Ranking the Pac-12’s five undefeated teams, from UW to USC

The first full weekend of conference play has come and gone, and five undefeated teams remain in the Pac-12.

Let’s sort through the perfection.

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

Victory margin: 32.8 points per game
Record vs. Power Five: 2-0
Best win: 41-7 at Michigan State
What to like: The offense is as dynamic as any in the country, quarterback Michael Penix is a Heisman Trophy frontrunner, the receivers are sensational, and the defense has been better than expected given the revamped secondary. Also, the Huskies show no signs of complacency despite an 11-game winning streak. They apply pressure in all facets, all the time.
What to dislike: The offense tilts heavily to the aerial game. At some point on the march through the Pac-12, the Huskies must prove they can run the ball effectively against a top-tier opponent. Also, the schedule hasn’t exactly been rugged. Michigan State just lost 31-9 to Maryland.
Outlook: The Huskies were our pick to win the Pac-12 back in January, and nothing has caused a reassessment. If anything, the defensive play is evidence that UW could survive a substandard game from Penix and Co. Next up is a trip to Arizona, then a week off, then the team in green.

2. Oregon (4-0/1-0)

Victory margin: 40.8 points per game
Record vs. Power Five: 2-0
Best win: 42-6 over Colorado
What to like: The Ducks are the most balanced offensive team in the conference and have a Heisman contender of their own in quarterback Bo Nix. The lines of scrimmage are loaded with former blue-chip prospects, and the head coach, Dan Lanning, gives top-notch pregame speeches.
What to dislike: Very little. We aren’t fully sold on the secondary, but the defensive front generates enough pressure to alleviate most issues. Also, the win at Texas Tech is losing whatever luster it possessed: The Red Raiders are winless against FBS opponents.
Outlook: We’ll know much more about the Ducks when they visit Seattle on Oct. 14. (Between now and then comes their longtime nemesis, Stanford.) To this point, Oregon has been more impressive than we expected and owns a strong case for No. 1 on this list after obliterating Colorado.

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

Victory margin: 20.3 points per game
Record vs. Power Five: 2-0
Best win: 38-35 over Oregon State
What to like: The Cougars have been the most impressive team in the conference relative to expectations. Quarterback Cam Ward has elevated his game and found a perfect match in new playcaller Ben Arbuckle. The wideouts are first rate, and the defense has one of the best edge tandems in the conference in Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson.
What to dislike: There’s reason to wonder if the offensive line can hold up over the course of eight more league games, and we need to see WSU run the ball successfully when the opponent knows what’s coming.
Outlook: WSU has channeled the realignment frustration and is determined to prove it belongs at the top level of the sport. (We gave serious consideration to slotting the Cougars at the top of this ranking based on wins over Oregon State and Wisconsin.) How long the realignment fuel lasts is anyone’s guess. But take note of the schedule: The Cougars don’t play USC or Utah, so their path to Las Vegas is manageable.

4. Utah (4-0/1-0)

Victory margin: 12.8 points per game
Record vs. Power Five: 3-0
Best win: 24-11 over Florida
What to like: The Utes are undefeated and have yet to receive a contribution from quarterback Cam Rising, who remains on the sideline recovering from a knee injury. In that regard, the early season has been a raging success despite several close calls. (Star tight end Brant Kuithe is also injured.) The defense has been suffocating (38 points allowed) and shows no signs of relenting.
What to dislike: Without Rising, the offense is spotty and lacks an identity — it scored just one touchdown Saturday in a narrow victory over UCLA. Also, the injuries are mounting. In addition to Rising and Kuithe, the Utes are thin at tailback following Ja’Quiden Jackson’s first-half departure.
Outlook: Assuming Rising returns, the Utes have arguably the most upside of any team on this list and, for that reason, must be considered a threat to win the conference for the third consecutive year. But eventually, victory will require the offense to produce 24 or 27 points. And then what?

5. USC (4-0/2-0)

Victory margin: 35 points per game
Record vs. Power Five: 2-0
Best win: 56-10 over Stanford
What to like: Quarterback Caleb Williams had a bad night at Arizona State and still produced 300 yards and 42 points. He’s so good — phenomenal, actually — that deficiencies elsewhere are mitigated. The skill positions are loaded, as usual, and we have spotted life on the defensive front.
What to dislike: The Trojans have played the weakest schedule of the five undefeated teams, and it’s not close. Their opponents are a combined 3-14, and Arizona State, which was demolished by Fresno State last week, just might be the best of the bunch. Also, we are forever underwhelmed by the tackling and fundamentals on defense.
Outlook: Unchanged from the start of the season. The Trojans are a playoff contender until they lose twice, and Williams is enormously difficult to beat. He wasn’t sharp in Tempe, but was that a one-off in advance of the showdown at Colorado next week, or a harbinger of wobbles to come?

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