De'Anthony Thomas (right) returns to push defenders around after missing a month with an ankle injury
Oregon, easily No. 1 in this rating of Pac-12 football programs, finally gets a challenge in the next two weeks against conference powers UCLA and Stanford.
A reasonable question with this week's update of the Pac-12 football ratings: How difficult will it be for the potent Ducks against the Bruins and Cardinal? Both have lost in the last two weeks while Oregon continues to steamroll opponents.
If Oregon takes care of business against the Bruins and Cardinal, the Ducks will strengthen their already strong grip on the top spot of the Pac-12 football ratings. More importantly the Ducks, rated No. 3 in the first BCS standings, will take a significant step toward a berth in the national title game.
Even if the Ducks happen to lose at Stanford, that will be a quality loss and essentially a speed bump if they win out afterward.
Their last three games include matchups against Utah (which beat Stanford), No. 25 Oregon State at home and Arizona on the road.
According to The Palm Beach Post, that is a tougher stretch than No. 2 Florida State must take in the next few weeks against North Carolina State, Miami, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho and Florida.
Stanford can resurface in the championship discussion if it survives a difficult final month that includes games against Oregon State, Oregon, USC and Notre Dame.
Here are this week's Pac-12 football ratings:
1. Oregon (7-0 overall, 4-0 Pac-12): The hits keep coming for the Ducks. Oregon has been without starting running back De'Anthony Thomas for four consecutive games, but the Ducks have quality depth in the backfield as Byron Marshall has gone over 100 yards in four straight games and true freshman Thomas Tyner added 99 yards. Last week: No. 1.
2. Oregon State (6-1, 4-0): Opposing defenses know they will get a heavy dose of quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks but can't do anything about it. Mannion is averaging 427.4 passing yards per game and leads the nation with 29 touchdown passes. He has thrown for 367 yards or more in every game while completing 68.6 percent of his passes. Cooks leads the country with 76 catches for 1,176 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. Last week: No. 2.
3. Stanford (6-1, 4-1): Tyler Gaffney is returning after a year off to play baseball and he's hitting home runs on the football field with his rushing totals. He dominated UCLA with 171 yards on 36 carries last week. If the Cardinal beats Oregon State this week, next Thursday's showdown with Oregon in Palo Alto will be one for the history books. Last week: No. 4.
4. UCLA (5-1, 2-1): The injury-riddled Bruins, whose offensive line is decimated, have discovered their most valuable player is not sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. It's junior running back Jordon James. He has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. UCLA was ranked in the top 15 nationally in rushing earlier this season. The Bruins have not rushed for more than 80 yards in two straight games and they are now ranked 39th. Last week: No. 3.
5. Arizona State (5-2, 3-1): ASU coach Todd Graham's spread offense, with quarterback Taylor Kelly in command, is a notch below Oregon on the impressive scale. ASU has scored at least 28 points in every game and has scored 50 points in back-to-back games and four times overall. Two of those 50-point outbursts came against good defenses in USC and Washington. Last week: No. 6.
6. Washington (4-3, 1-3): The Huskies are fading fast after an impressive 4-0 start. They have lost three straight in what has become a trend under coach Steve Sarkisian in the last three seasons. Washington has started fast, hit a midseason slump and finished 7-5 in each season. Another 7-5 record will spell doom for Sarkisian in Seattle. Last week: No. 5.
7. USC (4-3, 1-2): The carefree and footloose feel under interim coach Ed Orgeron lasted only one game against Arizona. USC's offense appeared rejuvenated with a season-high 38 points over the Wildcats, but fell back to the form that got Lane Kiffin fired with just 10 points against Notre Dame in a 14-10 loss. Last week: No. 8.
8. Arizona (4-2, 1-2): The Wildcats beat the team (Utah) that made headlines the week before by upsetting Stanford. Arizona can learn from how the Utes stumbled and avoid the same outcome Saturday at last-place Colorado. Arizona is 1-2 in the Pac-12 with winnable games against Colorado and California. After that, UCLA comes to town in what could be a battle for the Pac-12 South lead. Last week: No. 9.
9. Utah (4-3, 1-3): The Utes could not build on their momentum after beating Stanford and now Utah is fighting for its postseason life. The Utes will be underdogs in their next three games against USC, Oregon and ASU. They are looking at the possibility of a four-game losing streak. Will Utah coach Kyle Whittingham survive that? Maybe this year but not next. Last week: No. 7.
10. Washington State (4-4, 2-3): Mike Leach can draw the ire of opposing defensive coordinators passing the ball 100 times (the Cougars set an NCAA record with 89 attempts at Oregon last week), but it will not matter because of Washington State's defense. The Cougars encountered fool's gold when they allowed seven points in a win over USC and shut out Idaho. They allowed 55 points to Stanford last month and then gave up 52 against Oregon State before giving up 62 against Oregon. Last week: No. 10.
11. Colorado (3-3, 0-3): Mike MacIntyre is saying hello to the future today. Why not? He has nothing to lose in what will be at least a three-year rebuilding process. MacIntyre, a first-year coach, took true freshmen Michael Adkins and Sefo Liufau out of their potential redshirt seasons recently to give them experience. Colorado had one rushing touchdown in its previous five games before Adkins, a tailback, had four against Charleston Southern last week. Liufau, a quarterback, came off the bench in his debut two weeks ago in the loss at ASU. Last week: No. 12.
12. California (1-6, 0-4): Defense is a significant concern for new coach Sonny Dykes, whose "Bear Raid" offense can't score what the Golden Bears are allowing. Despite freshman Jared Goff ranking among the nation's leaders in passing yards, Cal is not scoring. The Golden Bears are averaging just over 16 points per game in the last four games. Last week: No. 11.
Please check out Javier Morales' blogs at TucsonCitizen.com.