While our Bears sit atop the college football kingdom with the best record in the land, the lazy schlubs throughout the rest of the college football landscape have finally decided that they are going to play some football too. To make them feel better about sitting on their rumps last weekend, ESPN has dubbed this weekend THE GREATEST OPENING WEEKEND OF ALL TIME. Before those slackers roll out of bed to take the field this week we're going to look ahead to what the Pac-12 football season has in store for us.
A couple weeks ago I asked you all to pick the winners and losers of all 54 Pac-12 conference games this season. Today we will go through the games week by week to see how the season will unfold. For each game I'll list the percentage of you who picked each team to win the given matchup. We'll also keep track of each team's conference record over the course of the season.
While ESPN has its GREATEST OPENING WEEKEND IN THE HISTORY OF ALL WEEKENDS DURING WHICH THINGS HAVE OPENED, the Pac-12 schedule opens up with the auditory equivalent of a root canal. Once again the Pac-12 slate begins with a battle between the two most insufferable bands in college football: the pompous, obnoxious, sunglasses-wearing, can-only-play-one-song-but-they-also-play-all-right-now-because-they-have-furd-envy USC Marching Band and a collection of kids who tell the same unfunny joke over and over and over and over and over and over and who also happen to play instruments (poorly, at that). May Oski have mercy on our souls.
Barring a merciful meteor strike, the Lobsterbacks will defeat the Trojans to begin an unfortunate reign of terror over the Pac-12.
The following week features a nearly full slate of 5 Pac-12 games. The Helton era continues to open poorly as USC loses to Utah. Oregon and Washington are heavy favorites in their games while Cal is a moderate favorite. Unfortunately, the Bruins disappoint us all by narrowly failing to defeat the furds.
Our first full, 6-game slate of the year! Once again the Lobsterbacks are narrow favorites to win a tough road game. The LA teams should cruise to easy victories over the Arizonas while Colorado dispatches Oregon State in the biggest pillow fight of the season. We have some intriguing revenge games in the North this week as Cal redeems itself following last year's turnover-fest in Salt Lake City while Oregon squeaks past a feisty Cougs team in Pullman.
Despite having a full slate of games, this may not be the most exciting weekend of Pac-12 football. Each winner was favored by over 70% of participants, including Oregon who wins its 13th consecutive game against the Huskies. After Washington's loss we now have a three-way tie for King in the North.
Arizona State was favored by only 53.7% of us? We must have some low expectations for the Sun Devils this year (or higher-than-usual expectations for the Buffs). After dropping its first two games of the Pac-12 season, Wazzu earns a tough win over UCLA and begins a long and steady climb up the Pac-12 North standings.
Once again, Cal enjoys a brief reign as King in the North only to lose the crown midway through the season. UCLA's win over Utah creates a three-way tie for first in the Pac-12 South among USC, UCLA, and Utah. With each team favored by over 65% of us, this week's slate is not the most compelling.
Cal loses to USC again, leading many of us to wonder if we should stop saying Rose Bowl Before I Die and set our expectations a little lower to Beat USC (again) Before I Die. Elsewhere the Ducks and Trees continue to annihilate everything in their paths. Utah fully extinguishes the UW hype by dropping the Huskies to 2-3. Meanwhile the Cougs make it a three-game winning streak.
Have I greatly underestimated USC this season? Because I am shocked that 60% of us picked USC to win. I don't have that much faith in Clay Helton. Further north in the Golden State the Huskies get revenge on the road against Cal. Can RichRod survive an 0-6 start to the conference slate? That's 4 wins in a row for the Cougs.
The standings get a big shakeup this week: USC drops out of the three-way tie for first in the South and the Ducks end the Lobsterbacks' reign of terror in the North (and hopefully dampen their playoff hopes, at least for a few weeks). Arizona's win leaves Oregon State as the only winless team in the conference. 5 in a row for Wazzu.
Well, so much for Oregon's redemption in the North. A loss in Salt Lake City gives the Lobsterbacks the North crown after they dispatch Cal in another Big Game win. UCLA's win over USC keeps them tied with Utah in the South. Utah seems to have an advantage as they go to Boulder for a rivalry game with the South title on the line while UCLA heads to Berkeley for a possible trap game.
And of course Cal's losing streak to the California schools continues. This gives UCLA and Utah a tie for first in the South. Oregon State loses its 20th consecutive conference game and maintains control of the Pac-12 basement for the second year in a row. With an Apple Cup win, Wazzu wins its 7th in a row to secure a tie for second in the North.
Here are our final standings:
|Pac-12 North||Pac-12 South|
|1. Leland Stanford Junior University (8-1)||T1. UCLA (7-2)|
|T2. Oregon (7-2)||T1. Utah (7-2)|
|T2. Washington State (7-2)||3. USC (5-4)|
|4. Washington (5-4)||4. Arizona (3-6)|
|5. Cal (3-6)||T5. Arizona State (1-8)|
|6. Oregon State (0-9)||T5. Colorado (1-8)|
Regrettably, the Lobsterbacks have won the Pac-12 North. Again. Thanks, Oregon. Thanks a lot. And thanks Utah and USC for beating Oregon and ruining everything. While we'll be pretty miserable if the Lobsterbacks win the North again, our Air Raid cousins in Pullman should end the year with plenty of momentum (and potentially a top-15 ranking). If Wazzu can sweep its moderately challenging OOC slate, they'll secure a 10-2 record. A 5-4 record doesn't allow Washington to live up the hype this year. Meanwhile a 3-win season in Berkeley means Cal needs to sweep the OOC schedule to earn a bowl game. In Corvallis the Beavers adopt "Hello Darkness, My Old Friend" as their fight song.
UCLA's head-to-head win over Utah gives them a ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game. That should be enough to keep the angry mobs from ousting Mora this offseason. On the other side of town, Helton leads his team to an unsurprising middle-of-the-pack finish. In Tuscon RichRod may survive an 0-6 start by ending the season on a three-game winning streak, but it's tough to see Todd Graham surviving a 1-8 finish that leaves ASU tied with Colorado for last in the South. Mac may not survive that either, as it's starting to look like Colorado will never climb out of the basement.
The above standings are far from certain, however. Those are merely projected win totals. A team favored by 51% of us in all 9 conference games would be projected to finish 9-0, even though it's much more likely to win about half of its games. Instead of projected win totals, below I rank the teams by their expected win totals. I calculate that by adding up their percentages for all 9 games (so our 51% team would only be expected to win 4.59 games).
|Pac-12 North||Pac-12 South|
|1. Stanford (6.557 wins)||1. UCLA (6.483 wins)|
|2. Oregon (6.276 wins)||2. Utah (5.816 wins)|
|3. Washington State (5.569 wins)||3. USC (5.511 wins)|
|4. Washington (5.483 wins)||4. Arizona (3.052 wins)|
|5. Cal (3.914 wins)||5. Arizona State (2.201 wins)|
|6. Oregon State (0.908 wins)||6. Colorado (2.080 wins)|
Other than settling some tiebreakers, the results don't change from our projected finish. It's worth noting that both Stanford and Washington State have about 1.5 fewer expected wins than projected wins. This suggests that their projected win totals may be inflated by wins in some close games (again, like the 51% example from above). Those wins certainly aren't guaranteed, so some bad luck may send them to the losing side of one of those toss-up games. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Cal, ASU, and Colorado are all underrated by about 1 game in the projected standings. Don't be surprised if one of those teams pulls an upset at some point this season.
Now that we've gone through the results, you might as well hibernate until next August to see if the Bears have a better chance of winning the conference and going to the Rose Bowl after the 2017 season. You'll miss THE GREATEST OPENING WEEKEND EVER but, eh, it probably won't be that great anyway...unless the Lobsterbacks lose.