Pac-12 Football: How the Conference's Ranked Teams Fared in Week 3
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With three weeks of college football in the books, the Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC are neck-and-neck in the race for AP Poll supremacy.
Naturally, the SEC leads all conferences with six ranked teams, including the Top 2 squads in the country. But the reality is, the others aren't too far behind.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences each boast two Top 10 teams and five teams ranked in the Top 25. So even as the SEC stranglehold seems to tighten, a bastion of hope remains for football teams out on the frontier.
Here's a look at how the Pac-12 fared in the Week 4 AP Poll, and what you can expect as the conference slate comes into focus.
No. 3 Oregon
After another easy out-of-conference cupcake in Week 3, the Ducks were able to inch forward in the AP pecking order thanks to the upset loss by then-No. 2 USC to Stanford.
Sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas racked up 135 yards of total offense against Tennessee Tech in Oregon's 63-14 victory, further cementing his position as the feature back in Eugene.
The Heisman hopeful abused the Golden Eagles' defense between the tackles and on the edge, finding pay-dirt on the ground and through the air. But the Black Mamba wasn't the only Duck to do serious damage on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota continued his impressive rise to stardom, lighting up the TTU secondary with 308 yards passing and four TDs. Through three games, Mariota has amassed 674 yards with eight TDs and only one interception. The electrifying signal-caller has also shown flashes of dual-threat potential, collecting 108 yards with his legs.
With the win, Oregon improved to 3-0 and finished its non-conference slate unblemished. The Ducks are riding a six-game winning streak dating back to last season, and have won 15 of their last 16 contests.
Even though LaMichael James and Darron Thomas aren't sporting the neon green this season, Oregon is still benefiting from its foundation. The Quack Attack is sitting pretty at No. 3 in the nation, despite playing one of the weakest schedules to-date.
Can the 2012 Ducks live up to the hype and step through the door that the Trojans left open? This weekend's Pac-12 opener will provide some answers as the No. 22 Arizona Wildcats travel to Autzen for what should be an offensive shootout.
Unfortunately, even a convincing, blowout victory wouldn't be enough to slip the Ducks past Alabama or LSU in the AP Poll. The Crimson Tide host Florida Atlantic, and the Tigers travel to face a shockingly weak Auburn team. Assuming everyone handles their business as planned, the Top 3 will hold strong into Week 5.
No. 9 Stanford
Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor rumbles for extra yards in the Cardinal's 21-14 upset of USC.
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For months, Oregon fans have been circling November 3 on their calendars, preparing themselves for the epic clash in the Coliseum against USC. While that game is still a premiere Pac-12 showdown, the Ducks might want to circle November 17 twice.
That's when the Stanford Cardinal are coming to town.
Fresh off their upset victory over USC, the Cardinal have rocketed up the AP Poll, leap-frogging the Trojans and nabbing the No. 9 spot in the nation.
After grinding out a shaky season opener against San Jose State, Stanford has been improving quickly.
In Week 2, the Cardinal absolutely slaughtered a hapless Duke team, 50-13, behind a defensive onslaught that forced four turnovers. Junior QB Josh Nunes tallied 275 yards through the air with three touchdown passes against the Blue Devils.
That kind of production will certainly help ease the pain of losing Andrew Luck to the NFL...a little bit.
While Nunes has filled in valiantly, it's the Cardinal defense that has anchored the 3-0 start and the climb up the national rankings. In just three games, the Stanford defenders have created nine takeaways, including two interceptions of Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley. The relentless Cardinal pass rush kept the Trojan offense off-balance all night long, notching four sacks in the 21-14 victory.
Looking ahead, Stanford has a bye in Week 4 before heading up to Seattle to battle Washington on Thursday, September 27. Unless a team in front of the Cardinal falters, you can expect them to stay put this week.
No. 13 USC
Well, that was unexpected.
Coming into the matchup between then-No. 2 USC and then-No. 21 Stanford, all of the attention was locked on the Trojans and quarterback Matt Barkley. But by the end of the game, the buzz was focused on a Cardinal defense that absolutely feasted on an inexperienced offensive line.
The absence of first-round draft pick Matt Kalil defending Barkley's blindside was painfully apparent. Stanford's front seven dominated the line of scrimmage, sacking the senior signal-caller four times and keeping the prolific Trojan offense at bay all night.
Barkley's Heisman campaign definitely took a big hit with this defeat after he failed to muster a touchdown pass, while tossing two interceptions.
The defense looked lost too, whiffing on tackles and allowing Stepfan Taylor to make the Trojans look silly. With the loss, Southern Cal plummeted from No. 2 with eight first-place votes to No. 13 in the AP Poll.
USC has now lost four straight to Stanford, marking the longest Cardinal winning streak since the rivalry began in 1905. Barkley's only chance to erase the goose-egg in the win column against Stanford would be in a rematch in the Pac-12 Championship game.
Obviously, a lot has to fall in place for that to happen, but it could be a chance for the Trojans to play their way into the Rose Bowl or the BCS title game.
And that is the sickening beauty of it. Just a few weeks ago, USC had practically been handed the national championship and the Heisman. But in a matter of hours, the climate has completely changed.
USC now has to impress the pollsters, which can only be accomplished by cleaving through the bottom half of the Pac-12 and running the table the rest of the way. But common sense would lead one to think the Trojans need some help too.
Sprinkle in some upset losses for teams like Oklahoma or Florida State, and the Trojans' BCS Championship chances begin to look a little bit better.
But head coach Lane Kiffin better get his team back on track quickly. USC's schedule still includes four dates with ranked opponents, including showdowns with No. 3 Oregon and a resurgent No. 11 Notre Dame.
If USC can handle a hard-hitting California defense this Saturday, the Trojans could find their way back into the Top 10 in Week 5.
No. 19 UCLA
UCLA DE Cassius Marsh sacks Houston QB David Piland to spark the Bruins to a 37-6 victory.
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It wasn't pretty, but the UCLA Bruins knocked off the Houston Cougars, 37-6, to improve to 3-0 on the season and climb to No. 19 in the AP Poll.
After the Bruins' offense hogged all the headlines in the first two games, the defense stole the show on Saturday, holding the high-powered Houston offense to just six points.
UCLA was pitching a shutout for most of the game until Cougar QB David Piland broke free on a zone read for an 86-yard TD scamper late in the fourth quarter.
But that was Piland's only highlight of the night. The sophomore gunslinger was tasked with the tall order of replacing the living, breathing record book that was Case Keenum, and there have definitely been some growing pains.
UCLA limited Piland to 249 yards passing with no touchdowns and five interceptions. It was like the Bruins' secondary was shagging balls at batting practice led by senior CB Sheldon Price, who tied a school record with three interceptions.
True freshman safety Randall Goforth got in on the action too, recording his first career pick in just his second start.
Unfortunately, the lopsided victory left much to be desired for a UCLA team that has elevated expectations under first-year head coach Jim L. Mora. The Bruins were sloppy on offense, committing five turnovers of their own (two Brett Hundley interceptions and three fumbles), and the penalty bug continued to plague the young team.
Redshirt senior RB Johnathan Franklin came back down to Earth slightly after posting back-to-back 200-yard games to start the year. "Jetski" tallied 110 yards on the ground, which is still good enough to lead the nation in rushing.
Franklin also collected 58 yards through the air, which points to his ability to come out of the backfield and catch passes. The humble senior captain currently sits second on the all-time UCLA rushing list, trailing Gaston Green by 521 yards.
With Oregon State coming to Pasadena this weekend, the Bruins will have a chance to make a statement and get a quick start in conference play. But the Beavs won't go down easy. In fact, OSU will be fresh off a bye week after knocking off then-No.13 Wisconsin in Corvallis, 10-7. Sure, the Badgers were grossly overrated, but that doesn't take away from the Beavers' feat.
If UCLA can handle Oregon State, the Bruins could conceivably find themselves in the Top 15 next week.
No. 22 Arizona
Arizona QB Matt Scott gets ready to unload as the Oklahoma State pressure closes in.
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So maybe Year 1 of the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson won't be so bad.
After a dismal 2011 campaign and the graduation of star QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner, not many people gave Rich Rod and the Wildcats a chance this year.
But they weren't listening to the haters.
The Arizona football program, under Rodriguez and senior QB Matt Scott, has made a rapid turnaround from a 4-8 finish in 2011 to a 3-0 start and a No. 22 ranking in the AP Poll this year.
Scott's dual-threat skill set seems tailor-made for the spread scheme that Rodriguez has introduced in Tucson. The 6'3", 197-pound signal-caller has a strong arm, a quick release and a sneaky ability to tuck and run. Couple that with the emergence of sophomore RB Ka'Deem Carey, who has rumbled for 344 yards and five TDs in three games, and it's clear that the Wildcats can score in droves.
The big question mark for the 2012 season was on the defensive side of the ball, where injuries and inexperience ravaged the Arizona roster last year. But, once again, it's Rich Rod to the rescue.
Coach Rodriguez has installed a 3-3-5 scheme that will emphasize the strength of the Wildcats' defense and, in theory, create a whole lot of turnovers. Arizona's secondary is arguably the most talented in the Pac-12 led by veteran CBs Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight, and the new "odd-stack" formation will allow five defensive backs to patrol the field together.
The benefits have already started to show. The Wildcats' defense has forced six turnovers through three games, including McKnight's momentum-shifting interception for a touchdown against then-No. 18 Oklahoma State.
The 59-38 upset victory over the Cowboys propelled the Cats into the polls, and a 56-0 drubbing of South Carolina State moved Arizona up to the 22nd slot.
We will know for certain if UA is for real this weekend when it heads to Eugene to line up against the No. 3 Oregon Ducks. If the Cats lose, they will likely drop from the polls, but if they can bear down and pull off the upset in Autzen, they could jump all the way into the Top 10.
Others Receiving Votes
Oregon State DT Castro Masaniai stuffs Wisconsin RB Montee Ball.
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There are two other Pac-12 teams receiving votes in the Week 4 AP Poll:
Oregon State (68)
The Beavers have only played one game, but they sit just outside of the Top 25 due to their impressive victory over then-No. 13 Wisconsin.
OSU's opening week game against Nicholls State was postponed because of Hurricane Isaac and the Beavs had a bye last week. So with such a limited body of work, it's tough to know just how legitimate 12th-year head coach Mike Riley's 2012 Beavers are.
Oregon State will definitely be tested in its second game of the year when it heads to the Rose Bowl to challenge No. 19 UCLA. After seeing what the Beavs' defense did to Wisconsin's heralded Heisman hopeful Montee Ball (15 carries for 61 yards), this figures to be an intriguing matchup.
The Bruins have been a run-happy offense so far this season, and OSU definitely has the power to slow down the ground game.
If the defensive line can control the trenches and the offense can limit its mistakes, the Beavers have a shot to pull out the win and bust into the Top 25 at the expense of UCLA.
Oh, Utah. How do you always seem to get the short end of the stick?
Just when the Utes thought they were going to turn a corner and become a perennial power in the Pac-12 South, starting QB Jordan Wynn was forced to medically retire after another shoulder injury suffered in Utah's 27-20 OT loss at Utah State.
While the Utes did bounce back with a crazy Holy War victory over a ranked BYU team on Saturday, the fact that they only garnered one vote is evidence of their fast fall from grace.
Utah will need to make a statement in conference play if it hopes to rebuild any semblance of respect, and it will have a chance early on. After a road date with Arizona State in Tempe, the Utes host the No. 13 USC Trojans and travel to No. 19 UCLA in consecutive weeks.