By the afternoon on Saturday, the Pac-10’s perception looked doomed. The conference was a combined 1-4, including Cal’s inexcusable loss to Nevada and Nebraska’s dismantling of Washington. However, the late games yielded favorable results and salvaged the day. Oregon and Stanford were dominant against inferior foes, Arizona upset a highly-regarded Iowa team, and UCLA knocked off a ranked foe for their first win of 2010.
Jeff Sagarin’s rankings list the Pac-10 as the second best conference, slightly behind the vaunted SEC. Sagarin is on point, but you don’t have to look at a long list of statistics and run through countless formulas to realize how good the Pac-10 is this year. One glance reveals that the Pac-10 is an elite conference with an impressive top tier of teams. To the rankings…
1. Oregon (3-0)
The Ducks have outscored opponents 141-0 at home. They have played inferior opponents, but the fact that they haven’t allowed a single point is unsettling. Offensively, this team hasn’t missed a beat as they lead the country in scoring through the first three weeks. Oregon must travel to Tempe for what will be their toughest test to date. The Sun Devils have a stout defense, and we will find out if the Oregon’s success has been predicated on far weaker opponents.
2. Arizona (3-0)
Arizona knocked off No. 9 Iowa at home and announced their presence as a legitimate Pac-10 title contender. The Wildcats have never been to the Rose Bowl, but this is probably their best team to date. Nick Foles is one of the premiere quarterbacks in the league and threw with precision against the Hawkeyes. In addition, the defensive line was incredible. They recorded at least 5 sacks and two on the final drive to stave off an Iowa comeback. The ‘Zona Zoo was rocking last night and the Wildcats have a clear home field advantage when teams travel there.
3. Stanford (3-0)
The Cardinal are 3-0 for the first time since 2001 thanks to the coaching of Jim (Hubris) Harbaugh. Ever since arriving in Palo Alto, Harbaugh has had this program on the rise. As mentioned in the last few rankings, Andrew Luck is the best quarterback in the conference. The redshirt sophomore has incredible pocket presence and can run for first downs if his wide receivers aren’t open. When they are open, Luck doesn’t have trouble finding them and exploiting secondaries. The defense is young and inexperienced, which may be a problem when they start playing good offenses. It will be interesting to see how they respond at Notre Dame after narrowly beating the Golden Domers in Palo Alto last year.
4. USC (3-0)
The Trojans continue to improve week by week. Monte Kiffin has shown the ability to adapt and the defense has been stingy. They only allowed 81 rush yards against Minnesota and missed very few tackles. The secondary still isn’t as solid as it should be, but you can see it progressing. Offensively, USC looked better against Minnesota than it did against Virginia, but there is still room for improvement. There were some miscommunications in the passing game that need to be cleaned up. As long as USC continues to progress, they will compete for a conference championship despite the sanctions.
5. Oregon State (1-1)
The Beavers bounced back from a deflating loss to TCU by beating Louisville at home this past weekend. Mike Riley is the best X’s and O’s coach in the conference, and that always keeps Oregon State competitive. As expected, the offense has put up points under the direction of new quarterback Ryan Katz. However, the fact that Oregon State gave up 28 points to Louisville is unsettling. Against teams like Oregon, Stanford, USC, and Arizona, Oregon State will struggle because of their inability to contain the opponent’s offense.
6. Arizona State (2-1)
Everybody knew ASU would once again have a formidable defense, but the offensive production is a pleasant surprise for Sun Devil fans. ASU marched into Camp Randall and went toe to toe with the No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers this past weekend. The difference in the game was a blocked extra point, but ASU had other chances to put up points and failed to convert. Steven Threet is the first viable quarterback ASU has had in a while. He has completed 66% of his passes so far, but needs to improve his touchdown to interception ratio (5-3). Dennis Erickson is fighting for his job and this team will catch at least one team off guard in the course of conference play.
7. California (2-1)
The Bears were pistol-whipped by Nevada on national television Friday night. Cal is known for its ability to blow up like a cheap pool toy, but they usually wait until later in the season to do so. Jeff Tedford’s team looked ill-prepared and then played defeated once they fell behind. Kevin Riley was ineffective and made some very poor decisions with the ball. Shane Vereen is an outstanding tailback, but he can’t carry the entire load. Sooner or later, Riley needs to be a leader and make plays. If the Bears don’t finish in the top half of the conference–something that seems plausible at the moment–the heat will be turned up on Jeff Tedford.
8. UCLA (1-2)
Rick Neuheisel took the advice that a UCLA supporter yelled at him after the ugly loss to Stanford and won a game. UCLA’s offense looked much better, albeit against a defense that is notorious for yielding points. The Bruins now travel to Austin for a showdown with the Texas Longhorns. The Bruins still have an uphill battle towards bowl eligibility. If they don’t win in Austin, they will need to go 5-3 in conference play the rest of the way. The Bruins went 3-6 in conference last year and this year’s slate is even tougher as many teams have improved relative to UCLA.
9. Washington (1-2)
Jake Locker doesn’t have much talent around him, but he surely didn’t help out his draft stock on Saturday. The Huskies were trounced at home by Nebraska by the final score of 56-21. Locker was 4-20 with one touchdown and two interceptions. Second-year coach Steve Sarkisian has recruited well in his first two attempts, but the cupboard was bare when he arrived. This team is still a year or two away from being in the title conversation. Most importantly, the Huskies need to prove they can win on the road.
10. Washington State (1-2)
Credit the Cougars for hanging in their against SMU before losing by 14. Washington State has improved over last season, but they are still awful. Unfortunately for Wazzu, they draw a USC team this coming week that is on the rise and that will probably looking to make a statement after being dropped in the rankings in three consecutive weeks following wins.