Perhaps to a greater extent than in any season in Pac-12 history, the misses matter this fall.
The nine-game conference schedule rotation could have a major impact on the title chase and potential postseason bids.
It’s about who you play and who you don’t play.
Why do the misses matter more this year than any other?
Because the 2022 season is the first since the conference expanded to 12 teams (in 2011) that division standings won’t decide the participants in the championship game.
There are no more divisions. Instead, the teams with the highest winning percentage in conference play will advance to Las Vegas on Dec. 2.
Also, there appear to be more than one or two good teams. Largely because of improved coaching and quarterback play, the top of the conference is stronger than it has been in years.
For the first time since late in the 2016 season, the Pac-12 has four teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll — more than any league except the SEC.
That means missing the right combination of opponents could decide the race.
Exactly how it unfolds is difficult to predict. But any assessment at this point suggests there are at least three teams capable of reaching Las Vegas — and possibly four or five.
To provide the broadest sweep, we have listed the schedule misses for the eight teams that currently have 4-0 or 3-1 records. The ideal, of course, is to miss the toughest teams.
Cal: Arizona State and Utah
Oregon: Arizona State and USC
Oregon State: UCLA and Arizona
UCLA: Washington State and Oregon State
USC: Oregon and Washington
Utah: Washington and Cal
Washington: USC and Utah
WSU: UCLA and Colorado
From here, the outlook is clear: USC and Washington drew the most fortunate schedule misses.
It’s too early to know if that confers an advantage in pursuit of the title. But the situation is worthy of scrutiny as the weeks play out.
To the power ratings …
- Please note: The ratings don’t necessarily track with the order of teams listed on my Associated Press top-25 ballot, which is based on guidelines provided by the AP.
1. USC (4-0/2-0)
Last week: 1
Result: won at Oregon State 17-14
Next up: vs. ASU (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: No Football Bowl Subdivision team in the past 10 years has produced a turnover margin greater than +2.0 per game for an entire season. The Trojans are currently +3.5 (14 takeaways, no giveaways). Feels like a reversion to the mean is coming.
2. Utah (3-1/1-0)
Last week: 3
Result: won at Arizona State 34-13
Next up: vs. Oregon State (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: We don’t doubt Kyle Whittingham will require his defense to watch the film of Oregon State rushing for 260 yards against the Utes last year in Corvallis. The only question is whether he makes the players sit through the commercials, too.
3. Oregon (3-1/1-0)
Last week: 5
Result: won at WSU 44-41
Next up: vs. Stanford (8 p.m. on FS1)
Comment: All signs point to a decisive win for the Ducks this weekend, which should make fans extremely nervous given the history of this series.
4. Washington (4-0/1-0)
Last week: 4
Result: beat Stanford 40-22
Next up: at UCLA (Friday, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: For those who missed it, know that Michigan State was blown out at home by Minnesota on Saturday. The 34-7 result — MSU’s only touchdown came with 17 seconds left — certainly makes us rethink how much weight to give UW’s victory over the Spartans.
5. Washington State (3-1/0-1)
Last week: 2
Result: lost to Oregon 44-41
Next up: vs. Cal (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Opponents scored 53 points over the first 15 quarters of the season against WSU. Then Oregon scored 29 in the 16th.
6. Oregon State (3-1/0-1)
Last week: 6
Result: lost to USC 17-14
Next up: at Utah (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The Hotline expected Utah to claim the best secondary in the conference, but now we’re beginning to think OSU’s unit is even better.
7. Cal (3-1/1-0)
Last week: 9
Result: beat Arizona 49-31
Next up: at Washington State (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Huge game for the Bears, who have a bye next week and then visit Colorado. Win in Pullman, and they should be 5-1 when Washington and Oregon visit Strawberry Canyon on back-to-back October Saturdays.
8. UCLA (4-0/1-0)
Last week: 7
Result: won at Colorado 45-17
Next up: vs. Washington (Friday, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: That an undefeated team is No. 8 in our power ratings says as much about the strength of the conference as the weakness of UCLA’s schedule.
9. Arizona (2-2/0-1)
Last week: 8
Result: lost at Cal 49-31
Next up: vs. Colorado (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The bowl math turns into advanced calculus if the Wildcats stumble this week. Fortunately for their postseason prospects, success against CU is a simple equation: less than two turnovers + zero blunders in the kicking game = victory.
10. Stanford (1-2/0-2)
Last week: 11
Result: lost at Washington 40-22
Next up: at Oregon (8 p.m. on FS1)
Comment: Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Stanford’s last victory over an FBS opponent, when it upset Oregon in overtime.
11. Arizona State (1-3/0-1)
Last week: 10
Result: lost to Utah 34-13
Next up: at USC (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: Awfully difficult to find more than two or three wins on ASU’s schedule given the state of the defense and the likely loss of motivation that often surfaces under an interim coach.
12. Colorado (0-4/0-1)
Last week: 12
Result: lost to UCLA 45-17
Next up: at Arizona (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: There have been four in-season coaching changes in the Pac-12 in the past 54 weeks: USC, Washington, WSU and Arizona State. Except for USC, the backdrop featured a serious off-the-field situation. If CU makes a change, it would be based solely on performance.