The Pac-12 is a confusing place these days. Everyone's both winning and losing; everyone's weaknesses are as glaring as their strengths. A one-score lead with 30 seconds left is basically a coin flip, and if the season ended today, Cal would basically be getting a home game against Arizona to decide the championship.
What does one make of this jumble? It depends on your point of view. I've (foolishly) agreed to present the optimistic case for each team in the Pac-12, and Jane's going to be presenting the pessimist's argument.
Optimism: They've already made it through their North division opponents unscathed and can play just enough defense to stay in every game. If Anu Solomon keeps avoiding turnovers, that might be enough to run away with the South.
Pessimism: Do not trust Arizona. Arizona is the weird cat who is friendly and dog like but only wants food and attention and to vomit into whatever is most important to you. Maybe your shoes. Maybe your casket. Whichever. They will lose to Colorado at home by two touchdowns, one by a reverse hook-and-ladder. I'm not even sure if that's possible. I don't care. It'll happen.
Optimism: Arizona State's drawing the fewest penalty flags per game in the conference, and with Pac-12 refs that's really an advantage that can't be overstated. The passing attack's still working nicely with backup Mike Bercovici stepping in, in part because the Sun Devils don't give p sacks. And, with the exception of Arizona, ASU won't have to face any currently ranked opponents on the road.
Pessimism: How the hell is ASU going to win any more games without Brock Osweiler. (Looks up Brock Osweiler.) Shit, we've been without a 6'7 quarterback since 2012? No wonder things have gone to hell in a soft-shell taco. Arizona State is going to be clawed to death by beavers before this season is out, I'm telling you right here and now. Not Oregon State. Actual beavers. They have ways. Little tiny toothy ways. Watch the waterways. They'll tell you all you need to know.
Optimism: Cal already has more passing TDs this year than they did in 2013. They can't defend the pass, but they can stop the run, and that's...something? So yeah, maybe they shock everyone and wind up playing for the conference title. It's weird, but all Cal does is weird.
Pessimism: What time is it in California? Three hours behind REAL AMERICA. How can you win at the game of life if you're three hours late for kickoff? It's so like Cal to be a bunch of time-zone renegades. They were late to the Port Huron Statement, and they'll be late to the BYU game, which they'll still somehow win because Mormons are incredibly polite and will wait for them to arrive.
Optimism: The Buffs aren't winning, but they also aren't getting blown out this year, and that's a major improvement if you've watched Colorado in the last four years or so. You can also argue that most of Colorado's problems - too many penalties, too many interceptions thrown - are fixable. At the very least, this isn't a team you can just write off as an easy win on your schedule anymore.
Pessimism: Buffalo can be a subject, a verb and an object. Colorado should be strangled into unconsciousness by Washington on that basis alone.
Optimism: They'll get healthier on the offensive line and if you're betting that Marcus Mariota has permanently lost his football brain, I hope you're getting some great odds. The Ducks still have the best passing attack in the conference on a yards per attempt basis and COME ON MARCUS MARIOTA.
Pessimism: But what if he has lost his football brain, and its been replaced by an ee cummings brain and now all he can do is write poetry in lower-case about people with tiny hands and confusing sexual imagery? What about that? Do you think he should still think he should be quarterback? You don't, do you, because of your poetry prejudice. I knew it.
Optimism: The Oregon State offense hasn't gotten rolling yet, but the defense is good on third down and limits big plays. Three of their first five games were on the road; maybe a few home games are all it'll take to get the Beavers back on track and contending for the North crown.
Pessimism: Oregon State's offensive coordinator went from the 90s era Bengals to the Arizona Cardinals pre-Fitzgerald back to the Bengals to UVA to the Cowboys to Tampa Bay. He is the Typhoid Mary of terrible. Put him on an island and forbid him from cooking for the children. Did I mention he's Jason Garrett's brother? Because he's Jason Garrett's brother.
Optimism: Stanford's defense is ri-goddamn-diculous. They've only allowed seven red zone possessions all year. Not touchdowns. Not scores. POSSESSIONS. Points per game wise, nobody's better than the Cardinal D. The offense is dumb, but if it can just be slightly less dumb, Stanford's once again a nightmare to play.
Pessimism: Stanford's mascot looks like what happens when you do acid and then attempt to go to a Christmas party. Don't do that. If the clam hands don't get you, the terrors will. It's like if Charles Dickens reached through the mists of time to beat you into submission with a bough of holly.
Optimism: Weirdly, UCLA's wins over Memphis and UVA are now...kind of good non-conference victories? The secondary has held up pretty well considering the Bruins don't have any sort of meaningful pass rush, and Brett Hundley's cut his interceptions way down. And the only road games left are against Cal, Colorado, and Washington.
Pessimism: UCLA's offensive line is terrible and awful, because UCLA's offensive line is made out of ham. Actually, that's offensive to adherents to certain religious texts and to ham. I'm sorry, ham. You are delicious, even when honey-baked.
Optimism: USC fields the best third down defense in the Pac-12, hasn't thrown an interception yet this year, and already has a big road win in Palo Alto. Javorius Allen's been a bright spot on offense, averaging 5.28 yards per carry and 13.16 per reception.
Pessimism: USC's aware that it's not 2005 anymore, right? Or is it? Am I still in high school? Is this the dream sequence from "Oklahoma"? Can farmers and cowmen be, in fact, friends? I don't know. I don't know. USC is going to be wrecked by the Utes at Utah because it's the 2010s, baby. Shit's wild out here.
Optimism: The best punt returner in the conference, Kaelin Clay, is a Ute. The best punter in the conference, Tom Hackett, is a Ute. Utah makes your life miserable with its pass rush, doesn't let you gain any yards on the ground, and then flips the field on you. It's routinized misery.
Pessimism: Utah is stupid. Stupid multiple vowels. Stupid beehive state. "Oh, bees are industrious!" Yeah, so was the cotton gin, Eli Whitney, so put that on your flag and throw that on a goddang courthouse. Who do you think you are, Utah, the plant at Willow Run? You're not putting out B-29s once an hour. Calm down. I hope Arizona strangles Utah to death with a sock puppet.
Optimism: Washington's got the best turnover margin in the Pac-12 with one giveaway to twelve takeaways. The Huskies also haven't missed a field goal yet this season, and the running game is reasonably efficient and gets in the end zone. And are there five coaches left on the schedule you think Chris Petersen can't outsmart?
Pessimism: Huskies have weird blue eyes and occasionally stare at you for a long period of time. They probably are thinking about that time they saw you drop food and then put it back on your plate and then totally eat it like a big weirdo. You're so weird, they're thinking. Weird and gross. Weird and gross and odd. Huskies are just so judgmental. Washington State will beat them and their judgeyness.
Optimism: Connor Halliday has lost all semblance of fear and is now just throwing until gravity or federal authorities stop him. They still can't run the ball or play much defense or do special teams things but it just doesn't matter to Connor Halliday. He has transcended your concepts of winning and losing.
Pessimism: Transcendence gives you further to fall. He is Icarus and he is flying too close to the sun and will fall because putting together wings with wax was stupid in the first place.