Pac Tracks: Latest "Power 15" ranking hard to believe


Every Sunday, we steam-shovel Pac 12 game data into a giant computer named “Larry,” a third-cousin to “Watson,” second-cousin to “Hal” and distant relative to "Cousin Itt."

The numbers are churned, crunched, gurgled and analyzed to produce a weekly “Pac Power” index.

The latest results, frankly, are shocking:

1: San Diego State. (3-0)

What? The Aztecs are not even members, yet lead the conference with a 2-0 record. No other Pac team is better than 1-0 in league play.

San Diego State has already posted wins over Arizona State and Stanford. Rocky Long’s team has now won three straight games against the Pac 12 and the school is 4-4 in its last eight tries. Yet, when the Pac was seriously exploring expansion in 2011, the University of Tijuana had a better chance of getting into the Pac 16.

Maybe that's what inspires the Aztecs every time they line up against League Superior. Or maybe SD State isn't worthy because, unlike Motel 6, it can’t keep the lights on for an entire game. Last Saturday, hosting Stanford, the lights went dark for 20 minutes before San Diego State finished off Stanford.

“I hope we didn’t take them lightly,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.

Someone, though, now needs to shine a light on what's going on in Palo Alto.

2: California (3-0, 0-0)

Ok, stop this. Cal? The defense that finished No. 125 nationally last season?

This is whack—someone call the Cousin ITT department.

Yet, a full data analysis confirms it: Cal is 3-0 with nonconference wins against the two “best” leagues in the nation. The Bears have already won at North Carolina and last Saturday, in Berkeley, pulled off a shocking home upset over Mississippi.

Cal didn’t just win a game against a team from the SEC West, 27-16. Cal’s defense pitched a second-half shutout.

Last year, on consecutive weekends in November, Cal allowed 122 total points to the Washington schools.

Suddenly, Berkeley isn’t just Tightwad Hill, it’s Tightwad defense, holding Ole Miss to 53 rushing yards and 1.8 yards per carry.

“They gave us a chance to win,” Cal quarterback Ross Bowers said of the defense.

A spokesman for Google search said it could not find those seven words ever strung together by a Cal quarterback.

Or maybe the SEC is overrated? Naaah.

No one saw this coming from first-year coach Justin Wilcox, a former defensive coordinator at USC who was run out of town after his “scheme” held Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams to only six touchdowns passes in a 2015 loss in Eugene.

This week, as our luck would have it, Cal hosts USC in Strawberry Canyon.

3: Oregon (3-0)

Willie Taggart’s debut has been a resounding smash. Forget opening wins against Southern Utah and Nebraska. Those were nice. The eye-opener was the Ducks’ emphatic win last weekend at Wyoming, a tough place to breathe at 7,000-feet, let alone play.

Oregon held Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen, an NFL prospect, to 9 of 24 passes and 64 yards.

This is why the school paid defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt more than a million bucks to leave Colorado.

Taggart summed up the defensive effort in two words: “Big Time.”

Last year, for the record, Oregon fielded the worst defense in the history of Nike kind.

4: Washington State (3-0)

And here we thought Mike Leach was spending too much time on Twitter and searching for Big Foot. What a sly Cougar.

Last week’s romp over Oregon State made Wazzu 3-0 for the first time since 2005. Senior quarterback Luke Falk, briefly benched last week against Boise State, rebounded last Saturday with a six-touchdown performance against Oregon State.

It helps that Washington State has five straight home games to open the season. The Cougars get Nevada this week before a huge Sept. 29 showdown in Pullman against USC.

5: Utah (3-0)

The Utes, stuck up there in Salt Lake City, are so easy to forget. Some might not even know they were invited to join the league before Colorado. And who cares that coach Kyle Whittingham was a Rams’ replacement player in 1987 during that bitter NFL strike? A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. Whittingham’s strike-breaker teammate with the Rams was a player from UNLV named Marion “Suge” Knight.

Yet, Whittingham is still the only Pac 12 coach, to my knowledge, who owns a Sugar Bowl win over Nick Saban.

Utah, with its runaway win over San Jose State last weekend, is now 24-1 in nonconference games since joining the Pac.

6: USC (3-0)

The Trojans may well end up winning the conference but, so far, are getting by on smoke, mirrors and Sam Darnold jump passes. They had to rally hard to avoid a huge opening upset against Western Michigan and needed double-OT last Saturday to squeak by Texas.

Darnold, through three games, has seven touchdown passes and six interceptions. The good news is he still plays well under pressure.

7: Washington (3-0)

We’ll get a better read on the Huskies now that their exhibition season is over. Three wins against Rutgers, Montana and Fresno State have served only one purpose.

“We got to play a lot of guys in three games, which is really good,” Coach Chris Petersen said after last weekend’s win over Fresno State.

Washington begins Pac play this week, at Colorado, a rematch of last year’s Pac title game.

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Matthew McConaughey prowls Texas sideline during USC game. But the ending turned out "All-wrong, all-wrong, all-wrong." Photo: Rankman Studios

8: Texas (1-2)

Texas at USC would have been a Pac 16 game had commissioner Larry Scott's deal to expand not failed in 2011.

Well, he tried! A Texas writer tried to stir the pot at the Coliseum on Saturday when he asked Scott at halftime if Texas could get back in the expansion mix. Scott said "no" before exiting another Pac game before it ended. Scott also missed the end of UCLA's 34-point comeback against Texas A&M at the Rose Bowl. Scott was in his car on his way to the airport when UCLA staged its biggest comeback in program history. He was likely wheels-up Saturday, too, by the time USC prevailed in two overtimes against the team Scott badly wanted in his league.

No one who has ever dealt with L.A. traffic has a beef with Scott bailing out early.

9: Colorado (3-0)

The Buffaloes have a right to feel unappreciated but some people still can’t believe this program has turned the corner. They’ll get a chance to prove it Saturday against Washington, which routed Colorado last year for the conference championship. The Buffs followed that with a blow-out loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. [membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

10: UCLA (2-1)

Maybe it starts with scheduling. What serious-minded Power 5 school schedules Hawaii at home (with no return game) and Memphis on the road?

UCLA still owns a tremendous, 34-comeback win against Texas A&M and a solid home win against Hawaii. But last week’s 48-45 loss at Memphis is a reminder that quarterback Josh Rosen still can’t be fully trusted.

Memphis, for what it’s worth, is good. This is the third time in three years the Tigers have defeated a Power 5 school, at home, in the 11 a.m. time slot.

UCLA’s bigger concern, entering Pac play at Stanford, is an injury-riddled defense that allowed 633 yards last week. And everyone knows UCLA has not defeated Stanford since 2008.

11: Stanford (1-2)

Moral to the story: Never judge any team by an opening win over Rice in Australia. Since Sydney, the Cardinal has been rolled by USC and outmuscled by San Diego State. This is as soft as we’ve seen any Stanford team since Jim Harbaugh’s first year in 2007. And that team actually beat a much better USC squad.

12: Arizona (2-1)

The Rich Rods, following a tough home loss to Houston, passed a huge test by doing a big number last weekend at Texas El-Paso. Brandon Dawkins finally put forth a praiseworthy effort. This puts a temporary hold on the chirping but now the real fun starts with the Pac 12 opener against Utah.

13: Arizona State (1-2)

Consecutive losses to San Diego State and Texas Tech have Todd Graham firmly on the hot seat. Graham is selling the fact his team came from way, way back to tie Texas Tech at 45-all before losing. What he can’t sell is the fact his defense allowed 615 yards.

“At the end of the day, we couldn’t stop them,” he said of Texas Tech.

Rest assured there are better teams in the Pac 12 than the Red Raiders.

14: Oregon State (1-3)

The “1” is an almost home loss to Portland State. We don’t see any solution here other than bringing Mike Riley back a third time before he checks into the retirement community at "Rainy Corvallis Acres."

15: Idaho (1-2)

We’ve included the Vandals because they used to play in the Pac, from 1922 to 1959, when it was the Pacific Coast Conference. Before last Saturday, Ole Miss claimed Idaho was the only "Pac-12" affiliated team it had ever played. In that case, Saturday's loss in Berkeley drops Ole Miss' record vs. the Pac to 1-1. [/membership]