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Pac-12 Football Notebook: Does Oregon State Deserve a Top-25 Ranking?

Oregon moves up to No. 7 in the AP poll and looks more like a College Football playoff contender

Six games involving Pac-12 teams were played this weekend, but only two had a major impact.

We’re off and running with 12 questions this week.

Question No. 1: Is Oregon heading for a College Football Playoff berth?

The Ducks continue to be a puzzle. They struggled against three teams with losing records – Arizona, Stanford and Cal. But they are 2-0 in games in which they were underdogs – beating Ohio State and UCLA on the road.

Barely beating overmatched opponents is not a major drawback. The same day Oregon beat UCLA 34-31, No. 2 Cincinnati had to hold on to beat a 1-5 Navy team by seven, and No. 3 Oklahoma trailed 1-5 Kansas by 10 points with a minute left in the third quarter before rallying to win.

Both are still ranked in the top four.

Fans keep calling for quarterback Anthony Brown to be replaced, but he has performed well against the best opponents, and he was not on the field when Oregon yielded the game-tying touchdown against Stanford three weeks ago.

Oregon is up to No. 7 in this week’s AP rankings released Sunday, and if the Ducks win the rest of their games – a big if – they should get a berth in the national semifinals.

We’ll get a better idea of Oregon’s status when the first CFP standings come out Nov. 2.

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Question No. 2: Is Oregon State the biggest surprise in the country?

Picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North, Oregon State is tied for the top spot in the division after its 42-34 victory over Utah.

The Beavers (5-2) have not been ranked in the AP poll since 2013, and they still are not getting the national respect they deserve. They received just seven voting points in this week’s AP poll, putting them in 31st place, tied with Arizona State.

What makes the Beavers so interesting is that they are overpowering opponents with their running game, something only teams with a significant advantage in talent are expected to do. Oregon State ranks seventh in the nation in rushing offense, and its 5.85 yards per carry ranks sixth in the country.

Check where Oregon State’s recruiting classes ranked among Pac-12 schools the past six seasons, according to 247 Sports:

2021 – 12th

2020 – 9th

2019 – 10th

2018 – 12th

2017 – 11th

2016 – 11th

Bravo, Jonathan Smith

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Question No. 3: Should the Pac-12 be relieved that BYU is joining the Big 12 and not the Pac-12 (or Pac-13 or whatever)?

The simple answer is “Yes.”

No Pac-12 team is unbeaten against conference foes this year, but BYU is 4-0 against the Pac-12 after its 21-19 victory over Washington State on Saturday. And it’s not like BYU is beating up on Pac-12 weaklings. The Cougars have wins over Arizona State and Utah, the frontrunners in the Pac-12 South.

BYU faces USC on Nov. 27 with a chance to be 5-0 against the Pac-12.

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Question No. 4: What was the strangest play over the weekend?

We go to the Utah-Oregon State game

Utah had not had a punt blocked in seven years, but Oregon State blocked Utah’s first punt and returned it for a touchdown that put the Beavers ahead in the second half.

Oregon State then blocked Utah’s second punt and returned it all the way to the Utah 11-yard line. However, that play was negated because Oregon State had two players with the same number (No. 8) on the field at the same time. Officials might not have noticed the unforgivable infraction if the two No. 8’s had not been so close to each other on the return.

No. 8

It's rare indeed to block two punts in the same game, especially against a team like Utah, which traditionally has been so good on special teams. But it is even more unusual for a team to be penalized for having two players on the field with the same number.

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Question No. 5: How has the targeting penalty impacted the Pac-12 race?

You will recall that when Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter against Stanford on Oct. 2, the Ducks led by seven points and the Cardinal had done virtually nothing on offense the entire second half to that point. With Thibodeaux gone, Stanford drove 58 yards for the tying score and won in overtime.

And now this week, Utah led Oregon State 31-28 when Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd was ejected for targeting with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Oregon State outscored Utah 14-3 the rest of the way and won.

Lloyd must sit out the first half of Utah's next game against UCLA.

Thibodeaux, expected to be the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, and Lloyd, the only Pac-12 defender named to every midseason All-America team (ESPN, The Sporting News, CBS Sports) are the two best defensive players in the Pac-12. When they are absent, the game changes.

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Question No. 6: How would eliminating divisions affect the Pac-12 race?

John Canzano of The Oregonian tweeted this week that the Pac-12 is considering doing away with divisions and simply have one 12-team setup, with the top two teams meeting in the conference title game. It’s what the Big 12 does now.

If that were the case this season, the top of the standings would look like this:

Oregon 3-1

Oregon State 3-1

Arizona State 3-1

Utah 3-1

Setting up the Pac-12 schedule would come under increased scrutiny if only eight or nine conference games would be played.

Read More

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Question No. 7: Who is the best quarterback in the Pac-12?

A sticky debate.

Put the names of UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels, Oregon State Chance Nolan, Utah’s Cameron Rising, Stanford’s Tanner McKee and Oregon’s Anthony Brown in a hat, shake it around and pull out a name.

Presumably a name will emerge from the pack in the next five weeks.

All we know is that USC’s Kedon Slovis, the preseason first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, is not in the running.

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Question No. 8: What was the biggest defensive play of the weekend?

Four candidates:

---Arizona led Washington 16-7 early in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats had a first down at the Washington 28-yard line. It looked like Arizona’s 18-game losing streak would end, and the heat would increase on Washington head coach Jimmy Lake and Huskies quarterback Dylan Morris.

But Tuli Letuligasenoa smelled out and intercepted a Will Plummer screen pass that should not have been thrown. It turned the game around, and Washington won, extending Arizona’s losing streak to 19 straight with a game at USC next. What it did for Lake and Morris is uncertain.

---Take your pick between two goal-line stands Oregon State made, as the Beavers played standout pass defense on two Utah fourth-down plays from the 2-yard line. (Both times Utah coach Kyle Whittingham eschewed field goals that might have made the difference.)

---But the pick here is the interception by Oregon’s DJ James. UCLA freshman quarterback Ethan Garbers had taken over for injured Dorian Thompson-Robinson with 65 seconds left and the Bruins down by three points. Garbers completed a fourth-down pass to move the ball to the Oregon 39-yard line to keep the Bruins’ hopes alive and set up a dream ending for Garbers, who had thrown just two college passes before Saturday.

But James cut in front of a UCLA receiver to pick off a Garbers pass at the 33-yard line with 48 seconds remaining, preserving the Ducks’ 34-31 win.

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Question No. 9: Who had the better defensive game, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux or Oregon State’s Avery Roberts?

You decide.

Thibodeaux had nine tackles, including two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss as Oregon overcame an early 14-0 deficit to beat UCLA.

Roberts had 16 tackles, including one for a loss, broke up one pass and had one quarterback hit as the Beavers overcame an early 14-0 deficit to beat Utah.

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Question No. 10: Is there any doubt that USC receiver Drake London is the best offensive player in the Pac-12?

Well, Oregon State running back B.J. Baylor might debate the issue, and the fact that the Trojans have a losing record tends to minimize London’s accomplishments.

But London’s numbers put him at the top.

London had 15 receptions for 171 yards in the 31-16 loss to Notre Dame, and he is second in the nation in both receptions (79) and receiving yards (1,003). He is the only Pac-12 offensive player who was named to the midseason All-America squad by ESPN, The Sporting News and CBS Sports.

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Question No. 11: What was the best quote of the week?

With his team trailing by three points at halftime, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal told a TV sideline reporter on his way to the locker room one of the keys to winning:

“Keeping the officials out of it!” 

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Question No. 12: What else can we say about the Washington State situation?

It seems like a comment is in order after what happened .last week in Pullman:

WSU head coach Nick Rolovich and four assistants were fired for failing to get vaccinated, and Rolovich reportedly plans to sue the university as a result. Then the Spokane Spokesman Review reported that WSU athletics has received $3.5 million in donations in the last week following Rolovich's firing.

There is nothing more to be said.

Yet.

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The Pac-12 top five teams:

1. Oregon (6-1) – Ducks solidified the top spot with the road win over UCLA.

2. Oregon State (5-2) – Maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the Beavers anymore.

3. Arizona State (5-2) -- None of the Sun Devils' next three opponents has a winning record.

4. Utah (4-3) -- Utes are still my favorite to win the Pac-12 South.

5. UCLA (5-3) – All three losses were at home, but they travel to Utah for a pivotal game this week.

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Pac-12 Player of the Year Standings

1. B.J. Baylor, Oregon State running back -- He ran for 152 yards against Utah's stern defense. He is sixth in the nation in rushing (118.3 yards per game). He is eighth in the country in yards per carry (7.03). He is the kingpin of a team tied for first place in the Pac-12 North.

2. Jayden Daniels, Arizona State quarterback -- The Sun Devils did not play this week, which helped him move up on this list.

3. Cameron Rising, Utah quarterback -- He played well Saturday but his inability to convert two fourth-down plays from the Oregon State 2-yard line cost the Utes the game.

4. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA quarterback – UCLA might have pulled off the comeback win over Oregon if he had been able to finish the game.  But he didn't and UCLA has three losses.

5. (tie). Drake London, USC wide receiver -- His numbers are too good to ignore.

5. (tie) Travis Dye, Oregon running back/Anthony Brown, Oregon quarterback -- The Ducks are ranked No. 7 in the country, so somebody from the team needs to be on the list. Dye averaged just 2.5 yards per carry against UCLA but scored four touchdowns.  Brown threw two interceptions with no touchdown passes in that game, but he ran for a game-high 85 yards and a touchdown.

Cover photo of Oregon State's B.J. Baylor is by Brian Hayes, Statesman Journal, USA Today Network

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