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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7: Wazzu and Utah have a gentleperson’s duel over second place

Two teams are in a tight battle for second place and Cal fans everywhere (and I do mean worldwide) wonder how the bye week treated the Bears.

Utah v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Leland Wong: Despite the bye week for the Bears, the CGB machine for mediocre content continues to churn! I mean, I really don’t have any excuses because Power Rankings can and totally should continue despite a team or two or three having the week off. Plus, there’s a good amount of crowdsourcing that goes into this piece, so hurray for enabling me to get by despite poor to worse-than-poor work.

In our Power Rankings, our cadre of CGB contributors critique Cal and Cal’s conference compatriots on a combination of performance over the season as a whole with a particularly keen eye on the past weekend’s games. With a bye, will Cal move closer to the top, closer to the bottom, or stay put? I have to find a way to tease you into the article somehow!

(And yes, that was a very lazy lyrical linking, but I hope I get a little more slack because there were references to two Pac-12 cities and because general malaise and because only 2% of you actually click those links.)

Let’s turn to some overall thoughts from my colleagues, who have actual insight and know how to get to their point without rambling.

Nick Kranz: This conference is just not very good right now. S&P’s ratings have just three Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 40 (Washington, USC, Colorado). That’s bad. But I guess it’s good news for Cal because it means that there are a bunch of winnable games, surrounding two tough games against USC and Washington.

Piotr T Le: Pac-12 After Dark has extended to the rest of the schedule. Every week delivers games that really shake-up the Pac-12… I honestly couldn’t figure out some of the rankings. Graduate school has gotten a tad more intense so I haven’t been able to keep up with the non-Cal football world.

The rankings

In the event of a tie, those teams are listed alphabetically. The parenthetical number next to each voter’s name is where they ranked that team.

1. Washington Huskies (11 first-place votes) ↔

Fuck this school.

Last week: 1

Leland Wong (1): I’m desperate for any excuse to drop them down the list, but not even I could justify that simply because they were on bye.

boomtho (1): Good god, it’s just getting mean with Chris Petersen and Jake Browning. Who ever thought this incarnation of Washington would become a #drop70 team?

2. Washington State Cougars ↔

Last week: 2

Nick Kranz (2): Probably the only team in the North good enough to beat Washington. Definitely the only team close enough in the standings that beating them would make any potential difference.

Berkelium97 (3): Wazzu is 22nd in the nation with 16 rushing TDs and is holding opponents to 25 points per game. We’re now in the second consecutive year where the Cougs are winning with more than just passing.

Leland Wong (3): Continuing the trend of “massive gap between first-place and the rest”, the Cougs get this spot by virtue of everyone else being worse… Sure, they won over UC L.A., but was a one-score win over a UC L.A. team with no running back and playing a walk-on quarterback.

boomtho (2): Not that the Bruins are world beaters, but the Cougs just keep rolling up solid wins.

3. Utah Utes ↔

Last week: 3

Nick Kranz (3): I have them 3rd in my rankings even though their offense is a crime and I think that they won’t end up winning the South. Probably giving head-to-head wins too much credit.

Berkelium97 (2): Except for the Cal game, the Utes always seem to come through in these one-TD games. The 6–1 record looks better than Utah has played, but everyone else in the Pac-12 (except UW) has faceplanted multiple times while Utah has only faceplanted once.

Leland Wong (2): In the past, I haven’t been as critical of the Utes offense as some of my contemporaries, but come on—against Oregon State, Troy Williams connected on a pathetic 4 of 13 passes for 42 yards. (And he didn’t even have the worst Pac-12 QBR of the week.) That atrocious offense coupled with a one-score win over Oregon State makes me want to drop the Utes past second, but they’ve had a strong year overall and no one else deserves second-place this week.

Nik Jam (3): Originally I had USC and Colorado above them… and I do think Utah is the most vulnerable of the three, but on the other hand, they are already bowl-eligible and no one else in the Pac-12 can say that except Washington.

boomtho (3): Their wins haven’t been the most convincing, but they’re winning… and they’re already bowl-eligible. And it’s not like the middle tier of the conference is strong anyway.

4. Colorado Buffaloes ↗

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (5): Get all of their tough games at home the rest of the way—if they can avoid getting upset by Stanfurd, then the Mountain battle against Utah may decide the South. Did I write that sentence just as an excuse to refer to Stanfurd beating Colorado as an upset? Yes, yes I did.

Berkelium97 (5): One win away from bowl eligibility and we still have five games to go. That’s great news for Colorado fans.

Leland Wong (4): Stellar performance from the Buffs on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Wildcats under 200 yards of offense and 3/18 on third downs.

boomtho (5): Just continue to be pretty darn happy for Coach Mac and the Buffs. ASU was definitely a paper tiger (Wildcat?), but still impressive to see a 24-point margin of victory.

5. USC Trojans ↔

Last week: 5

Nick Kranz: (4): Four straight games now where USC has statistically dominated a Pac-12 South opponent, and only a bunch of turnovers and dumb decisions cost them a win at Utah. They’re the best team in the Pac-12 South, even though they might not win the Division.

Berkelium97 (4): USC has made a tremendous turnaround from a miserable start to the season. Just in time to play Cal, of course.

Leland Wong (5): A big win over a division foe, some pretty stats offensively and defensively, and it looks like they finally have a definitive answer for their QB controversy, so why aren’t they higher up my Power Rankings? Because they still have a minor ding for their early-season woes and because their opponent—Arizona—isn’t exactly the toughest opposition.

boomtho (4): Clay Helton finally has these guys playing pretty well. Why can we never catch them when they’re truly down?

6. Stanfurd Cardinal Trees ↔

It's hideous, I know.
My use of “Trees” this week is in celebration of an anonymous colleague (who definitely doesn’t read this garbage) who uses that term in a pejorative fashion despite having no dog in the Cal–Furd rivalry. But I got her on-board with the Bears after regaling her with the saga of Stanfurd’s racist mascot turned into a ludicrous color with trees random imagery of trees thrown in there.

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (6): Not really convinced that getting Christian McCaffrey back fixes a ton, but Notre Dame is a reminder that they will gladly accept wins when other teams give games to them. Don’t do that, Cal.

Berkelium97 (7): This is a very beatable team. TAKE ADVANTAGE, SONNY.

Leland Wong (6): Just to give you an idea of how much the Furdies are struggling at QB, they’re sitting there wishing they had Kevin Hogan back.

boomtho (7): In the Disappointment Bowl, this incarnation of the Cardinal outlasted this year’s Fighting Irish. I’m glad to see it was a pretty poorly played game.

7. Arizona State Sun Devils ↘

Last week: 4

Nick Kranz (7): Signs of a fraud team: barely win close games at home against mediocre competition, then get blown the hell out on the road.

Leland Wong: Gee, Nick, that sure sounds familiar...

Berkelium97 (6): This team is really bad away from home.

Leland Wong (9): Anyway, as for the Sun Devils, let’s continue my trend of sharing putrid stats: ASU averaged 1.8 yards per rush (including stats) and QB Manny Wilkins barely completed one-third of his passes for 4.3 yards per attempt (a whopping QBR of 6.7 on a scale of 0–100).

boomtho (6): Maybe the biggest gap for me between actual quality of play and record. But how can you knock a team down too much that’s 5–2?

8. UC Los Angeles Bruins ↔

You are going to get banned if you don't compliment this logo right now.

Last week: 8

Nick Kranz (10): Last year, UCLA fans were thrilled when offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was hired away by Texas A&M. The Aggies currently have a top-10 offense while UCLA is languishing in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in every relevant offensive category. Good job, good effort.

Berkelium97 (8): The running game has been nonexistent in Pac-12 play. That could have spelled disaster in Pullman, but Mike Fafaul played decently. That won’t be enough to stop the calls for WHOLESALE REGIME CHANGE, though.

Leland Wong (7): The defense actually did a good job of limiting the feared Leach offense to 2.7 yards per run, 5.4 yards per pass attempt, and 9.3 yards per completion, but the offense is still an embarrassment—especially without Josh Rosen.

boomtho (8): Man, is Mora going to get fired? Never would have thought it possible given how open the South looked this year.

9. California Golden Bears ↔

Last week: 9

Nick Kranz (9): Last year’s Cal team would be 4–0 right now, on its way to like a 7–2 conference record. I hate timing and/or God.

Berkelium97 (9): Whoever loses on Friday is going to have a bad weekend. And season. And offseason.

Leland Wong (8): The Bears are heading into a must-win game—playing a struggling opponent with no pass defense at home—if we want to be bowl-eligible and prove that Sonny Dykes has the team on the right track.

Piotr T Le (9): We’re going to go through a rough patch where we will have to win out in some tough games against opponents who are underachieving their talent level but can show up to their potential at any point.

Nik Jam (10): Loser of Cal/Oregon gets the 12-place vote for me next week.

boomtho (10): … and now the hard part of the schedule begins now? Sheeeeeeeeit.

10. Oregon State Beavers ↔

Last week: 10

Nick Kranz (8): Nothing like watching OSU pass the ball for 3.3 yards/attempt one week after Cal played the pass more aggressively than the run NO I’M TOTALLY OVER IT I’M FINE I’M FINE DON’T WORRY.

Leland Wong (11): TB Ryan Nall (who carved up the Bears) only had one run (albeit for 32 yards) before he had to leave the game due to injury, but the Beavers still managed to make it just a one-score loss against a great Utes squad thanks to a strong second half.

boomtho (9): Still not over it.

11. Oregon Ducks ↔

Last week: 11T

Leland Wong (10): The Ducks are on a four-game losing streak with no conference wins. Lucky for them, they’re about to face a team that’s more than willing to let its opponents have breakout games.

boomtho (11): Purely below Cal on record, so I’m sure they’re going to carve us up for 400 yards on the ground in an easy win.

12. Arizona Wildcats ↘

Last week: 11T

Nick Kranz (12): As it turns out, playing UW close was the biggest mirage/randomly unexpected result of the season.

Berkelium97 (12): I watched the first half of this game and Arizona is awful. They can’t pass protect, they can’t complete a pass, they can’t hold onto the ball, they can’t tackle, they can’t pressure the opposing QB...I can go on and on.

Leland Wong (12): The poor Wildcats were forced to play their third-string quarterback and convert their TE Matt Morin—who played QB in high school—back to quarterback. That is how dire the situation is in Tucson right now.

boomtho (12): They’ll always have the UW game!

The data

Here’s the full panel of voters, which is a tad more than those thoughts you read above.

atoms Bk97 boomtho Kevin Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Rob Ruey
1 Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
3 WSU WSU Utah Utah WSU Utah Utah Utah Utah Utah WSU
4 USC USC USC Colorado Colorado USC USC Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado
5 Colorado Colorado Colorado USC USC Colorado Colorado Stanfurd UC L.A. Stanfurd Stanfurd
6 ASU ASU ASU Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd USC USC USC USC
7 Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd ASU UC L.A. ASU ASU ASU Stanfurd ASU UC L.A.
9 Cal Cal OSU Cal ASU Cal OSU Cal Cal UC L.A. Cal
10 OSU Oregon Cal Oregon Oregon UC L.A. Cal UC L.A. Oregon OSU Oregon
11 Arizona OSU Oregon OSU OSU Oregon Oregon Oregon OSU Oregon OSU
12 Oregon Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona

The main rankings were determined by averaging all of these votes and arranging the teams in ascending order; however, we can also take a look at those precise averaged numbers to get a better understanding if teams are actually closer than the main rankings suggest (Ahhhhh I made the same reference twice!) or far apart. To squeeze in one more degree of analytics, we also take into consideration the standard deviation—a calculation of the wide or narrow range of responses that each team had.

Figure 1. The precise rankings following Week 7 of NCAA Football, where 1 standard deviation is shown in the error bars.

We can also gain some more insight by graphing these precise values over the course of the season. Here, we see that for two straight weeks, WSU and Utah are in an intense battle for second place; however, they’ve drifted apart this week after being much closer following Week 6. These two teams are kind of reciprocals: one with strong past performances and an underwhelming recent history (a close in over OSU) while the other started extra-meh (losses to an FCS school and Boise State) and has come on strong in recent weeks (big wins over ex–Pac-12 North kings). With the stink of that OSU loss wearing off, the Golden Bears moved up just a tad in the precise numbers, despite holding steady to the #9 spot.

Figure 2. Nearly two months of precise rankings!

We can simplify the data in Figure 2 by rounding the teams’ positions (as we did in the main rankings). Check out all of that stability! Colorado went up 3 spots, ASU went down 3 spots, and Arizona formally dropped down to 12th (likely thanks to the stank of Oregon’s big rivalry-game loss wearing off). Everyone else just held steady! Even Oregon managed not to fall for the first time since Week 2. Insert really bad joke about ducks and flight as I sit here and wonder why I don’t have more friends.

Figure 3. A full year of rounded rankings! (Disclaimer: One college football season has been rounded up to a full year. Disclaimer’s disclaimer: A few weeks of a college football season has been rounded up to one college football season.)

The lack of movement is likely due in part to three teams being on bye. Regardless, such little movement means we had the least Mad week of the season!

Change on week
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Post Team's Madness
Arizona 0 -1 0 1 -2 0 -1 5
ASU 2 1 -1 3 -4 5 -3 19
Cal 2 -3 4 -2 2 -4 0 17
Colorado 4 -1 1 1 2 -3 3 15
Oregon 2 0 -3 -2 -2 -1 0 10
OSU 1 -1 0 0 0 2 0 4
Stanfurd 0 0 0 0 -2 -3 0 5
UC L.A. -2 0 0 0 2 -6 0 10
USC -7 4 -2 -2 2 3 0 20
Utah 2 0 2 0 -3 3 0 10
Washington 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2
WSU -6 1 0 0 4 5 0 16
Total Madness 29 12 13 11 26 35 7

Coming up, Week 8’s got two games with teams separated by two spots or fewer according to this week’s ranks (Oregon–Cal and Colorado–Stanfurd); the other three games appear more one-sided, which means if Pac-12 After Dark has its way, we could be in for some wonky rankings and big moves. Come back next week to see how the rankings change and for more of my just classic repartees!