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Pac-12 Football Power Rankings, Preseason: Stanfurd rules this apocalyptic world

How are the Pac-12 teams looking as we head into the 2016 football season?

Stanford v Utah Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Leland Wong: Football season is upon us, which means a few months work of endless, tedious work slowly chipping away at my enjoyment of a collegiate sport that’s actually leading to debilitation neurological damage and probably needs serious reworking as such! It also means that we can do Power Rankings!

What exactly is a Power Ranking? I’ll let you know if I ever figure that out, but we generally use arbitrary combinations of perceived strength (especially early in the season), overall performance this year, and the most recent game. We all have different definitions, so you can expect plenty of discrepancies between voters, within one voter, and among the audience.

Berkelium97: I usually do a power ranking in these rankings, so I often have a hard time doing the preseason rankings because there are no completed games to inform my rankings. In an attempt to do something systematic, I based these rankings on my own picks from the ongoing CGB Pac-12 predictions. I tallied up the number of wins for each team and used head-to-head games to decide tiebreakers. Instead of a power ranking, this will be each team’s projected finish.

ragnarok: Agreed that Power Rankings are difficult to assemble in August, as we haven’t completed any games since January. I was lazy this week and basically submitted a Power Ranking for the Pac-12 as of the end of bowl season and then did a little fudging around the edges to account for offseason attrition and newcomer additions.

Leland Wong: Let’s see if I remember the whole spiel I usually give here. The parenthetical number listed after each team is the number of first-place votes they received. The parenthetical number next to each voter’s name is the rank bestowed by that voter for that team. In the event of a tie, the teams will be listed alphabetically.

The rankings

1. Stanfurd Cardinal (8)

It's hideous, I know.

boomtho (1): SIGH. I'm not sold on Stanfurd as the #1, but I'm not really sold on any of the teams in my top 4. Stanfurd to me seems the "safest" #1 pick—a history of good performance under David Shaw, a top-shelf RB, and an OL that should continue to be dominant. But they definitely seem more vulnerable than in years past. Here's hoping!

Piotr Le (2): As much as it pains me to write this, Christian McCaffrey is the main reason Stanfurd is above Washington in these rankings. There are three phases of the game—CMC is capable of dominating two of them with the defense being ever so solid.

Nik Jam (1): They may have a new QB this season, but with McCaffrey doing his thing, it may not matter. Having to go to Oregon and USC may prevent them from being in the national conversation, though.

Benwemer (1): As much as I hate putting them here, Christian McCaffrey is too good.

Nick Kranz (1): First by default and to jinx them. Doesn't feel like a year where any one team has so much talent or experience to deserve the title of favorite.

Leland Wong (1): Like boomtho and Nick have said, I have questions about them—particularly how their front seven performs—but it doesn’t feel like there’s a standout best team this year.

Ruey Yen (5): This is one of the more vulnerable Stanfurd team in a while, but fortunately for them, the rest of the Pac-12 North is also weak.

Berkelium97 (3): I pray to Oski this prediction comes through and David Shaw’s reign of terror comes to an end.

PerryScope (1): Christian McCaffrey is an absolute animal and behind that huge offensive line, it's hard to not like the Cardinal.

Leland Wong: No, it’s actually really, absurdly easy not to like the Cardinal.

2. UC Los Angeles Bruins (2)

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

boomtho (2): Like the last few seasons, Jim Mora's team is LOADED with playmakers. It starts with superstar QB Josh Rosen, but he's surrounded by a talented—if definitely unproven—stable of playmakers at the skill position. The defense is definitely a concern, but like I said about Stanfurd, I'm not sold on anyone in the top 4. Schedule-wise, UCLA also has nearly the easiest road you can ask for, avoiding both Oregon and Washington.

Piotr Le (1): I think they are going to have the best offense with Josh Rosen and Soso Jamabo coming into the fold. Although I am worried about the lost WR production, the recruiting for UCLA has been solid enough to give Rosen enough to work with. On defense, they are returning Eddie Vanderdoes who will anchor their line. They are my favorites for the Pac-12 Championship; however, considering the chaos of the Pac-12, I don’t see any one from this conference going to the CFB.

Nik Jam (2): They always find a way to underachieve, but since it's the beginning of the season, why not overrate them again?

Benwemer (2): Josh Rosen is the guy on this team, but there's a lot of other talent around. Soso Jamabo and Ishmael Adams just to name a few.

Nick Kranz (2): Feels like they're pretty much guaranteed to go a vaguely disappointing 9–3, right?

Leland Wong (2): Last year’s injuries to their defensive stars just set up this year to have stellar returning talent, depth that got play time last year, and a more experienced Rosen. I think their ceiling is high this year.

Ruey Yen (2): Talent and experience—they have the recipe for success.

Berkelium97 (5): I don’t buy the hype—this team underachieves every year. Six conference wins sounds about right.

PerryScope (2): Josh Rosen is the best QB in the Pac and they had many injuries last year.

T3. USC Trojans

boomtho (4): Top-two talent, but I'm assuming Clay Helton is going to have a biiiiiit of a learning curve adjusting to the Pac-12. Depth concerns should be most alleviated, but I think (at least on defense) there could just be enough thin-ness to hurt them down the stretch.

Piotr Le (4): The blue bloods of the Pac-12 will again field a hyper-talented team with great athleticism on the outside (Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree Jackson). The reason they are so low then is due to the fact that the coaching of the team is a mystery. Furthermore, the new team under new leadership will play their first game against Bama.

Nik Jam (3): Same as UCLA.

Benwemer (4): A lot of athleticism. I will be rooting for them to knock off Bama and show out for the Pac.

Nick Kranz (6): This is pretty much entirely Clay Helton skepticism.

Ruey Yen (3): They are no longer the only “professional football team” in town.

Berkelium97 (7): Only four wins? That would be delightful.

PerryScope (3): Highest ceiling of any team in the conference. You never know which USC team is going to show up. I am worried for them against Bama.

T3. Washington Huskies

Fuck this school.

boomtho (5): Though they're a popular dark-horse pick in the North, I honestly don't see it. The defense should be special, but I expect the offense to struggle in a pretty major way. Petersen hasn't really had a "better than good" season in the Pac-12. Missing UCLA helps, but Washington is going to have to prove it to me a bit more before I'm fully aboard the bandwagon.

Piotr Le (3): I think they are more of a complete team than Stanfurd; however, they lack a player who can really take over the game. And sometimes it is one big run that can swing the momentum of a game. It will come down to how they will produce huge plays on offense.

Nik Jam (4): Expectations are high and I think they will reach the heights that some of the press seem to think they will.

Benwemer (3): Everyone is super high on the Huskies, so why shouldn't I be?

Nick Kranz (5): Will likely have the best defense in the conference, so they could easily outperform this ranking, but boy am I still skeptical of the offense.

Leland Wong (5): Phenomenal on defense, but I’m not yet convinced that QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin are ready to have the year that everyone’s projecting for them. Why, oh why did Jeff Tedford have to choose this hellhole of all the Pac-12 schools?

Ruey Yen (4): Jumping on the bandwagon here—even though Pac-12 North may be wide open this year, the winner may even have three conference losses.

Berkelium97 (2): A favorable conference schedule produces eight wins in my projection.

PerryScope (4): Chris Petersen is a terrific coach and they had a very young and promising team. Key is Jake Browning's success.

5. Oregon Ducks (1)

boomtho (3): The drop off from Vernon Adams is going to be huge, but whom else should I put here? They avoid UCLA, they get both Stanfurd and Washington at home, and I trust Helfrich's track record a bit more than Chris Petersen's.

Piotr Le (6): Without stability in the QB position and a porous defense that just lost their best player to the NFL, Oregon became my #1 most volatile team in the Pac-12. The talent in the RB and WR position is undeniable; however, they are dependent on the rest of the offense to perform. One cannot win in the Pac-12 using just quick screens, jet sweeps, etc.

Nik Jam (5): I expect a drop-off for them with a new QB, but like Furd they somehow have managed to hang around despite personnel changes in recent years.

Benwemer (5): New QB, but they’re always a tough team.

Nick Kranz (3): God, I'd enjoy the schadenfreude if Oregon completely self-destructed behind a disastrous defense and QB depth chart and all of their thousands of bandwagon fans who've never experienced losing freaked the hell out.

Leland Wong (6): It doesn’t feel right to have Oregon so low, but we just don’t know how good the defense will be under Brady Hoke’s new 4-3 scheme and all reports are of a downgrade at QB compared to last year.

Ruey Yen (6): They got a strong recruiting pipeline going. New QB may not mean that they will struggle for long, if at all.

Berkelium97 (1): I don’t expect Oregon to win nine conference games and I’d be surprised if they win eight. But I favored them in all their match-ups.

PerryScope (6): Not sure what they'll bring to the table but it's weird ranking them so low.

6. Washington State Cougars

boomtho (7): Maybe it's because we beat them last year, but I'm expecting WSU to take a half-step back this year... mostly on defense, since I expect Luke Falk to be a more than capable replacement for Connor Halliday.

Piotr Le (7): Live by the pass, die by the pass. And WSU will follow this mantra to the Falk. The defense might either stabilize in mediocrity or get worse. However, I expect Falk and Marks to make an all out assault on the Pac-12 and NCAA record books for passing this year.

Nik Jam (6): No reason to think last year was an aberration. They should be back in it this year. The Cougs are back!

Benwemer (6): Luke Falk for Heisman!

Nick Kranz (4): The defense will cost this team some games. The question is if it's two games or five or six.

Leland Wong (3): Looks like I’m the most optimistic one of the bunch, but the Cougars should be ready for a great year behind a Leach offense and more experience in DC Alex Grinch’s scheme, which was already an improvement in year one. I don’t think they’ll catch as many lucky breaks as they did in 2015, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see big things from the Cougs.

Ruey Yen (9): With Mike Leach still in charge, they are always entertaining on offense and in the press conferences.

Berkelium97 (4): Fourth in the North will be disappointing for Wazzu. Fourth overall in the conference will not.

PerryScope (5): They are a better version of us.

7. Utah Utes

boomtho (6): Utah will be well-coached, have a ferocious defense, be hell to play at home... and probably not have enough on offense to really compete in the South. Whittingham is a great coach, but at some point the talent disparity vs. the big guns in the South will catch up to them.

Piotr Le (5): What can I say? They are a solid team with fantastic coaching on the defense. The lack of returning talent on the d-line can be an issue; however, Whittingham has shown that he can produce pressure with his front four without a problem, especially with his DTs. Keep an eye out for Lowell Lotulelei. The offense will suffer with the departure of Booker (4th round to the Broncos).

Nik Jam (7): I have a feeling Utah won't drop off much this year at all.

Benwemer (8): Utah is a team that could do some damage. But then again, maybe not.

Nick Kranz (7): Some exciting returning talent, but some pretty big holes to fill at the same time. I suspect there's a wide degree of possible outcomes for this team.

Leland Wong (7): It’s the same 2015 story for the Utes—the defense and the run game is fine, so they’ll go as far as their QB will take them.

Ruey Yen (7): They probably won’t host another College Gameday this year.

Berkelium97 (6): Five wins for Utah. (Fortunately that doesn’t include a win over Cal.)

PerryScope (7): Good coaching and specifically special teams. Their kicker is a preseason All-American.

8. California Golden Bears (1)

boomtho (9): Offense should be 85% of what it was last year (driven by the improved OL and the young crop of superstar WR's), but way too many concerns on D to have us any higher.

Piotr Le (8): Nuff said about Cal. High-volatility offense with a potential for greatness. Low-floor defense that can at times hit the nadir of the 2013 season.

Nik Jam (8): I think they'll be better than the experts say, but will that be enough to have a winning record?

Benwemer (7): I think the Bears are going to surprise some people this year. I have faith in Davis Webb.

Nick Kranz (9): If Cal somehow develops a defense better than 11th or 12th best in the conference, they could do better than this. I'm skeptical.

Leland Wong (10): My personal ranking feels too low, but I’ve got too many concerns about the defense given all the injuries, transfers, and departures.

Ruey Yen (1): Why not Cal?

Berkelium97 (8): Four wins? That sounds about right.

PerryScope (8): We have a lot of new faces this year and I'm eager to see how we bounce back after a great 8–5 campaign last year.

9. Arizona Wildcats

boomtho (8): Don't really know what to make of this team, TBH. So 8 feels right!

Piotr Le (9): … No idea what is happening there...

Nik Jam (10): I don't know anything about them right now.

Benwemer (11): What is there to be said?

Nick Kranz (8): My too-early vote for least interesting team in the conference would go to the Wildcats.

Leland Wong (8): They’ve got some uncertainty that’s keeping them low on this list, but if they can get good play out of QB Anu Solomon and their top-secret, brand-new defense under the newly-hired Marcel Yates, they can move upwards.

Ruey Yen (10): I don’t like when we do not face a Pac-12 foe for two straight years.

Berkelium97 (9): Three wins for Arizona.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

boomtho (10): Can Todd Graham adapt his coaching style and his defense? If not, they're pretty young and don't have a lot of depth... I'd expect a lot of up and down from them.

Piotr Le (10): The team bled out talent, especially on the O-line where they will be replacing all but the RT. Furthermore, the shake-up on the defense might mean a mismatch between man and scheme since many of the players were recruited for the 3-3-5.

Nik Jam (9): They should be better than last season.

Benwemer (9): They could beat some people this year.

Nick Kranz (11): On paper, Arizona State should take a pretty big step back from what was already a mediocre 2015, but Todd Graham never makes sense. Be wary.

Leland Wong (9): They might have a steep learning curve—especially early in the season—because their QBs are so inexperienced that it made the Webb-less Cal QB competitors look like veterans.

Ruey Yen (8): I’m planning to check out Tempe and their newly renovated stadium for the Cal game this year.

Berkelium97 (10): I see one win on the conference schedule for ASU next year. That’s bad.

PerryScope (10): Nope.

11. Colorado Buffaloes

boomtho (11): There were definitely signs of life (really close games vs. UCLA and USC last year). The offense should have some pep even without Cal-killer Nelson Spruce, but I still think Colorado is still firmly in the bottom tier.

Piotr Le (11): Colorado is going to Colorado. They won’t be as bad as they were in the past few years; however, the gap between them and the average Pac-12 team is too vast for inter-game volatility to make a difference.

Nik Jam (11): It will be hard for them to end their bowl-less drought, but they should pull some upsets this year.

Benwemer (10): They won't be ending their bowl drought, but they should be better than last year.

Nick Kranz (10): In this, Colorado's sixth year in the conference, they will finally rise from 11th-best Pac-12 team to 10th-best. PROGRESS!

Ruey Yen (11): When Colorado finally turns things around in football, it will be a surprise to me.

Berkelium97 (11): One win for the Buffs!

PerryScope (11): Sad.

12. Oregon State Beavers

boomtho (12): I don't have a lot to say here... they were awful last year and I expect them to continue to be awful.

Piotr Le (12): In my recent post on Offensive and Defensive Efficiency, OSU had its own category of badness. They lost 15 players to injuries, transfers, and one to his fight with cancer.

Nik Jam (12): I can't see them being the dumpster fire they were last season, but I'm not sure they'll pull off more than a couple conference wins.

Benwemer (12): The Beavers should be at the bottom of the Pac all year.

Nick Kranz (12): If they won two conference games that would count as impressive progress.

Ruey Yen (12): Just following the CGB groupthink here.

Berkelium97 (12): Another winless year for the Beavs.

PerryScope (12): The team I love seeing on the schedule.

The data

Here’s a summary of our votes this week:

atoms benwemer Bk97 boomtho KWBears Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam P'scope Piotr ragnarok Ruey
1 UC L.A. Stanfurd Oregon Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd UC L.A. Stanfurd Cal
2 Wash UC L.A. Wash UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Stanfurd Utah UC L.A.
3 Stanfurd Wash Stanfurd Oregon USC WSU Oregon USC USC Wash UC L.A. USC
4 USC USC WSU USC Oregon USC WSU Wash Wash USC Oregon Wash
5 Oregon Oregon UC L.A. Wash Utah Wash Wash Oregon WSU Utah USC Stanfurd
6 Cal WSU Utah Utah Cal Oregon USC WSU Oregon WSU Wash Oregon
7 WSU Cal USC WSU Wash Utah Utah Utah Utah Oregon WSU Utah
8 ASU Utah Cal Arizona WSU Arizona Arizona Cal Cal Cal Cal ASU
9 Utah ASU Arizona Cal ASU ASU Cal ASU Arizona Arizona Arizona WSU
10 Arizona Colorado ASU ASU Arizona Cal Colorado Arizona ASU ASU ASU Arizona
11 Colorado Arizona Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado ASU Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado

Table 1. The ballots.

Hm, what figure should we look at first? How about Figure 1? Well, if I’m starting the season with crappy, tautological transitions, then there’s a good chance I won’t be ready for any work this season.

Figure 1. Looking at how exactly we ranked each team along with a measure of uncertainty.

Fig. 1 shows off the precise ranking that we—as a group—assigned to each team (rather than discrete, informationally boring ranks like 1st, 739th, etc.). Sure, this figure is great for showing how close or far teams are, but I think we can infer the most information from the error bars, which represent 1 standard deviation. That is, a really big standard deviation means a lot of disagreement between the voters—look at Cal’s error bars and then revisit the votes, where Ruey sunshine-pumped them all the way to #1 vs. me being super-negative and placing us 10th. On the other hand, the error bars for Colorado and Oregon State are miniscule because we basically unanimously agree that they’ll be as bad at football in 2016 as Twist will be at understanding the importance of respecting personal space.

Let’s take one more quick look at a figure that will be as boring as me on a first date.

Figure 2. Why have a graph that’s a function of time when time hasn’t passed? Because why not?

The whole time aspect of this graph is pretty useless (except for letting you know how short the season is and how little opportunities there will be for you to read my posts). However, I do feel that Figure 2 is advantageous over Figure 1 at showing off how closely clustered the teams are because they’re all stacked. It’s not perfectly clear, but I’d argue there are three tiers in the Pac-12 preseason. Up top, we’ve got Stanfurd and UC L.A. Given how many questions every Pac-12 team has this year, I’m a little surprised that there isn’t another team around here. In the middle, there’s USC, Wash, Oregon, WSU, Utah, and Cal; the bottom of the conference includes the two Arizona schools, Colorado, and OSU.

That wraps up our preseason Power Rankings. We’ll be back with this weekly feature in two weeks after some non-Cal Pac-12 schools take the field. Maybe. Unless we decide to run another post next week out of pure “YAY CAL” fandom.