Tuesday, 17 September 2013

2013 Pac-12 Power Rankings Week 3: Oregon, UCLA hitting its stride while Stanford lays low

1. Oregon (Overall: 3-0, Conference: 0-0, Last Week: 2)
It looked early on like the Ducks would sleep walk to another victory but instead they opened up the throttle and put an epic beatdown on the Tennessee Volunteers. Oregon is now scoring an average of 61.3 points per game while allowing nine. The Ducks have not committed a turnover while forcing seven, have allowed only one sack, and are out-gaining their opponents by nearly six yards per play. They haven't necessarily faced any great teams but they haven't faced Nicholls State every week either. In the last two weeks, the Ducks have beaten an ACC and an SEC team by a combined 94 points.

2. UCLA (2-0, 0-0, LW: 4)
The Bruins looked like a middling team for the first 19 minutes of the game against Nebraska. Over the course of the final 41 minutes however, UCLA was a top 10 team. I think the Bruins true identity lies more so with the latter. UCLA is loaded on both lines, Shaq Evans has certainly developed into a number one receiver, Jordan James and Paul Perkins have replaced Jonathan Franklin, and Brett Hundley is still a superstar. UCLA showed incredible character coming back from 18 down on the road and if they keep playing like they did in the second half, even Oregon might not be able to stop them.

3. Washington (2-0, 0-0, LW: 1)
I was torn between between having Washington at second or third but I settled on third for one simple reason.The most important thing for a great team to do is keep their foot on the gas with a big lead. UCLA built its lead to two scores and kept pressing as they built their lead even further and shutout a top 30 offense in the second half. Washington took a 21 point lead and immediately gave up a 70+ touchdown and followed that with only one first down on its two ensuing offensive possessions. Don't get me wrong, the Huskies look great but they need to learn how to play with big leads. 

4. Arizona State (2-0, 0-0, LW: 6)
The story coming out of the Wisconsin-ASU game was incompetent officiating but that buries the fact that ASU looked very good against a top team. Taylor Kelly became the first QB to throw for 300 yards against the Badgers defense since 2009 and Marion Grice has somehow managed to maintain his absurd touchdown rate of one score per 7.5 touches despite raising his touches per game from 11 to 22.5. ASU's defensive line is diminutive with no one taller than 6'2'' but that didn't hurt them against one of the nation's most physical offensive lines.

5. Stanford (2-0, 0-0, LW: 3)
I promised to do these rankings based solely on what happens on the field this season and Stanford certainly hasn't done much. But, if you watch this team play you can see their talent and ability and you can also tell they're being held back. Stanford has used an excessively conservative game plan in both of their games thus far and yet they have suffocated both of their opponents. The Cardinal will finally have their hands full on Saturday against Arizona State.

6. Arizona (3-0, 0-0, LW: 7)
While we're talking about teams leaving things in their back pocket, how about the Wildcats who have finally wrapped up one of the lightest non-conference schedules in the history of college football. Ka'Deem Carey is a special player and the 'Cats finally got some production from their receivers as Garic Wharton made a couple nice plays. B.J. Denker was once again unspectacular but he was efficient and kept the offense moving. Arizona's team speed on defense continues to look great and they are tackling in space better than I have seen in years. We'll have to wait and see if all that holds up as the season grows older.

7. Oregon State (2-1, 1-0, LW: 11)
Every year the Beavers lay an egg early in the season and we convince ourselves that Oregon State is a bad team. The moment we feel we have all the evidence to prove they aren't any good, Oregon State pulls a rabbit out of its hat and shocks a favored team on the road. The Beavers won an exhilarating overtime game against a Utah team that was coming in incredibly hot and now the coast might be clear for OSU to get into the conference title picture. Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks are without a doubt the best QB-WR combo in the Pac-12 and you can make a case that they're the best in the nation. That being said, the defense was atrocious once again and looked like they had never seen a zone read before. That's bad news knowing that almost every team in the conference has the zone read in their play book and the Beavers don't have a scout team QB who can replicate it in practice.

8. Utah (2-1, 0-1, LW: 5)
Poor Utah, they commit some early turnovers and fall behind by 17 points, stage a rousing comeback to take the lead, cough that lead right back up again, tie the game almost as time expires, and then lose in overtime as a pass goes through a defenders hands and right to Brandin Cooks for a soul-crushing touchdown. That's just the way football is sometimes. Utah should be encouraged as they moved the ball both on the ground and through the air and finally found a feature tailback in the form of James Poole. The defensive line was supposed to be a strength of this team but their performance was concerning as they struggled to get pressure on Sean Mannion.

9. Colorado (2-0, 0-0, LW: 8)
Colorado had to take an unplanned week off after flooding in Boulder necessitated a postponement of its game against Fresno State. Colorado is taking this next week off as well although this time it is a planned opening in the schedule. I'm keeping the Buffs in this general area for the next little while until I get a chance to see them again.

10. Washington State (2-1, 1-0, LW: 10)
The Cougars did what they were supposed to do and blew out a bad team to build some momentum off their win over USC last week. Connor Halliday finally played efficiently as he threw only nine incompletions and just one unlucky interception. Halliday also demonstrated a good deep ball for the first time this season. If Halliday can complement the Cougars screens and quick passes with some longer throws, The Cougs might be able to use that and their stout defense to make a bowl game.

11. USC (2-1, 0-1, LW: 12)
Yes, USC finally started to look like the USC of old against Boston College but these rankings are based on an overall body of work. One decent afternoon against Boston College does not erase two weeks of rancid play before that. Furthermore, doesn't the fact that USC is being celebrated for blowing out a bad BC team go to show just how far they've fallen?

12. California (1-2, 0-0, LW: 9)
Where else am I supposed to put the only losing team in the Pac-12 besides last place? The Bears offense was exciting and productive once again but still way too mistake prone. Ohio State also exposed some weaknesses in the Bears' pass protection and the Cal defense might be the worst among all power conference teams.

The Award Tracker:

Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year:
1. QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (LW: 2)
Mariota finally put together a great game as a passer as he shredded Tennessee for 456 yards and four touchdowns through the air. On the ground Mariota had his moments including a touchdown where he was dead to rights in the back field but he out ran a tackler to the corner. Even though he didn't break one for 50+ yards, his per carry average is still holding steady at an absurd 17.5.

2. QB Sean Mannion, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 3)
Mannion torched the Utah secondary all night to the tune of 443 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He now has a 12 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio and is averaging 412 yards per game while completing nearly 77% of his throws on third down. Mannion has quickly established himself as the best pocket passer in the Pac-12 but once again his lack of contribution as a runner keeps him behind Mariota.

3. WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State (LW: NR)
Cooks has emerged as Mannion's favorite target and with good reason. After an all-world performance against Utah (nine receptions, 210 yards, three touchdowns), Cooks leads the nation in receptions and touchdown catches with 29 and seven respectively. Cooks' 498 receiving yards ranks second in the nation and only five of his receptions have not gone for either a first down or a touchdown. I have Cooks behind Mannion because I think the Beavers would be worse of without their QB but that is no disparagement to Cooks who might be the most explosive receiver in college football.

Honorable Mentions:
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado

RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington

QB Brett Hundley, So., UCLA

RB De'Anthony Thomas, Jr., Oregon

RB Marion Grice, Sr., Arizona State

Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year:
1. S Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jr., Arizona (LW: 1)
Bondurant did not manage to return an interception for a touchdown this week but he did have a season high eight tackles and three pass break ups. Bondurant has made headlines by playing the ball as he leads the Pac-12 in passes defended and interceptions but if he starts tracking down ball carriers and affecting the run game like he did on Saturday, he might just stay atop these rankings all year.

2. LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (LW: NR)
In just two games Barr has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Furthermore, Barr had all of those forced fumbles against Nebraska to go along with 11 tackles. That made him Pac-12 defensive player of the week and his performance could have been even better as he twice had Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez wrapped up in the backfield but couldn't bring him down. Martinez is one of the best running quarterbacks in the nation but UCLA has some immobile QBs coming up on the schedule so Barr's sacks should climb.

3. DE Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah (LW: NR)
One Utah pass rusher falls off and another steps up. Nate Orchard was the most impressive defensive lineman in the conference after week one but he has fallen off in the last two games. Enter Reilly, who had a big game against the Beavers with two tackles for loss, a sack, and a pass break up. Reilly now leads the conference with four tackles for loss and will be highly motivated to play well against his brother Trevor and BYU this Saturday.

Honorable Mentions:
S Dion Bailey, Jr., USC

LB Devon Kennard, Sr., USC

DT Arik Armstead, So., Oregon

S Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State

DE Josh Shirley, Jr., Washington

Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year:
1. QB Jared Goff, California (LW: 1)
Goff made a number of great throws once again although his passing yards per game actually dropped to 433.7. I don't want to put Goff in the race for overall player of the year because I think he's made way too many forced throws that have hurt his team and his numbers are inflated by the Bears' system. However, his impact on the Pac-12 season is far greater than any other freshman has had or will have.
2. RB Justin Davis, USC (LW: NR)
Davis was inexplicably frozen out of the game plan against Washington State but was given some steady work against Boston College and responded with 96 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries. Davis is now averaging 6.6 yards per carry and with uncertainty at the QB position and Silas Redd still in poor health Davis might continue to put out big performances.

3. RB Paul Perkins, UCLA (LW: NR)
Perkins has yet to get a chance to put together a full performance but he did score the touchdown at the end of the first half that started the Bruins huge comeback against Nebraska. He also had a key 20 yard catch and run on a screen pass when he broke a couple tackles. Based on the reps he is getting, it seems Perkins hay have beaten out Malcolm Jones for the number two tailback role behind Jordan James.
Honorable Mentions:
RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon

RB Khalfani Muhammad, California
Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year:
1. LB Addison Gilliam, Colorado (LW: 1)
Gilliam was not afforded a stage to show off his abilities this weekend but the memories of what he has done are not old enough to make him fade form the top spot.

2. LB Myles Jack, UCLA (LW: 3)
Jack must have looked really impressive during UCLA's bye week practices because he was installed as a starter at outside linebacker against Nebraska. Jack rewarded Jim Mora's faith in him with a big performance as he tallied five solo tackles, one impressive tackle for a loss, and he even broke up a pass that would have gone for about 20 yards had he not made the play. Jack did not produce Gilliam type numbers but he looked very impressive on film. After re-watching the game, it seemed like Nebraska was showing him the ultimate show of respect by actively running plays away from him and toward All-American Anthony Barr at the other outside linebacker spot.

3. LB Scooby Wright, Arizona (LW: NR)
I keep trying to temper my excitement over Arizona's defense because they started well last year and got ripped in conference play and seem to be set up for that again following three games against sub par opponents. But regardless of who the Wildcats have played, Wright along with Bondurant has looked impressive. Wright has shown a great propensity for finding the ball and tackling in space as he has recorded 19 tackles including three for a loss this season. Wright has quickly become a starter and a key player for the Cats.

Honorable Mentions:

DB Daquawn Brown, Washington State

LB Torrodney Prevot, Oregon

DL, Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

Pac-12 Coach of the Year:
1. Jim Mora, UCLA (LW: NR)
No coach had ever shown so much dignity as Mora with the way he handled himself in the wake of Nick Pasquale's death. The UCLA team showed a lot of heart and character these past two weeks especially after scoring 38 unanswered points in their big win over Nebraska. I love the faith Mora shows in his players as he did not shake up his lineup in the defensive secondary after they were shredded in the first half. I also think his willingness to play true freshmen like Jack, Vanderdoes, and Deon Hollins in an already loaded front seven shows tremendous faith in his roster. That faith surely inspires his players to play hard for him.

2. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (LW: 1)
Like Gilliam, one unexpected week off isn't enough for MacIntyre's work turning the Buffs around to fade away. I don't know if Colorado will hold up very well in conference play but the fact that Coach Mac has already won half as many games in two weeks as Jon Embree won in two years is reason enough to keep him up here for awhile.

3. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (LW: NR)
Helfrich has not only created a seamless transition from Chip Kelly but in some ways he has improved on Kelly's culture. Oregon is now snapping the ball every 17 seconds, up from 20 a year ago and is taking more shots down field in the passing game. Marcus Mariota looks more like a QB and less like a playmaker in the pocket and I think Helfrich deserves a lot of credit for that. I also love that Helfrich maintains the tempo and keeps his foot on the gas pedal even after he puts his backups in.

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