April 13, 2024
The Cardinal and Sun Devils are candidates for 0-9 finishes. But could they both go winless?

Two weeks into conference play, the pecking order at the bottom of the Pac-12 standings has more clarity than the hierarchy at the top.

For various reasons — some far beyond their control — Stanford and Arizona State have staked early claim to the cellar in a rugged conference that offers few opportunities to change that fate.

Will either finish 0-9?

Could both finish 0-9?

Winless seasons are not as common as fans might think. The last team to reach those depths was Oregon State in 2017, when coach Gary Andersen stepped down in early October.

And since the Pac-12 switched to a nine-game conference schedule in 2006, only six teams have gone winless in league play — six teams in 16 years. (We’re excluding the truncated 2020 season.)

But the last time two teams were winless in league play in the same season, the Pac-12 was known as the Pacific Coast Conference. It happened several times in the pre-World War II era and once during the conflict, in 1943.

Since then, never.

And that makes sense, because for most of the past 80 years, the schools played a round-robin schedule.

But when Colorado and Utah joined the conference in 2011, the schedule model was adjusted to feature two misses per season.

This year, the rotation broke just right for the season to go all wrong for the Cardinal and Sun Devils: They don’t play each other.

So the math works for the teams to combine on 0-18. But will reality play along?

We don’t foresee both finishing 0-9 and believe it’s more likely that neither finishes 0-9.

But until one breaks through, that little slice of ignominy remains in play. It’s one of many fascinating subplots to an unprecedented season.

To the power ratings …

1. Oregon (5-0/2-0)

Last week: 3
Result: won at Stanford 42-6
Next up: idle
Comment: Unlike my Associated Press top-25 ballot, which is based largely on results (per AP guidelines), the Hotline power ratings include a strong subjective component. And right now, we view the Ducks as the most complete team in the conference.

2. Washington (5-0/2-0)

Last week: 1
Result: won at Arizona 31-24
Next up: idle
Comment: The aerial game failed to meet its own lofty standards in Tucson. But we were less far impressed with the defense, which hardly looked airtight against a rookie quarterback. The pass rush simply isn’t operating at the level needed to slow the Ducks (or the Cougars or the Trojans or the Beavers).

3. Washington State (4-0/1-0)

Last week: 4
Result: did not play
Next up: at UCLA (12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Oregon State’s convincing victory over Utah was actually a win for the Cougars, as well, given that they outplayed OSU decisively for the majority of the Sept. 23 showdown in Pullman.

4. USC (5-0/3-0)

Last week: 5
Result: won at Colorado 48-41
Next up: vs. Arizona (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: The defensive whole is considerably less than its parts, and the numbers reflect that: The Trojans are 70th in the country, and eighth in the conference, in yards-per-play allowed (5.54) — and that’s against a weak-sauce schedule. Surely, the personnel is far superior to those rankings.

5. Oregon State (4-1/1-1)

Last week: 8
Result: beat Utah 21-7
Next up: at Cal (7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Don’t look now, but the schedule looks inviting. With Cal, Arizona and Colorado on the road and UCLA and Stanford at home, the Beavers could very well be 9-1 when Washington pays a visit Nov. 18. OSU could, and probably should, be favored in all five games.

6. Utah (4-1/1-1)

Last week: 2
Result: lost at Oregon State 21-7
Next up: idle
Comment: Not even the ’85 Bears defense needed to hold opponents to six points per game.

7. UCLA (3-1/0-1)

Last week: 7
Result: did not play
Next up: vs. Washington State (12 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: When accounting for Utah’s quarterback issues and San Diego State’s massive regression, the Bruins’ schedule has been even worse than imagined. Are they contender or pretender? We’ll begin to get clarity this week.

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8. Colorado (3-2/0-2)

Last week: 6
Result: lost to USC 48-41
Next up: at Arizona State (3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Only one media company this side of North Korean State TV could make Deion Sanders disappear.

9. Arizona (3-2/1-1)

Last week: 9
Result: lost to Washington 31-24
Next up: at USC (7:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Comment: Admittedly, we were skeptical about the Johnny Nansen hire. But one-and-a-half years in, Nansen deserves credit for hauling Arizona’s defense out of the gutter and wrapping it in respectability.

10. Cal (3-2/1-1)

Last week: 11
Result: beat Arizona State 24-21
Next up: vs. Oregon State (7 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: Cal’s ongoing search for an offensive identity doesn’t diminish Jaydn Ott’s talents. He’s one of the best tailbacks in the conference alongside OSU’s Damien Martinez, Oregon’s Bucky Irving and USC’s MarShawn Lloyd.

11. Arizona State (1-4/0-2)

Last week: 10
Result: lost at Cal 24-21
Next up: vs. Colorado (3:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks)
Comment: The Sun Devils are fifth in the country, and first in the conference, in fourth-down conversion attempts (16). They are 89th in the country, and 10th in the conference, in fourth-down conversion success (43.8 percent). Time to rethink the ultra-aggressive approach?

12. Stanford (1-4/0-3)

Last week: 12
Result: lost to Oregon 42-6
Next up: idle
Comment: Seven consecutive losses to Power Five opponents, dating to the middle of last season, by an average of 26.9 points per game. It’s the mid-2000s all over again.

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