- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 7:
1. There is a clear front-runner: Oregon’s 45-24 win over No. 16 Washington was a clear signal to the league and the country that the Ducks are every bit the national-championship contender we thought they were. Now they have the quality road win against a ranked opponent to back it up. Marcus Mariota is the hands-down Heisman favorite after throwing for 366 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 88 yards and a score. He has accounted for 25 touchdowns with zero turnovers. Coupled with Stanford’s loss at Utah, the Ducks are the unquestioned front-runner in the Pac-12. We can’t talk about that game, however, without tossing a bone to Washington running back Bishop Sankey, who added 167 more yards on the ground, giving him five 100-plus-yard games this season
2. Don’t count out the Trojans: UCLA seems like the front-runner in the South after improving to 5-0 with Saturday’s win over Cal. But USC looked invigorated in its win Thursday over Arizona under interim coach Ed Orgeron. The offense produced a season-high 546 yards. Cody Kessler had touchdown passes of 62 and 63 yards (without Marqise Lee!). The Trojans have seven games to go -- two against ranked teams (Stanford, UCLA), two against teams that used to be ranked (Oregon State, Notre Dame), two against the bottom of the conference (Colorado, Cal) and one against a surging Utah team. They are in a hole already with two conference losses -- including a head-to-head with ASU -- but a decent bowl game should still be a realistic goal.
Stanford’s strengths appear suspect: Defense and the offensive line were the supposed strengths of Stanford. And Utah tore down whatever mystique either had and exploited/exposed them in their 27-21 win on Saturday. The Utes totaled 410 yards of offense -- which included a 99-yard touchdown drive. Defensively, they sacked quarterback Kevin Hogan twice and pressured him several times more. The explosive passing game that broke out against Washington State two weeks ago has been absent ever since, while Utah made sure no one is going to be comfortable against them the rest of the season. A return to the postseason seems very much in Utah's grasp.
Back to the basement: UCLA and Arizona State made short work of the two bottom teams in the conference, Cal and Colorado, respectively. The Buffs seem to have regressed after their 2-0 start and looked anything but competitive in their 54-13 loss to Arizona State, which led 47-6 at halftime. With four turnovers, they looked more like the 2012 Buffs. In Pasadena, the Bears lost their 10th straight game to an FBS team after UCLA won 37-10 behind 410 passing yards and three touchdowns from Brett Hundley. UCLA’s trip to Stanford next week was already super intriguing. Stanford’s loss makes it super-duper intriguing.
The Beavs appear to be back: Oregon State continues to rebuild its once-shattered image week by week and yard by Sean Mannion yard. Mannion tossed four more touchdowns and threw for 493 yards as the Beavers exploded for 35 unanswered points at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. While Oregon has clearly established itself as the North Division front-runner, the second tier looks extremely crowded with Washington, Stanford and Oregon State. For as bad as the season started for the Beavers, coach Mike Riley has kept the ship from coming apart with five straight wins. A sixth win is likely with Cal next week, setting up a very intriguing showdown with Stanford.