The college football season is roughly a third of the way over, and nearly everyone has played a conference game or two (the Huskies are the only team without one, strangely). There have already been quite a few surprises, so let’s take a second to step back and see where everyone stands.
I don’t claim these power rankings to be any better than anyone else’s. I watch a good number of games and read a lot more, but there are plenty of teams I haven’t seen much of. Still, everyone loves a power ranking, so I’ll throw one up here. I’m ranking teams based almost entirely on what they’ve done so far, both in terms of record and how they’ve looked. If two teams are close or if there are significant outside circumstances, I’ll look at who is most likely to be successful in the future. That’s secondary though, and this will mainly be a ranking of how good teams have been thus far. Here goes nothing:
Oregon is the second ranked team in the country and has demolished everyone it’s faced. That’s not saying a lot though, as Arizona is the only decent team they’ve played. The Wildcats hung with them for a while last night, but eventually the Ducks pitched a shutout and won 49-0. To me, they don’t look as good as they have in the last couple of years, but it’s hard to say for sure until they play someone who will test them offensively and defensively.
The Cardinal has the best win in the conference, over USC, a pounding defense, and plenty of power in the running game with Stepfan Taylor and a big offensive line. What they also have is a rookie quarterback and a couple of unimpressive wins before the USC game. That’s just to say that we’re not positive where they’ll go from here, especially when they hit the road, but they certainly looked the part against USC.
This is where the rankings get a little difficult, as 3-5 could all be argued as interchangeable. We’ll go with USC because of pedigree, talent and the quality of their loss, but they have questions. They need to dramatically improve on the offensive line and hope they don’t lose any more players to injury. More interestingly, what will Lane Kiffin do the rest of the year? He seems on the verge of melting down and is starting to show the attitude that got him in trouble in Oakland and Tennessee.
4. Oregon State
OSU has two impressive wins and a stifling defense. I seriously considered them at #3. In the end, they’re here because they’ve only played two games (through no fault of their own) and had an extra week to prepare for each of them, as Andrew pointed out to me last night. It’s too early to call them a definite contender, but they look the most legitimate of all the surprise teams thus far.
5. Arizona State
The Sun Devils have had plenty of talent recently. Last year they were the popular pick to win the South before imploding completely. This year they look like they’ve ironed out the attitude problems and are playing great football. They have a bunch of playmakers, a decent defense, and a surprisingly efficient and effective quarterback in Taylor Kelly. It may not last, but they look tough at the moment.
Arizona might have been #4 before last night, but Oregon brought them back to reality quickly. One could argue that UA held the Ducks down for a bit, but that’s often how Oregon wins games. The Wildcats are definitely improved, but it’s hard to know how much or if it will last.
This might be too low, but I’ll be a skeptic on UCLA until they do something for a full season or two. The Nebraska win was good, but they’ve had big early wins before falling apart in the past. They have a great young QB in Brett Hundley, but will he hit the freshman wall at some point? Maybe the biggest question is whether Jim Mora’s toughness campaign has had any effect.
UW is the hardest team to call in the conference. They have blowouts going both directions that were completely unsurprising. The San Diego State win is decent, but they’ve looked fairly mediocre on both sides of the ball. Really, the Huskies have done exactly what they were supposed to do, so the only thing to do is see if they can pull off an upset in the next month.
Utah has a decent win against BYU, but otherwise they look nothing like a team expected to be the biggest South challenger to USC. The offense is a big question, with a hole at quarterback and their only real star, RB John White, hampered with injury so far. I would bet that Utah pulls it together to win a few more, but I’d be surprised if they break .500.
I don’t have a clue what to make of the Golden Bears. Talent-wise, they should be at least middle of the pack, and they looked that way against Ohio State. Otherwise, it’s not happening on the field. The only thing that seems clear is that QB Zach Maynard and the offensive line have to be consistently effective, and that isn’t happening right now.
Congratulations to the Buffs, who stampeded their way out of the cellar yesterday. Colorado showed good resolve and fight to pull out the win over WSU, but the talent doesn’t look to be there for many more wins. I would imagine if they get to three or four, fans will feel moderately hopeful for the future after a dreadful start.
12. Washington State
And here are the Cougars, back in their familiar resting place. Other than possibly USC, I don’t think any team has had a more disappointing start to the season than the Cougs. With all of the hope from the Mike Leach hire, a 4-0 start and a bowl game seemed like a solid possibility. Instead, they’re 2-2, with neither of the wins looking impressive and one of the losses to a team that was being talked of as potentially going 0-12. The defense looks untalented and mistake-prone, a bad combination. The offense has talent, but the Air Raid is taking longer to click than most expected. At this point, the quarterbacks are a bit of a question. Jeff Tuel is hurt and looked unsure of himself when he did play. Connor Halliday has been better than Tuel, but he’s a gambler type prone to interceptions. Even more concerning is the psyche/attitude of the team. Leach didn’t seem to bring the reset they needed. It’s hard not to wonder whether this group of players will ever understand what it takes to win football games. I’d expect a little bit of improvement, but a shot at a bowl game seems out the window.