The Pac-12 is a league struggling to gain national attention. 0 Pac-12 teams are ranked inside the top-10 of the preseason polls this year. The West Coast has not been represented in either of the past 2 College Football Playoffs.
Based on preseason rankings, I had the Pac-12 ranked 4th of the 5 Power-5 conferences in college football.
Preseason Power-5 Rankings
After an underwhelming Week 1 of Pac-12 play featuring losses to the Mountain West, American, Big 12, and SEC, I now have the Pac-12 ranked below the ACC heading into Week 2.
Week 2 Power-5 Rankings
Biggest Pac-12 Win
Stanford 17 – Northwestern 7
Both Stanford and Oregon had the opportunity for a ranked win last weekend, but only the Cardinal could deliver. Oregon’s injury-riddled offense going toe-to-toe with #16 Auburn was a more impressive performance, but the Ducks came up just short on the scoreboard.
Ranked 25th in the preseason Coaches Poll, Northwestern was a formidable opening opponent for 9th-year HC David Shaw and the Stanford Cardinal. Each program is coming off a 9-win 2018 campaign. The Wildcats played in the Big Ten Championship game last December.
I do not want to praise Stanford’s defense too much. Yes, they only allowed 7 points, but many of the Wildcats’ offensive miscues were not forced.
Highly-touted Clemson transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson was absolutely horrid in his Northwestern debut. The redshirt sophomore finished the game completing just 6 of his 17 pass attempts for 55 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 2 picks. This all equates to a QBR of … 4.2.
Oh yeah … and he fumbled twice.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) September 1, 2019
Johnson was so inept early on that HC Pat Fitzgerald decided to turn to senior backup T.J. Green. Green broke his foot in the 3rd quarter, forcing Fitzgerald to put Johnson back under center to finish the game.
The Cardinal D does deserve some credit. 4 forced turnovers is a nice stat. Hunter Johnson is directly responsible for 3 of them, though. While Stanford’s defense is clicking early, it is safe to say that the Cardinal will not be a top-5 defensive team in the nation this season – as they gave the illusion of on Saturday.
Worst Pac-12 Loss
Hawaii 45 – Arizona 38
Travelling across the Pacific to take on Mountain West foe Hawaii, the Arizona Wildcats were favored by 10.5 points. The Warriors turned the ball over 6 times and still managed to beat Arizona 45-38.
Hawaii WR Cedric Byrd made up for his offense’s sloppiness by going off for 14 catches, 224 receiving yards, and 4 TD. Looking at Hawaii’s passing numbers, you would assume that Arizona’s defense was horrible.
Forcing 6 turnovers is also a sign of an excellent defensive performance. The last favored team to force 6 turnovers and still lose the game was Hawaii (oddly enough) back in 2011 – losing 28-27 to San Jose State despite forcing 6 turnovers.
Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate was far from perfect. He threw for 361 yards but at the cost of a low, 56.4% completion percentage. Tate threw 2 picks himself – twice thwarting his team’s attempts at a comeback.
Best Individual Pac-12 Performance
Washington State QB – Anthony Gordon
420 pass yards on 29 of 35 passing, 5 TDs, 0 INTs against New Mexico State
Washington State lost star quarterback Gardner Minshew to the NFL and then found another stud to replace him. Stellar quarterback play is a staple of Mike Leach’s offense and his man this year will be senior gunslinger Anthony Gordon.
You had to really pay attention if you wanted to catch Gordon missing a target on Saturday. Gordon ushered in a new era of WSU football by completing his first 15 pass attempts of the game against the overmatched Aggies.
New Mexico State is not a good opponent, I get it, but they are FBS. Washington QB Jacob Eason posted similar numbers in his team’s opener against Eastern Washington – an FCS opponent.
Throwing for 420 yards and 5 touchdowns while only missing 6 throws against any FBS opponent is worthy of POTW honors.
Worst Ind. Performance
Hunter Johnson – see above
Biggest Questions for Week 2
K.J. Costello’s Health
Stanford’s senior quarterback was knocked out of the Northwestern game with a blow to the helmet – suffering an apparent concussion.
Costello threw for over 3,500 yards with 29 touchdowns last season. He is vital to the Cardinal attack. Stanford running back Cameron Scarlett is not an every down back who can take over a game. David Shaw desperately needs Costello back under center if he hopes to move the ball this weekend.
Stanford faces USC on Saturday. The Cardinal are one-point underdogs with a point total of 45. Vegas can see the final score being in the 23-22 ballpark. Stanford needs Costello back on the field if they hope to score 3 or 4 touchdowns.
We saw last week that things can get pretty stagnant offensively for the Cardinal even with Costello in the game.
Colorado’s Run Game – Fluke or Not?
The Buffaloes put up 52 points in the Rocky Mountain Showdown without a prolific pass game. QB Steven Montez barely eclipsed the 200-yard plateau and star receiver Laviska Shenault managed to haul in just 3 passes.
The real star was CU junior back Alex Fontenot. HC Mel Tucker called Fontenot’s number 19 times on Saturday. Fontenot finished the game with 125 yards rushing and 3 2nd-half touchdowns.
It appears Colorado has stressed the run game over the summer. Run blocking both from the offensive line and downfield receivers looked excellent against CSU.
The ultimate team sport. Our WR’s were on point blocking downfield.
“It’s going to be offense, defense and special teams working together. Everybody being unselfish, doing your job and playing for the man next to you.” – @Coach_MTucker #GoBuffs || #RELENTLESS pic.twitter.com/ehhcVyt39c
— Colorado Buffaloes Football (@CUBuffsFootball) September 2, 2019
The Buffaloes face a tougher Week 2 opponent – Nebraska – this weekend. It will be interesting to see how Colorado’s running attack fares against a B10 defense.
Biggest Week 2 Pac-12 Games