Discussions and debates are appearing across the Pac-12 footprint.
Washington is ranked and Washington State is not. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
USC and UCLA are undefeated. Which is the best team in Los Angeles?
Should Utah be favored to win the conference title. Or is USC the team to beat?
This is how a typical Pac-12 football season is supposed to unfold, with a group of ranked teams sparking arguments in sports bars and on social media and attracting coveted broadcast windows on the major networks.
But because of the downturn in the late 2010s, then the COVID disruption and the meltdown last fall, it has been years since the conference produced so much quality at the top.
At this point last season, three teams were 4-1.
Now, two are 5-0 and four are 4-1.
Now, five are in the Associated Press poll: No. 6 USC, No. 11 Utah, No. 12 Oregon, No. 18 UCLA and No. 21 Washington.
Only the SEC has more ranked teams. The Big Ten has three.
The meat of the Pac-12 conference season should be loaded with important games — for instance, No. 11 Utah at No. 18 UCLA on Saturday (FOX) — for the first time in a long, long time.
* Please note: The Hotline power ratings don’t necessarily track with the order of teams listed on my Associated Press top-25 ballot, which is based on guidelines provided by the AP.
1. USC (5-0/3-0)
Last week: 1
Result: beat Arizona State 42-25
Next up: vs. Washington State (4:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Mean reversion is underway with regard to turnover margin. The Trojans were even against ASU, a four-touchdown underdog Saturday night. And it was a 10-point game late in the fourth quarter.
2. Utah (4-1/2-0)
Last week: 2
Result: beat Oregon State 42-16
Next up: at UCLA (12:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Back-to-back Saturdays against ranked opponents from Los Angeles will shape the course of Utah’s season. Win both, and the Utes are back in the playoff chase. The Florida loss won’t keep them out if they finish 12-1.
3. Oregon (4-1/2-0)
Last week: 3
Result: beat Stanford 45-27
Next up: at Arizona (6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: How different would the season feel if Oregon had been competitive with Georgia for three quarters, instead of three seconds? Answer: Light-years different.
4. Washington State (4-1/1-1)
Last week: 5
Result: beat Cal 28-9
Next up: at USC (4:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Linebacker Daiyan Henley and edge rusher Brennan Jackson have combined for 17 tackles-for-loss through five games. Arizona State has 15.
5. UCLA (5-0/2-0)
Last week: 8
Result: beat Washington 40-32
Next up: vs. Utah (12:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Biggest game of the Chip Kelly era? Biggest game of the Chip Kelly era. They’ll even be watching in Manila.
6. Washington (4-1/1-1)
Last week: 4
Result: lost at UCLA 40-32
Next up: at Arizona State (1 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: It has been years since the secondary was UW’s weakest link. Generate enough pressure off the edges, however, and it’s manageable.
7. Oregon State (3-2/0-2)
Last week: 6
Result: lost at Utah 42-16
Next up: at Stanford (8 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: The Beavers would be crazy to throw more than 15 passes Saturday night. Heck, just use the Jack Hammer package over and over. Stanford’s run defense is one of the worst in the country, again.
8. Cal (3-2/1-1)
Last week: 7
Result: lost at Washington State 28-9
Next up: idle
Comment: The Bears have two weeks to fix the offense and prepare for a must-win game at Colorado. Lose in Boulder, and their bowl math becomes advanced calculus.
9. Arizona (3-2/1-1)
Last week: 9
Result: beat Colorado 43-20
Next up: vs. Oregon (6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Some years, we see major trouble for the Ducks when they head to the desert. This is not one of them. The Wildcats aren’t good enough on the line of scrimmage to match Oregon yard-for-yard for 60 minutes.
10. Arizona State (1-4/0-2)
Last week: 11
Result: lost at USC 42-25
Next up: vs. Washington (1 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: By all accounts, interim coach Shaun Aguano is holding players accountable for matters such as personal foul penalties and being late to practice. Novel concept, that.
11. Stanford (1-3/0-3)
Last week: 10
Result: lost at Oregon 45-27
Next up: vs. Oregon State (8 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: The brutal September schedule is over and done. But October and November aren’t much easier with trips to Notre Dame, UCLA and Utah. We see 4-8 as the best-case scenario and 2-10 as the most likely.
12. Colorado (0-5/0-2)
Last week: 12
Result: lost at Arizona 43-20
Next up: idle
Comment: Karl Dorrell’s replacement, assuming he’s hired in December, will be CU’s fourth head coach in a little more than four calendar years. Mike MacIntyre was fired on Nov. 18, 2018. Bananas.
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