Recapping Week 10 action across the Pac-12 …
Theme of the week: The race takes shape
Victories by Washington (over USC) and Arizona (over UCLA) helped narrow the conference race with three weeks remaining. UW and Oregon stand above the masses while Arizona, Utah, Oregon State and USC form the clear second tier. As a result, six teams have a path to Las Vegas for the final championship game in Pac-12 history. We would be shocked if the matchup doesn’t include either Washington or Oregon and mildly surprised if it doesn’t feature both Pacific Northwest powers.
Theme of the year: Bowl bids
Arizona’s victory over UCLA made the Wildcats bowl-eligible for the first time since 2017 and assured the Pac-12 of having at least seven teams in the postseason. Adding an eighth eligible team, much less a ninth, will be difficult: Colorado and Washington State are the closest to the six-win threshold, but both teams need two more victories.
Game of the week I: Washington 52, USC 42
A collision of elite offenses lived up to the hype as the Huskies and Trojans combined for more than 1,000 yards and enough big plays to last a month. After trading touchdowns for three quarters, the Huskies shut down USC in the fourth and remained unbeaten. Quarterbacks Michael Penix Jr. (UW) and Caleb Williams (USC) played well, but the star of the game was a Husky tailback unfamiliar to many Pac-12 fans. (More below.)
Game of the week II: Stanford 10, Washington State 7
As the Huskies and Trojans produced 94 points in the Coliseum, the Cardinal and Cougars combined for just 17 in Pullman. It was a game out of the 1950s – or the Big Ten West – that could not be fully explained by the inclement weather. There were 12 combined punts, and the Cougars finished with four yards rushing. Given that Stanford had allowed at least 40 points in four consecutive games, WSU’s offensive performance stands as the worst of the year in the conference when the quality of competition is considered.
Beating of the week: Utah 55, Arizona State 3
This stood as a difficult assignment for the Sun Devils, what with Utah spitting blood after that embarrassing home loss to Oregon. But we did not expect one of the worst beatdowns in decades. Forget the lopsided score. The stats tell an even bleaker story for ASU, which played third-string offensive tackles and gained just 83 total yards. Meanwhile, the Utes racked up 513.
Team of the week: Arizona
The Wildcats hammered UCLA 27-10 for their third consecutive win and are bowl-eligible for the first time in six years, when they lost the Foster Farms Bowl and then fired coach Rich Rodriguez. Quarterback Noah Fifita once again played like a veteran as the Wildcats generated 429 yards against one of the top statistical defenses in the country. Of note: Arizona is 8-1 against the spread this season, the best record in the Power Five.
Team of the year: Oregon
Sure, the Ducks lost the head-to-head matchup against Washington. But in our opinion, they are clearly the best team in the conference at the moment. Coach Dan Lanning’s team has the best offense-defense balance and the best run-pass balance. The proof is in the performance: Of Oregon’s eight wins, seven have come by at least two touchdowns. The Ducks are simply pummeling opponents. Put another way: We believe Oregon would beat Washington seven times out of 10 on a neutral field.
Coach of the year: Jedd Fisch, Arizona
The final three weeks will shape the Pac-12 Coach of the Year race. But based on how teams have performed relative to expectations, Fisch is our frontrunner. The Hotline picked Washington to win the conference, so UW’s success isn’t a surprise. But our Pac-12 2023 bingo card did not have Arizona with a 5-3 record at this point in the season.
Offensive player of the week: Washington RB Dillon Johnson
An easy call after the Mississippi State transfer rumbled for 256 yards against USC – the same yardage total that Penix generated through the air. Johnson averaged an insane 9.8 yards per carry and blasted past his previous season high of 100 yards (set against Oregon). We should probably mention that he scored four touchdowns and produced the play of the game: a 53-yard run on UW’s key scoring drive in the fourth quarter.
Defensive player of the week: Arizona LB Jacob Manu
The sophomore recorded a team-high 12 tackles and a sack as the Wildcats held UCLA to just 10 points and 271 total yards. Beyond his performance Saturday, however, Manu has played at an all-conference level – he’s second in the Pac-12 in tackles – and served as the engine for Arizona’s remarkable defensive turnaround.
Scare of the week: Cal RB Jaivian Thomas
The freshman was motionless on the Autzen Stadium field for 15 minutes and carted away on a hardboard stretcher after a third-quarter collision in Cal’s loss at Oregon. Transported to an area hospital, Thomas had movement in his extremities, according to coach Justin Wilcox. Thank goodness.
Fade of the year I: WSU
The Cougars were 4-0 and one of the hottest stories in the conference at the end of September. They haven’t won since as the defense misplaced its mojo and the offense collapsed under first-year coordinator Ben Arbuckle. The 10-7 loss to Stanford was merely the most egregious in a series of subpar performances. Now, WSU (4-5) must win two of its last three to salvage a bowl bid. The Cougars visit Cal this week, then host Colorado and finish the season in Seattle.
Fade of the year II: Colorado
Remember when the Buffaloes were the No. 1 story in the sport? That feels like years ago as coach Deion Sanders scrambles to save the season. CU has lost five of its past six and, like WSU, must win two of three to secure a bowl berth. The staff changes earlier in the week made zero difference as the Buffs (4-5) were brutal for most of a 26-19 loss to Oregon State. What’s more, CU produced the worst display of clock management (at the end of the first half) that we have seen in a long, long time. The gaffe led to an OSU touchdown that became the winning margin.
Stat of the season: USC
The Trojans have allowed at least 40 points in five of their past six games and currently rank 124th nationally in points allowed per game (34.5). As of this writing, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch remains employed. (Ed. note: Grinch was fired Sunday)
Stat of the century: Utah
In their blowout win over ASU, the Utes became the first Pac-12 team since at least 2000 to gain more than 500 yards and allow fewer than 100 yards, according to the Associated Press.
Stat of forever I: Arizona
The Wildcats have beaten WSU, OSU and UCLA in succession to record three consecutive victories over ranked opponents for the first time in program history. (That’s based on ranking at the time of kickoff.) Overall, Arizona went 3-2 in a stretch of five games against ranked opponents, which began with narrow losses to USC and Washington.
Stat of forever II: Arizona State
The Sun Devils suffered their worst loss in Pac-12 history – a span of 45 years – with the 55-3 blowout in Salt Lake City. (Their prior nadir was a 50-0 loss to USC in 1988.) And ASU’s yardage output (83) stands as the school’s lowest total since the 1940s.
Games of next week: Utah at Washington and USC at Oregon
The Week 11 showdowns along I-5 in the Pacific Northwest were assigned kickoff times Saturday night. The Seattle affair will start at 12:30, with the Eugene duel scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Both will be shown on Fox. Victories by the home teams would all but assure that the bitter rivals meet for the Pac-12 title in Las Vegas next month.