In this conference, places one through three are hard to argue. Not so much in terms of where they're positioned—that could certainly be debated—but in regards to separating themselves from the rest of the league.
So let's give it a go:
No. 1: Washington State: The Cougars have faced a gauntlet schedule, and with the loss of key contributors from last year's team. Yet Wazzu keeps winning. It could be the first program in the modern era of the Pac-10 to have three consecutive 10-win seasons. Had it not been for a fourth-quarter collapse at Notre Dame, this team would be talking about the outside possibility of national championship aspirations. As it is, WSU has shown all kinds of resilience. Following the Notre Dame debacle, it walked into Colorado and stampeded the Buffs. Two weeks later, it handed Oregon its worst loss at home. Far and away the surprise of the conference. There's a lot of season still to go, but Washington State has been very impressive to date.
No. 2: USC: The soon-to-be juggernaut has looked very dominant most of the season, and like Washington State, had it not been for the surprising overtime setback at Cal, this would be a team talking national title. Great defense, and an offense that has been very consistent under first-year quarterback Matt Leinart. The preseason favorite to win the league is very much in the mix.
No. 3: Oregon State: What do the top teams have in common? Well, in the pass happy Pac-10, these guys lead the charge by way of defense. Like WSU and USC, amazing team speed on the defensive side of the ball, and an offense that is good enough to put some points on the board. A bump in the road at Fresno State hurt, and there was that near loss to Boise State, but when Oregon State gets it going, it can be a load.
From here on out it gets a bit muddy.
No. 4: California: Arguably the best of an inconsistent rest. Cal lost as much as any team in the conference, yet Jeff Tedford has fielded a competitive football team yet again. The win against USC is the most significant upset in the league to date, although fans at Washington might debate the Nevada debacle. Legitimate losses to Colorado State, Utah and at Kansas State. If there was any question about Cal's future, this "rebuilding" season appears to be putting it to rest.
No. 5: UCLA: Probably among the most unimpressive 4-2 teams in the nation. UCLA seems just good enough to be perplexing. The rout at the hands of Oklahoma is a wash. Everyone gets routed by OU this year. But the drubbing of Washington is a mystery as well. Add to that three-point wins over Illinois and Arizona, and UCLA appears to be a team loaded with talent that solidly defines ok.
No. 6: Arizona State: A couple weeks ago, the Sun Devils would be much closer to the bottom of the Pac, but they looked ok against USC for three quarters and absolutely clubbed a slumping Oregon team last week. Early in the season, head coach Dirk Koetter said teams wouldn't let ASU throw deep as much as it wanted, so he basically abandoned the attempt. The Sun Devil offense went two weeks without scoring a point. Since the top of October, however, Arizona State appears much more willing to go downfield, and the results have been good. This is among the most disappointing teams in the league, but there's still a chance to salvage the season because the defense has actually played pretty well.
No. 7: Washington: Appeared to be back on track after powerhouse wins over dynamo competition the likes of Indiana, Idaho and Stanford, but then came Nevada. Oh yeah, that Nevada. The monster of the high desert Nevada. And Washington went poof. Cody Pickett is playing pretty well, and Reggie Williams has recorded three 100-yard receiving games already this year, but the running game is anemic, and so is life in Seattle after Rick Neuheisel.
No. 8: Oregon: How did this happen? Oregon looked like a gauntlet when it ripped Arizona in mid-September, then handled Michigan with relative ease a week later. Since then, complete collapse. The Washington State game was 38-2 at the half, and Oregon made ASU look like a dynasty in Tempe. The Ducks were 6-0 before last year's spiral. This season they got an earlier start.
No. 9: Stanford: Why Stanford and not Arizona? Because Stanford has two wins, albeit at the hands of San Jose State and a beleaguered BYU team. Nothing much to say here, and it isn't looking better in the near future.
No. 10: Arizona: Certainly the most trying time in the modern era of UA football, but with the firing of John Mackovic a big burden has been lifted and the team is playing better football. It should have beaten UCLA Saturday, garnering more than 500 yards total offense. Before that game, the UA was the worst offense in the country, and had gone a month-plus without scoring a first half touchdown. It's going to be hard to find another win, but this is a more competitive team at the moment with high hopes as the search for Mackovic's replacement looms.