. Seven Cougars have caught touchdown passes from Falk on the year, including the always tough-to-cover Gabe Marks. If not for the early struggles, Washington State may be No. 2 on this list, but with a win against UCLA this week, it may rise even more than it already has.
3) Arizona State Sun Devils (5-1, 2-1) (Trending: Up)
As impressive as their record is, the Sun Devils could easily be in the 6-8 range on this list of rankings. They’ve squeaked by Cal and UCLA and even UTSA gave them a run for their money. Nonetheless, wins are wins, and the Sun Devils will take a 5-1 record at the halfway point. Senior kicker Zane Gonzalez became the NCAA’s all-time leader in made field goals earlier this year, which is a big reason why the Sun Devils have been able to come up big late in games to seal wins. Juniors Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard have led a well-rounded running game to back the improving play of sophomore quarterback Manny Wilkins. As long as the team continues to put up wins, it could very well be the team facing Washington in the Pac-12 Championship game come December.
2) Utah Utes (5-1, 2-1) (Trending: Up)
Much like the Sun Devils, the Utes aren’t exactly a solidified No. 2 or 3 team in the conference. They struggled against BYU, lost in heart-breaking fashion to Cal, and continued to sputter on offense in the first half last week against Arizona. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball and at running back will likely catch up to the Utes soon, as the team has lost not one, not two, but five running backs to injury, the latest being recently promoted starter Armand Shyne. It’ll be a tough road for the Utes to make it to the championship with so many injuries and inconsistent play offensively, but the defense remains one of the best in the conference led by senior defensive end Hunter Dimick and junior defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei.
1) Washington Huskies (6-0, 3-0) (Trending: Dominating)
Junior Budda Baker and the defense have been dominant. Jake Browning, Myles Gaskin and the offense have been even better. Add all of that up and you get the No. 5 team in the nation, the clear front-runner in the Pac-12 conference and a squad that is full of potential at nearly every position. It may take an undefeated season for the Huskies to convince analysts that they are worthy of making this year’s college football playoff, but I would not underestimate them at this rate. Browning has improved all facets of his game to the point where he’s a worthy Heisman trophy candidate through six games. The sophomore leads all of college football in passer rating and his 23-to-:2 touchdown-interception rate is also one of the best in the country. If there’s an area where Washington could improve, it’s with senior kicker Cameron van Winkle, who holds is just four of seven on- field goal attempts this year. That being said, the offense hasn’t needed field goals to put up points, with an astonishing 38 touchdowns on the year. Sorry Oregon, sorry Stanford and sorry everyone else. The Huskies are the undisputed kings of the Pac-12.
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