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Predicting the Winners of All 54 Pac-12 Conference Games

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Oregon returns to the Pac-12 Championship Game while UCLA makes its third consecutive appearance. While those results were easy enough to predict, how the middle of the Pac sorted itself out is where the surprises lie in our Pac-12 projections, featuring predicted winners for all 54 games.

I don't think you're supposed to hand off to him...
I don't think you're supposed to hand off to him...
Steve Dykes

Yesterday we examined our predictions for Cal's schedule. Today we set our sights on the entire Pac-12: all 54 conference games. Now before I let the suspense build up too much, I'm going to go ahead and spoil the entire story by showing the results up front.

North South
1. Oregon (9-0) T1. UCLA (7-2)*
2. Stanford (8-1) T1. ASU (7-2)
3. California (6-3) 3. USC (4-5)
4. Oregon State (5-4) 4. Arizona (3-6)
5. Washington (3-6) 5. Utah (1-8)
6. Washington State (1-8) 6. Colorado (0-9)

* denotes winner of head-to-head tiebreaker

The top-two teams in each division aren't surprising. The muddled middles hold some surprises, especially for Cal, Washington, and USC. How did this happen? Let's take a look at the madness, week by week.

Week 2

Washington State (0-0) at USC (0-0): USC (98.7%) def. Washington State (1.3%)

The first Pac-12 conference game of the year should be a snoozer. Should be. Washington State has caught a few teams by surprise the past couple years and USC is no longer a fear-inducing opponent, but the odds are still heavily in USC's favor.

Week 3

Oregon State (0-0) at Utah (0-0): Oregon State (80.8%) def. Utah (19.2%)

These programs are on opposite trajectories. Last year Oregon State was expected to be a bottom dweller while Utah was supposed to contend for the South Division title. Utah might eventually turn things around, but I (and 80.8% of you) don't expect them to challenge the Beavers during this early in the season.

Week 4

Arizona State (0-0) at Stanford (0-0): Stanford (91.1%) def. Arizona State (8.9%)

If the Sun Devils were at home, this might be a little more interesting. ASU won't have to worry about an intimidating environment, but they will need every iota of advantage when facing the beastly Cardinal front-seven. An upset would have far-reaching implications, but I don't expect ASU's offense to be potent enough to overcome the Cardinal D.

Week 5

USC (1-0) at Arizona State (0-1): ASU (70.1%) def. USC (29.9%)

Colorado (0-0) at Oregon State (1-0): Oregon State (98.7%) def. Colorado (1.3%)

Arizona (0-0) at Washington (0-0): Washington (63.8%) def. Arizona (36.2%)

Stanford (1-0) at Washington State (0-1): Stanford (96.9%) def. Washington State (3.1%)

California (0-0) at Oregon (0-0): Oregon (92.9%) def. California (7.1%)

After three consecutive weeks of whetting our appetites with a single Pac-12 conference game, we have a packed schedule during week five. Unfortunately, most will be non-competitive. OSU, Stanford, and Oregon are heavy, heavy favorites, but the USC-ASU and Arizona-Washington games could be interesting.

Week 6

UCLA (0-0) at Utah (0-1): UCLA (85.7%) def. Utah (14.3%)

Washington (1-0) at Stanford (2-0): Stanford (92.0%) def. Washington (8.0%)

Washington State (0-2) at California (0-1): California (92.4%) def. Washington State (7.6%)

Oregon (1-0) at Colorado (0-1): Oregon (100.0%) def. Colorado (0.0%)

Poor Colorado. Despite being at home, not a single person voted for the Buffs to win. In our three years of doing these Pac-12 season predictions, we have never seen a 100%, unanimous agreement on a game's outcome. With 85+% of voters agreeing on the victor, these games should be fairly predictable.

Week 7

Arizona (0-1) at USC (1-1): USC (77.7%) def. Arizona (22.3%)

Colorado (0-2) at Arizona State (1-1): Arizona State (97.3%) def. Colorado (2.7%)

California (1-1) at UCLA (1-0): UCLA (62.1%) def. California (37.9%)

Stanford (2-0) at Utah (0-2): Stanford (96.4%) def. Utah (3.6%)

Oregon (2-0) at Washington (1-1): Oregon (94.6%) def. Washington (5.4%)

Oregon State (2-0) at Washington State (0-3): Oregon State (85.3%) def. Washington State (14.7%)

The first full slate of six Pac-12 games! The poor Mountain teams continue to be heavy, heavy underdogs as both are expected to fall to 0-3. Meanwhile the Cougs drop to 0-4. By now Stanford and Oregon will have established themselves as the class of the conference while the three bottom-dwellers keep digging.

Week 8

Washington (1-2) at Arizona State (2-1): Arizona State (82.6%) def. Washington (14.7%)

Utah (0-3) at Arizona (0-2): Arizona (83.5%) def. Utah (16.5%)

UCLA (2-0) at Stanford (3-0): Stanford (80.8%) def. UCLA (19.2%)

Oregon State (3-0) at California (1-2): California (61.2%) def. Oregon State (38.8%)

Washington State (0-4) at Oregon (3-0): Oregon (100.0%) def. Washington State (0.0%)

We have our first upset of the season! Cal defeats the previously unbeaten Beavers to climb back to .500. In the Pacific Northwest Sark's hot seat continues to heat up as his Huskies fall to 1-3 in conference. Oregon is picked by 100% of respondents again to drop the poor Cougs to 0-5. Arizona notches its first conference victory as it finally escapes the "no conference wins" club.

Week 9

Utah (0-4) at USC (2-1): USC (96.9%) def. Utah (3.1%)

Arizona (1-2) at Colorado (0-3): Arizona (87.1%) def. Colorado (12.9%)

Stanford (4-0) at Oregon State (3-1): Stanford 70.1% def. Oregon State (29.9%)

California (2-2) at Washington (1-3): California (52.2%) def. Washington (47.8%)

UCLA (2-1) at Oregon (4-0): Oregon (96.0%) def. UCLA (4.0%)

The upsets continue! Cal defeats UW to drop the Huskies to 1-4. If the Bears beat the Huskies, there's little Sark can do to right the ship. The mountain teams continue to search hopelessly for their first win. Stanford triumphs in what should be a matchup between two ranked teams. USC earns its third win of the conference season by defeating another bottom-half team.

Week 10

Arizona State (3-1) at Washington State (0-5): Arizona State (84.4%) def. Washington State (15.6%)

USC (3-1) at Oregon State (3-2): Oregon State (71.4%) def. USC (28.6%)

Arizona (2-2) at California (3-2): California (73.7%) def. Arizona (26.3%)

Colorado (0-4) at UCLA (2-2): UCLA (96.9%) def. Colorado (3.1%)

Poor Cougs. Poor Buffs. Both continue their struggles. ASU and UCLA cement themselves as challengers for the division title. USC suffers another loss at Reser and kisses its South title hopes goodbye. This begins the end for Kiffin. Cal wins its third in a row to move to a remarkable 4-2 in conference.

Week 11

Oregon (5-0) at Stanford (5-0): Oregon (70.5%) def. Stanford (29.5%)

UCLA (3-2) at Arizona (2-3): UCLA (59.8%) def. Arizona (40.1%)

USC (3-2) at California (4-2): California (51.3%) def. USC (48.7%)

Arizona State (4-1) at Utah (0-5): Arizona State (74.1%) def. Utah (25.9%)

Colorado (0-5) at Washington (1-4): Washington (95.1%) def. Colorado (4.9%)

This week hosts the biggest game of the season. An undefeated Oregon faces an undefeated Stanford in a battle for the Pac-12 North title. The winner will have the inside track to the Rose Bowl while the loser will "settle for" another at-large BCS berth. UCLA avoids an upset in Tuscon to keep its division title hopes alive and Washington earns its first win since September. Cal defeats USC for the first time in 10 years as the Bears win their fourth game in a row.

Week 12

Washington (2-4) at UCLA (4-2): UCLA (88.8%) def. Washington (11.2%)

Oregon State (4-2) at Arizona State (5-1): Arizona State (64.3%) def. Oregon State (35.7%)

Washington State (0-6) at Arizona (2-4): Arizona (88.8%) def. Washington State (11.2%)

Stanford (5-1) at USC (3-3): Stanford (70.5%) def. USC (29.5%)

California (5-2) at Colorado (0-6): California (92.4%) def. Colorado (7.6%)

Utah (0-6) at Oregon (6-0): Oregon (100.0%) def. Utah (0.0%)

A nasty heat wave passes through Southern California this week as Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian suffer hot-seat-melting losses. Cal wins its fifth in a row as Sonny Dykes easily dispatches Mike MacIntyre's Buffs. Arizona State escapes Oregon State to preserve its hold on first place in the South. Once again, Oregon receives 100% of the votes in a win over Utah.

Week 13

Oregon (7-0) at Arizona (3-4): Oregon (92.4%) def. Arizona (7.6%)

California (6-2) at Stanford (6-1): Stanford (64.4%) def. California (36.6%)

Arizona State (6-1) at UCLA (5-2): UCLA (79.0%) def. Arizona State (21.0%)

USC (3-4) at Colorado (0-7): USC (96.4%) def. Colorado (3.4%)

Washington (2-5) at Oregon State (4-3): Oregon State (79.5%) def. Washington (20.5%)

Utah (0-7) at Washington State (0-7): Washington State (57.1%) def. Utah (42.9%)

As much as you want to watch ASU battle UCLA for the South title, you know you'll watch a winless Utah battle a winless Wazzu. The Cougs earn their first victory of the conference schedule at the hands of the poor Utes. I'd be surprised if both these teams were winless heading into this game, however. The biggest game of the weekend catapults UCLA into 1st in the division with a tiebreaker win over Arizona State. Stanford ends Cal's winning streak to give the Bears a solid 6-3 final conference record. Washington, meanwhile, earns its sixth loss of the year, which likely keeps them out of bowl contention (unless they somehow beat Boise State). And, as always, the Ducks continue their reign of terror.

Week 14

Washington State (1-7) at Washington (2-6): Washington (73.2%) def. Washington State (26.8%)

Oregon State (5-3) at Oregon (8-0): Oregon (96.0%) def. Oregon State (4.0%)

Arizona (3-4) at Arizona State (6-2): Arizona State (76.8%) def. Arizona (23.2%)

UCLA (6-2) at USC (4-4): UCLA (59.8%) def. USC (40.2%)

Colorado (0-8) at Utah (0-8): Utah (87.1%) def. Colorado (12.9%)

The pillow fight of the year takes place this year as winless Colorado travels to Salt Lake City to battle the winless Utes. If this is anything like the 2008 Apple Cup, this could actually be a pretty good game. Two years after USC delivered a death blow to Neuheisal's coaching career at UCLA, the Bruins end Lane Kiffin's tenure as USC's head coach.

We've now seen the results of 14 weeks of Pac-12 play. Let's look over the final standings (again).

Projected Standings

North South
1. Oregon (9-0) T1. UCLA (7-2)*
2. Stanford (8-1) T1. ASU (7-2)
3. California (6-3) 3. USC (4-5)
4. Oregon State (5-4) 4. Arizona (3-6)
5. Washington (3-6) 5. Utah (1-8)
6. Washington State (1-8) 6. Colorado (0-9)

* denotes winner of head-to-head tiebreaker

The top two teams in each division are not surprising; the rest of the standings might raise some eyebrows. Losing records will not please UW and USC fans; those records will also lead to the firing of their head coaches. The Mike Leach Air Raid fails to lift off for the second consecutive season. The Mountain schools wonder a) what happened to Kyle Whittingham? and b) why did Colorado fire Embree just to go winless in 2013? Those teams should be a little better than their records, however. More on that shortly.

UCLA and Oregon face off in a rematch of the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon was picked to defeat UCLA by 96% of respondents during their regular-season game, so the P12CG outcome should be no different. Oregon rolls to another Rose Bowl as UCLA fans demand that everyone by UCLA Athletics immediately resign.

In addition to asking for the winner of each game, we asked respondents to predict the winner of the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon led the way with 71.9% of the votes, followed by Stanford (15.2%) and Cal (8.5%). With 1.8% of the votes, UCLA received the most votes of any South team, followed by ASU (0.9%) and USC (0.4%). Washington State, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado did not receive a single vote to win the conference.

One might object to the above standings based on the notion that a team could conceivably go 9-0 if picked by 50.01% of respondents in each game. Is that a valid measure in such a circumstance? Probably not. If you added up the percentages of win predictions for each game, that team would be expected to win only 4.5009 games. By adding up these percentages across all games we can calculate the expected number of wins. This would balance things out for teams who benefited from many narrow margins. How would the standings look in this case?

Expected Number of Wins
North South
1. Oregon (8.42) 1. ASU (5.79)
2. Stanford (6.91) 2. UCLA (5.55)
3. Cal (5.05) 3. USC (5.46)
4. Oregon State (4.51) 4. Arizona (4.15)
5. Washington (3.42) 5. Utah (2.13)
6. Washington St. (1.38) 6. Colorado (0.49)

Other than ASU slightly edging UCLA, the standings are the same. So much for that counterargument...

It is nonetheless useful to compare the number of projected wins and the number of wins based on the sum of percentages. Below we rank teams with the biggest discrepancies between the two records. Those with a lower expected number of wins (the team with 4.59 wins or 9 wins from our example) than projected number of wins will have a negative difference, while those with more wins than projected number of wins will have a positive difference.

Better Than Their Records Worse Than Their Records
1. USC (+1.46) 1. UCLA (-1.45)
2. Arizona (+1.15) 2. ASU (-1.21)
3. Utah (+1.12) 3. Stanford (-1.09)

Two Pac-12 South contenders have inflated records and the third and fourth place South teams have deflated records. That could make for some interesting results in the South race...

There still remains one controversial result: Cal's 6-3 finish. If CGB supposedly has (at least) trace levels of editorial integrity, how could we let a survey full of rabidly biased Cal fans taint the results? This is a valid question. I admit we do have an inordinate number of Cal fans filling out this survey (62.5% of all ballots came from Cal fans). What happens if we toss out their ballots? Sure, they're experts on their team and have much greater insight into Cal's matchups than some random Arizona State or Washington fan. And let's even toss out the fact that many Cal fans were so unbiased that they put their seething hatred of Stanford aside and voted for them to win the conference. Let's pretend they're all a bunch of unreasonable homers. If the critics are right (they're not, but let's humor them for a moment), how would the results change?

Below we compare the predictions of Cal's games as made by everyone and everyone except Cal fans.

Opponent Everyone No Cal Fans
Oregon 7.1% 1.2%
Washington State 92.4% 81.0%
UCLA 37.9% 7.1%
Oregon State 61.2% 38.1%
Washington 52.2% 23.8%
Arizona 73.7% 51.2%
USC 51.3% 19.0%
Colorado 92.4% 84.5%
Stanford 36.6% 3.6%

Now those 6 wins turn into only 3 wins. What happens to the final standings under these circumstances?

North South
1. Oregon (9-0) T1. UCLA (7-2)*
2. Stanford (8-1) T1. ASU (7-2)
3. Oregon State (6-3) 3. USC (5-4)
4. Washington (4-5) 4. Arizona (3-6)
5. California (3-6) 5. Utah (1-8)
6. Washington State (1-8) 6. Colorado (0-9)

Cal drops a few spots but the results are otherwise similar. Oregon plays UCLA in the championship game; Wazzu, Colorado, and Utah combine for an awful 25 losses; and Sark and Kiffy are both fired after another disappointing season.

Of course, this conclusion assumes Cal fans are so biased that their predictions are unreliable. Meanwhile we let fans of other teams express their biases in matchups against Cal without consequence. And, of course, we throw out the ballots of the people who know the most about a team that has undergone the most substantial transformation in the conference this offseason. So do I plan on throwing out the Cal ballots? NOPE. I'll stick with the first round of results (and, if pressed, I'll concede a loss to either Oregon State or Washington).

In the past these predictions were fairly accurate. How well will these predictions match reality this fall? As a Cal fan, I hope they match very closely. Cal bounces back, USC stumbles, and Washington bumbles. I feel bad about Utah, Wazzu, and Colorado, but their struggles are a price I'm willing to pay for 6 conference wins.