Football.com Pac-12 Power Rankings: Montgomery, Gauta Dominate
By Christopher Wuensch
The haves and the have-nots have begun to crystallize in our rankings as the top four and bottom four teams remained in place for the second straight week. The middle of the pack? That’s a bit of a jumble.
The two biggest movers this week, weirdly enough, were two teams on a bye. Oregon State jumped three places to tie Washington for No. 4, while Arizona’s hiatus cost the Wildcats two places down to No. 8.
The Grand Canyon State schools were only ones to drop in the rankings this week.
Did anyone really think Colorado had a chance against Oregon? The Ducks were without their most dynamic player on offense with De’Anthony Thomas sitting out with an injury. That didn’t slow Oregon down, who still posted 767 totals yards, including 378 of them on the ground.
But the grace period finally might be over for Oregon, who faces the No. 121 and 115-ranked defenses the last two weeks. They’ll travel to Seattle this week to face a tough Washington team that nearly won on the road Saturday against Stanford.
Stanford is starting to get No. 1 votes from our writers. While Oregon holds tight at No. 1, you can’t blame the buzz from generating around the Cardinal. It could be argued that wins over Arizona State, Washington and Washington State are more impressive than the Ducks’ top wins over Tennessee and Virginia.
No easy task lies ahead this week for Stanford. They travel to Salt Lake City to face a Utah squad that nearly stunned No. 12 UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium last Thursday.
Great teams find ways to win, even when the weather, opponents and injury bugs conspire against them. The UCLA offense struggled at times on Thursday against Utah, but dug down and found two late scoring drives and a pivotal, game-sealing interception (their sixth of the game) to down the Utes.
UCLA is 4-0 for the first time since 2005. The Bruins get a bit of a respite this week in that they’ve got nine days to prepare for a home tilt against California and the 121st-ranked defense in the nation.
Washington and Stanford gave us the fight we wanted, replete with 769 yards of total offense between the two Pac-12 North powerhouses. Washington dropped its first game of the year but remains at No. 4 in our rankings. In a cruel twist of fate, however, the Huskies face another Top-5 Associated Press team in eight days. The young season that saw the Huskies surge to 4-0 and No. 16 in the nation can come to a disappointment and early crash against the Ducks should Washington fall to 0-2 in 1-2 in conference play with no hope of winning a tiebreaker against Oregon or Stanford.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In Oregon State’s case, absence might also have contributed to the growing lore of Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion.
Oregon State leaps three spots in this week’s rankings despite a bye. Mannion still leads the nation with 2,018 passing yards. Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks, among others, have the Beavers back in the conversation. What makes Oregon State intriguing is that the Beavers still have games to play against Oregon, Stanford and Washington to prove they’re fully back.
They’ll get the North’s other resurgent program, Washington State, in Pullman on Saturday.
Arizona State is a fourth-quarter team. No doubt about it. They might also be this year’s Pac-12 version of the cardiac kids.
The Sun Devils posted 21 fourth-quarter points against Notre Dame on Saturday. Arizona State has scored 56 fourth-quarter points in the last three outings and 91 points in the second half during that same time frame — including those points accrued in their 37-34 loss to the Irish.
Unfortunately, all three of those comebacks came after the Sun Devils got down big early. They lost two of three.
Despite the seesaw play, the Sun Devils control their own fate in the Pac-12 South, where they’re capable of running the table.
Connor Halliday quietly has slipped his name in the mix as not only one of the Pac-12’s top passers, but possibly one of the nation’s. The junior has 1,993 passing yards on the season, leaving him third overall and only 18 yards shy of national leader Sean Mannion of Oregon State.
Halliday collected a whopping 521 of those yards in the air against California in a game that saw 1,027 yards of passing and very little running (128 total yards between both squads).
The Cougars cruised to an easy 44-22 win over the Golden Bears — their highest-scoring conference game in a decade — but Halliday did manage to complete one pass to the other team. Halliday is one interception shy of tying Southern Mississippi’s Allan Bridgford for most interceptions in the country at 11 picks.
That might work against the likes of California, but the picks will doom the quarterback as they face some of the staunchest defenses in the conference, starting with consecutive matchups versus Beaver State opponents in the next two weeks.
Arizona tumbles two places in the rankings after the Wildcats’ second bye in three weeks.
Perhaps Rich Rodriguez and company spent the time refining their passing game. B.J. Denker has 445 passing yards on the season through four games. To put that in perspective: Connor Halliday of Washington State and California’s Jared Goff each threw for more yards than that on Saturday alone.
The Wildcats still are somewhat of an unknown in the Pac-12, having lost to Washington in their only Pac-12 game to date.
Arizona gets the tasks of welcoming interim Southern California head coach Ed Orgeron to Pac-12 when the Wildcats face the Trojans. If Arizona wants to contend in the Pac-12 South, Thursday night’s game in Los Angeles is a must-win.
There are two teams in the Pac-12 with identical 3-2, 0-2 records. One just fired their head coach; the other is on a meteoric rise to respect in the conference.
The UCLA Bruins needed every one of the six interceptions they plucked from the air out of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s hand. The junior quarterback has Utah fighting to the end of every game. Only once this season has a Utah game been decided by more than a touchdown.
If you polled the league, playing the Utes in Salt Lake City wouldn't classify as an easy win.
The schedule gets tough with the likes of Arizona State, Oregon and Stanford still to go, but it’s possible that if Utah plays like it did on Thursday against UCLA, that the Utes could steal a few wins and qualify for its first bowl game since 2011, its first season in the Pac-12.
All accounts suggest that Southern California is feeling like their old, ebullient selves in the wake of Lane Kiffin’s dismissal. Whether or not Ed Orgeron — who piloted Mississippi to a 10-25 record between 2006 to 2008 — can salvage the Trojans’ 2013 campaign remains to be seen.
Southern California will have Silas Redd, its leading rusher in 2012, back in uniform for the first time this season when Orgeron debuts Thursday against Arizona. The Wildcats are stingy against the pass (185.8 yards per game in the air, No. 19 in the nation). The Trojans average a paltry 189.8 yards per game via the pass.
The deep backfields should make for a rare, run-heavy game in the Pac-12.
Speaking of the strength of the Pac-12 this season, California is the lone conference squad with a sub-.500 record.
That said, the Bear Raid offense is settling well. Cal sits at No. 4 in the nation in passing offense (402.6 yards per game). Jared Goff’s 504-yard performance against Washington State set the Golden Bears’ single-game record for passing yards.
If the defense can hold an FBS opponent to less than 44 points — a task they have failed to do so far this season — it’s possible the Golden Bears could pull off an upset down the stretch.
To be fair to Sonny Dykes, his first season as Cal coach couldn’t have come complete with a tougher schedule: The Golden Bears faced ranked opponents in Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon in three of their first five games.
There’s no relenting, however. The Golden Bears travel South this week to face No. 11 UCLA.
Connor Wood has returned to earth the last two weeks after throwing for a cosmic 740 yards in Colorado’s first two games of the season. Wood’s rapport with Paul Richardson is strong as ever, however. The senior passing duo kept their connection intact, despite a 57-16 drubbing at the hands of Oregon on Saturday.
Richardson’s 134 yards against the Ducks were the most Oregon has yielded to a receiver this season. The previous best: Virginia's Jake McGee hauled in 53 yards.
Richardson not only has the second-most receiving yards per game (155.3 yards) this season, but he might be considered the Pac-12's best passer — statistically speaking. The senior was able to do something against the Ducks’ secondary that only happened twice before Saturday’s game: throw a touchdown. Richardson now is 1-of-1 passing on the year with 75 yards and a touchdown.
The Buffs added a home game against FCS powerhouse Charleston Southern for Oct. 19 to make up for the cancelled matchup against Fresno State earlier in the season. That game will be sandwiched between contests against Arizona State and Arizona starting next week.
Players of the Week
Ty Montgomery, Stanford: 30 rushing yards, 56 receiving yards, two touchdowns, 206 return yards
Ever curious how long it would take Stanford’s Ty Montgomery to run 99 yards untouched through Washington traffic? The answer is about 12 seconds.
The junior used the opening moments of the Cardinal matchup against the Huskies to make a profound statement with a blistering kickoff return for a touchdown that put Stanford on a path to a 31-28 win. The last time a Cardinal opened the game with a kick return touchdown was also against Washington in 2009.
Montgomery then closed out the first half hauling in a 39-yard pass from Kevin Hogan to put Stanford up 17-7.
After the game, Cardinal head coach David Shaw described Montgomery’s performance as the difference in what evolved into a tight Stanford win over Washington.
Also Considered: Bralon Addison, Oregon; Jared Goff, California; Connor Halliday, Washington State; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Alex Logan, Cal
Ioane Gauta, Washington State: 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 pass breakups
Ioane Gauta is Washington State’s incumbent Leon Bender Award winner as the Cougars’ top defensive lineman last season. The senior is making a compelling case to win the award again.
The nose tackle finished Saturday’s 44-22 doubling-up of California with five tackles (four of them solo), 60 percent of them occurring behind the line of scrimmage. He not only stopped the Golden Bears on the ground, he prevented Jared Goff from furthering his career-day by swatting down two of the Cal quarterback’s passes.
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Gauta already has equaled his sack total from last season at three.
Also Considered: Anthony Barr, UCLA; Anthony Jefferson, UCLA; Terrance Mitchel, Oregon; Trent Murphy, Stanford; Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado