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For a league on the ropes, Pac-12 is showing some fight

Four Pac-12 teams are ranked among the top 15 teams in the AP Top 25, while three others are receiving votes. Not bad for a league that is trying to find its footing

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Utah running back Jaylon Glover looks for yardage during game against Arizona State Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz.

Utah running back Jaylon Glover looks for yardage during game against Arizona State Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. The Utes are one of four Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP rankings.

Rick Scuteri, Associated Press

Cancel the funeral for the Pac-12 Conference. Or at least postpone it.

Maybe the soon-to-be Pac-10 (or Pac-8?) is a complete mess and its consideration as a Power Five league is tenuous, at best, but the league has taken a break from a streak of bad news with its surprising performance on the field this month.

The Pac is bac — for now. The conference has had little relevance the past few years, but that isn’t the case so far this season. Four Pac-12 teams appear in the top 15 of this week’s Associated Press poll.

Who saw that coming?

Only the Southeastern Conference — picture Amazon and Apple all rolled into one — has more, with five.

If you count the “also receiving votes” category, the Pac-12 has seven teams in the top 37. That’s more than half the league.

The Pac-12 has been fighting for its existence since USC and UCLA — its two biggest names — announced they will be leaving the league to join the Big Ten in 2024; other Pac-12 schools tried to follow them to the Big Ten but were rebuffed.

You know the rest of Pac’s problems. The conference TV network is struggling to catch an audience, and the so-called “Conference of Champions” has not been a league of champions, certainly not in football. It hasn’t put a team in the national playoff in six years — and only two in the eight-year history of the event, easily the worst among P5 leagues.

They had one team finish in the top 20 of the final AP poll in 2021 and one in 2020. During the two years before that, only three Pac-12 teams finished in the final rankings.

Heading into Week 5 of the season, here’s the way the Pac-12 stacks up:

• The University of Southern California-Oklahoma is ranked sixth with a 4-0 record. The addition of Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams has made an immediate difference for a team that won just four games last season. USC is a storied football school that fell hard last year.

• Utah, 3-1, lost to Florida in the opening game but already has rebounded to No. 12, only five spots below its preseason ranking. This is a measure of the respect Utes have earned; years ago they wouldn’t have recovered in the rankings so quickly.

• Oregon, after being routed 49-3 by defending national champion Georgia in the opener, is ranked 13th with a 3-1 record. A solid win over then 12th-ranked BYU helped the Ducks’ cause considerably.

It’s difficult to make sense of some of the other rankings, but let’s try.

• Washington, 4-0, is ranked 15th despite a soft schedule. The Huskies’ best win came against 2-2 Michigan State; they also played Kent State, Portland State and struggling Stanford. The strength-of-schedule consideration is unevenly applied, as always.

• Oregon State, perennial also-ran in the league, is 3-1 and “ranked” no better than 31st even though the Beavers’ lone loss was a 17-14 decision to sixth-ranked USC. That doesn’t make sense.

• Washington State is 3-1 and “ranked” only 29th. The Cougars’ lone loss was a narrow 44-41 decision against 13th-ranked Oregon.

• UCLA is 4-0 and “ranked” no better than 37th, but the Bruins’ preseason schedule has been noticeably weak — Bowling Green, Alabama State, South Alabama and Colorado.

The Pac-12 still faces a dire situation — namely, the impossible task of replacing USC and UCLA (and retaining their remaining name schools — but the league would help its cause if its schools continue to win games. But once the conference season begins in earnest, they’ll take turns knocking off their own schools. In the two biggest games of the week, Washington plays on the road against UCLA and Utah plays host to Oregon State, which will start the process of paring down the real frontrunners.

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USC quarterback Caleb Williams looks to pass against Oregon State Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Corvallis, Ore. Southern California won 17-14. The Trojans, ranked No. 6 in the AP rankings, are one of four Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 15.

Amanda Loman, Associated Press