Pac-12 predictions for the start of full conference play
PHOENIX (AP) The Pac-12 season kicked off last week with No. 7 Stanford's dominating win over Southern California in a rematch of last season's conference title game.
This week, the conference season kicks into full gear, with every team but Oregon State playing another Pac-12 team.
With that in mind, we thought it would be a good time to make a few predictions in the two Pac-12 divisions, based upon what the teams have done through the season's first three weeks.
Take a look:
Favorites: Stanford, No. 9 Washington. The seventh-ranked Cardinal (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have already established themselves as a team to beat by manhandling USC, a team expected to contend in the South. The Cardinal have a physical defense and one of the nation's best players, Christian McCaffrey. The junior running back was the Heisman Trophy runner-up a year ago and teams are still having trouble slowing him down. The Huskies are a little less of a known quantity because of their early schedule. Washington (3-0) won its first three games by a combined score of 148-30, but the games came against less-than-upper-tier opponents Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State. The rest of the schedule will show just how good the Huskies are.
Keep an eye on: Oregon, California. It's hard to fault the Ducks (2-1) for losing at back-on-the-rise Nebraska on Saturday. The problem is Oregon's defense has worn down in the second half in consecutive weeks and injuries have hit key players. Receiver Devon Allen is out for the year with a torn ACL and the status of star running back Royce Freeman (leg) is unknown heading into this weekend's game against Colorado. Cal, behind quarterback Davis Webb, has put up prodigious offensive numbers and it picked up a quality win by beating then-No. 11 Texas last week. The Bears have had some trouble on defense, though, particularly stopping the run.
Longshots: Oregon State, Washington State. The Beavers (1-2) ended a 10-game losing streak last weekend, but that came against FCS Idaho State. They could be back on the rise, but it may not be this season. The Cougars' momentum from last season appears to be halted after an opening loss to FCS Eastern Washington and another to Boise State. A blowout win over Idaho last week is a good sign, but a stretch against Oregon, Stanford and UCLA follows Washington State's bye week.
Favorites: No. 24 Utah, UCLA. The Utes (3-0) have been dominant on defense and are second nationally with 15 sacks after piling up 10 against San Jose State last week. Utah's offense has sputtered at times, though it seems to be improving. The Utes face a big test this week against USC, which ended their perfect season a year ago. The Bruins (2-1) opened the season with an overtime loss to Texas A&M and had to eke out a three-point victory at BYU. UCLA still has one of the nation's best young quarterbacks in sophomore Josh Rosen and its defense took a big step by shutting down the Cougars last week. A true gauge of where the Bruins stand will come Saturday, when they host Stanford.
Keep an eye on: Arizona State, Arizona. The Sun Devils (3-0) are one of four undefeated teams left in the Pac-12, but they have been less than dominant. Arizona State had a slow-starting win over FCS Northern Arizona, needed 68 points to outlast Texas Tech and had to get a late touchdown to beat UTSA last week. Upcoming games against Cal, USC and UCLA will tell a lot about this team. The Wildcats (2-1) are trending upward after a 47-28 victory over Hawaii last Saturday. There are still issues with the defense and the offense started slow in games against BYU and Grambling State. Up next comes a gauntlet: Washington, UCLA, Utah, USC and Stanford.
Longshots: Colorado, USC. The Trojans (1-2, 0-1) were ranked No. 20 in the preseason and were expected to compete with rival UCLA for the South title. Lopsided losses to top-ranked Alabama and Stanford seem to make those expectations a bit over-reaching. The Buffaloes looked like a team to keep an eye on after blowing out Colorado State and Idaho State. Then came a 45-28 loss to No. 4 Michigan that saw quarterback Sefo Liufau go down with a right ankle injury. If Liufau is out an extended period of time, the Buffaloes could have a hard time in the Pac-12.