The Bruins Nation power poll after week 9 of the 2014 Pac-12 football conference.With the first college football playoff rankings out, it is clear that for now, the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in. Much remains to be determined, and the one advantage that many of the Pac-12 teams have is a very good OOC schedule. With five teams in the rankings, the conference is second only to the crazy SEC. There are still some shakeups coming, undoubtedly, and it is hard to imagine that the winner of the Pac-12 conference would not be going to the playoffs...but it could happen. For now, the only race is really to decide who will win the South division, with 5 out of 6 teams still having a legitimate chance at pulling it off.
Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota,Oregon - Mariota threw for 326 yards and 5 TDs against Cal
Stat of the Week: 90 - total number of penalties in 6 Pac-12 games this week. Half the games had around 20 penalties and the other half had around 10. What is shocking is that in each game, the teams have roughly the same number of penalties. You could argue that half the refs in the Pac-12 are too trigger happy, but there is a pretty good correlation to the number of plays. Perhaps someone with a lot of time on their hands could research the number of penalties per play across all teams, which would be a much better indicator than just number of penalties.
Game of the Week: Arizona at UCLA, 7:30pm PST, ESPN; Utah at Arizona State, 8:00pm PST, FS1 - the Pac-12 really sucks at scheduling TV slots. All 4 of these teams are ranked and are fighting for the division. And the crazy thing is, even after this weekend, all four as well as Southern Cal could still have a good chance at winning the division, depending on the outcomes.
1. Oregon (7-1, 4-1): After a competitive first quarter which ended in a tie, Oregon scored 17 points in 5 minutes to basically put the game away against Cal. The Ducks moved the ball with ease against Cal's soft defense and were never really threatened in this game. Mariota and Freeman were putting up yards effortlessly in Strawberry Canyon. Having taken care of one bay area foe, the Ducks will now host their bête noire of the last two years when they host Stanford at Autzen.
2. Stanford (5-3, 3-2): a routine win for the Cardinal against Oregon State, looking a bit more like their former selves as they completely shut down the Beaver offense and allowed 12 yards rushing and only 221 total yards. The offense did enough to win and was efficient, but far from impressive with Hogan throwing two interceptions. But they didn't really need to be impressive in this game. That won't be the case against Oregon. With a win, Stanford would once again take control of the North division. Will they make it three in a row against the Ducks?
3. Washington (5-3, 1-3): the Huskies found no comfort in their dog house. This was a hard fought defensive game against Arizona State, which was tied late into the fourth quarter. That the Husky offense was ineffective and eventually sealed the defeat with a pick-six as they were driving to tie the game was not surprising. The Washington defense however did rather well, certainly enough to give them a chance to win. Although this was ASU QB Taylor Kelly's first game back from injury, he was somewhat limited in his production. The defense will try to prove its mettle once again this week as the Huskies travel to take on Colorado. But can the offense give them enough points against a bad Colorado defense?
4. Cal (4-4, 2-4): the Bears made a game of it for one quarter, and were still in it after a half against Oregon. But their defense is just not up to par to contend against Pac-12 offenses. If they manage to become even average and the offense improves even a little, they could contend for the division next year. This year the focus should be on getting to a bowl game and beating Oregon State in a very winnable game would leave them just one game away, which is a good improvement from last year.
5. Oregon State (4-3, 1-3): I don't know if the Beaver program is just fatigued from having to compete against Stanford and Oregon every year, or if Riley's tenure has peaked and is now just coasting. The Beavers got railroaded by Stanford and looked very much like a defeated team without much inspiration. Sure, Mannion is missing some top targets who were really elite at their position, but he has certainly regressed a bit. However the next two games are quite winnable for the Beavers and both are at home, starting with Cal.
6. Washington State (2-6, 1-4): it's hard to believe that this may be Mike Leach's worst team since he took the job in Pullman. The Cougars were never in the game against Arizona, falling behind 24-0 after the first quarter. Not much fight in this team and if the players give up on Leach, his time with Wazzu could be limited. He by far took on the toughest job three years ago, which saw the arrival of Mora, Rodriguez and Graham, and recruiting to Pullman is no small task. But one key factor is working against Leach: at Texas Tech, his program set itself apart from the Big 12 by being an innovative, offense-focused program. He could get recruits who were looking for those offensive fireworks. That is not the case in the Pac-12 (or even the Big 12 anymore), where crazy offenses are the norm, which makes it difficult for him to be the maverick. Not sure what is next for the program, except for Southern Cal next week, which will be looking to avenge its loss to the Cougars from last year.
1. Utah (6-1, 3-1): I think by now all of us are finally seeing the truth, which is that Kyle Wittingham is a very good coach, perhaps even the best in the Pac-12. So far he certainly has my vote for Coach of the Year. The Utes are one weird fourth quarter collapse away from being undefeated and would very likely be in the conversation for the playoffs (though of course they are not in the SEC so they wouldn't get a whiff). And in their last game against Southern Cal, they showed their grit and determination once again, coming from behind to beat the Trogans. The Utes' last four games have been decided by a total of 12 points though, so they are playing with fire. And the rest of the schedule is brutal, starting with a trip to the desert to play Arizona State.
2. Arizona State (6-1, 4-1): it was a risky decision by Todd Graham to bring Taylor Kelly back in an away game in a difficult stadium. But Kelly played within himself and in a welcome development, the Sun Devil defense came through to seal the win against Washington. The Sun Devils are looking more and more like a complete team despite the attrition (and I don't see them using youth as an excuse, unlike our coaches). The upcoming game against Utah will be a big test and will have big implications for the division. Another week of preparation could have Taylor Kelly back to near full strength and they will need him near his best against the good Utah defense. Right now, ASU has the clearest path to winning the division.
3. Arizona (6-1, 3-1): the Wildcats are still a bit of a mystery, having not played very well against their out of conference foes, and barely beating Cal on a hail mary. But they easily took care of business against Washington State in an away game, and their offense seems to be clicking. If anything, Rich Rodriguez's teams have been rather consistent and in this, his third year, he is doing it with a freshman QB and a freshman RB. So he is a pretty good coach and another contender for COTY, in my opinion. But first, he has to take his team to the Rose Bowl, where their last performance was quite forgettable, (but hopefully repeatable for us Bruins fans).
4. Southern Cal (5-3, 4-2): it was a bit confusing as a UCLA fan to be unsure whether to root for the Trogans for UCLA's sake...or to root against the Trogans, for UCLA's sake. Either way, you could say that UCLA would be happy with either outcome of the game between Southern Cal and Utah. In the end, the Trogans lost at the last second, and the Trogans losing is never a bad thing. But sadly 7WS's team is still in the thick of the division race, and gets a bit of a breather when it takes on Wazzu in Pullman. Then again, they lost to the Cougars at home last year.
5. UCLA (6-2, 3-2): the Bruins barely beat the worst (though scrappiest) team in the conference, failing to deliver the coup de grace when they had the chance and allowing the resilient Buffs to tie the game and force overtime. And on top of it, to hear players say "we didn't know how to stop them", is just a bit much in what was supposed to be UCLA's special year. Thank goodness for Brett Hundley, who saved UCLA's tail in overtime despite a poor showing in the game. In any case, the Bruins do not control their own destiny in their quest for the division title. They must first win out, which is simultaneously doable and laughable. Then they need Utah to lose twice, which is in fact likely to happen, and ASU to lose one more game, which is conceivable given their schedule but not likely. So before we get ahead of ourselves, let's see if this coaching staff can make it three in a row against Arizona, or if they will get "played" like they did against Oregon. Strangely, the Bruins are 1-2 at the Rose Bowl, so hopefully they can reverse that lame trend.
6. Colorado (2-6, 0-5): Almost. The Buffaloes have been saying that a lot this year. Erasing a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, against a team with undeniably more talent and a much higher salary for its coaches, it looked like the chips would finally fall in their favor against UCLA. But they forgot about Brett Hundley when it counted the most. I hope the players still believe in McIntyre. They could easily be 5-3 right now, having lost twice in double overtime, and barely against Oregon State. Again, in what is essentially a Pac-12 refrain, if their defense improves, the results will follow. They will be at home once again to take on Washington, which could be a good matchup for them.
The margin of error for UCLA is zero. In fact it's negative, because even if they are perfect the rest of the way, it may not matter other than to tout another "10-win" season as though that meant something. We remain hopeful, but sober.