Week 4 of the Pac-12 season will be known as the week the conference’s slim College Football Playoff hopes officially dried up. Thankfully for viewers, the league did not go out with a whimper, but with a bang. Oregon State’s heart-stopping win over rival Oregon—the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team in the initial CFP rankings—was the sweet kiss of death for the conference’s already remote chances at competing for a national title. It also very well could end up being the league’s best game of the season when the dust settles.
Coupled with USC’s current issues with COVID-19 keeping the Trojans off the field, it appears the Pac-12 will not be participating in the playoff yet again this season. But if this weekend’s action was any indication, there’s still plenty reason to watch as we head for the homestretch.
Team of the week: How could it not be the Beavers? Oregon State earned a signature win for third-year coach Jonathan Smith, who has won six of his last 12 conference games after losing nine of his first 10. Oregon State did not just beat Oregon on Friday night, it pushed the Ducks around. The Beavers were the more physical team, outrushing Oregon 269–183 yards. They were the more focused side as well, winning the turnover battle, 3–0. And perhaps most importantly, Oregon State maintained its composure in the game’s most critical moments, converting four out of six fourth-down attempts and out-scoring the Ducks in the fourth quarter, 22–7. The Beavers haven’t finished .500 or better in Pac-12 play since 2012. They have a chance to end that drought this season, but even if they don’t, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in Corvallis.
Game of the week: Despite an abundance of worthy candidates, Oregon State-Oregon is the right call. The entire fourth quarter was enthralling, but here’s the pivotal play to capture the climactic ending, in which backup quarterback Chance Nolan picked a heck of a time to make his collegiate debut:
Highlight of the week: In one of the most bizarre games of the season, Washington edged Utah in a 24–21 win in a game that can best be described as a tale of two halves. The Utes led, 21–0, at halftime, out-gaining the Huskies 239–122. The game completely flipped in the second half, with Washington scoring 24 unanswered points, the last of which came on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Morris to tight end Cade Otton with 36 seconds left in the game.
Otton was practically unguardable, hauling in eight catches for 108 yards and two scores. Utah crossed the 50-yard line nine times but only managed three scores, as turnovers and miscues did the Utes in. Washington is now the only unbeaten team left in the Pac-12 North, and the Huskies control their destiny to reach the conference championship game.
#Pac12AfterDark moment of the week: Oregon State’s eventual goal line triumph in the waning seconds against Oregon was nearly undone by questionable (to put it mildly) officiating. On second down, it appeared Oregon State quarterback Tristan Gebbia broke the plane of the goal line on his sneak attempt, though referees failed to make a clear call on the field, and did not overturn the initial ruling after replay. On third down, an Oregon defensive lineman clearly jumped offsides, but was not flagged. Gebbia injured his leg on the play and exited the game, though the Beavers scored on the ensuing fourth-down play. Had they not, the Pac-12 would have had a lot to answer for.
Offensive player of the week: Oregon State running back Jermar Jefferson is the only choice here. The junior moved up to fifth all-time in school history in career rushing yards on Friday in ripping off 226 yards against the rival Ducks, good for his third career 200-yard performance. Jefferson ran for 120 yards in the season opener and has upped his output each week. Let’s see what he has in store for Utah next week, as the Utes have held their two opponents this season (USC and Washington) to under 100 yards on the ground.
Defensive player of the week: Washington outside linebacker Zion Tupuola-Fetui has become one of the most disruptive defenders in college football. He was up to his usual ways again on Saturday, racking up a career-high three sacks while recovering two fumbles. He may need to be retired from earning this distinction again, but his play cannot be ignored.
Special teams player of the week: It’s a borderline crime to have waited this long before mentioning the Big Game, but this is the perfect spot to bring it up. If you looked at the box score but couldn’t see the final score, you would have likely guessed Cal came out on top. The Bears out-gained Stanford, 241–95, on the ground, and they committed only one penalty compared to Stanford’s six. But Stanford came out on top thanks to its special teams, which was the difference all game long. The signature play was a blocked PAT by Thomas Booker with under a minute to play that would have tied the game.
With the win, Stanford regains control of the Stanford Axe after the Bears won last season. Stanford has won 10 of the past 11 meetings between the schools.
Big picture: As stated earlier, the Pac-12 is all but officially knocked out of CFP consideration with Oregon’s loss and USC’s idle weekend. They were the only two teams included in Tuesday’s debut rankings, and the conference-only slate offers no realistic way for any teams to move up. Top to bottom, however, there’s not much that separates any teams in this league, which means the weeks to come should be full of competitive and dramatic games. It’s a neutral observer’s dream, though for Pac-12 fans yearning for a ticket to the big dance, the feeling of being left out has grown to be all too familiar.
Lookahead: In addition to the typical “how many games will be played” question, it will be interesting to see how teams on the rise handle their relative success. UCLA is .500 for just the second time under Chip Kelly after beating Arizona, 27–10 (the first time was two weeks ago, when the Bruins improved to 1–1 on the season). Oregon State and Washington are each riding high after emotional, come-from-behind wins, and will be playing opponents with losing records (Utah and Stanford, respectively). Colorado, meanwhile, quietly took care of business against San Diego State, 20–10, in a rock fight of a game that featured just 427 combined yards of offense. The Buffaloes will face winless Arizona on the road, looking to keep pace with USC in the South. If both Colorado and USC are able to play their remaining schedules and win out, the Trojans would own the tiebreaker by virtue of playing more games against divisional opponents. Missing out on a trip to the Pac-12 championship game because of a technicality would be a tough pill to swallow for Buffs fans, though I’m sure few would complain too much about an undefeated debut season for first-year coach Karl Dorrell if that scenario were to unfold.