According to the Sagarin rankings, the Pac-10 is the top conference in America. Three of the teams are in the BCS top 15, and the list of quality teams runs 8 or 9 deep. Eight weeks into the season, Oregon appears to be head and shoulders above the rest, but there is a lot of football left to be played. Once again, the conference picture is an enigma. How did Arizona State beat Washington after getting pummeled by Cal? How did Washington beat USC and Oregon State when they got spanked by Arizona?
1. Oregon Ducks (7-0, 4-0)
Last Week: 1
The Ducks embarrassed the Bruins on national television last Thursday. The offense continued its dominance and remains ranked number one in scoring. Most importantly, Oregon runs an efficient offense. Their average time of possession is around 24 minutes, which means their scoring drives are very quick.If anyone is going to beat this team, they have to find a way to somehow slow down the spread attack and score at a rapid pace as well. The problem is that the Ducks defense is fierce and unrelenting. Arizona State got close, but they failed to take care of the ball. As it stands, two games appear to stand between the Ducks and undefeated campaign. One of those games comes this week, against a USC team that has had two weeks to prepare and is coming off a huge win.
2. Stanford Cardinal (6-1, 3-1)
Last Week: 2
Jim Harbaugh has done a phenomenal job turning Stanford into a Pac-10 contender. The Cardinal are off to their best start since Jim Plunkett led them to a Rose Bowl victory in 1969. As impressive as the record is, there are still some question marks around Stanford. The Cardinal defense is suspect, allowing just over 24 points per game. Meanwhile, Andrew Luck continues to be loose with the ball after throwing a pick against Washington State. Perhaps the mediocre performance this week was a function of playing down to an inferior opponent. To keep the ball rolling, Stanford will need to step their game up for a trip to Seattle. Nevertheless, the Cardinal have a chance to go to a BCS bowl if they run the table.
3. Arizona Wildcats (6-1, 3-1)
Last Week: 3
Matt Scott filled in beautifully for Nick Foles and the Wildcats didn’t miss a beat against Washington. The Wildcats put up 44 points and rebounded from the tough loss two weeks ago against Oregon State. Because of all the high-profile games Oregon has played and the attention Stanford has garnered, the Arizona defense hasn’t received its due. The Wildcats are 7th in scoring defense by allowing a mere 13.4 points per game. Meanwhile, the offense has averaged over 30 points per game as it continues to evolve. Moving forward, it appears as though the Cats will be able to manage without Foles, especially with UCLA up next. Most importantly, the Wildcats control their own destiny. If they win out, they will go to their first Rose Bowl in school history.
4. USC Trojans (5-2, 2-2)
Last Week: 4
Admittedly, the jury is still out on USC. On the one hand, they have a potent offense with Matt Barkley at quarterback, a stable of running backs, and very talented receivers in Ronald Johnson in Robert Woods. USC averages about 37 points per game, and Matt Barkley is 6th in the country in passing efficiency. The offense has done its job every week and put the team in a position to win. On the other hand, the defense has been a mixed bag. It held Virginia to 14 points, but it has been torched for the most part. Last week, they shut out Cal in the first half by simplifying the scheme and emphasizing individual assignments. Heading into the game against Oregon, the defense has had two weeks to prepare for the best offense in the country. Are they up to the task? The defense will need to show up if USC is going to upset the No. 1 team in the country.
5. Oregon State Beavers (3-3, 2-1)
Last Week: 7
The bye week came at the perfect time for Oregon State after dropping an emotional game in double overtime to Washington. Oregon State is definitely a quality team, but they might struggle with their best receiver, James Rodgers, out for the year. Last year, USC’s faltered offense when its young quarterback lost his best receiver to injury for an extended period. Others will need to step up for the offense to remain on track. Jacquizz Rodgers certainly is capable of carrying the load, but Pac-10 defenses will stack the box if the attack becomes one dimensional. The time to dig in is now, with a Cal team that can’t handle the road paying a visit to Corvallis.
6. California Golden Bears (4-3, 2-2)
Last Week: 8
Jeff Tedford wishes the Bears could play every game in the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. Not only are the Bears 4-0 at home, but they have outscored opponents 189-34 there. Instead of looking like deer in the headlights like they did at USC, the Bears came out and played confidently as they whooped ASU. Kevin Riley distributed the ball without error to his talented wide receivers and Shane Vereen was able to establish a rhythm. Unfortunately, the problem at Cal is a mental one, and that is difficult to coach. As much heat as Jeff Tedford has taken for the unusually high number of blowout losses the past two seasons, the Bears are still a middle-tier Pac-10 team. Before he got there, they were plain awful. Any Bear fan who complains about the job Tedford is doing obviously doesn’t remember the Holmoe era.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-4, 1-3)
Last Week: 5
What do you say about a team that doesn’t show up to play on Saturday? The Sun Devils were ambushed by the Cal Bears in a dismal performance for the Sun Devils. Early in the season, there was reason to believe head coach Dennis Erickson had made progress after closes losses to Wisconsin and Oregon, However, those steps forward seem to have been lost as the Sun Devils were ill-prepared for Cal. Quarterback Steven Threet was injured, leaving Brock Osweiler to step in. Since two of ASU’s wins came against FCS teams, they need 7 wins for bowl eligibility. Winning four of the last five will be a tall order considering USC, Stanford, and Arizona loom.
8. Washington Huskies (3-4, 2-2)
Last Week: 6
Consistency is the main issue for the Huskies. They have pulled off impressive victories over USC and Oregon State, but haven’t been able to string back-to-back wins together all year. That includes a loss to a terrible BYU team. Locker isn’t the stud many predicted at the beginning of the season. Many NFL scouts continue to defend him, but the fact remains that great quarterbacks will their teams to victory by placing them on their back. Washington’s defense is also a huge problem. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt recently received an extension, and that is a head scratcher considering they rank in the 80s. Sarkisian has turned the program around from the winless mess it was two years ago, but they aren’t quite ready to be an upper tier team.
9. UCLA Bruins (3-4, 1-3)
Last Week: 9
If he wasn’t already, Rick Neuheisel is officially on the hot seat. His predecessor, Karl Dorrell, had a much better record after 3 years and it is fair to said slick Rick has underachieved in his tenure in Westwood. He arrived on the Los Angeles scene and declared the football monopoly over, but the power hasn’t shifted one bit. Neuheisel keeps trotting out the argument that his team is young, but he has scored a top-15 recruiting class each year and has failed to produce results. Even worse, the Bruin passing attack is ranked 117th in the country. The three worse schools? The service academies, which utilize run-nearly-every-play offenses. Sooner or later, rhetoric needs to turn into results. Neuheisel needs to kick it into high gear if he expects to keep his job and wants to go bowling this season. One thing is for certain. The performance Thursday made UCLA look like a high school defense.
10. Washington State Cougars (1-7, 0-5)
Last Week: 10
Washington State keeps creeping closer and closer to win. On the road at Stanford, the Cougs fell by just 10 and forced Andrew Luck into an interception and only allowed 190 yards passing. Jeff Tuel would put up better stats at quarterback if there was more talent at the wide receiver position. As bad as the record is, Wazzu is nowhere near the futility of last year. That being said, the conference record might be the same. Their best chances for a win are at home against Cal or Washington.