Pac-12 power ratings: UW, USC on top as Utah finds its QB1 for 2024

Colorado was the story of the sport, USC owned the highest national ranking and Washington delivered the most dominant performance.

UCLA gorged on cupcakes. Oregon did the same.

Meanwhile, Oregon State and Washington State yanked at the heartstrings, rolling on the field as their future remained uncertain.

The Pac-12 generated impressive quantities of both storylines and success during the non-conference portion of the season, with a 29-5 record and eight teams ranked in the Associated Press top-25 poll.

What about the two-time defending conference champions?

Utah spent three weeks doing Utah things, winning big while flying low.

The Utes were one of just two teams, along with Colorado, to record two victories over Power Five opponents.

They thumped Florida, rallied past Baylor on the road and dispatched Weber State with little trouble and zero frills.

They are No. 11 in the Associated Press poll, undefeated, undaunted and, in typical fashion, under the radar.

In fact, the Hotline views Utah as one of the biggest winners of the early season. The Utes won three games without the services of starting quarterback Cam Rising and, in so doing, found their starter for next year.

Freshman Nate Johnson played sparingly against Florida, brilliantly at Baylor and start-to-finish against Weber State.

Sure, he’s raw (33 career passes). But from our corner of the galaxy, Johnson is the clear frontrunner for the QB1 job in 2024, ahead of veteran Bryson Barnes, who took the majority of the snaps in the opener. (If Rising isn’t ready this week for the Pac-12 opener against UCLA, Johnson will undoubtedly have the keys to the offense.)

Put another way: The Utes seemingly solved their most significant issue of the 2024 offseason — who would replace Rising — while finding a solution for their central dilemma of the 2023 regular season.

And they did it without compromising their position as a playoff contender or conference frontrunner.

It’s all so Utah.

So very, very Utah.

To the power ratings …

1. Washington (3-0)

Last week: 1
Result: won at Michigan State 41-7
Next up: vs. Cal (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: We’ve typed it many times before, but the frequency with which UW’s receivers are wide open downfield is simply astounding, especially considering opposing defensive coordinators now have a year of film to dissect. It’s a credit to the Kalen DeBoer/Ryan Grubb playbook — and the options available when your quarterback can deliver the ball anywhere (on time and accurately) within a 15-mile radius.

2. USC (3-0/1-0)

Last week: 2
Result: did not play
Next up: at Arizona State (7:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: The Trojans lead the nation with 59.3 points per game, followed by Oregon in second and Washington State in sixth. All in all, the Pac-12 occupies seven of the top 20 spots in scoring offense and, we should add, four of the top 20 in scoring defense.

3. Utah (3-0)

Last week: 3
Result: beat Weber State 31-7
Next up: vs. UCLA (12:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Sneaky-significant weekend result for Utah’s resume (in case you missed it): Florida hammered No. 11 Tennessee. If the Utes navigate the Pac-12 and the Gators continue winning in the SEC, the Week 1 final score in Salt Lake City could be a differentiator in the playoff selection process.

4. Oregon (3-0)

Last week: 4
Result: beat Hawaii 55-10
Next up: vs. Colorado (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Comment: The hype train this week understandably will focus on Dan Lanning’s quip after Colorado announced its move to the Big 12 — “Do you remember them winning anything?” — but the comment won’t matter when Saturday arrives. What will matter? The line of scrimmage, and Oregon’s advantage in that area is significant.

5. Washington State (3-0)

Last week: 7
Result: beat Northern Colorado 64-21
Next up: vs. Oregon State (4 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Based on the results so far, WSU playcaller Ben Arbuckle ranks as one of the Pac-12’s best offseason hires. Final judgment hinges on conference play, when the true chess match begins and Arbuckle must adjust to the adjustments.

6. Colorado (3-0)

Last week: 6
Result: beat Colorado State 43-35 (OT)
Next up: at Oregon (12:30 p.m., ABC)
Comment: Tough to slot the Buffaloes ahead of Washington State this week with the comparative scores against Colorado State. WSU won 50-24 in Fort Collins while CU needed a desperation drive and two overtimes to repel the Rams at home. Also, Wisconsin is better than Nebraska and TCU, in our view.

7. UCLA (3-0)

Last week: 8
Result: beat UNC Central 59-7
Next up: at Utah (12:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Welcome to the 2023 season, Bruins. Now, let’s see what you’re all about.

8. Oregon State (3-0)

Last week: 5
Result: beat San Diego State 26-9
Next up: at Washington State (4 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: Two results affected our assessment of the Beavers compared to other teams on the Pac-12’s middle tier: San Jose State lost at Toledo, adding context to OSU’s season-opening victory over SJSU, while UCLA easily dispatched San Diego State (35-10) two Saturdays ago in Snapdragon Stadium.

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9. Arizona (2-1)

Last week: 9
Result: beat UTEP 31-10
Next up: at Stanford (4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Relative to the competition, Arizona’s offense is outperforming the defense: The Wildcats are fifth in the conference in yard-per-play gained but seventh in yards-per-play allowed. Relative to our expectations, however, the defense has been more impressive. We assumed it would be a turnstile on that side of scrimmage.

10. Cal (2-1)

Last week: 10
Result: beat Idaho 31-17
Next up: at Washington (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: All the missed chances against Auburn loom just a tad larger now. The Bears would be undefeated and well positioned for a bowl berth. As things stand, Cal’s path to six victories is exceedingly narrow and will require at least two upsets in conference play.

11. Stanford (1-2/0-1)

Last week: 11
Result: lost to Sacramento State 30-23
Next up: vs. Arizona (4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Obviously, Hawaii is terrible.

12. Arizona State (1-2)

Last week: 12
Result: lost to Fresno State 29-0
Next up: vs. USC (7:30 p.m. on FOX)
Comment: The Pac-12 record book does not include a statistic for the most turnovers in a single game, but it notes that UCLA lost eight fumbles against USC in 1975. So ASU’s total of eight giveaways on Saturday night (three on the ground, five by air) has company.

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*** Pac-12 Hotline is not endorsed or sponsored by the Pac-12 Conference, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Conference.

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