Fool's Gold: First impressions and false impressions from Week 9 in the Pac-12
With no matchups between ranked Pac-12 teams this weekend, it’ll fall on the shoulders of the top half of the conference to fend off the lower half from spoiling the last month of the season.
Last week, all 4 ranked conference teams prevailed, with Oregon State sneaking into the Top 25 because of losses by other Power 5 and Group of 5 programs. Now the Beavers are featured on Friday night in what is shaping up to be the game of the week.
Week 9 offered some answers, but how much of what we learned will be fact and how much of it will be fiction? Read below.
1. Impression: Oregon State vs. Washington is the game of the week
USC, UCLA and Utah each have matchups against 3-5 squads while Oregon faces a 1-7 Colorado team. It’s hard to imagine any of those top-12 teams having much of an issue against those patsies.
But 6-2 Oregon State and 6-2 Washington tangle in Husky Stadium in a must-watch Friday night matchup.
This game presents an interesting contrast between Washington’s voluminous passing game and Oregon State’s top-flight pass defense, which leads the conference in pass defense efficiency.
The Beavers rank 2nd in the conference with 10 interceptions and have allowed just 7 passing touchdowns.
How they fare against Michael Penix Jr. and league-leading receiver Rome Odunze will determine the outcome.
Verdict: First impression is correct. The winner will be ranked after this week.
2. Impression: The Utes can survive an extended absence for Cameron Rising
Bryson Barnes’ performance on Saturday in a 21-17 win over Washington State was as gutsy as it was unexpected. It’s not an easy thing to go into Pullman and pull out a victory with about a 30-minute heads-up. The former walk-on went 17-of-27 for 175 yards and a score, pretty decent numbers all in all.
But not good enough for the Utes to think they can thrive in a world without Cameron Rising. The reigning All-Pac-12 first-team selection told head coach Kyle Whittingham he couldn’t go literally a half-hour before the game.
Whittingham didn’t shed much light on the nature of the injury, so we have no real idea if Rising will be out another week. But if he’s not back soon, things could get away from the Utes.
Verdict: False impression. Utah needs Rising back, and in a hurry.
3. Impression: Oregon will finally surrender a 2nd sack this season
Just unbelievable. The Ducks are two-thirds of the way through the season and they’ve surrendered just 1 sack, while their quarterback leads the league in passing. It’s one thing when Army or Navy doesn’t allow many sacks — they throw the ball like 12 times per season.
But Oregon is tossing it all over the field, and Bo Nix isn’t having to run for his life. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Nix has been one of the best ball-carriers in the league this season.
We knew the Ducks were good up front coming into the season. Oregon didn’t just have experience coming back, it boasted top-end talent. But what this unit has done is maybe the most impressive performance in the Pac-12, Nix included. Just an absolute unit of a unit.
To expect the Ducks to surrender a sack to Colorado of all teams is beyond the pale.
Verdict: False impression. Oregon is too stout up front to worry about the Buffs.
4. Impression: The best teams in the conference will continue to distance themselves
We haven’t really seen any landmines this season in the Pac-12, which is the first time in a long time. Even when the USCs and Stanfords of the world were steamrolling through conference play a decade ago, they still found ways to stumble.
But in what has to be the first time in ages, no top-5 Pac-12 team has suffered a loss to a non top-5 team heading into November. And that’ll continue this week as the 5 ranked teams all play unranked teams, with Oregon State’s tussle with Washington being the closest matchup.
And the Huskies are No. 6 in the Pac-12, so that wouldn’t be a horrible blow.
Verdict: First impression. Once again, Pac-12’s ranked opponents have little trouble with unranked squads.
5. Impression: The conference will finish the season with 5 passers with efficiency ratings above 160.0
What an achievement that would be — and a first. The Pac-12 has rarely had even a few above the 150.0 mark, much less 160.0.
But that speaks to the season that Oregon’s Bo Nix, UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Utah’s Cameron Rising, USC’s Caleb Williams and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. are having. The conference has never before seen a collection of prodigious passers, with all 5 being worthy of all-conference recognition. And that’s not even including Arizona’s Jayden de Laura, who has been terrific as well.
As it stands, Nix leads the conference in passing efficiency at 169.70, followed by DTR at 165.66, just edging out Williams at 165.56. Rising isn’t too far behind at 161.54, and Penix is on the verge at 159.60.
Between the group of five, there’s just a combined 16 interceptions on the year, with 98 touchdown passes. Pretty incredible numbers for the group.
Verdict: First impression. If Penix finishes on a high note, it’ll be quite the quintet.
6. Impression: The conference will finish the regular season with 5 ranked teams
So much has to go right for Oregon State and Washington in the season’s final month that I’m betting against the conference finishing with 5 ranked teams.
Oregon, UCLA, USC and Utah only have 1 ranked opponent left as the Ducks tangle with the Utes and the Trojans travel to the Bruins in Week 12, so barring an upset loss by any of them, all feel destined to finish in the Top 25.
Whichever team wins in Friday’s marquee matchup between the Beavers and Huskies stands a good chance to finish in the top 25, but both face Oregon in the final weeks of the season.
Verdict: False impression. Oregon State’s 3rd loss of the season — to either the Huskies or Ducks — will disqualify the Beavers.