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Pac-12 Power Rankings: 10/17

Oregon schools stay on top, mountain teams struggling at bottom

George Frey - Getty Images

We're about halfway done with this 2012 season, and the Pac-12 power rankings are starting to settle in. The same teams are checking in on top, and there is only minimal shuffling beneath them. It looks like the Pac-12 is the state of Oregon's to lose, whereas the two Pac-12 newcomers are making most conference fans wish it never stopped being the Pac-10.

Here are the rankings:


1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Ducks still comfortably on top... for now
Why they're not lower: Oregon has been the best team in the conference all year, and there has been more conversation about the Ducks' spot in the BCS standings than their upcoming games. Beware, though, Oregon fans: tough games await, beginning Thursday against Arizona State.
First thing on fans' minds: The road ahead. Oregon has been dominant so far, but the Ducks haven't played a true road game yet. They'll have plenty in the second half of the year, including what will likely be the three toughest games they play all season: at Arizona State, at USC, and at Oregon State. If Oregon keeps coasting through these games, this really is a championship-worthy team.
Last week: Bye
Up next: at Arizona State on Thursday at 6 p.m.

2. Oregon State (5-0, 3-0 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Beavers impressive without Mannion
Why they're not higher/lower: It appears Oregon State really is in for the long haul. The Beavers, fresh off a three-win season, were not to be deterred by something so minor as the loss of their starting quarterback. In a tough environment at BYU, backup Cody Vaz picked up right where Sean Mannion left off, leading Oregon State to a surprisingly comfortable win. The win places Oregon State firmly in the BCS conversation, especially because the Beavers have just two road games left.
First thing on fans' minds: Vaz. Oregon State's second-stringer did more than just keep the Beavers afloat; Vaz was one of the main reasons OSU came out on top. He was sensational, throwing for 332 yards and three touchdowns, and he even threw a block on a reverse. Thanks to Jordan Poyer and the Beaver defense, Oregon State will be an extremely formidable team if it can get this kind of an effort from its quarterback, whoever it is.
Last week: 42-24 win over BYU
Up next: vs. Utah on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

3. USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Trojans still threat in Pac-12, national races
Why they're not lower: USC has yet to win impressively, but a 5-1 mark through six games keeps the Trojans fully in the hunt for a BCS berth. However, there's only so long a team can keep winning with lackluster performances, and a 1-5 mark against the spread speaks as much to the team's mediocre play as the nation's overhyping of the Trojans. Luckily for USC, a home game against Colorado is usually a cure for any ailments.
First thing on fans' minds: Matt Barkley. Just when it seemed like Barkley might be back to his usual self, he put up one of his worst performances in years. He completed just 10 of his 20 pass attempts for only 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The preseason Heisman favorite is down to 30th in the nation in passing efficiency despite playing just one team with a winning record. He'll need to pick it up if USC is going to reach any of its goals for the season.
Last week: 24-14 win over Washington
Up next: vs. Colorado on Saturday at 3 p.m.

4. Arizona State (5-1, 3-0 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Sun Devils keep winning
Why they're not higher/lower: Arizona State blitzed Colorado to move to 5-1 and stay unbeaten in conference play. The Sun Devils have no wins over good teams and their only loss (to Missouri) looks worse and worse by the week. Still, wins are wins, and Arizona State needs just one more to reach bowl eligibility and just two more to reach seven wins for the first time in five years.
First thing on fans' minds: Upset chance. The best response to the "you haven't played anybody" knock is to go out and beat somebody good. The Sun Devils have the opportunity to do that in a huge way Thursday when they host Oregon. It will be easily the toughest test of the season for both teams, and it will be a barometer for what kind of team Arizona State really is.
Last week: 51-17 win over Colorado
Up next: vs. Oregon on Thursday at 6 p.m.

5. Stanford (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cardinal misses out on big upset
Why they're not higher: Everything was there for Stanford: a halftime lead, momentum, and the opposing quarterback knocked out of the game. But for the second straight road game, the Cardinal couldn't hold on at the end of the game. And then, yes, the overtime controversy. Whether or not the call was correct (I happen to believe it wasn't), the fact remains that Stanford lost and must now regroup to face Cal in an oddly timed Big Game.
First thing on fans' minds: That overtime. While the final play gets all the attention (and deservedly so), Stanford missed a golden opportunity on its defensive possession in overtime. The Cardinal sacked Tommy Rees on the first play of the period but then backed off and allowed Notre Dame to regroup and eventually score. Stanford then thought it had scored twice on its possession but failed to power through for the tying touchdown.
Last week: 20-13 loss to Notre Dame
Up next: at Cal on Saturday at 12 p.m.


6. UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Bruins enter bye with win
Why they're not lower: UCLA looked abysmal in a blowout loss to Cal, but the Bruins responded with a win over Utah to reach their bye week on a positive note. UCLA no longer looks like a top-25 team, but a 5-2 start still has to qualify as better than expected. The Bruins are just one win from bowl eligibility and have a good chance at their first eight-win season since 2005.
First thing on fans' minds: Balanced offense. UCLA was unsure what to expect from its offense with Brett Hundley taking over at quarterback, but Hundley has been the perfect complement to Johnathan Franklin and the running game. The Bruins are 26th nationally in rushing and 27th in passing, and they used that balance to defeat Utah.
Last week: 21-14 win over Utah
Up next: Bye, then at Arizona State on 10/27 at 12 p.m.

7. Cal (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Golden Bears keep bowl hopes alive
Why they're not higher/lower: After a 1-4 start, Cal has notched back-to-back conference wins to keep its slim bowl hopes alive. Even against Washington State, a two-touchdown road win in the Pac-12 is a good sign, and all of a sudden the Golden Bears have momentum. They'll need the intangibles this week in their rivalry clash with Stanford.
First thing on fans' minds: Running game. Last week, Cal relied on Zach Maynard. This week, the running game picked up the slack, as four different players rushed for over 50 yards. The 318 yards on the ground show how dangerous the Bears can be on offense if they play to their potential. To become bowl eligible, they'll need to win at least one of three games against ranked teams, so they'll need more performances like this.
Last week: 31-17 win over Washington State
Up next: vs. Stanford on Saturday at 12 p.m.

8. Washington (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Huskies can't keep up with USC
Why they're not higher/lower: Washington hung around for a while against USC, but the Huskies just couldn't come up with the offense to have a chance to upset the Trojans. Still, a 1-2 mark in conference games isn't so bad when those three come against Stanford, Oregon, and USC. Now we'll see how Washington does in the second half when only one of its final six opponents has a winning record.
First thing on fans' minds: Offense. Keith Price was supposed to be a darkhorse Heisman candidate and the Washington offense was supposed to be the strength of the team. Instead, Price is 10th in the Pac-12 in both passing efficiency and total offense, and the team as a whole is 10th in scoring and 11th in yardage. Add in 13 turnovers through six games, and Washington has got a serious problem. The Huskies have played some good defenses, but there's no excuse for that kind of (lack of) production.
Last week: 24-14 loss to USC
Up next: at Arizona on Saturday at 7 p.m.


9. Arizona (3-3, 0-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Wildcats still looking for a conference victory
Why they're not higher/lower: In many ways, Arizona is just like Washington. Both teams have played well against bad teams but have had the misfortune of playing several ranked teams early in the year. Arizona, unlike Washington, fell just short of upsetting Stanford, and because of it, the Wildcats are still winless in conference play. Like Washington, Arizona has a chance to do some damage in the second half of the season, and it starts with a meeting with the Huskies.
First thing on fans' minds: Defense. Whereas Washington is having trouble getting anything going on offense, Arizona has had difficulty stopping its opponents. It's a case of the resistable force against the movable object. The Wildcats, despite benefitting from a shutout of FCS South Carolina State, still rank just 96th in scoring defense and 110th in total defense.
Last week: Bye
Up next: vs. Washington on Saturday at 7 p.m.

10. Utah (2-4, 0-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Utes continue to struggle in conference play
Why they're not higher/lower: It's hard to move Utah up after another loss, but that had to happen to get Colorado where it deserves to be. The Utes aren't looking too much better, though, thanks to another poor offensive effort. The 114th-ranked offense looked as lackluster as ever, managing only 319 total yards, but the defense kept things close against UCLA. With a schedule that avoids Stanford and Oregon, Utah still has a shot to finish respectably, but it will need to find some points.
First thing on fans' minds: Running game. John White was supposed to be the focal point of the Utah offense, but he has struggled to make any kind of impact this season. A 1,500-yard rusher last year, White has averaged only 69 yards per game on the ground, including just 130 yards total the past three games. Utah has said it will make a concerted effort to give White the ball more, and that might be a good thing for a team that ranks 112th nationally in rushing.
Last week: 21-14 loss to UCLA
Up next: at Oregon State on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

11. Washington State (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cougars keep on losing
Why they're not higher/lower: Washington State and Colorado seem to be trading off last-place duties in the power rankings, and all indications are that this will continue throughout the year. The Cougars have at least kept things respectable the past few weeks, but expectations were higher than mere respectability this year. Wazzu will almost certainly be an underdog in each of its final five games, so the Cougars will need to find another gear to avoid regressing from last year's four-win season.
First thing on fans' minds: Everything but passing. The passing game has finally looked Mike Leach-esque, including a 384-yard performance through the air against Cal. However, just about every other part of the game has struggled. Washington State cannot run the ball (40 yards per game, 119th in the country) or defend (102nd in total defense), and the team is last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin.
Last week: 31-17 loss to Cal
Up next: Bye, then at Stanford on 10/27 at 3:15 p.m.

12. Colorado (1-5, 1-2 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Buffaloes back to losing blowouts
Why they're not higher: Since Colorado's stunning comeback win over Washington State, the Buffaloes have looked every bit as bad as they did in their first three games. Last week seemed like a chance to pull off a home upset, but instead Colorado got drilled by 34. Now, the Buffaloes face their toughest stretch of the season, with three straight games against ranked teams ahead.
First thing on fans' minds: End of the year. As in, when will this year end? Colorado has been among the nation's worst in nearly every statistical category, and that is without playing a single ranked team yet this year. Of course, the end of this season brings matchups with Arizona and Utah, two of the three Pac-12 wins Colorado has had since joining the conference.
Last week: 51-17 loss to Arizona State
Up next: at USC on Saturday at 3 p.m.