Pac-12 Power Rankings entering Week 13: Is 2023 Colorado any different from 2022 Colorado?
The Buffs’ season could very likely come to an end with the same conference record (1-8) as last year’s team. Had CU played just about any other team to open, the narrative surrounding Colorado’s season would be significantly different. But TCU was referred to as a Playoff team at every turn because of what the 2022 squad did. TCU should finish 5-7. It looked like a bad team then, but no one cared and the Buffs’ perception was irreparably warped.
Because accounts like FanDuel were asking what a hypothetical line would be between 2023 Colorado and 2019 LSU, and because the hot take machines on TV were talking about the Playoffs, and because everyone wanted in on the Deion traffic (something we did, too), Colorado’s 1-7 record since has looked like a train wreck. The reality is this CU team, with an entirely new roster, is 15 points per game better on offense and nine points per game better on defense. Last year’s Colorado team lost 10 games by more than 20 points. This year’s team has four losses by seven points or less and only two by more than 20.
Deion Sanders enters a critical offseason. He has to get better on both sides of the line of scrimmage. There’s a strong possibility he’ll have to hire a new offensive coordinator. If Shedeur Sanders returns, Colorado’s No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 priorities have to be building a fortress around him.
Colorado can win with Shedeur Sanders at quarterback. It cannot win games if it cannot keep him upright. That’s what this season has shown.
In that way, the Buffs are exactly who we thought they were at the beginning of the season — a long way off at the line of scrimmage with enough playmakers to be entertaining.
Are they better than last year’s Buffs? To anyone asking that question, I’d pose a counter-question: Did you watch last year’s Buffs?
It’s once again time to update the Power Rankings, so let’s dive in.
12. Colorado Buffaloes (4-7, 1-7 Pac-12)
In a 56-14 loss to Washington State, Colorado gave up five sacks, produced just 255 yards of offense at 3.8 yards per play, and saw its starting quarterback finally forced out of a game for good because of the constant beating he takes behind his offensive line. Shedeur Sanders left with numbness in his arm and an ankle injury, putting his status for the finale against Utah up in the air.
11. Stanford Cardinal (3-8, 2-7 Pac-12)
Last week: 11
Stanford nearly gave up 300 yards to Cal’s offense in the first half. And that was with Cal throwing an early second-quarter pick. Cal wasn’t particularly explosive, it just methodically moved the football. The defense got a three-and-out to begin the third quarter and the offense responded with a three-and-out. Cal then went down and scored to go up 21-6, and that was that.
10. Arizona State Sun Devils (3-8, 2-6 Pac-12)
Last week: 7
This was a 42-0 game at halftime. Against Oregon’s starters, Arizona State was outgained 444-147. The per-play difference between the two teams was 6.2 yards. This is very firmly Year 0 territory for Kenny Dillingham.
9. Washington State Cougars (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12)
Last week: 12
The Cougar scores: a 15-yard run, a 40-yard fumble return by the defense, a 98-yard kickoff return, a 23-yard pass, 1- and 2-yard runs, a 34-yard pass, and a 74-yard fumble return by the defense. They won the turnover battle, outgained Colorado (7.2 to 3.8), limited the Buffs to one red zone trip, went 6-for-11 on third down, managed the penalties, and produced five sacks. That’s a good week at the office. Could have been better — one productive second-half drive — but for a team that had lost six straight, it’s a huge relief.
8. USC Trojans (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 6
I don’t say this to be overly harsh to USC. It’s for the best this season is over. USC lost 38-20 to UCLA at home to end a year that began 6-0 with losses in five of the last six. Lincoln Riley says the pressure of CFP expectations affected this team. I believe him. Riley says the Trojans were a handful of plays away from 10 wins. That’s probably true, but it’s also true going the other way. They were a handful of plays away from four wins. This was a deeply flawed team that just couldn’t stop the snowball from turning into a boulder that crushed them as it rolled downhill. More than anything, that’s an indictment of the coaching. The culture looks broken. The Trojans looked like they didn’t want to be on the field with UCLA. It’s completely understandable to be disappointed, but Riley should be questioned for letting it get to this point. The issues that derailed USC’s season were evident back in January, but the trained eyes overlooked them. A good deal of soul-searching is needed from Riley this offseason to fix things or USC is going to be pummeled in the Big Ten.
7. Cal Golden Bears (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12)
Last week: 9
Cal can play for a bowl game with a win over UCLA to close the season. That’s what a 27-15 win over Stanford made possible. The Bears have won back-to-back games after losing four straight. Justin Wilcox and Co. have kept the group fighting.
6. Utah Utes (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 5
Utah simply ran out of juice in Tucson. It’s hard to get too worked up over a 42-18 loss to an excellent Arizona team when you know Utah was playing with a supposedly illness-stricken team that was already ravaged by injury. Utah was missing three defensive starters, all of them key playmakers, which meant half of the starting 11 was sidelined for the game. Immediately falling down 21-0 meant the offense had to abandon its plan and Bryson Barnes threw 53 pass attempts. Just a mess of a game all around. Utah should be able to beat Colorado at home to close out the year, but the likelihood of a skeleton crew taking the field for that game is pretty high.
5. UCLA Bruins (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12)
Last week: 8
The Bruins went up 38-13 on USC at one point. They completely controlled the line of scrimmage, sacking Caleb Williams four times and limiting the Trojans to just 3 rushing yards — the fewest in a single game by USC since 2018 and the fewest allowed by UCLA in a single game since 2006. Did the win over USC change anything as it relates to Chip Kelly’s situation? We’ll see.
4. Oregon State Beavers (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12)
Last week: 4
It’s a good sign of the program Jonathan Smith has built that a two-point loss to the No. 5 team in the country is a disappointment and not a moral victory. Oregon State was close. Real close. The 16-play, 78-yard, near-10-minute drive was quintessential Oregon State and that was cool to see at such a key juncture in the game. The first-and-10 sequence from the 15 early in the fourth was the key moment for me. Damien Martinez got stuffed on first down, DJ Uiagalelei missed Anthony Gould in the back of the endzone on second down, and then UW’s pressure made a play on third down and forced a field goal when a touchdown would have completely changed things. Washington just made a couple more plays.
3. Arizona Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12)
Last week: 3
Arizona could not have asked for a better start in its 42-18 win over Utah. Against a program Jedd Fisch wants to emulate, Arizona completely dominated. Utah was undermanned, but Arizona could also only play the guys lined up across from it, and the Wildcats took the Utes to task in a 21-0 first quarter. Three consecutive touchdown drives on offense, two three-and-outs and a blocked punt for a touchdown on defense. Outstanding.
2. Oregon Ducks (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12)
Last week: 1
Oregon thoroughly blasted Arizona State. It needed a little more than two quarters of Bo Nix to establish an insurmountable lead over the Sun Devils. It was a cleaner game than the one the Ducks had played the week prior from a penalties standpoint, and that development comes at an important time. Credit to the Ducks for keeping the focus on what was right in front of them. Time for the Super Bowl.
1. Washington Huskies (11-0, 8-0 Pac-12)
Last week: 2
Welcome back. (And before Oregon fans yell at me for sliding their team after a 49-13 win, just know the margin between No. 1 and No. 2 in this conference is razor-thin.) Washington is one Apple Cup victory away from an unbeaten season. It is very, very, very hard to go unbeaten in college football. Washington deserves its flowers for a 3-0 run through the USC-Utah-Oregon State slate of games. That is a demanding stretch and, at the beginning of the season, few thought the Huskies would be able to navigate it unscathed. You have to face the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in a game you know your offense just won’t be able to misfire on consecutive possessions, then you have two games against teams that are going to repeatedly punch you in the face. Washington has won in so many different ways this season, and Saturday’s win in Corvallis was the latest. Michael Penix Jr. was held under 200 yards passing for the first time in his Washington career and yet UW — whose success has been built on Penix’s shoulders this season — managed a victory. The Huskies got key stops in the fourth quarter and then, with the game on the line, Penix delivered a massive third-down pass to Rome Odunze to move the sticks and ice the win. Impressive victory for a team that currently has the best strength of record in college football.