Unlike last season when the Pac-12 eliminated non-conference matchups, this season has been full of marquee games against non-conference opponents. These matchups provide an early-season look at which teams have separated themselves as contenders.
Here’s a look at three Pac-12 teams rising as potential conference contenders and three teams falling out of the ranks.
Risers: Oregon Ducks
It wasn’t pretty, but the Ducks eked out a one-score victory against Fresno State in week one. Quarterback Anthony Brown and the offense underperformed, struggling to move the ball downfield at times. Brown broke the game open in the fourth quarter with his legs, however, as the offensive line began to click.
Brown scrambled for the game-winning touchdown and carried that offensive momentum into the Ducks’ highly-anticipated matchup with Ohio State.
In week two, Oregon traveled to Columbus and shocked the world, taking down No. 3 Ohio State for the first time in school history. The Buckeyes failed to stop the Ducks’ offense in the second half, led by C.J. Verdell’s 161 yards and two touchdowns.
A clutch interception from Verone McKinley III sealed the deal as the Ducks shot up to No. 4 in the week three national poll. This week, the Ducks head home to host Stony Brook — a team nowhere near the caliber of their last opponent.
The Chip Kelly era in Pasadena started on a rocky path as Kelly endured a multi-year rebuild. But, like any rebuild, a peak is on the horizon, and the Bruins are showing that this could be their year.
Led by running back Zach Charbonnet, the Bruins’ ground game dropped 266 yards in their opening win against Hawaii, followed up by a 264-yard performance against LSU. Charbonnet leads the conference at 13.6 yards per carry.
The Bruins passing attack includes one of the top tight-ends in the country, Greg Dulcich who leads the team in receptions through two games. Dulcich, a former walk-on, has ascended the depth chart to become Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s favorite target.
The Bruins will take on the Fresno State Bulldogs this week before beginning conference play at the end of the month. With a strong start to the season, it’s a good bet this Bruins team will challenge the Ducks for the Pac-12 title as Kelly seeks revenge on his former school.
The Sun Devils entered the season ranked just inside the top 25. Through two weeks, Herm Edwards has his squad firing on all cylinders as they attempt to compartmentalize the distraction that is the ongoing investigation of their program.
Although their two wins came against subpar teams, the Sun Devils look ready to take on their upcoming Pac-12 opponents with sophomore Jayden Daniels under center.
After rising to No. 19 in the NCAA rankings, ASU will face the Brigham Young Cougars this week, who just took down the Utah Utes. The Cougars punched the Utes in the gut with an explosive running game and will attempt to do the same against the Sun Devils.
A test against BYU should prepare the Sun Devils for the Pac-12 matchups in the near future.
Fallers: Washington Huskies
Earning preseason respect is one thing; backing that up with play is another. The Huskies ranked No. 20 in the AP Poll to start the season, before failing to score double-digit points against the Montana Grizzlies and losing 13-7.
The woes continued in their second game against the Michigan Wolverines, who dropped 343 rushing yards to demoralize the Huskies’ front seven.
Washington has a much easier matchup against Arkansas State in week three as they seek their first victory. The Huskies chances of competing with Oregon in the Pac-12 North are looking slimmer and slimmer.
After a convincing season-opening victory against San Jose State, the Trojans struggled in week two against their first Pac-12 opponent: the Stanford Cardinal.
Nathaniel Peat took six carries for 115 yards and a touchdown, with an 87-yard house call coming in the first quarter. The Cardinal continued to run up the score in the third quarter and didn’t look back.
The Trojans fell out of the top 25 after the loss. They will look to turn it around next week in a matchup against Washington State, but will do so with a new face at the top. Head coach Clay Helton was fired Tuesday morning, and former Ducks defensive backs coach Donte Williams will take over an interim head coach.
Along with the Trojans, the Utes dropped out of the top 25 after a loss to Bringham Young. Utah tends to stifle their opponents with its run defense, but they conceded 231 yards on the ground to the Cougars last Saturday.
Quarterback Charlie Brewer struggled to move the ball, completing only 15 passes for 147 yards, and failed to find his stride, throwing a pick on the first drive of the game. The Baylor transfer was never able to regain momentum.
The Utes travel to San Diego State for their final non-conference game next weekend.