Wilner Hotline – Best of the West: Washington soars, BYU slides and the Pac-12 dominates the Mountain West

The steady, multi-year deterioration of Pac-12 football that began in the late 2010s was apparent in the outcomes of marquee regular-season and postseason duels against Power Five competition, albeit with a fairly small sample size. The 10 or 12 annual dates with Mountain West opponents provided a more accurate assessment of the state of affairs across the conference.

In the heady, mid-decade stretch filled with College Football Playoff bids and top-10 rankings, the Pac-12 handled its neighbor with the expected efficiency.

But as the product began its decline, the results against the Mountain West turned sour (bowl games included):

2016: 6-3
2017: 8-4
2018: 6-4
2019: 5-4
2020: N/A
2021: 5-6

Its list of conquests includes two wins over Fresno State and San Diego State, which are among the Mountain West’s top programs, plus a decisive victory over Boise State.

The only loss came when the Pac-12’s worst team, Colorado, faced one of the Mountain West’s best, Air Force.

It seems the only Power Five league in the western third of the country has regained control of its region.

(All times Pacific. Point spreads taken from vegasinsider.com)

1. USC (3-0/1-0 Pac-12)
Last week: 2
Result: beat Fresno State 45-17
Next up: at Oregon State (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Line: USC -6.5
Comment: Had FSU quarterback Jake Haener stayed healthy and played the full game, the Bulldogs surely would have added a few touchdowns to their total in the Coliseum. And the Trojans would have done exactly the same.

2. Washington State (3-0)
Last week: 4
Result: beat Colorado State 38-7
Next up: vs. Oregon (1 p.m. on FOX)
Line: WSU +6.5
Comment: The Cougars are in the top third nationally in every important defensive category: points-per-game allowed, yards-per-play allowed, third-down conversion percentage and Red Zone touchdown rate. Keep it up, and they just might contend for the Pac-12 crown.

3. Utah (2-1)
Last week: 3
Result: beat San Diego State 35-7
Next up: at Arizona State (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Line: Utah -14.5
Comment: Plenty of teams have made the playoff with a loss to a mediocre opponent. But the Week One result is only half the equation for the Utes — the easier half. They also have to win out.

4. Washington (3-0)
Last week: 8
Result: beat Michigan State 39-28
Next up: vs. Stanford (7:30 p.m. on FS1)
Line: Washington -14
Comment: The two most impressive aspects of UW’s performance against Michigan State (from a coaching standpoint) were the frequency with which receivers were wide open and the number of defensive players involved in every tackle. Montlake turned into Swarm City.

5. Oregon (2-1)
Last week: not ranked
Result: beat BYU 41-20
Next up: at Washington State (1 p.m. on FOX)
Line: Oregon -6.5
Comment: This feels like the week Ducks defensive end Brandon Dorlus makes his case as the most disruptive defensive lineman in the Pac-12.

6. Brigham Young (2-1)
Last week: 1
Result: lost at Oregon 41-20
Next up: vs. Wyoming (7:15 p.m. on ESPN2)
Line: BYU -22.5
Comment: It was apparent after watching a few series Saturday afternoon that the Cougars were still feeling the Baylor game. We’re not sure that playing a creampuff in Week Two would have changed the outcome in Eugene, but it would not have been a blowout.

7. Oregon State (3-0)
Last week: 5
Result: beat Montana State 68-28
Next up: vs USC (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Line: Oregon State +6.5
Comment: We’ll call it here: If OSU quarterback Chance Nolan commits more than one turnover, USC wins by double digits; if that number is one or zero, the game goes to the wire. Our guess: the former.

8. Fresno State (1-2)
Last week: 6
Result: lost at USC 45-17
Next up: idle
Line: no line
Comment: High ankle sprains typically take weeks to heal. Fortunately for Haener and the Bulldogs, they have a week off and then the equivalent of a scrimmage (at UConn). He needs to be ready for Boise State on Oct. 8.

9. UCLA (3-0)
Last week: 7
Result: beat South Alabama 32-31
Next up: at Colorado (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Line: UCLA -22.5
Comment: Only a major upset stands between the Bruins and their first 4-0 start since 2015.

10. Wyoming (3-1/1-0 MW)
Last week: not ranked
Result: beat Air Force 17-14
Next up: at BYU (7:15 p.m. on ESPN2)
Line: Wyoming +22.5
Comment: The Cowboys make their first appearance of the season in the Best of the West after a victory over Air Force. The level of competition rises significantly this week, however.

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