Pac-12 football power rankings: A year in review
Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor (33) dives into the endzone with a 1-yard touchdown run against UCLA on Saturday, November 24, 2012, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Stanford knocked off the host Bruins, 35-17. (Michael Goulding/Orange County Register/MCT)
When USC’s quarterback Max Wittek coughed up a ball after being sacked on a third and long Saturday night, it capped off the Trojans’ underwhelming loss to No. 1 Notre Dame, as well as marked the close of the Pac-12 regular season — for the most part.
Stanford still meets UCLA for the second straight week in order to settle the conference title game and Oregon State has to make up an early-season game against Nicholls State, but for all intents and purposes the 2012 regular season is in the books. Before the bowl season begins, it’s time to first look back and see how each team fared in this sometimes confusing, yet impressive, season for the Pac-12 conference.
The Three Top Dogs — Stanford, Oregon, UCLA
With Oregon’s loss to Stanford two weeks ago, the race for conference title became murky. What remains in the carnage are three teams with an equal claim to the title of top dog. Stanford and Oregon are the no-brainers, as each finished with just one conference loss. The Ducks more or less met expectations this season as running back Kenjon Barner played at a Heisman-level at times and quarterback Marcus Mariota showed the makings of a star.
The Ducks were consistently the best team in the conference this season, but the one team to best the Ducks also won the bid to the Pac-12 title game.
Stanford lost one more game than Oregon, but both losses were at least helped by the bad play of then-quarterback Josh Nunes. He combined in the defeats to throw under 50 percent with less than 300 total yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. The recent performances of now-starter Kevin Hogan beg the question: could Stanford have been in the title national picture if the freshman quarterback played all season? In the freshman’s three starts this season he beat the No. 11, No. 2 and No. 17 ranked teams, twice on the road.
UCLA barely sneaks into this discussion, but it’s hard to ignore the South Division winner. The Bruins aren’t in the same class as the other two, but Jim Mora Jr. should win Pac-12 Coach of the Year this season. Also, if they beat Stanford, the Bruins will be the ones holding the title belt at season’s end.
The Surprise Spoilers — Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State
The Beavers were in conference title contention, an unbelievable accomplishment considering their expectations entering the season, but they lost three of their final five games and spoiled some of season’s magic. It’s hard to tell if the quarterback controversy between Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz helped or hurt the Beavers, but at times both quarterbacks played well.
Arizona missed out on a huge statement win against the Sun Devils, but it was still a great season for head coach Rich Rodriguez and company. The play of running back Ka’Deem Carey at seasons end (247-yard average over final three games) gives hope for the Wildcats’ future next year.
The Sun Devils never made as big of a splash as the other two, but considering they were picked finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, it was a very successful season. To keep things in perspective, though, the ASU’s win at Arizona was their first victory against a team with a winning record.
The Mediocrity Matchers — Washington, Washington State
These two schools had wildly different stories this season, but when things were all said and done, the outcomes were very similar — they met expectations. Washington had an incredibly hard schedule and still managed to have plenty of success, beating both Stanford and Oregon State. For the majority of the season, the Huskies were the Wildcats’ mirror image to the North, playing well with a tough schedule, but Washington actually had expectations entering the season. If they had beaten Washington State, the Huskies wouldn’t have garnered this lukewarm distinction. But they lost the Apple Cup and deservedly sit below their peers.
The Cougars were projected to be terrible, and yet were even worse for most of the year — they were the only team that lost to Colorado. The rivalry win to end the season salvaged their year a bit, placing them where they were destined to be: just above the bottom.
The Floundering Four — USC, Cal, Utah, Colorado
In a bubble USC’s season wasn’t too awful. The Trojans had a winning record and all their losses came against quality opponents —but USC doesn’t get that luxury, having been ranked preseason No. 1. Instead, Matt Barkley and his NFL-destined teammates squandered all of their potential and preseason hype to finish in the middle of the conference, not in the national title or conference title picture.
Cal had an equally disappointing season, one bad enough that head coach Jeff Tedford was fired after the season ended. Tedford fought for the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium but couldn’t fix the terrible play of quarterback Zach Maynard and ended up with only two FBS wins.
The forced retirement of quarterback Jordan Wynn in week two derailed the Utah offense, and the team never seemed to get its swagger back. The Utes beat who they should’ve beaten and lost to the teams they should’ve lost to. But since Utah was picked as a dark horse in the South, the season was a disappointment.
There aren’t many words to describe Colorado’s one win season, so here are the statistics: the Buffaloes were in the bottom five of yards allowed (488.5 per game), yards gained (302.8) and points scored (17.8). Oh, and they also allowed the most points on average — an even 46.0 per game. In Colorado’s one win it had touchdowns of 70 and 84 yards and still only beat a terrible Washington State team by one point. Colorado was supposed to be bad, but they were not expected to be as hapless as CU was in 2012.
1. No. 8 Stanford (10-2, 8-1) LW: 1
Week Thirteen: (W 35-17 at UCLA)
This Week: against No. 16 UCLA
2. No. 5 Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) Last week: 2
Week Thirteen: (W 48-24 at Oregon State)
Bowl Projection: Fiesta Bowl
3. No. 16 UCLA (9-3, 6-3) LW: 4
Week Thirteen: (L 35-17 against Stanford)
This Week: at No. 8 Stanford
4. No. 15 Oregon State (8-3, 6-3) LW: 3
Week Thirteen: (W 62-14 against Cal)
This Week: against Nicholls State
5. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4) LW: 8
Week Thirteen: (W 41-34 at Arizona)
Bowl Projection: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
6. Arizona (7-5, 4-5) LW: 5
Week Thirteen: (L 41-34 at Arizona State)
Bowl Projection: New Mexico Bowl
7. USC (7-5, 5-4) LW: 7
Week Thirteen: (L 22-13 against Notre Dame)
Bowl Projection: Sun Bowl
8. Washington (7-5, 5-4) LW: 6
Week Thirteen: (L 31-28 OT at Washington State)
Bowl Projection: MAACO Las Vegas Bowl
9. Utah (5-7, 3-6) LW: 9
Week Thirteen: (W 42-35 at Colorado)
Bowl Projection: None
10. Washington State (3-9, 1-8) LW: 11
Week Thirteen: (W 31-28 OT against Washington)
Bowl Projection: None
11. California (3-9, 2-7) LW: 10
Week Thirteen: Bye
Bowl Projection: None
12. Colorado (1-11, 1-8) LW: 12
Week Thirteen: (L 42-35