Wisdom of Crowds: Oregon to Face Utah in the Pac-12 Championship Game

We at CGB love numbers.  We like asking how well Cal will perform against its opponents each season, we like recomputing quarterback efficiency ratings, we just like numbers.  Last week we embarked on our most ambitious project yet by asking fans throughout the Pac-10 to pick winners and losers for all 54 Pac-12 games this season.  You obviously were up to the task: we received over 1000 responses.  Many thanks to all of you who participated, now let us enjoy the fruits of your labor: a comprehensive prediction for how the Pac-12 season will unfold.

First off, let's take a look at the predicted final standings.  The Pac-12 North standings are almost exactly as the media predicted at Pac-12 Media Day.  The South features a somewhat surprising tie for 1st between Utah and Arizona State. Utah, however, breaks that tie and heads to the Pac-12 Championship game.  By looking only at the final standings, we get an interesting overall prediction of how things will unfold, but not much deep insight.  When we take a look at the game-by-game predictions, however, then we can begin to appreciate the wisdom of the crowdsourced predictions.

Pac-12 North Pac-12 South
1. Oregon (9-0) 1. Utah (7-2)
2. Stanford (8-1) 1. Arizona State (7-2)
3. Washington (4-5) 3. USC* (6-3)
3. Oregon State (4-5) 4. Arizona (3-6)
5. Cal (3-6) 5. UCLA (2-7)
6. Washington St (0-9) 6. Colorado (1-8)

*Banned from the Pac-12 Championship Game

Uncommon wisdom from the Pac-12 South:  Utah has--by far--the easiest road to the Pac-12 championship game.  They received a tremendous welcoming gift by the Pac-12 scheduling committee: they do not have to play Oregon or Stanford.  Utah's challengers for the Pac-12 South crown were not so lucky.  USC has to play both schools.  Although they avoid Stanford, ASU must travel to Autzen to take on the Ducks.  Basically, Utah starts the season with a one-game advantage over ASU and a two-game advantage over USC.  Even better news for the Utes, their matchup against ASU is in Utah.  Although Utah will probably start Pac-12 play off with a loss to USC, they should start making plans to fly up to Eugene in December.

How do things unfold for the conference's other 11 teams? Join us after the jump as we walk through Pac-12 schedule, week-by-week. 

Week 2

Utah (0-0) at USC (0-0):   USC (70.21 %) def. Utah (29.79%)

Week 2 observations:  Sure, Utah will probably start off the Pac-12 schedule 0-1, but this may be their last Pac-12 matchup as underdogs.

Week 3

Stanford (0-0) at Arizona (0-0): Stanford (89.18%) def. Arizona (10.82%)

Week 3 observations:  Arizona loses 9 times out of 10?  I'll bet against that any day of the week.  Look for this to be a huge test for Stanford's revamped defense.

Week 4

Cal (0-0) at Washington (0-0): Washington (69.81%) def. Cal (30.19%)

Oregon (0-0) at Arizona (0-1): Oregon (96.17%) def. Arizona (3.83%)

UCLA (0-0) at Oregon State (0-0): Oregon State (86.20%) def. UCLA (13.77%)

USC (1-0) at Arizona State (0-0): Arizona State (54.08%) def. USC (45.92%)

Week 4 observations:  If Arizona State loses this matchup, they will already be at a severe disadvantage in their quest for the South title.  Being nearly out of the race before the end of September will not help Dennis Erickson, who may be one more disappointing season away from unemployment.

Week 5

Arizona (0-2) at USC (1-1): USC (85.25%) def. Arizona (14.75%)

Oregon State (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0): Arizona State (86.04%) def. Oregon State (13.96%)

UCLA (0-1) at Stanford (1-0): Stanford (96.85%) def. UCLA (3.15%)

Washington (1-0) at Utah (0-1): Utah (85.44% def. Washington (14.55%)

Washington State (0-0) at Colorado (0-0):  Colorado (67.26%) def. Washington State (32.74%)

Week 5 observations: Unlike its new regional rival, Colorado opens Pac-12 play with a win!  Unfortunately, this may be their only conference win of the year.

Week 6

Cal (0-1) at Oregon (1-0): Oregon (95.28%) def. Cal (4.72%)

Arizona (0-3) at Oregon State (1-1): Oregon State (50.34%) def. Arizona (49.66%)

Arizona State (2-0) at Utah (1-1): Utah (66.37%) def. Arizona State (33.63%)

Colorado (1-0) at Stanford (2-0): Stanford (97.25%) def. Colorado (2.75%)

Washington State (0-1) at UCLA (0-2): UCLA (69.03%) def. Washington State (30.97%)

Week 6 observations: Stick a pitchfork in them, the Sun Devils' Pac-12 title hopes will be done on October 8th.

Week 7

USC (2-1) at Cal (0-2): USC (65.39%) def. Cal (34.61%)

Arizona State (2-1) at Oregon (2-0): Oregon (94.69%) def. Arizona State (5.31%)

Colorado (1-1) at Washington (1-1): Washington (84.17%) def. Colorado (15.8%)

Stanford (3-0) at Washington State (0-2): Stanford (95.97%) def. Washington State (4.03%)

Week 7 observations:  A three-game losing streak is the last thing Jeff Tedford and the Bears need at this point in the season.

Week 8

UCLA (1-2) at Arizona (0-4): Arizona (87.61%) def. UCLA (12.39%)

Oregon (3-0) at Colorado (1-2): Oregon (95.77%) def. Colorado (4.23%)

Oregon State (2-1) at Washington State (0-3): Oregon State (64.80%) def. Washington State (35.20%)

Utah (2-1) at Cal (0-3): Utah (56.05%) def. Cal (43.95%)

Washington (2-1) at Stanford (4-0): Stanford (93.02%) def. Washington (6.98%)

Week 8 observations: Scratch that last observation, a four-game losing streak is the last thing the Bears need.  If the Utes did not have a bye week the week before, this would scream trap game.

Week 9

Arizona (1-4) at Washington (2-2): Washington (58.31%) def. Arizona (41.69%)

Cal (0-4) at UCLA (1-3): Cal (66.27%) def. UCLA (33.73%)

Colorado (1-3) at Arizona State (2-2): Arizona State (90.17%) def. Colorado (9.83%)

Oregon State (3-1) at Utah (3-1): Utah (86.92%) def. Oregon State (13.08%)

Stanford (5-0) at USC (3-1): Stanford (63.52%) def. USC (36.48%)

Washington State (0-4) at Oregon (4-0): Oregon (97.64%) def. Washington State (2.36%)

Week 9 observations: Cal finally earns its first Pac-12 win!  If Stanford's defense is shaky at this point in the season, they will be lit up by Barkley and the Trojans.

 

Week 10

USC (3-2) at Colorado (1-4): USC (85.84%) def. Colorado (14.16)

Arizona State (3-2) at UCLA (1-4): Arizona State (79.45%) def. UCLA (20.55%)

Oregon (5-0) at Washington (3-2): Oregon (86.92%) def. Washington (13.08%)

Stanford (6-0) at Oregon State (3-2): Stanford (85.15%) def. Oregon State (14.84%)

Utah (4-1) at Arizona (1-5): Arizona (51.13%) def. Utah (48.87%)

Washington State (0-5) at Cal (1-4): Cal (88.10%) def. Washington State (11.90%)

Week 10 observations: Another trap game for Utah, but will the Utes really lose this one?  Not if they head into the game at 4-1 in conference play.

Week 11

Arizona (2-5) at Colorado (1-5): Arizona (66.08%) def. Colorado (33.92%)

Arizona State (4-2) at Washington State (0-6): Arizona State (83.78%) def. Washington State (16.22%)

Oregon (6-0) at Stanford (7-0): Oregon (57.03%) def. Stanford (42.97%)

Oregon State (3-3) at Cal (2-4): Cal (71.19%) def. Oregon State (28.81%)

UCLA (1-5) at Utah (4-2): Utah (90.46%) def. UCLA (9.54%)

Washington (3-3) at USC (4-2): USC (82.01%) def. Washington (17.99%)

Week 11 observations:  Jeff Tedford finally gets the beaver off his back.  The conference's biggest game of the year ends with Oregon defeating Stanford.  Will Stanford be undefeated heading into that game?  Don't bet on it.

Week 12

Arizona (3-5) at Arizona State (5-2): Arizona State (78.86%) def. Arizona (21.14%)

Cal (3-4) at Stanford (7-1): Stanford (81.12%) def. Cal (18.88%)

Colorado (1-6) at UCLA (1-6): UCLA (65.68%) def. Colorado (34.32%)

USC (5-2) at Oregon (7-0): Oregon (91.74%) def. USC (8.26%)

Utah (5-2) at Washington State (0-7): Utah (82.60%) def. Washington State (17.40%)

Washington (3-4) at Oregon State (3-4): Oregon State (55.16%) def. Washington (44.84%)

Week 12 observations: I'll call it now: Colorado's four-year losing streak on the road will come to an end when they visit UCLA.

 Week 13

Cal (3-5) at Arizona State (6-2): Arizona State (78.76%) def. Cal (21.24)%

Colorado (1-7) at Utah (6-2): Utah (90.46%) def. Colorado (9.54%)

Oregon State  (4-4) at Oregon: (7-0): Oregon (94.79%) def. Oregon State (5.21%)

UCLA (2-6) at USC (5-3): USC (90.76%) def. UCLA (9.24%)

Washington State (0-8) at Washington (3-5): Washington (82.89%) def. Washington State (17.11%)

Week 13 observations:  Want to watch the world's most meaningless game?  Check out the Cal-ASU matchup.  Both playing only six days after their rivalry games, these teams will have little motivation if their seasons have not met expectations.  Someone is going to sleepwalk through this game and end the season on a sour note.

 

Final Standings

Pac-12 North Pac-12 South
1. Oregon (9-0) 1. Utah (7-2)
2. Stanford (8-1) 1. Arizona State (7-2)
3. Washington (4-5) 3. USC (6-3)
3. Oregon State (4-5) 4. Arizona (3-6)
5. Cal (3-6) 5. UCLA (2-7)
6. Washington St (0-9) 6. Colorado (1-8)

*Banned from the Pac-12 Championship Game

And there we have it, the surprisingly straightforward path to an Oregon-Utah championship game.  Of course, if we add up the percentages and use that as a proxy for number of wins, we get a slightly different story...

 

Predicted Wins

Pac-12 North Pac-12 South
1. Oregon (8.10) 1. Utah (6.37)
2. Stanford (7.45) 2. Arizona State (5.90) 
3. Washington (3.92) 3. USC (5.70)
4. Cal (3.79) 4. Arizona (3.47)
5. Oregon State (3.32) 5. UCLA (2.37)
6. Washington St (1.68) 6. Colorado (1.92)

 

Other than Cal swapping places with Oregon State, things stay the same in the North.  In the South Utah becomes the undisputed leader of the division, followed by Arizona State, then USC.  How is it that ASU is expected to win 7 games using one metric and 5.9 games in another?  That leads us to our next category...

For the following three teams, their predicted final records are a bit exaggerated.  Consider an illustrative example: if a team has a 51% chance to win each of the nine conference games, it would finish 9-0...even though it is expected to win 4.59 games.  This team's final record would overrate how good this team is.  With Arizona State as the league's most overrated team, Utah's path to the Pac-12 South title becomes a little easier.

Biggest Overachiever/Most Overrated

  1. Arizona State
  2. Oregon
  3. Oregon State

The next set of teams are much better than their final records indicate.  As a complement to our first example, consider a team who has a 49% chance to win each game.  Its final record would be 0-9 even though it is expected to win 4.41 games.  Do not be surprised if one of the following three teams upsets an opponent or two.  Based on the win probabilities, there is only a 14.25% chance that the Cougs lose all nine games this season.

Biggest Underachiever/Most Underrated

  1. Washington State
  2. Colorado
  3. California

 

Now we move onto a bit of a comical category.  These are the five most lopsided predictions of the entire schedule.  Of course, I would never bet that Oregon and Stanford beat Arizona and Washington State, respectively, 24 out of 25 times on the road.  

World's Most One-Sided Fights

  1. Washington State (2.4%) at Oregon (97.6%)
  2. Colorado (2.8%) at Stanford (97.2%)
  3. UCLA (3.1%) at Stanford (96.9%)
  4. Oregon (96.2%) at Arizona (3.8%)
  5. Stanford (96.0%) at Washington State (4.0%)
Next we take a look at the games whose outcomes are least certain.  What is most interesting about the following games is that they have important implications for division titles.  The Utah-Arizona, USC-ASU, and Utah-Cal games will undoubtedly decide the fate of the Pac-12 South.  While Utah is involved in more of these contested matchups, they have the largest margin of error in the conference.

Closest Matchups
  1. Arizona (49.7%) at Oregon State (50.3%)
  2. Utah (48.9%) at Arizona (51.1%)
  3. USC (45.9%) at Arizona State (54.1%)
  4. Washington (44.8%) at Oregon State (55.2%)
  5. Utah (56.0%) at Cal (44.0%)
  6. Oregon (57.0%) at Stanford (43.0%)

Final Thoughts:
  • As mentioned before, Utah has the largest margin of error in the conference.  By playing ASU at home and avoiding both Stanford and Oregon, they have the smoothest path to the Pac-12 Title Game.  Can they turn in solid performances each week outside the MWC?  If so, the Pac-12 South division title is theirs for the taking.
  • Two coaches will be fired at the end of the season.  The conference's biggest disappointments will be Arizona, who will finish 5-7 (3-6), UCLA, who will finish 3-9 (2-7), and Washington State, who will finish either 2-10 or 1-11.  While Oregon State and Cal will both finish 6-6, neither team will fire its coach because it's hard to envision anyone doing what Mike Riley and Jeff Tedford have done in Corvallis and Berkeley, respectively.  If ASU folds down the stretch, it could be curtains for Dennis Erickson.  To be fired, however, he would probably have to endure 6 losses.
  • The conference's new coaches will receive rough introductions to the conference.  While Shaw and Stanford are expected to win 8 games, that is pretty optimistic for a team that lost its head coach, defensive coordinator, and offensive line coach, all of whom were instrumental in leading Stanford to an improbable surge back into the national spotlight.  While Andrew Luck, the nation's best quarterback, still resides in Palo Alto, Stanford has too many administrative holes to fill to win 8 conference games.  Jon Embree, meanwhile, is in the unenviable position of trying to return the Buffaloes to respectability.  It's tough to imagine Colorado winning more than three conference games this season.
Thanks again to the 1000+ of you who participated!  We'll come back to this post periodically during the season to see how well we fared.  Do you think we can top Ted Miller's predictions?
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