Pac-12 teams falling into a pecking order following undefeated starts

It was Prime Time all the time the first two weeks of the season as Colorado and effervescent new coach Deion Sanders turned the college football world into believers.

Following two straight losses, some of the Prime shine has left the Buffaloes, even if the future looks much brighter in Boulder.

“We’re yet to have an identity,” Sanders said after a 48-41 loss to No. 9 Southern California last weekend. “I challenged them all week on: ‘What’s our identity?’ I don’t know who we are. From week to week, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

A month into the season, teams across the Pac-12 are getting a sense of where they stand.

The conference kicked off what may be its final football season by going 13-0 for the first time since 1932, the most wins by an FBS conference without a loss to start a season since at least 1980.

Now that the dust has started to settle a bit, Pac-12 teams have started falling into a pecking order.

It starts with Nos. 7-9 in the AP Top 25: Washington, Oregon and USC, respectively.

The Huskies blitzed their first four opponents with the nation’s most explosive offense as quarterback Michael Penix Jr. inserted himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Washington (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) faced a new kind of roadblock when Arizona sat back defensively last Saturday, but Penix shifted gears, went to his receivers underneath and let them make plays down the field.

Penix threw for 363 yards to set up the Huskies’ four rushing touchdowns in the 31-24 win. Washington has a bye this week before a highly-anticipated game against Oregon.

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“There’s such a high level of expectation that these guys have,” Washington coach Kalen DeBoer told reporters this week. “I’d rather learn from wins than losses. A year ago, we got into these spots at this very time and couldn’t go on the road and get it done. We’ve learned from those.”

The Huskies’ next opponent has yet to face much adversity.

Oregon (5-0, 2-0) opened the season with a record-setting 81-7 win over Portland State and handed Colorado its first loss, 42-6 on Sept. 23. The Ducks also have a bye before the showdown with Washington.

“We’re not going to bye week, we’re going to work week,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “Our guys know what our goals are and what we have to accomplish. A lot of the teams are going to relax this week. We’re going to get better.”

USC (5-0, 3-0) has had no trouble scoring behind quarterback Caleb Williams and one of the best receiving groups in the nation. Williams has been electric for the second straight season, putting himself in the mix to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner, and the Trojans have scored at least 42 points in every game.

USC’s biggest issue is on defense. The Trojans gave up 28 points to San Jose State and Arizona State, then had to withstand Colorado’s rally last weekend.

“When something doesn’t go our way, it doesn’t look like last year,” USC coach Lincoln Riley said. “Not to the trained eye. Not to the coach.”

Flying under the radar to a degree has been No. 14 Washington State.

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The Cougars (4-0, 1-0) are in a bit of limbo with 10 Pac-12 teams headed out the door next season, but they’re still right in the mix for the Pac-12 title.

Washington State averaged 48 points in three opening wins and won the battle of the Pac-2, beating No. 15 Oregon State 38-35 two weeks ago. Quarterback Cameron Ward has been stellar through the first four games, throwing for 1,389 yards and 13 touchdowns with no interceptions, and four receivers have at least 16 receptions.

The Cougars play at UCLA on Saturday following a bye week.

“I’ll say it again: we belong,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said after the win over Oregon State.

The Beavers (4-1, 1-1) are still in the mix, as is Utah.

Coach Jonathan Smith led Oregon State to 10 wins and a second straight bowl game last season. Despite the tight loss to Washington State, the Beavers appear to still be on an upward trend after pulling out a win over No. 18 Utah in their last game. Oregon State held Utah to seven points, the lowest its defense has allowed against a ranked opponent since 2012.

The Utes are still waiting for quarterback Cameron Rising to return from a torn ACL, hanging with teams behind a physical defense. They still don’t know when Rising will return, but don’t count out a team that won the last two Pac-12 championships.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll