For the first time in recent memory, nonconference play has been an unequivocal success for the Pac-12, which placed eight teams in the most recent AP Top 25. With Week 3 now in the books, it seems like a good time to rank the Pac-12’s nonconference resumes and evaluate (nearly) everyone’s out-of-conference body of work as league play begins this Saturday.
Let’s get to it.
Note: USC and Stanford will be excluded from these rankings since they have not wrapped up the nonconference portion of their schedules.
The results: Wins vs. Boise State, vs. Tulsa, at Michigan State
Do any of the teams the Huskies have played so far seem particularly good? Not really — though maybe Boise State will turn things around soon. But like good teams do, Washington made each of those teams look really, really bad.
The Huskies’ smallest margin of victory has been 33 points. They average a nation-high 9.46 yards per play and none of those teams had any hope of slowing Washington down.
There are still questions about the Huskies defense, but only Cal and Arizona stand in the way of an undefeated Washington hosting Oregon for a huge game on Oct. 14.
The results: Wins vs. Florida, at Baylor, vs. Weber State
The Utes’ wins weren’t particularly pretty, but that’s sort of besides the point. They got through that stretch without their starting quarterback, Cam Rising, and one of their best offensive weapons, tight end Brant Kuithe. Plus, several other key players have missed time due to injury.
The defense is currently tied for ninth nationally in scoring (10.3 ppg) and the offense, which kept its head above water during the first three games, will improve once Rising and Kuithe return.
Utah is one of two Pac-12 teams that has wins over two Power 5 opponents, and the victory against Florida is looking better after the Gators upset Tennessee this past weekend and are now in the Top 25.
— Washington State Football (@WSUCougarFB) September 17, 2023
The results: Wins at Colorado State, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Northern Colorado
We saw how tough of an out Colorado State could be this past weekend against Colorado, and the Cougars blew the Rams out on the road just two weeks prior. They followed that up with a win against a ranked (at the time) Wisconsin team in Week 2.
Quarterback Cam Ward has thrown nine touchdown passes, rushed for two more and hasn’t thrown a pick yet. The offense is sixth nationally in scoring (48.3 ppg) and 23rd in yards per play (7.01). The defense ranks outside the top 50 in yards per play (5.6) and scoring (22.3 ppg) so that unit will be under the microscope during this four-game stretch over the next month: vs. Oregon State, at UCLA, vs. Arizona and at Oregon.
The results: Wins at TCU, vs. Nebraska, vs. Colorado State
The Buffaloes certainly have had the most surprising nonconference performance of any Pac-12 team. Many people around the league expected Colorado to win two or three games in the entire season.
Now it’s a Top-25 team and 3-0 after surviving a double-overtime scare against Colorado State on Saturday night. The win at TCU is one of the best in the league, and though Nebraska isn’t very good, it’s still a Power 5 win.
The Buffaloes’ flaws were exploited quite a bit by their in-state rival this past weekend, but the start of Deion Sanders’ tenure has been a resounding success. Things figure to get a lot tougher very quickly though. Colorado will have back-to-back games against top-10 opponents (at Oregon, vs. USC), and it seems as though it’ll play those games without its best player, two-way standout Travis Hunter.
The results: Wins vs. Portland State, at Texas Tech, vs. Hawaii
Portland State is an FCS team, and Hawaii is in Year 2 of a major rebuild. Oregon should’ve blown those teams out and did just that.
The win at Texas Tech was impressive and shouldn’t be scoffed at. Bo Nix is having another stellar season, the receiver group is deep and the offense is top 10 nationally in yards per play (8.2) and scoring (58.0 ppg) so that should have the Ducks in the thick of the league title race.
The defense had serious issues last season, and some of those flaws showed up against Texas Tech. Colorado will be an interesting test for the unit this weekend, and there will be plenty of challenging offenses on the schedule after that.
6. Oregon State
The results: Wins at San Jose State, vs. UC Davis, vs. San Diego State
Oregon State’s rushing attack has looked dominant in all three games. The defense was the best in the league last year and has been strong to start this season (13th nationally at 4.1 yards per play).
The Beavers blew out each team they played, but it was hard to rank them higher since there were no Power 5 wins. The major question for Oregon State was always going to be at quarterback. DJ Uiagalelei is a promising talent and has had a solid start to the season, but he threw two picks and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes against San Diego State — the best defense the Beavers have seen so far.
We’ll learn more about Uiagalelei relatively soon. Oregon State faces Washington State on the road this weekend and hosts Utah the following Friday.
The results: Wins vs. Coastal Carolina, at San Diego State, vs. NC Central
The Bruins have won every game by double digits and rank in the top 10 nationally in yards per play (8.6) and yards per play allowed (3.9). But they also have the weakest nonconference slate in the league, which is why they’re ranked below the other 3-0 teams.
True freshman quarterback Dante Moore looks like he has the potential to be a special player. Laiatu Latu is one of the best pass rushers in the country and the defense does look better.
Can UCLA keep up that level of play on both sides of the ball when it faces Utah this weekend?
The results: Win vs. Northern Arizona, loss at Mississippi State, win vs. UTEP
The Wildcats were close to going 3-0 in nonconference play but some untimely Jayden de Laura turnovers in Starkville, Miss., prevented that from happening.
The defense looks improved — 42nd in yards per play allowed (4.8) after finishing 126th (6.6) last season — and sophomore receiver Tetairoa McMillan (17 catches, 315 yards and three touchdowns) is becoming the star everyone expected.
The Wildcats should improve to 3-1 after playing Stanford this weekend but will play seven of the Pac-12’s eight current Top-25 teams after that.
The results: Win at North Texas, loss vs. Auburn, win vs. Idaho
Cal missed a major opportunity to notch an SEC win against Auburn two weeks ago. The situation looked pretty drastic this weekend when the Golden Bears trailed Idaho by 17 points, but Cal rallied for a 31-17 victory to avoid disaster. There was some optimism after the Bears dropped 58 points on North Texas in Week 1, but the Mean Green rank dead last nationally in points per game allowed.
The offense looks improved but is still a major question — especially if star running back Jaydn Ott, who missed the Idaho game with an injury, is not 100 percent.
The results: Win vs. Southern Utah, losses vs. Oklahoma State, vs. Fresno State
A three-point win vs. Southern Utah should’ve set off the alarms, but Saturday’s 29-0 loss at home to Fresno State displayed just how steep Kenny Dillingham’s rebuild will be. It will only be tougher with the Sun Devils’ rash of QB injuries — starter Jaden Rashada may miss a month with an undisclosed injury and his two backups (Trenton Bourguet and Drew Pyne) suffered injuries against the Bulldogs.
So Arizona State may play its fourth-team QB, Jacob Conover, against a top-five USC team this weekend. Not ideal.
(Photo of Ja’Lynn Polk: Adam Ruff / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)