College football week one was a mixed-bag of results for the Pac-12 Conference. Not counting Arizona’s
tough humiliating loss to Hawaii, the Pac-12 went 8-3 in week one. Not bad. The conference did, however, see the Oregon Ducks fall to Auburn, potentially hurting the chances of having a Pac-12 College Football Playoff representative.
Fortunately there’s a lot of football to be played. Oregon is by no means eliminated from the playoff, and most of the other conference contenders took care of business appropriately.
Pac-12 teams enter week two with no big headline non-conference matchups outside of Nebraska vs. Colorado. There are, however, huge games in California vs. Washington and Stanford vs. USC. Both of these will have conference and College Football Playoff ramifications.
That said, here are the teams will the best chances of being a Pac-12 College Football Playoff representative entering week 2.
1. Utah Utes
Utah’s defense looked scary good against BYU. Limiting the Cougars to 300 yards total (208 yards passing, 92 yards on the ground), the Utes were stifling, exciting and showed why they’ll be what carries Utah through the season.
A defensive battle for much of the game, Utah scored twice off interceptions returned for touchdowns. The first came with 10:17 left in the first half, and the other with 12:25 left in the fourth. While both were crucial, the second came moments after the Utes executed a 3-play, 22 yard touchdown drive after recovering a fumble. The back-to-back scored put Utah up 30-6 and the game away for good.
If Utah’s defense is as tenacious as they looked against BYU, their lofty expectations to win the Pac-12 may be justified. And if Zack Moss can carry the offensive load, they may very well be the conference’s best shot at a Pac-12 College Football Playoff team.
2. Washington Huskies
Give credit where credit is due. There were plenty of questions surrounding Washington quarterback Jacob Eason heading into week one. A Georgia transfer who beat out Jake Haener, some questioned Chris Petersen’s decision to roll with Eason at QB. He has the arm talent, but are the other skills there? A 349 yard, four touchdown performance was his answer.
Now, this was against Eastern Washington. They’re a decent program but shouldn’t compete with the best of the Pac-12. Still, Eason’s outstanding debut can’ be ignored. The quarterback was impressive.
More impressive, however, was Washington’s defense. They held the Eagles to just 63 yards on the ground and despite no turnovers they commanded much of the game. The Huskies and Eason now face the tough task of navigating California’s not-so-secret secondary in week two. If they’re able to take care of the Golden Bears, the confidence surrounding this team will improve.
3. Oregon Ducks
Oregon should have won their game against Auburn. For much of the contest they were the better team. Unfortunately for the Ducks and the rest of the Pac-12, almost doesn’t cut it and the Tigers emerged victorious. Despite the loss, however, Oregon showed the nation it can compete with the big boys once again. Their defense was impressive, offensive line powerful, and with a little less conservative play calls the Ducks could have run away with the game.
Yet Oregon will now need nearly flawless performances the rest of the year. Unless Auburn finds itself in the SEC Championship Game, Oregon’s shot at being a Pac-12 College Football Playoff representative rests in their ability to run the table.
After how they played against the Tigers, that’s not impossible. The talent is there and what mistakes were made were more mental than physical.
4. Stanford Cardinal
If Stanford is going to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff, they’re going to need a big win over USC on Saturday night. Dispatching the Northwestern Wildcats in a classic Stanford way, the Cardinal looked impressive on defense but shaky on offense. Quarterback K.J. Costello was precise but unremarkable, and running back Cameron Scarlett was simply serviceable.
Fortunately Stanford flashed an impressive defense, forcing three fumbles (recovering two) and coming away with two INTs. With Costello still questionable for their game against USC, it’s clear Stanford’s defense must lead the way. For the Cardinal to have any shot at the College Football Playoff they’ll need to grind it out and hope a star emerges on offense.
5. Washington State Cougars
The Pac-12 North may eat itself alive this year, and not because there is a lack of talented teams. The problem in the North may be that there are too many quality teams for any to emerge with a record impressive enough to qualify a Pac-12 College Football Playoff team.
That’s exactly what could happen to the Washington State Cougars, who once again showed why Mike Leach’s offense is a godsend for quarterbacks looking to pad their stats. Quarterback Anthony Gordon completed 29-of-35 passes for 420 yards and five touchdowns. While this came against New Mexico State, those are still numbers you can’t ignore.
More impressively, Washington State’s defense forced three turnovers and held the Aggies to just seven points. Regardless of opponent that’s an impressive effort. The Cougars now face another low-level opponent before an interesting matchup against Houston that should be a great barometer for just how good Washington State could be. They’re still in consideration for being a Pac-12 College Football Playoff team, but they need to show a little more first.
6. USC Trojans
Most Pac-12 insiders understood the dangers of Fresno State vs. USC. The Bulldogs were a good team in 2018, Fresno State head coach Jeff Tedford knows the Pac-12 and there were still plenty of uncertainties surrounding USC. Would they finally be able to live up to the talent on their roster?
For some that begins with a resounding yes. Running back Vavae Malepeai burst onto the scene with a 23 carry, 134 yard performance and was complimented by an explosive effort from Stephen Carr (6 carries for 56 yards, 6 receptions for 43 yards). Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns also impressed, catching 11 balls for 150 yards.
But the bad news for USC is that they lost starting quarterback J.T. Daniels for the season, paving way for true freshman Kedon Slovis to command the offense. A three-star prospect, Slovis will be immediately tested against Stanford’s defense. If USC is to make a College Football Playoff statement early on, this Stanford game is it.