For example, two late games Saturday night that ended in dramatic fashion could have bowl implications. When you look at Cal’s remaining schedule, are there four wins out there? How about Washington State? Had the Cougars won, you could make a case that, at 2-2, they weren’t out of it yet. But what are the odds the Cougars win five of their next eight?
The Bears kick off a stretch of three games against nonranked opponents (Colorado, Washington State, Washington) before closing the season against five of six teams currently ranked in the Top 25. They will need an upset or two along the way. As for Colorado, that Cal game is a huge swing game for the Buffs as well.
Seven Pac-12 teams are still undefeated -- Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah. We know that isn’t going to last. Oregon and Arizona are two wins away from bowl eligibility. Washington needs seven because of the Hawaii rule, and Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah are halfway there.
Things are sure to get more interesting in the coming weeks as we plow full steam ahead into conference play.
For now, here are the projections. As always, salt heavily.
College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: Utah
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Arizona
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Oregon State
Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.
Louisiana native Dak Prescott passed for 268 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 and a TD at Tiger Stadium as the Bulldogs snapped a 14-game losing streak to LSU.
Jameis Winston, suspended for the game after making "offensive and vulgar" comments earlier this week on campus, was reduced to cheerleader as Karlos Williams scored on a 12-yard touchdown run to rally Florida State past Clemson in overtime.
Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 58 net yards despite being sacked seven times as the Ducks scraped by the Cougars 38-31.
Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado: Hawaii had no answer for the junior, who caught a school-record 13 passes for a career-best 172 yards in the Buffs' 21-12 win. Spruce's most explosive play came late in the first quarter, when Sefo Liufau found him for a 71-yard touchdown that gave the Buffs a lead they would not relinquish.
Travis Wilson, QB, Utah: His helmet popped off and his neck bent uncomfortably far out of its usual position during a nauseating second quarter spill, but Wilson returned to the game in the second half to assert total Utah control and get a rain-delayed 26-10 win at Michigan. A 28-yard touchdown strike to Dres Anderson highlighted Wilson's gutsy return, and the Utes knocked the big road monkey off their backs.
Special Teams Unit, Utah: Kaelin Clay's 116 return yards included a stunning, sideline-tightrope-walk of a punt return that kept Utah afloat while the offense was still sputtering in the first half. "Automatic" Andy Phillips booted four field goals to drive the nail into Michigan's rain-soaked coffin. The Utes have been spectacular in this third phase of the game.
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington: Georgia State outgained the Huskies 233-62 in the first half, but they led only 14-0 at that point. Washington may have Peters to thank for that manageable deficit, because he recorded two impressive interceptions in the first frame. The second featured a beautiful diving effort near the sideline and served as a prelude to the Dawgs' furious 45-point second half rally in a game they won 45-14.
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: In a narrow escape over San Diego State last year, the Beavers went scoreless in the second and third quarters. This time, they outscored the Aztecs 21-0 over those middle two frames. Mannion executed Oregon State's adjustments with surgical precision, finishing 24-for-31 for 275 yards in his team's 28-7 win.
Austin Hill, WR, Arizona: He caught a game-winning Hail Mary. He should have the right to distribute helmet stickers, for crying out loud. Let's not forget about fellow receiver Cayleb Jones, whose 13 catches, 186 yards, and three touchdowns also spearheaded a 36-point fourth quarter. Oh, and the guy throwing all those passes may be icing his arm right now: Anu Solomon threw 73 times for 520 yards as the Wildcats shocked the Cal 49-45. A replay, just for fun.
Jared Goff, QB, Cal: Amidst the Arizona Hail Mary hoopla, it's important to not forget the strides Cal has made in the quarterback's sophomore season. The Bears' defense obviously collapsed, but Goff was spectacular for most of the contest: He delivered lasers downfield, averaging over 21 yards per completion and over 12 yards per attempt.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: His stat line was close to perfect in the face of ferocious Washington State pressure (seven sacks) -- 21-for-25, 329 yards, five touchdowns, and 58 more yards on the ground in the Ducks' 38-31 win. The Ducks could have very well lost this game considering how badly they were struggling up front, but Mariota's composure ended up Winning the Day (yes, that was intended). It never hurts to have track star Devon Allen on your side, either (20.3 yards per catch).
River Cracraft, WR, Washington State: The Cougars played the Ducks tough, and much of that can be credited to a series of fine Cracraft grabs against a very talented Oregon secondary. He finished with eight catches for 107 yards, and it seemed that every one of those receptions came in a clutch spot to keep Wazzu in the ballgame.
No quit in Arizona: California led 28-6 at halftime and 31-13 going into the fourth quarter, and Arizona needed to go 85 yards in less than a minute without any timeouts. There were plenty of reasons to quit believing. Didn’t happen. Instead, the college football world was treated to the best game of the season. Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon's 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill as time expired to give Arizona a 49-45 win and the play of the year so far. Arizona’s 36 fourth-quarter points mark a new school record for a quarter and more than the Wildcats scored all game against Cal the past season (33).
Mannion into record book: Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion became the school’s all-time leading passer. He eluded a pass rush and completed a 27-yard pass to Hunter Jarmon in the third quarter to take the record from Derek Anderson, who threw for 11,249 yards between 2001 and 2004. Mannion finished with 275 yards passing and now has 11,339 for his career, but he didn’t throw a touchdown and had one pick against the Aztecs. The most impressive part of the 28-7 win over San Diego State was the Beavers’ defense, which allowed just 215 yards of offense.
Colorado takes advantage: By giving both Washington a game and Oregon State a late scare, Hawaii proved it could hang with Pac-12 teams. But that was in Hawaii. Colorado’s 21-12 win started at 8 a.m. Hawaiian time and was played at altitude, and the Warriors’ flight was delayed on Friday, which canceled its walk-through. That’s tough sledding. Still, Colorado deserves credit for taking advantage. The Buffaloes built a 21-6 halftime lead and hung on to move to 2-2 for the second straight season -- they’ve yet to start 3-2 since their move to the Pac-12 in 2011. WR Nelson Spruce continued his torrid start with 13 catches for 172 yards, which included a 71-yard touchdown.
Another passed test for Oregon: Oregon's first road game of the season didn't go as smoothly as it would have liked, but a 38-31 road win over Washington State is a road win, and the Ducks are probably better for it. Offensive line issues remain a concern, but Marcus Mariota again looked like the Heisman favorite, as he finished 21-of-25 for 329 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 58 yards on 13 carries. Sports Illustrated jinx? Better luck next time.
Inconsistency remains at Washington: Georgia State has never beaten an FBS opponent but led Washington 14-0 at halftime. Sure, the Huskies bounced back to score 45 points in the second half and win 45-14. Still, the first half has to be concerning. Take it from coach Chris Petersen, who said, “If we show up like we did in the first half from here on out, we’ll get run out of the stadium and won’t be able to get back in.” Washington is still searching for an identity after playing starkly different types of games in each of Petersen’s first four as head coach. The competition level takes a big jump next week, when the Huskies get a visit from No. 16 Stanford. The 45 second-half points were the most a team scored in the second half after being shutout in the first since West Virginia scored 46 against Louisville in 2005.
Time to take Cal seriously: First, poor Cal. To play that well for that long only to lose on a Hail Mary is torture for a team and fan base that suffered mightily a year ago. Be extra nice to your Cal fan friends this week; this isn’t the time for jokes. As devastating a loss as this could be, the performance did legitimize the Golden Bears’ first two games. Quarterback Jared Goff played like an All-American for long stretches, and the defense played well early before being gassed. That fourth quarter, however, was worse than anything the Cal defense did a year ago. The lack of depth was again on display, just like it was against Northwestern.
Cougars can compete: The WSU team that showed up in Pullman was the version many were expecting -- and maybe even better -- to see all season, but for WSU to beat Oregon, it would have taken a near-perfect game. The Cougars made a few too many mistakes to get this win, but overall, it was a positive step -- just don't tell Mike Leach. All of a sudden, WSU looks like it can compete week-in, week-out. Two games into the season, that wasn't the case.
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 329 yards and five touchdowns as No. 2 Oregon held off Washington State 38-31 on Saturday night in a matchup of two of the top offenses in the nation.
Connor Halliday threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns for Washington State (1-3, 0-1), which boasts the nation's top passing attack. They came into the game as 24-point underdogs, but stayed close the entire way.
Washington State played stout defense in the first half, sacking Mariota five times and recording seven tackles for losses, while holding the Ducks to a total of 210 yards. The score was tied 21-all at halftime.
However, the Cougars' offense stalled in the second half.