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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7: Who the hell is #1‽

Something about chaos and ladders.

Washington v Arizona State
Not to suggest ASU is #1 (unless that suggestion got you to click), but it ties in the question about #1, the “hell”, and the team that’s been #1 for almost the entire season to this point.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Leland Wong: So, the Pac-12 was rather eventful this week:

  • California defeated #8 Washington State, 37–3
  • Colorado defeated Oregon State, 36–33
  • #13 USC defeated Utah, 28–27
  • Arizona defeated UC L.A. 47–30
  • Arizona State defeated #5 Washington, 13–7
  • #23 Stanfurd defeated Oregon, 49–7

With so many upsets, this means it’ll be a blast to try to figure out our Power Rankings this week—where we rank Pac-12 teams by a combination of this season’s performance, the most recent game, and general feelings among the fanbase.

Piotr T Le: Pac-12 ain’t sending anyone to the College Footbal Playoff—that’s for sure. With Washington’s offense collapsing upon itself against ASU, there isn’t a single team that has the résumé to go to the CFP. Though it all depends on how the Big-12 and ACC shake out, with Oklahoma losing to Iowa State and Clemson to Syracuse.

Berkelium97: What a delightfully self-destructive weekend for Pac-12 football. I’m blowing up my previous ballot, rewarding the victors, punishing the losers, and trying to make sense of this bizarro Pac-12 landscape. All the hand-wringing about the Pac-12’s chances of making the playoffs seems premature. Penn State isn’t going undefeated. TCU isn’t going undefeated. If UW wins out, they’ll probably squeeze in as the #4 team again. In any case, I’d rather have exciting, unpredictable Pac-12 football than an undefeated juggernaut that is a lock to make the playoffs.

Nik Jam: Since I was on vacation this weekend, I nearly filled out my list at 7:30 pm assuming Arizona, Stanford and UW were going to win… fortunately I saw ASU’s early lead and changed my mind. This was a difficult list to do. Since there were multiple upsets, I didn’t know how to shakeup the rankings. I also didn’t know whether to bounce Cal and ASU a little bit or really high—and same with regards to dropping UW and WSU. Also really difficult? Where to put Utah and Arizona. I really could have made five or six different rankings that I’d see posted today and feel that I did the right thing.

Ruey Yen: It was quite an eventful weekend for the Pac-12. While the more practical side of me is lamenting about the loss the revenue with no Pac-12 team in a good position to make the College Football Playoff (the East Coast Bias is real), this weekend set up for a much more exciting Pac-12 second half.

ragnarok: I’d argue that there’s no “obviously correct” rankings to be had this week—given all the chaos—so I settled for “reasonably defensible”.

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. USC Trojans (6–1, 3–1 Pac-12; six first-place votes) ↗

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (2): They are going to finish the regular season as the worst 10–2 team in the nation.

Nik Jam (1): Solid comeback, still expect them to win the South.

Leland Wong (1): Where was the defense? Gotta agree with Bk97 that this team feels so underwhelming for a one-loss leader in the Pac-12 South.

Ruey Yen (3): They are in a good position to win the Pac-12 South, but does that mean anything when every other team is so flawed as well?

atomsareenough (1): USC gets my #1 vote kind of by default this week. If the Huskies had won, they'd still be in my top spot, but they faceplanted in Tempe, while the Trojans pulled it out at the last second against Utah. The Trojans are flawed, but they're in the driver's seat in the South, and if they win out they will be a playoff team. So, they're #1 this week.

2. Stanfurd Cardinal (5–2, 4–1 Pac-12; four first-place votes) ↗

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (1): Hello darkness, my old friend...

Nik Jam (2): I pretty much put them below USC out of spite, but they have just as much of a chance as the Washington schools to win the North. Hopefully Cal can play spoiler.

Leland Wong (3): The defense earns no recognition for holding the all-run Oregon offense scoreless for the final 51 minutes of the game, but Stanfurd appears to have discovered a credible passing game just in time for a strong late-season finish.

Ruey Yen (1): Someone has to be ranked 1st in my ranking. Very, very reluctantly, I have to put Stanford here given the losses by UW and Wazzu and how USC just escaped Utah via a stupid decision to go for two.

ragnarok (4): Once again, the Cardinal blows September before turning it around in conference play. I only ranked them this low out of spite.

atomsareenough (4): The Cardinal are looking annoyingly like a typical David Shaw Stanfurd team again.

3. Washington Huskies (6–1, 3–1 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (5): What.

Leland Wong (4): I’m not going to completely destroy their ranking based on just one loss. It ended as a one-score loss, but the much-feared defense couldn’t get a stop on ASU’s game-clinching final 5-minute drive.

Nik Jam (3): Other than Stanford, their fellow Pac-12 contenders didn’t fare much better, so they stay near the top for me.

Ruey Yen (2): I guess every team is entitled to have one bad week.

ragnarok (2): Woulda been a tied game headed to overtime except the Huskies shanked a couple of field goals that weren’t much more than extra points.

atomsareenough (6): I dinged the Huskies significantly despite the close loss because I think this is a major blow to their playoff chances. If they win out from here they still have a good shot, but the stakes were really high for them and they blew it in Tempe.

4. California Golden Bears (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (3): Wow. If Cal played like that every week, they could win the Pac-12. OC Beau Baldwin clearly made some big changes to the offensive gameplan (praise be to rollouts) and it worked remarkably well against one of the conference’s top defenses. Meanwhile, DC Tim DeRuyter guided the Cal defense to its most impressive performance since holding the 2010 Oregon juggernaut to a single touchdown.

Leland Wong (6): The best win of the week—a beatdown of one of the conference’s best teams—but my style doesn’t allow for complete forgiveness of the past weeks. The defense carried this game by never allowing the other team to be comfortable and earning takeaways—not just turnovers.

Nik Jam (6): No more games on the schedule that Cal can’t win… and given how Colorado and OSU have looked, anything fewer than six wins before the pre–Big Game bye week would be very disappointing. No pressure. The way Arizona has played, there should hopefully be no reason to overlook them.

Ruey Yen (4): Even with injury concerns, you have to believe that the Cal Bears are riding on a confidence high after the very impressive showing against a top 10–ranked team. I am not sure anyone wants to face the Bears right now.

ragnarok (7): If the loss at Washington was the nadir of how bad the Bears can play, then the pasting of Washington State this past Friday night is clearly their apex. Every game from here on out is winnable, though I expect the Bears’ performance to vary enough week to week that a 3–2 finish seems like a realistic expectation.

atomsareenough (2): Cal rockets from #12 on my ballot last week to #2 on my ballot this week. The Bears went from looking lousy in all 3 phases of the game to dominating a top-10 opponent across the board. That's the kind of win that can redefine a season.

5. Utah Utes (4–2, 1–2 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (6): Every year Utah finds itself in a great position to win the Pac-12 South. And every year they blow it. Up 21–7 at halftime, Utah would have had a one-game lead over USC in the division and the tiebreaker win. But as always, Utes gonna Ute.

Nik Jam (5): Clearly better than their record, but does it matter? Still going to be another year in the Pac-12 South without a title barring something insane. I may be liberal politically, but that was a stupid decision to go for two at the end… if they had Cal’s record, I’d understand, but first place in the South was on the line and they were playing well and would have had a shot in overtime.

Leland Wong (2): The Utes made a last-minute gamble to win the game with a two-point conversion rather than tie it up with a kick and lost. I like recognizing teams for close losses, but being my second-place team is extreme even for me—and it has everything to do with the chaos that befell the other top teams.

Ruey Yen (6): I don’t understand that last-minute gamble given how well Utes played against USC all game long. Hate to say that my ranking would have looked very differently based on the result of one play, but I think the Utes may struggle for a bit after blowing this chance to top USC and take control of the South.

ragnarok (3): I’m on record saying I fully support going for two while trying to pull the upset on the road. Play to win the damn game!

atomsareenough (7): I admire the gutsiness of the call, Utes. Too bad it didn't work out.

6. Arizona State Sun Devils (3–3, 2–1 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (4): This is a strange team that somehow manages to play close games against everyone, whether the opponent is great or terrible. They get a huge boost this week for taking down the Huskies.

Leland Wong (7): Big win for the Sun Devils, but I’m personally ranking them lower than Cal because the biggest lead was 13 points, so they never felt comfortable. Great game by the defense to stop Petersen’s boys.

Nik Jam (7): Since Cal doesn’t play them, it doesn’t really concern me whether this team is good or if they just got flukey this weekend. In any event, best luck to them this year.

Ruey Yen (7): Does this win save Todd Graham’s job? Maybe that would be a bad thing for ASU in the long run as they stay at mediocrity.

atomsareenough (3): ASU has the second best win in the conference this week. Washington's a better opponent than Wazzu, but the Sun Devils squeaked by 13-7, holding the Huskies offense down just long enough and getting fortunate with some bad decisions by Chris Petersen and some missed field goals. Cal gets a spot ahead for dominance.

7. Washington State Cougars (6–1, 3–1 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (8): Mike Leach’s press conference said everything that needed to be said about Wazzu.

Leland Wong (5): I feel betrayed after pushing for the Cougars to be our top-ranked team last week. Big step back for the Cougars on all sides of the ball (throwing five picks and allowing countless sacks, the defense had no answers for Cal, and special teams produced a 1-yard punt).

Nik Jam (8): This is what I get for putting them at No. 1. Since I’m a Cal-centric guy, I’m thinking this loss could be similar to 2009 Cal at Oregon (or 2015 at Utah). Solid teams, but weren’t as good as their rankings indicated and it was a matter of time before they got exposed on the road.

Ruey Yen (5): The Bears made the Cougs looked terrible on Friday. I would like to think that’s more due to how well the Bears played than the Cougs’ early-season success being a mirage. Still, maybe the Cougs really benefited from all the early-season home cooking and are not that great (but merely good).

atomsareenough (5): The Cougars laid a huge egg againt the Bears in Berkeley, but they're still 6-1 and I'm sure Mike Leach will have them ready to play next week. Luke Falk's got a lot of ground to make up if he still wants an invitation to New York, though.

8. Arizona Wildcats (4–2, 2–1 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (7): Khalil Tate has saved RichRod’s job as he continues to destroy opposing defenses. However, UCLA has an atrocious run defense and Colorado’s defense looks worse each week. This week offers a very intriguing match-up as he battles a resurgent Cal defense.

Leland Wong (8): Sure, the offense looked great, but how about the defense for scoring three interceptions from the exalted signal caller, Josh Rosen? I tried hard to place the Wildcats further up the rankings based on their overall performance this season—their only two losses came by a combined 9 points—but I couldn’t find a way.

Nik Jam (4): If you told me Cal is going to finish 6–6 and asked me to put money on what the two games would be, I’d pick Colorado and Oregon State… no longer feeling too sure about Arizona—they are looking pretty solid now (but it could be that Colorado and UCLA are no good). I would be shocked if they beat Cal though.

Ruey Yen (8): I would have moved Arizona up the ranking more if I respected UCLA more. I’m looking forward to see how the Cal D can contain Khalil Tate on Saturday.

atomsareenough (8): The Wilcats have made it to the mushy middle tier, congrats.

9. Oregon Ducks (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (9): This offense is a sad, broken, one-dimensional mess. They desperately need to beat UCLA in Pasadena this weekend.

Leland Wong (10): Oregon is one example where I’m kind of erasing—maybe deemphasizing is more accurate—its past performances this season because this just literally isn’t that team anymore. Without QBs Justin Herbert, the Ducks only felt comfortable throwing the ball 13 times.

Nik Jam (10): It is very sad what injuries can do to derail a football season. Tough to watch.

Ruey Yen (9): Given all the Nike money, I would not be shocked that the Ducks find a hidden gem to step up to stop the bleeding. Nevertheless, they let the solid Stanford D look way too good this weekend.

atomsareenough (10): When you have a 1-dimensional offense, good opponents are going to eventually start figuring it out. 33 yards passing on 13 attempts? Yikes.

10. UC Los Angeles Bruins (3–3, 1–2 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (11): Arizona ran the ball 60 times and UCLA managed one tackle for loss. Meanwhile Rosen was throwing interceptions left and right while under siege from the Arizona pass rush. Jim Mora is a dead man walking.

Leland Wong (9): At least Los Angeles has finally developed a run game, but perhaps they had to sacrifice their pass offense to the football gods to do so.

Nik Jam (10): I don’t have any reason to believe they will be a threat to anyone this season—not even us.

Ruey Yen (11): I made my plan this past week to go down to LA for the regular-season finale. I would not be shocked if UCLA has some ups and downs rather than just staying down before then.

ragnarok (10): I don’t remember who referred to UCLA as a random-number generator earlier this season, but the description is apt.

atomsareenough (11): UCLOL!!

11. Colorado Buffaloes (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (10): Defense was supposed to be the strength of this Colorado team, yet this week they allowed Oregon State (Oregon State!) to pile up almost 600 yards—the most they’ve accumulated since 2013. Colorado is going the wrong direction at this point in the season.

Leland Wong (11): The Buffaloes have to be feeling uneasy about how the past three games have gone… The offense was fine, but the defense had no answer for Ryan Nall—sound familiar?

Nik Jam (11): Last week I said Cal and Colorado could very well play each other with 0 combined Pac-12 wins… glad I was wrong, but Colorado needing to come back to beat Oregon State to get their first win is a bit different from our first win.

Ruey Yen (10): Barely getting past Oregon State drops the Buffs further this week.

ragnarok (11): In the standings, a win is a win is a win, but in power rankings, just getting by Oregon State counts for negative points.

atomsareenough (9): I knew the Colorado defense was going to take a step back, but 33 points to Oregon State? Yuck.

12. Oregon State Beavers (1–6, 0–4 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): They almost won the old win-one-for-the-new-coach game. If they played the porous UCLA defense this season, I’d give them a shot at getting another win. But the scheduling gods frowned on the Beavs this year and they’ll probably go winless down the stretch.

Leland Wong (12): I sat here for a good minute vacillating on whether or not Oregon State earned my 11th-place vote because a back-and-forth game against Colorado might be the first step in a new direction under interim head coach and permanent UC Berkeley EECS building Cory Hall.

Nik Jam (12): Did Oregon State play better because of the new coach? Time will tell.

Ruey Yen (12): New coach, but the same result—although they gave Colorado quite a scare.

atomsareenough (12): Beavers blow their best chance at a Pac-12 victory. Sad!

The data

We’ll start off our data analysis with... the data. Here’s how we voted—just the ten of us.

Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7

rk atoms Bk97 Kevin Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Rob Ruey
rk atoms Bk97 Kevin Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Rob Ruey
1 USC Stanfurd Stanfurd USC USC USC Stanfurd USC USC Stanfurd
2 Cal USC USC Utah Stanfurd Stanfurd Wash Wash Wash Wash
3 ASU Cal ASU Stanfurd ASU Wash USC Utah Stanfurd USC
4 Stanfurd ASU Cal Wash Wash Arizona Utah Stanfurd Cal Cal
5 WSU Wash Utah WSU Utah Utah Cal WSU WSU WSU
6 Wash Utah Wash Cal Cal Cal Arizona ASU Utah Utah
8 Arizona WSU Arizona Arizona Arizona WSU Oregon Arizona Arizona Arizona
9 Colorado Oregon Oregon UC L.A. Oregon Oregon ASU Oregon Oregon Oregon
10 Oregon Colorado UC L.A. Oregon UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Colorado Colorado
11 UC L.A. UC L.A. Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado UC L.A. UC L.A.
Table 1. Hello to inconsistency in votes.

I compute the mathematical averages for the responses by each team and arrange them by smallest to largest to get the rankings as shown above. But we can also take a look at those precisely-calculated averages—the bars in Fig. 2—and the degree of differences between our evaluations for each team—the error bars in Fig. 2.

The error bars—officially, the standard deviations—are so large that I’d get in quite a bit of trouble if I presented this data at any point in my scientific career. It’s nigh-impossible to draw any conclusions about our perceptions of the teams with such huge, overlapping error bars.

Figure 1. Meaningless.

We can follow these precise rankings over time to see how consistent a team is doing. After a week of big upsets, this exercise becomes a little more difficult as we see big changes. After a few weeks with some pretty distinct tiers, this crazy week resulted in some messier distinctions between the teams. Maybe you can squint and make out a top tier—USC, Stanfurd, and Washington. Wazzu fell out of this group after being embarrassed at Berkeley, but I think that’s a bit of an overreaction on our collective part. There’s a tier of five teams who seem like good bets to be bowl-bound—Cal, Utah, ASU, WSU, and Arizona. At the bottom, there’s a group of three teams that had a bad week (Oregon, UC L.A., and Colorado) and OSU at the bottom on their own.

Figure 2. Muddled.

When we follow the rounded rankings over the season, there’s one interesting observation. In Fig. 2, the increases for Cal and ASU are pretty comparable; however, when using the rounded rankings, so much resolution is lost that Cal has a much bigger increase despite not having a drastically better week.

Despite not having a very good week, USC used this week’s chaos as something like a climbing device—a ladder, of sorts—to climb up our Power Rankings to the top spot. Chaos is a ladder. There’s a new phrase. I just came up with it, but I like it.

Figure 3. Menomena.

And with so many upsets, with Utah’s hard-fought loss to USC, and Colorado’s near loss to Oregon State, there’s good reason to believe there’s a lot of Madness—or volatility in the rankings compared to the previous week. Sure enough, when we sum up the movements up or down the ranking, our total Madness score is 30—a 50% increase over the second-Maddest week of the 2017 season. And with the huge upset over the #8 team (coupled with a dash of homerism), Cal makes a huge leap that will go a long way toward securing our title as Maddest Pac-12 team.

Figure 4. Madness.

After such insanity this week, next week’s results should (probably) quiet down a little and every team should come closer to a “fair” assessment of them (possibly). Plus, USC’s going out of conference, so there will be another tough-to-analyze data point.