If you showed me the current college football rankings at the beginning of the season, I would never have believed you.
We have seen some crazy wins this year, most recently and probably the craziest win we’ll see all season in last week’s Michigan State win over Michigan on a fumbled punt return as time expired. An unranked Texas upset No. 10 Oklahoma in the annual Red River Rivalry, and unranked Memphis upset No. 13 Ole Miss.
But of all the conferences in college football, the Pac-12 has been most unpredictable this season. It is because of that unpredictability that the conference is still technically up for grabs. USC and Oregon were the preseason favorites to win, while Stanford and UCLA were expected to be contenders. Fast forward seven weeks and only one of those teams is ranked and Utah and is leading the conference.
The preseason media poll had Oregon winning the North division and USC winning the South, and the Trojans going on to win the Pac-12 Championship game. Stanford and Cal were second and third, respectively, in the North division. Arizona State and UCLA were second and third in the South, respectively, while Utah was picked to finish fifth in the South.
Oregon was ranked seventh overall in the preseason poll while USC was No. 8, UCLA was No. 13, Arizona State No. 15 and Stanford and Arizona were No. 21 and 22, respectively. Now, Utah has gone from unranked to No. 3, Stanford has risen to No. 10 overall and Cal has also cracked the top 25 at No. 20.
Oregon falling out of the top 25 is surprising given their success in recent years, but it is not hard to understand, as losing last year’s Heisman trophy winner to the NFL has obviously created a void that the Ducks have not yet learned how to fill.
No. 20 Cal is not as much of a surprise, as they received some preseason hype thanks to quarterback Jared Goff, but I don’t think anyone expected Cal and Utah to meet undefeated in Week 6. Cal ended up losing to Utah, but they are currently ranked No. 20 in the nation and have become the favorite to beat unranked UCLA this weekend.
Stanford got off to a rough start this season, losing 16-6 to Northwestern, which caused them to drop out of the top 25. However, the Cardinal upset No. 6 USC at the Coliseum in Week 3 and went on to upset No. 18 UCLA, 56-35. Stanford has been a consistently good team and is led by senior quarterback Kevin Hogan. Especially given the fact that Oregon is down this season, Stanford has all the necessary tools to win the Pac-12 North.
UCLA was a preseason favorite, and many experts predicted a neck-and-neck race for the Pac-12 South title against USC. Like Oregon, however, UCLA is without an experienced quarterback and leader. The Bruins are led by true freshman Josh Rosen, who has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but has followed up those performances with mistake-ridden games that highlight his youth and inexperience.
Perhaps I’m biased, but the biggest surprise to me is USC. With a redshirt senior quarterback calling plays and an immensely talented offense, I truly believed that the Trojans had everything we needed to win the Pac-12 and potentially a national title. It’s easy to blame our 3-3 record on everything that has happened this season surrounding Sarkisian’s problems, but I think that USC is simply too talented to be .500 halfway through the season.
The problem isn’t a lack of talent or even a head coach, though the latter certainly doesn’t help. The problem with USC is consistency. Last season, Kessler threw only five interceptions, the same amount he has thrown already this season. He has struggled with maintaining his composure when the game is on the line. Despite the loss to Stanford, Kessler played well and the defense stalled, while the opposite was true in the loss to Washington. Against Notre Dame, Kessler and his offense made some incredible plays, but also fell apart in the fourth quarter.
Consistency, especially at the quarterback position, seems to be the reason why some Pac-12 teams are unranked and why others are exceeding expectations. Rosen and Kessler have struggled to remain consistent while Jared Goff has maintained his composure and led his team to a 5-1 start, losing only to Utah.
If Utah begins to lose its composure and drops a few games, and USC starts to live up to its potential, the Trojans can get right back in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title.
Regan Estes is a junior majoring in public relations and Spanish. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Wild Wild Westes,” runs Tuesdays.