The Star’s panel of Michael Lev, Ryan Finley, Justin Spears and Dominic Baciocco takes its swing at the latest batch of power rankings. Baciocco compiles the votes and hashes out the weekly results below.
1. Washington Huskies (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12; previous rank: 2)
Last week: Beat No. 20 BYU, 35-7
This week: at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Salvon Ahmed and Myles Gaskin rushed for a combined 167 yards and proved the Washington offense has another dimension outside quarterback Jake Browning. While Gaskin’s averages are down — 4.5 yards per carry (6.2 in 2017), one 100-plus yard game (six), three touchdowns (21) — the senior is still on pace for his fourth 1,000-yard season after rushing for 81 yards in a win over BYU. Washington is 22-6 since 2015 when Gaskin rushes for at least 80 yards. The good times will roll when Gaskin and the Huskies visit UCLA this week.
2. Stanford Cardinal (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12; previous rank: 1)
Last week: Lost to No. 8 Notre Dame, 38-17
This week: Utah, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
The annual Notre Dame game offers the Cardinal room for a slip-up in the midst of Pac-12 play, and last week’s loss was just that. Stanford never led and fell behind big in the second half. K.J. Costello had a season-low 174 passing yards and was intercepted once. Bryce Love had 73 yards on 17 carries and found paydirt on a 39-yard scramble in the first half. More important was Love’s health, as the star back left limping with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. Coach David Shaw said Tuesday that “it doesn’t look severe,” but the Cardinal will continue to monitor Love’s ankle. Still, Stanford is off to its best start since 2015, when the Cardinal finished 12-2 and won the Rose Bowl.
3. Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1-1; previous rank: 3)
Last week: Beat No. 24 Cal, 42-24
This week: Bye
Mario Cristobal’s squad is back on track after thrashing any thought of Cal being a contender in the North Division. The Ducks went to Berkeley and won handily over a newly ranked Golden Bears team that hadn’t surrendered more than 320 yards all season. Oregon racked up 485 yards and forced five Cal turnovers. Justin Herbert threw for 225 yards — a season low — but was effective with two touchdowns while completing 72.7 percent of his passes. The Ducks’ rushing attack game was especially encouraging, as they finished with two 100-yard rushers for the second time this season. Cristobal will have an extra week to prepare for a Washington game that could put the Ducks back in prime position to win the North.
4. Colorado Buffaloes (4-0, 1-0; previous rank: 4)
Last week: Beat UCLA, 38-16
This week: Arizona State, 1 p.m. Saturday
Mike MacIntyre has No. 21 Colorado ranked for the first time since 2016. It was business as usual against the lowly Bruins last week, but Colorado’s four opponents so far this year are now a combined 1-16. The road is sure to be more difficult when Colorado welcomes Arizona State to Boulder on Saturday. The Buffs are just 1-6 against the Sun Devils since joining the Pac-12, with the lone win coming at home in 2016. ASU has allowed just one receiver all season to top 100 yards, but the Pac-12’s leading pass-catcher in Laviska Shenault Jr. has gone over the century mark three times for Colorado. Something has to give.
5. USC Trojans (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12; previous rank: 6)
Last week: Beat Arizona 24-20
This week: Bye
The Trojans have a lot to prove to show they belong in the upper echelon of the Pac-12 this year. USC had more penalties (18) against Arizona than first downs (17) or JT Daniels completions (16), so it’s safe to say there’s room for some major improvements. USC’s 24-20 victory over Arizona was as sloppy as they come, as the Trojans squandered a 24-point halftime lead. “I’ll take the victory and the opportunity to coach kids hard and show them brutal honesty,” coach Clay Helton said Tuesday. The incredibly weak Pac-12 South is Helton’s best friend as USC heads into a bye week with plenty to correct. The Trojans get Colorado on Oct. 13, in a matchup that could decide who represents the division in the conference title game.
6. Washington State Cougars (4-1, 1-1; previous rank: 9)
Last week: Beat Utah, 28-24
This week: at Oregon State, 6 p.m. Saturday
Mike Leach’s team bounced back in a big way from its first loss of the season. Gardner Minshew, the Pac-12’s leading passer (1,992 yards), had his third 400-yard game of the season. No other quarterback in the conference has thrown for 400 yards in a game. Look for the Cougars to establish a better rushing attack during a cupcake game this week at Oregon State. A trip to Corvallis should serve as a tune-up heading into a bye before the bulk of the Pac-12 schedule, when Washington State will play Oregon, Stanford, Cal and Colorado in consecutive weeks.
7. Utah Utes (2-2, 0-2 Pac-12; previous rank: 7)
Last week: Lost to Washington State, 28-24
This week: at No. 14 Stanford, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Utah is still searching for an identity ahead of its third conference contest — and a road trip to Stanford is as difficult as they come. Zack Moss found the end zone for the fourth consecutive game last week, but he needed a whopping 30 carries to surpass 100 yards. After a promising start to the 2018 campaign, Moss has came back down to earth a bit in recent weeks and no longer seems like a candidate to lead the conference in rushing (he currently ranks seventh). More of a concern is the play of quarterback Tyler Huntley, who hasn’t found the end zone through the air since Week 1. It will be near impossible to keep up with Stanford if that trend continues for a fourth week.
8. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-2, 1-1; previous rank: 10)
Last week: Beat Oregon State 52-24
This week: at No. 21 Colorado, 1 p.m. Saturday
Herm Edwards was all about progress during Tuesday’s conference call. ASU is 3-2 with its two losses coming by a touchdown each. Edwards picked up his first Pac-12 win last week. Now comes the fun part: To contend in the Pac-12, the Sun Devils will have to play some of their best football with Colorado, Stanford, USC and Utah upcoming. Manny Wilkins has cooled down but still owns an impressive 10-1 TD-INT ratio, best in the conference, thanks in large to Chandler product N’Keal Harry. Wilkins will have to remain efficient if he’s not throwing up 300-yard games every week, especially against a Colorado defense that’s given up more than 16 points once this year.
9. Cal Golden Bears (3-1, 0-1; previous rank: 5)
Last week: Lost to No. 19 Oregon, 42-24
This week: at Arizona, 7 p.m. Saturday
Cal is positioned nicely in the Pac-12, even after a disappointing and perhaps surprising blowout at the hands of Oregon. If the Golden Bears can survive a road trip to Tucson this week, they can make their run with games against UCLA and Oregon State to follow. The quarterback rotation of Chase Garbers and Brandon McIlwain will need to be firing on all cylinders to beat the Wildcats. The pair threw four interceptions on 30 attempts last week. Patrick Laird, meanwhile, has been pretty insufficient rushing the ball, averaging just 3.5 yards on 67 carries this season. If the Wildcats struggle out of the gate like usual, it will give Cal time to figure out what’s working. A loss here would likely end its chances at challenging the North’s top tier.
10. Arizona Wildcats (2-3, 1-1; previous rank: 8)
Last week: Lost to USC, 24-20
This week: Cal, 7 p.m. Saturday
Arizona finds itself firmly in the lesser half of the conference after flopping on a golden opportunity to finally beat USC. The Wildcats have little room for error with Khalil Tate still operating at much less than 100 percent. Tate’s 38 rushing yards last week were a season-high, but a 48.5 completion percentage was his worst since Nov. 4 last year. The quarterback ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing yards (1,271), and more importantly has largely avoided pressure despite some shaky offensive line play and a bum ankle. His four sacks are the lowest among the conference’s weekly starters. What’s interesting here is Arizona’s approach to Cal’s two-quarterback style. Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday that the two quarterbacks have affected preparations, while Wildcats players said it’s been business as usual.
11. UCLA Bruins (0-4, 0-1; previous rank: 11)
Last week: Lost at Colorado, 38-16
This week: No. 10 Washington, 4:30 p.m. Saturday
UCLA figures to stay ahead of Oregon State in the race of bottom dwellers for the time being, if only because the Beavers’ struggles aren’t anything new. UCLA has been outscored 151-68, and has failed to get Dorian Thompson-Robinson adapted to the college level since he took over for an injured Wilton Speight in the opening week. The freshman has thrown for 200 yards just once this season. The bright side? UCLA is at home this week after dropping its 12th consecutive true road game. Washington won’t mind.
12. Oregon State Beavers (1-4, 0-2; previous rank: 12)
Last week: Lost to Arizona State, 52-24
This week: Washington State, 6 p.m. Saturday
If only Jermar Jefferson could line up against his own miserable Oregon State rush defense. The Pac-12’s leading rusher put up 254 yards against ASU — his second effort of at least 200 yards this season — and seems a runaway pick for Pac-12 freshman of the year. The Beavers’ defense, however, is allowing 303.4 rushing yards per game. Opponents have topped 300 yards three times — Arizona rushed for 442 yards two weeks ago. Washington State’s leading rusher is James Williams, whose season-high is just 82 yards. Oregon State will need to figure something out in a hurry to keep it that way.