Howdy friends. Welcome to another weekly column where we’re going to try and break out of the UCLA-centric bubble and take a look at the larger conference picture.
Plus, the internet loves ranking things, and the NFL was boring me. So here we are.
Note: these rankings are my own and do not reflect Bruins Nation at large.
- Southern Cal (2-0, 1-0 conference) - This is going to be shocking to some people, but the Trojans appear to be the toast of the conference again. Yes, their defense can be a bit suspect, especially when stopping the run, but they also feature playmakers at all levels on that side of the ball. On the flip side, their offense is legitimately ridiculous. Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr may be the best backfield in the country, and Sam Darnold played like a potential top-5 NFL draft pick against the Cardinal on Saturday (though he didn’t even have the best QB performance in the city on Saturday, just saying). There’s still lingering questions on the offensive line, but Darnold and those running backs are elusive enough to cover up those flaws. As tough as it is to admit, Southern Cal might be looking at a CFP spot if they stay healthy (as we learned last year, that can be a big if).
- Washington (2-0, 0-0) - The Huskies looked pretty pedestrian in their first outing, and while they did look better this weekend, there’s still a level of doubt as to what this team can do. Perhaps that’s due to how the Huskies did last year, where they dominated the majority of their schedule but got beaten up when they faced a team with a talent advantage (i.e. Southern Cal and Alabama). If you want a Bruin-rose-colored-glasses look, UCLA possesses a similar talent advantage, so that game might be closer than many anticipate. Really, we won’t know much about this team until they play Colorado in Week 4, so they’re getting this slot because of last year.
- Washington State (2-0, 0-0) - The Cougs saw the comeback UCLA pulled off against Texas A&M, and decided to do something similar to Boise State, coming back from being 21 points down in the 4th quarter to take a win after 3 overtimes against Boise State. Boise State did show off some flaws in the Cougar offense, and they did knock Luke Falk out of the game, so I don’t feel super-confident in them right now, but positions 3-8 on here are pretty interchangeable, so for now Washington State gets the nod here. They should have a few weeks to iron out the kinks before Southern Cal comes to town on the 29th.
- Oregon (2-0, 0-0) - One of the hallmarks of the teams in the 3-8 range is that they’re incredibly good on one side of the ball, and suspect on the other. For the Ducks, it’s the offense that has returned to normal under new head coach Willie Taggart. The defense, however, remains suspect, as evidenced by letting a questionable-on-offense Nebraska team get back into the game at home. Still, putting up 42 points on the famed Blackshirts is never something to sneeze at. The Ducks should, theoretically, cruise through the next few weeks before they get to an absolutely-brutal 5 game stretch.
- UCLA (2-0, 0-0) - Yes, the defense has issues. Yes, there are questions in the running game and offensive line in general. But the Bruins also have a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate in Josh Rosen, who I should remind everyone has thrown for 820 yards and 9 touchdowns. The offense, which was a question mark heading into the season, now looks to be a multi-faceted strength under Jedd Fisch, and there’s so much talent on the defensive side that you have to assume things get better. This week’s matchup with Memphis will be a bigger test than many other teams have faced this year.
- Colorado (2-0, 0-0) - Colorado is in something of an opposite position as UCLA; the defense, which lost a ton of talent and their coordinator this offseason, doesn’t look to have skipped a beat. But the offense, which returned everyone outside of quarterback Sefo Liufau, seems to be having issues through 2 games. The Buffaloes only scored one offensive touchdown in the first half against Texas State last week, which isn’t a great sign. Washington comes to town in a few weeks, which will give us a better idea of how this team will fare.
- Utah (2-0, 0-0) - On the one hand, they won Holy War for the 7th consecutive time, which isn’t anything to sneeze at. On the other hand, this looks like a typical Utah team; good defensively, questionable offensively. Of all the teams in this cluster, I feel the least-confident about the Utes, which is probably how that team wants it.
- Stanford (1-1, 0-1) - Now, realistically, is Stanford the 8th-best team in the conference? No. But they’re also the only team in the conference with a loss to a conference opponent, and they looked pretty un-Stanford while doing so. Stanford returned a ton of talent on the defensive side, and the Cardinal ended up getting shredded by the Southern Cal ground game, and Sam Darnold was given a ton of easy throws to complete. Meanwhile, this really was quarterback Keller Chryst’s first game against a defense with a pulse, and he underperformed in a major way - Southern Cal stacked the box and dared Chryst to beat them over the top, and even with clear mismatches coming from Stanford’s tight ends, Chryst was unable to do it. What does all of this mean? That UCLA will find a way to make Chryst look like a superstar, probably, but for now, it means a low ranking.
- UC Berkeley (2-0, 0-0) - I was so ready to move the Bears into that middle cluster after their win on the road against North Carolina to start the year, but then the Bears turned around and struggled at home against Weber State. This team is probably better than everyone thought they would be to start the year, but they’re about to enter a 5-game stretch that could bring this team down to earth, starting with a visit from Ole Miss this Saturday.
- Arizona (1-1, 0-0) - Of these bottom three teams with a loss, Arizona did the best job, only losing by 3 to a Houston team that should still be rather good. The Arizona run game did come back down to earth after running for 506 yards in week 1, but the Wildcats didn’t embarrass themselves as they could have. A road matchup with UTEP this week is intriguing, but the following home game against Utah could tell us whether Rich Rod can get Arizona to a bowl this year or not.
- Arizona State (1-1, 0-0) - If Oregon State didn’t exist, ASU would have a clear claim to being the worst team in the conference. They’re just mind-boggling, with an inability to play both phases of defense at a time combined with an inability to either run or pass in a game. The upcoming game against Texas Tech looked like it could be a track meet before the season, but ASU’s offense might not hold up their end of the bargain. Is this the end of the line for Todd Graham?
- Oregon State (1-2, 0-0) - Gary Andersen looked like he was in for a big rebuilding job when he took over in 2015, but this team just doesn’t look good at all. The problem is, in their 2 losses, they haven’t looked competitive, and their one win was a close game with Portland State. Unfortunately, the schedule doesn’t look to be getting any better, with a road trip to Washington State this week looking like another bad loss.