The Pac-12’s better-than-expected showing over the first three weeks — can you blame us for having a bleak outlook? — included non-conference sweeps by four teams.
Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State completed the out-of-league portions of their schedules with 3-0 marks. They are halfway to bowl eligibility with nine league games to play.
(Two other teams, USC and Stanford, are undefeated in non-conference games with more dates to come.)
The correlation between nonconference perfection and bowl invitations is strong.
Since the Pac-12 expanded prior to the 2011 season, 47 teams have recorded 3-0 records against FBS and FCS competition.
Of those, 40 went on to reach the six-win threshold needed for a bowl berth. That’s a hit rate of 85.1%.
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The seven teams that went 3-0 in non-conference play and failed to become bowl-eligible — meaning, they were worse than 3-6 in conference games — were as follows:
2013: Utah and Colorado
2014: Oregon State
2016: Arizona State
2017: Cal and Colorado
(Note: We are including USC ’11 as one of the 40. The Trojans were 3-0 in non-conference games and won 10 overall but were ineligible for a bowl bid because of NCAA sanctions.)
The historical trend suggests Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and WSU are extremely well positioned for bowl bids this fall. They need only win three out of nine conference games to qualify.
And with three of the four, there’s an additional component worth noting: Only Washington State does not play Colorado, which is struggling to attain a minimum level of competence.
The Bruins, Huskies and Cougars have three wins secured and likely will be heavily favored in a fourth.
To the power ratings …
1. USC 3-0 overall, 1-0 Pac-12)
Last week: 1
Result: beat Fresno State 45-17
Next up: at Oregon State (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The Trojans are just No. 81 nationally in yards-per-play allowed (5.6) but an impressive No. 4 in turnovers created (3.33 per game). As a result, they stand 46th in points allowed (19.7 ppg). If the opportunism ever deteriorates, things could get dicey.
2. Washington State (3-0)
Last week: 3
Result: beat Colorado State 38-7
Next up: vs. Oregon (1 p.m. on Ch. 11)
Comment: We were waiting for the offense to catch up to the defense. Judging by Cam Ward’s 299 yards and four touchdowns against CSU, that process could be accelerating. Substantiation, or rejection, will come Saturday afternoon.
3. Utah (2-1)
Last week: 2
Result: beat San Diego State 35-7
Next up: at Arizona State (7:30 p.m. on ESPN/2)
Comment: Imagine the reaction of Utah’s offensive line when it watches film of ASU’s defensive front allowing 305 yards rushing to Eastern Michigan. It will be like the Hotline staring at a hot-off-the-grill hamburger from In-N-Out (Animal Style).
4. Washington (3-0)
Last week: 6
Result: beat Michigan State 39-28
Next up: vs. Stanford (7:30 p.m. on FS1)
Comment: The semi-blowout at Husky Stadium was an ambush everyone saw coming and a lesser version of UW’s 2016 obliteration of No. 7 Stanford, which signaled Washington’s ascent to the top of the conference. But there are more obstacles in the Huskies’ path than there were back then.
5. Oregon (2-1)
Last week: 7
Result: beat BYU 41-20
Next up: at Washington State (1 p.m. on Ch. 11)
Comment: In Week One, we got bad Bo. In Week Three, we saw good Bo. Oregon’s fate hinges on which Bo Nix appears regularly over the next two months. And if you can figure that out in advance, please focus instead on curing cancer.
6. Oregon State (3-0)
Last week: 4
Result: beat Montana State 68-28
Next up: vs. USC (6:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: We examined the box scores from three memorable OSU victories over the Trojans — the 2006 and 2008 upsets of the Carroll-era juggernauts and the breakthrough win last year in the Coliseum — and what jumped off the page? USC had 14 turnovers in the three games, while the Beavers had two.
7. UCLA (3-0)
Last week: 5
Result: beat South Alabama 32-31
Next up: at Colorado (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The Pac-12’s improved depth is reflected in an undefeated team in the No. 7 position in our power ratings. Of course, the Bruins needed a last-second field goal to retain their undefeated status.
8. Arizona (2-1)
Last week: 8
Result: beat North Dakota State 31-28
Next up: at Cal (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Sure, the Bison are an FCS program. But Arizona would have lost that game last year, and the year before that, and quite possibly the year before that and that and that. Progress, folks. Progress.
9. Cal (2-1)
Last week: 9
Result: lost at Notre Dame 24-17
Next up: vs. Arizona (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The ACC informed us that it won’t release a public statement about the insane offside call on the Bears that led to a Notre Dame touchdown. Instead, the matter will be handled privately between the supervisors of officials for the two conferences. (In the Pac-12, that’s David Coleman.)
10. Arizona State (1-2)
Last week: 10
Result: lost to Eastern Michigan 30-21
Next up: vs. Utah (7:30 p.m. on ESPN/2)
Comment: If all it took to dismiss Herm Edwards was a miserable on-field performance, why didn’t ASU fire him after the no-show against Washington State in the middle of last season?
11. Stanford (1-1, 0-1)
Last week: 11
Next up: at Washington (7:30 p.m. on FS1)
Comment: The extra time to prepare creates a stellar opportunity for the Cardinal to continue its weird dominance of the Huskies in the underdog role. However, the bye is bad news in every other respect: Stanford will have to play 10 consecutive weeks.
12. Colorado (0-3)
Last week: 12
Result: lost at Minnesota 49-7
Next up: vs. UCLA (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: On the list of ominous signs for any head coach, the athletic director offering a public statement of support probably ranks fifth. The top four would be losing to Eastern Michigan amid an NCAA recruiting scandal, refusing to get a COVID vaccine despite a state mandate, losing at home to Oregon State for the first time in 61 years and whacking a player during an in-game altercation.
But that’s just a guess.