Almost to the halfway point of the season, and the standings are beginning to take a little shape.
And what’s starting to become obvious is that the strength of the conference is in the North — the six teams in the North are a combined 9-5 in conference play (two of the losses by Cal against other North Division teams) while the South teams are 7-11. Overall, the six North teams are 20-10 — the six South teams are 16-18.
Not necessarily a surprise as we knew heading into the year that Oregon and Stanford would be the strength of the conference — and who knows how long it will continue with Andrew Luck leaving after this season? But for this year, undoubtedly the road to the Pac-12 title goes through the North.
On with the rankings. …
1, Stanford — Stanford has some of the most impressive stats in the country, and has won its games by an average of 36 points. But the Cardinal also has yet to really play anyone. A trip to WSU this week stands as one of its tougher tests so far, though the Cardinal should be able to cruise and set up an early North showdown next week with UW.
2, Oregon — Sounds like LaMichael James may not be out long, and even if he is, don’t cry for the Ducks, who have lots of running backs in reserve. Ducks get a potential Pac-12 Title game preview when Arizona State comes to town Saturday night.
3, Arizona State — Devils are in good shape now in the South at 3-0 with every other team having at least one loss, and USC ineligible. ASU, though, now travels to Oregon and a defeat there could open the door for UCLA to feel like it has a little bit of life — everybody else seems out of it.
4, Washington — UW off last week to rest up for the stretch run — and the calendar and schedule really seems to be breaking well for the Huskies who now get a beaten up, and probably also beaten down, Colorado team before heading to Stanford.
5, USC — Trojans also had last week off and now play Thursday night at Cal, the kind of game Lane Kiffin needs to win to keep the buzzards away.
6, UCLA — As Jon Wilner wrote, there seems no one else deserving of being ranked this high. But if we must, the Bruins get the nod for now moving to 2-1 in conference play with last week’s comeback against the Cougars. And as we noted here last week, it’s not hard to see them being 4-1 in conference play before a home game against ASU on Nov. 5 — UCLA plays at Arizona on Oct. 20 and hosts Cal on Oct. 29.
7, Washington State — Cougs undoubtedly look better this year. But they may really lament blowing that late lead against UCLA as the schedule now stiffens considerably — WSU might be favored just twice more the rest of the way (in Seattle against Oregon State and at home against Utah).
8, Cal — Bears didn’t look that great against Oregon — but that could be more due to Oregon than the Bears. And who else would we put here? If Cal can beat USC Thursday, though, the Bears could then go on a nice little run as they then host Utah, play at UCLA, then host WSU and Oregon State.
9, Oregon State — You don’t have to doubt that the Mike Riley will always have the Beavers playing hard, and they are also beginning to get healthy, as well as some seasoning for QB Sean Mannion. A non-conference home game against BYU this week provides a nice chance to turn the season around in earnest.
10, Utah — Utah got another tough dose of reality last week from Arizona State, and now has to face the even colder splash of water that QB Jordan Wynn is out for the season. And now comes an odd non-conference trip to Pittsburgh. Still, the schedule is soft enough that a bowl game doesn’t remain out of the picture if the defense keeps playing hard.
11, Arizona — Most teams that fire coaches in the middle of the season usually pack it in — as UW fans found out all too well in 2008. But the Wildcats might be the exception. Arizona seemed to still be playing hard even prior to the firing of Mike Stoops, and with Nick Foles and those receivers, the Wildcats will be able to move the ball on everyone left on its schedule. A second-half turnaround wouldn’t be a complete shock.
12, Colorado — Deciding to play 13 games in 13 weeks in the first season in a new conference and a new coach isn’t looking so good right now. The losses and injuries are piling up weekly with no sign of relief.