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Final Pac-12 Power Rankings of 2016: Was USC’s resurrection enough to push them to the top of our list?

It’s so haaaard to say goodbye...

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Leland Wong: We’re here for our final ranking of the Pac-12 teams for the 2016 season—the last countdown for these teams. If only there were a cool pop-culture or music reference that I could throw in around now.

We rank the teams based on performance and fanbase emotion over the course of the 2016 season with a particular emphasis on the most recent week. Today, I’m guessing there’s more of a comprehensive assessment on the season overall.

Lastly, since we’re all Cal-centric (even DC Trojan is a little bit Cal-centric), please note that these rankings were written before Sonny Dykes was fired by Cal on January 8.

boomtho: This certainly was an interesting Pac-12 CFB season! Washington met—if not exceeded—the hype, USC had a tale of two seasons to win the Rose Bowl, and two traditional powers (Oregon, UCLA) really, really underachieved.

Berkelium97: While my ballot reflects the results of the 2016 season, it also takes into account how the team and fanbase should be feeling heading into the offseason. While Oregon State finished with a worse record than ASU, they won their rivalry game while ASU spectacularly turned a 5–1 record into a bowl-less season.

Leland Wong: There were three meh teams that I particularly found difficult: Arizona State, Cal, and Oregon State. Of the three, Cal has the best win (over Utah) and a win over then-ranked Texas… but Cal lost to ASU and OSU. So should I rank Cal worse than Arizona State, whose best win is over six-win UTSA, inflated their season with an FCS win, and got blown out in a rivalry game to a completely incompetent Arizona team? And how does Oregon State factor in—they also beat Cal and won their in-state rivalry game, but didn’t play Arizona State and lost to a offense-free UC Los Angeles. Find out how I ranked the three teams below! (And that’s the best tease of my super-professional writing totally-a-career.)

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 (7 first-place votes) ↔

Fuck this school.

Last week: 1

boomtho (1): No shame in losing to a ridiculously talented Alabama team.

Nick Kranz (1): Am I the only one who thought they played Bama reasonably close? Shame to see Petersen go out with such timid decision-making though.

Ruey Yen (1): Every other Pac-12 team probably would have lost to Alabama.

Berkelium97 (2): A respectable outing against Alabama, although the final score makes the game seem a bit more lopsided than it was.

Leland Wong (1): If they played another rematch against late-form USC, they’d probably lose again, but they have two good-ish losses and you can’t beat the optics of making it to the playoffs.

2. USC Trojans (1 first-place vote) ↗

Last week: 3

boomtho (2): I thought Clay Helton was a bad hire and the beginning of the season seemed to support that… until USC flipped the switch and ripped off a basically dominant second half of the season. The Trojans are a force to be reckoned with again.

Nick Kranz (2): Obviously more changed than just starting quarterback, but Sam Darnold has to be Pac-12 MVP, right?

Ruey Yen (2): Just when you think that USC will have a down year, they win the Rose Bowl with a freshman QB.

Berkelium97 (1): I’m not ready for USC to be this good again.

Leland Wong (2): The Trojans aren’t that far from being first in my rankings, but the need to take a look at their whole body of work is the ultimate difference maker. The run defense struggled a bit in the Rose Bowl, but the defense held firm when it truly mattered—in the fourth quarter—and the offense looked elite.

3. Colorado Buffaloes ↘

Last week: 2

boomtho (3): A really bad bowl loss should not undermine what was a fantastic season for the Buffs and Coach Mac. Hard to believe they could have won in the Rose Bowl even if they hadn’t been jumped by USC.

Nick Kranz (3): Losing a lower-tier bowl than they deserved is a painful end to a charmed season... and it might be a hard fall next year considering the amount of talent they graduate.

Ruey Yen (3): Losing a lower-tier bowl game after missing out on the Rose Bowl is something that Cal fans (at least those who remember 2004) can commiserate with.

Berkelium97 (5): This was a fantastic season for Colorado and Mac rightfully deserved the Coach of the Year award. But losing the final two games by a combined score of 79–18 and losing the DC to Oregon dampen the excitement heading into the offseason.

Leland Wong (3): An absolute stinker of a performance against a 10-win Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl, but it doesn’t completely erase their breakout season and being South Champs. They might want to try scoring before the final five minutes of the game, though.

4. Stanfurd Cardinal ↗

It's hideous, I know.

Last week: 6

boomtho (5): Despite how rough they looked offensively at times and having CMac in and out of the lineup, they STILL won the Big Game and won 10 games. Please wake me from this nightmare.

Nick Kranz (4): I’m annoyed that their schedule was Charmin soft. I’m annoyed they got USC before USC figured it out. They’re annoying.

Ruey Yen (5): No Christian McCaffrey, but no problem for Stanfurd against Cal’s 2017 opening-day opponent in UNC.

Berkelium97 (4): I don’t know how David Shaw continues to churn out 10-win season after 10-win season. Can someone in the NFL hire him already?

Leland Wong (4): It’s like Stanfurd’s trying to break my heart by having such an underwhelming season where they still achieve 10 wins, but joke’s on you, Shaw—you can’t break something that’s already broken.

5. Utah Utes ↔

Last week: 5

boomtho (4): Another “almost” season for Kyle Wittingham. Utah consistently overachieves and fields a ferocious defense, yet can’t seem to break through and make the championship game.

Nick Kranz (6): I lowered Utah for a mediocre performance against a headless, 6–6 Indiana. For their sake, I hope Troy Taylor can wring some efficiency out of their clogged-toilet offense.

Ruey Yen (4): They probably get bonus points for being the best team that Cal defeated in 2016.

Berkelium97 (3): Utah always seems to come up just short of greatness. If Troy Taylor can get a solid, consistent, and versatile offense going, the Utes could be in great shape next year.

Leland Wong (5): Their Foster Farms Bowl performance perfectly captures their season in a sense. Their season started strong, but they last three of their last five—and have an utter WTF loss when they couldn’t punch it into the endzone against one of the worst defenses in the nation—which leaves a bitter taste to their season. Against a mere 6-win Indiana squad, Utah couldn’t throw the ball and needed a late field goal to get the win.

6. Washington State Cougars ↘

Last week: 4

boomtho (6): Don’t really have a lot of thoughts on Leach’s team. Selfishly a little sad that Falk is coming back, I guess!

Nick Kranz (5): Quite the swoon to end the season. Not really sure what to make of a team that was so bad to start and finish, but so dominant in between.

Ruey Yen (6): How did the Cougs lose to a team that was going to boycott their bowl just the week before?

Berkelium97 (6): I’m starting to remember why they started the season 0–2. These Mike Leach teams are always very difficult to understand.

Leland Wong (6): Can the Cougs capture that midseason magic? Their ridiculous offense—including their nascent and dangerous run game—vanished just like how well they were playing during that eight-game stretch.

7. Oregon State Beavers ↔

Last week: 7

boomtho (8): OSU finished the year with two wins and with some closely fought losses (to Stanfurd and WSU). Definitely appear to be a program heading in the right direction. Can they take the next step and be bowl-eligible next year?

Leland Wong (8): If Oregon State beat Cal in four quarters, then I would have boosted them above Cal in my personal rankings. They didn’t have any great wins, but it’s good to see progress and to finally beat Oregon.

8. California Golden Bears ↔

Last week: 8

boomtho (9): It says something (though I’m not sure if it says something about Cal fans or the program) that we probably met expectations from a win perspective, yet people are really unhappy with another horrible defensive year. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that Sonny’s DC hire will not only define his chances to stay at Cal, but potentially the chances for his next job (whether better or worse) as well.

Ruey Yen (7): My bottom six teams remain the same as the last poll.

Berkelium97 (9): Hansen is gone, it’s taking forever to find a DC, and Sonny Dykes has one foot out the door. Cal seems destined for more 4- or 5-win seasons.

Leland Wong (7): Not a great season for the Golden Bears (missing a bowl and losing to two of the other middling Pac-12 teams), but they had that great win over Utah.

9T. Arizona State Sun Devils ↗

Last week: 11

boomtho (7): Losing 7 games in a row is… something.

Berkelium97 (12): Seven consecutive losses is especially devastating when any one of those wins would have brought ASU to a bowl. A bowl win and a 7–6 season would be a massive improvement over this mess.

Leland Wong (9): Their win-loss record—and their placement in our rankings—belie a pretty miserable season. They technically didn’t beat a single FBS team with a winning record (UTSA ended up 6–7 after a loss in the New Mexico Bowl) and got absolutely hammered by the worst team in the conference.

9T. Oregon Ducks ↔

Last week: 9

boomtho (10): Mark Helfrich won 13 games in 2014 and two years later, got fired. That just about sums up how terrible Oregon was this year.

Berkelium97 (8): How the Mighty O have fallen.

Leland Wong (10): The Ducks at least have a bright spot of upsetting Utah on the road amidst an otherwise hellish season. I imagine their fanbase even has mixed feelings this offseason—optimism for the future and a fresh reset offset by having to let go of some long-serving coaches.

11. Arizona Wildcats ↘

Last week: 10

boomtho (12): Honestly never thought a RichRod coached team would fall this low, especially in a relatively weak Pac-12.

Berkelium97 (10): That ASU win stopped the tailspin and turned this season from a complete disaster to a mere solid disappointment.

Leland Wong (12): An absolutely pathetic season—in part due to injury—where offensive mastermind RichRod couldn’t get any offense going.

12. UCLA Bruins ↔

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

Last week: 12

boomtho (11): For me, their struggles this year are worse than Oregon’s, given UCLA came in with more hype and expectations to at least compete in the South.

Nick Kranz (11): It annoys me that they’re still getting high-value recruits.

Berkelium97 (11): Remember when they were picked to win the South in this year’s media poll?

Leland Wong (11): A dishearteningly disappointing season for a totally overhyped team. Instead of exploiting transcendent talent on offense, they ended up completely devoid of anything positive on that side of the ball.

The data

Here are the individual postseason ballots from our eight voters.

Final votes for 2016 Power Rankings

rk Bk97 boomtho Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Ruey
rk Bk97 boomtho Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Ruey
1 USC Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
2 Wash USC USC USC USC USC USC USC
3 Utah Colorado Colorado Colorado Stanfurd Colorado Colorado Colorado
4 Stanfurd Utah Stanfurd Stanfurd Colorado Stanfurd Utah Utah
5 Colorado Stanfurd Utah WSU Utah WSU Stanfurd Stanfurd
6 WSU WSU WSU Utah WSU Utah WSU WSU
7 OSU ASU Cal OSU Cal Cal OSU Cal
8 Oregon OSU OSU Cal OSU OSU Cal OSU
9 Cal Cal ASU ASU ASU ASU Oregon Arizona
10 Arizona Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Arizona Oregon
11 UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. ASU ASU
12 ASU Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona UC L.A. UC L.A.
Table 1. 100% hack-free votes.

We average up the responses for each team to determine the list that I showed above, but we can also take a look at the precise values for each team (Fig. 1) to capture a little more nuance in how we evaluated the conference.

Figure 1. A precise representation of how the Pac-12 teams rank after the 2016 season.

We also like to track those precise rankings each week over the course of the season, shown below. Since Week 9, there’s been a clear divide between the top and bottom halves of the conference—it’s beautiful in a weird “I love data” and “I don’t really believe in love anymore, so human beauty is kind of overrated” way. In addition, the lower half of the conference is split into three pairs: OSU & Cal, ASU & Oregon, and Arizona & UC Los Angeles. You can see that Arizona barely escaped being the worst team, a title they held for a six-week stretch.

Figure 2. The teams’ rankings over the course of the season.

For the sake of being complete, we can take a funhouse-mirror look at Figure 2 using the rounded rankings (Fig. 3). There’s a little less detail here, but the graph is also cleaner, allowing us to see the big picture.

Figure 3. The teams’ rankings over the course of the season. Again. But rounded to the nearest ranking.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but I only have about 837 left, so let’s finish off this post non-graphically.

I addition to visually following the teams over the season, we also quantitatively follow the teams’ progressions through Madness—how much the teams move up and down (or not at all) each week.

Congratulations to the Sun Devils, who were by far the Maddest team of the Pac-12, wresting that... honor... from the Trojans for the first time in the past two years.

Final Madness for 2016 Power Rankings

Team Wk 1 Wk 2 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 6 Wk 7 Wk 8 Wk 9 Wk 10 Wk 11 Wk 12 Wk 13 Post Team's cumulative Madness
Team Wk 1 Wk 2 Wk 3 Wk 4 Wk 5 Wk 6 Wk 7 Wk 8 Wk 9 Wk 10 Wk 11 Wk 12 Wk 13 Post Team's cumulative Madness
Arizona 0 -1 0 1 -2 0 -1 0 0 0 0 0 2 -1 8
ASU 2 1 -1 3 -4 5 -3 1 -4 3 -1 0 -3 2 33
Cal 2 -3 4 -2 2 -4 0 2 0 -1 -1 -2 3 0 26
Colorado 4 -1 1 1 2 -3 3 1 0 0 -1 1 1 -1 20
Oregon 2 0 -3 -2 -2 -1 0 1 2 -2 0 3 -2 0 20
OSU 1 -1 0 0 0 2 0 -1 0 0 0 1 3 0 9
Stanfurd 0 0 0 0 -2 -3 0 -3 3 0 0 1 -1 2 15
UC L.A. -2 0 0 0 2 -6 0 0 -1 0 2 -2 -3 0 18
USC -7 4 -2 -2 2 3 0 0 0 0 3 0 -1 1 25
Utah 2 0 2 0 -3 3 0 -1 2 -2 -1 -1 1 0 18
Washington 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2
WSU -6 1 0 0 4 5 0 0 -2 2 -1 -1 0 -2 24
Total Madness 29 12 13 11 26 35 7 10 14 10 10 12 20 9
Table 2. New SBN editing is making this difficult.

And beyond weekly Madness, we’ll also be commemorating the end of the season by seeing just how accurately—or inaccurately—we assessed the teams in the preseason compared to where they ultimately ended up. One of the big storylines of the season—the breakout year for Colorado and Mike MacIntyre—is verified here when we see they finished 8 spots higher than we projected. Aaaand on the other side of the coin, UC Los Angeles took an even bigger dive, falling 10 spots to finish the year at the very bottom of the rankings. And here’s an unexpected skill that must be taught in the Mike Leach coaching tree—how to be even Steven. Both WSU and Cal end the season with the exact same ranking we gave them in the preseason.

The cumulative differences in rankings between the preseason and postseason rankings is 38. What does that mean? I have no idea... An average movement of 3.17 spots for each team... And that’s all I’ve got. There’s a reason my company has an analytical team and I’m not part of it.

2016 Power Rankings: Comparing preseason and postseason ranks

Team Final Madness
Team Final Madness
Arizona -2
ASU 1
Cal 0
Colorado 8
Oregon -4
OSU 5
Stanfurd -3
UC L.A. -10
USC 1
Utah 2
Washington 2
WSU 0
Table 3. We were spot-on with some teams! Not so much with others...

That’s it! Thanks to the rest of the voters for a season of hard work and thanks to the readers for... er... reading.