I haven’t been doing any sort of power rankings because at the start of the season, I didn’t feel like I had anything to say that hadn’t been said a million times. Now, with the Pac-12 making a joyous mess of any sort of preseason projections, I think my opinion of how the teams stack up to one another is worth throwing out there.
While my rankings are mostly based on which team has performed best, when I am struggling with a decision, I will always go back to a single question: who would I expect to beat who in a head-to-head match-up? If I rank Team A higher than Team B, it means I really think Team A would beat Team B, regardless of how their season has gone.
Now, that doesn’t mean that if I put Washington below a team like Oregon State or Arizona that I automatically think Washington will lose when they play. It means that I think if Washington had to play them this week, they would probably be defeated. By the time the match-up actually occurs, I may feel differently.
1. Oregon: They haven’t played anyone remotely challenging, but they’ve dominated for three straight weeks, and until they actually start their season next week against Arizona, they get the benefit of the doubt. The Ducks look like they have the past few years: incredibly fast and aggressive. De’Anthony Thomas is the most explosive player in the nation, and QB Marcus Mariota looks like a perfect player for the Oregon offensive scheme. When’s the last time their quarterback wasn’t perfect for the scheme?
2. Stanford: I’m really not sure what to make of the Cardinal right now. A shaky start against San Jose State had everyone assuming they wouldn’t be much post-Luck, but last night they upset USC in a game that didn’t feel much like an upset. Stanford has shown that they can rise up to beat great teams, but for this year I’m more concerned with whether or not they can dominate an average team. If they go out and beat up Washington on the road with a heavy dose of Stepfan Taylor, then I’ll be sold. But for now, even my skepticism has them at number two in the conference.
3. USC: It’s easy to forget that even with an otherworldly quarterback, two NFL-level wide receivers, and a pair of solid running backs, all it takes is a poor showing from the offensive line for everything to go up in flames. Couple that with a defense that is good, but not great, and all of the sudden the Trojans don’t look so scary. Now, if the offensive line can shape up, USC may prove us foolish for overreacting to this loss, but they’ve lost the benefit of the doubt. I’m not saying they can’t still win the conference, but really think to yourself: in their current state, would you be that shocked to see them lose to UCLA or Arizona?
4. UCLA: I really struggled with whether to put Arizona here, but I’m comfortable with my decision. Johnathan Franklin is a name every fan in the country should quickly familiarize themselves with, and while they’re at it, they may as well check out Brett Hundley as well. For whatever reason, I’ve really taken a liking to this Bruins team, and when all is said and done, I’m starting to think they may end up atop the Pac-12 South. Any USC fans that are freaking out, don’t worry. I know that the facts don’t fully support that notion, but it just feels so right. Anyway, before any of that, UCLA needs to take care of an Oregon State team that no one but Wisconsin knows much about.
5. Arizona: Matt Scott is really good. Like 995 yards through three games good. It’s early in the season, but if I’m Chip Kelly, I’m wary of the Wildcats heading into next week’s game in Eugene. We know they’re good, but no one knows quite how good, and if the Arizona defense slows down Oregon enough to give Scott a chance to win it with his arm, the conference hierarchy could be thrown into disarray.
6. Oregon State: Like I said above, no one knows what’s up with the Beavers. They beat Wisconsin 10-7 in the ugliest, grittiest game of football I’ve seen this season. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win over a highly ranked opponent. It also happens to be the only game Oregon State has played so far. If they win, even 10-7, at UCLA, then everyone will declare the Beavers legit. If they lose, the win over the Badgers will quickly be dismissed as a magical day in Corvallis that can’t be repeated on demand.
7. Arizona State: Perhaps more than any other team, I feel like I lost track of Coach Todd Graham’s squad in the chaos of the first few weeks. They looked good routing Northern Arizona and Illinois, but then lost a close one at Missouri. That makes them pretty tough to judge. I toyed with the idea of putting Washington above them, but when you figure that the Sun Devils lost by four in their SEC road game and the Huskies got blown out 41-3 at LSU, that doesn’t seem quite right. Missouri is no LSU, but Arizona State has shown more than Washington so far.
8. Washington: Luckily, I only have to wait until September 27th to see if I’m right or wrong. If Stanford blows out the Huskies, I was right to put the Sun Devils above them. If Washington pulls the upset, well, then I don’t think I’ll be too upset about a bad call in my power rankings. Either way, it’ll clear things up nicely. If number eight still seems awfully low for UW, it’s more about what the other teams have achieved than it is about what the Huskies have failed to do. UCLA, Oregon State, and Arizona all have upset wins against ranked opponents, and I have to respect that.
9. Utah: Later in the season I might regret this one. The Utes have blown out a terrible team, lost on the road to a serious rival, and then won a close one against a (just barely) ranked BYU. That isn’t anything to cry about. But the thing is, I honestly think that if Washington played Utah tomorrow, Utah would lose. Feel free to disagree, it’s certainly a disputable opinion, but it’s one I’m pretty confident in.
10. Cal: That 1-2 record must be tough to swallow for Cal fans. The Bears slipped up and lost to Nevada at home, beat Southern Utah, and then lost by a single touchdown on the road against then #12 ranked Ohio State. Change a few plays, and they could be 3-0 and much, much higher than number ten in these rankings. Lucky for Cal, these rankings are freakishly liquid right now. In two weeks, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the middle eight teams totally flipped around. Number ten doesn’t mean I think Cal is a bad team, it means wait and see.
11. Washington State: Larry Scott would be thrilled to see a 2-1 team second to last here. WSU’s offense has improved each week since failing to show up against BYU to open the season, but the defense is still porous and wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV do not prove much when half the teams in the conference have already defeated a ranked opponent. Once again, we’ll just have to wait and see. Unfortunately, with Colorado next week and Oregon after that, the win followed by a loss that is almost certain to occur will not teach us much of anything about what Mike Leach is building in Pullman.
12. Colorado: I’ve joked about the Buffaloes being bad for weeks, but I didn’t realize they were this bad. I’m done joking now, cause it’s just sad. No one wants to see people lose their jobs, and unfortunately, that’s where Colorado is headed.