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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 8: The fall of Troy

How many times can I explain that these rankings feature a focus on this past weekend?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: Good morning and welcome to CGB’s Power Rankings!

If anyone’s reading this—and the comments suggest this is not always the case—then we’re here to rank the Pac-12 games by a combination of factors, including overall performance this year, fanbase sentiment, and what they did during Week 8. The past week is kind of important; that’s why it’s up there in the title of the post rather than the number of the week when this post is being published.

Here are the games that—while they won’t be the sole criterion—will be a big focus of this week’s Power Rankings:

  • Arizona State defeated Utah, 30–10
  • UC Los Angeles defeated Oregon, 31–14
  • #13 Notre Dame defeated #11 USC, 49–14
  • Arizona defeated Cal, 45–44 in 2OT
  • #15 Washington State defeated Colorado, 28–0
  • Bye: Oregon State, Washington, Stanfurd

How many more times can I reasonably explain that, by rule, teams that had a good week can outrank better teams that had a disappointing week? By rule.

I’m fairly certain that for every week this season, I say that I try not to make my votes too volatile and too dependent on the last games—even though the last weekend does have a big impact by design—but there’s so much parity in the Pac-12 that I can’t help it. Here we go again.

Berkelium97: I am delighted at how wacky the Pac-12 has become this season. Three of my top five teams were in the bottom four of my rankings during Week 2 and Week 3. The Pac-12 South has become a meat grinder—did anyone think ASU and Arizona would be legitimate threats to the Pac-12 South crown at the beginning of the season? A month ago, that would have been even more laughable.

Nick Kranz: Each division has a very clear split right down the middle. In the North, it’s exactly what everybody expected, with Stanford, Washington, and Wazzu in the race. But the South? In a weird way, it doesn’t feel like USC is the favorite anymore even though a road win in Tempe and a home win over Arizona would virtually clinch the division in the next two weeks.

atomsareenough: The Pac-12 is in a state of perpetual After Dark now. It’s just always After Dark, no matter what time it is.

Piotr T Le: Hands up if you ever expected Arizona and ASU to be in a hunt for winning the Pac-12 South in week 1? OK, HANDS DOWN YOU LIARS. Pac-12 continues to be weird. With a lot of new players like Khalil Tate coming in and destroying expectations.

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

Last week: 3

Leland Wong (2): Still possibly the best team in the conference, but I don’t think they deserve to earn the top spot after a bye—especially after how well Wazzu performed

Piotr T Le (1): Still the best team in the conference despite their loss against ASU. The offense hit a snag against the Sun Devils, but I doubt this would be a precursor to any future troubles and is just a blip on the radar. Expect a bounce back against UCLA and Oregon. Please note that the defense only allowed 74 points all season long (albeit deflated number due to BYE). Which has as much as the second-stingiest defense (Utah allowed 150).

Nik Jam (1): I still think they’re going to win the Pac-12 CG, so I’m putting them here now until it is obvious it won’t happen.

2. Washington State Cougars (7–1, 4–1 Pac-12; two first-place votes) ↗

Last week: 7

Leland Wong (1): That they only have one loss (a bad one to us lolololol) coupled with the fact they shut out their opponent this weekend, I think Wazzu is the clear choice for my top vote. The offense underperformed by the standards of Leach and a fifth-year quarterback, but their defense more than made up for it.

Berkelium97 (1): Unless it’s abundantly clear who the #1 team is, I don’t like putting teams in the top spot after a bye week. So Wazzu inherits the top spot from LSJU by default (Arizona and ASU still seem like they’re on a slightly lower tier than the Cougs and UW was on a bye, so none of them earned the top spot this week). A shutout win against the Buffs made the decision a little easier.

Nick Kranz (2): I think so little of Colorado that a 28–0 win for Wazzu doesn’t really do much for me. Shut down Khalil Tate and we can start talking.

Piotr T Le (2): WSU can boast a great record despite one Q U A L I T Y L O S S against Cal.

3. Stanfurd Cardinal (5–2, 4–1 Pac-12; one first-place vote) ↘

Last week: 2

Leland Wong (4): Stanfurd is still a dangerously lethal team, but they had a bye while other teams made big moves to pass them. Certainly doesn’t help that they have two losses.

Berkelium97 (5): They drop several spots in my ballot this week because the wins over Oregon and Utah are looking less impressive (however, the ASU win looks better).

Nik Jam (3): I know we’re homers here, but I’m not convinced Furd has the edge of the Washington schools. They’re the type of team that proves people wrong, though; watch them win one or both of those games. Ugh.

atomsareenough (3): I put the Cardinal below the Washington schools and above the Arizona schools. My worry is that they should go above the Washington schools at this point, but I guess we’ll find out for sure over the next three weeks.

4. Arizona State Sun Devils (4–3, 3–1 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (4): It’s been two years since someone has beaten Utah by double digits. I still don’t know what to make of this ASU team, but they’re coming off two fantastic wins and a win against USC next week will put them in an excellent position to win the Pac-12 title.

Leland Wong (5): Kudos to the defense for snagging four interceptions because the offense’s stats are somewhat unremarkable—literally, I will not be remarking on them.

Nick Kranz (5): The win over Utah was a little deceptive thanks to turnovers and Utah injuries, but a win’s a win. I’m still not sold on ASU—feels like they’ve gotten more than their fair share of luck. And yet, if they win at home vs. USC...

Nik Jam (4): All of a sudden it looks like the Pac-12 South champ could come out of the state of Arizona. I’m giving the edge to ASU because I think beating UW and Utah is a little more solid than beating Colorado, UCLA ,and Cal… but it is close.

atomsareenough (4): I thought ASU was going to be garbage earlier this year. Boy, was I wrong. How Todd Graham gets by is a complete mystery to me.

5. Arizona Wildcats (5–2, 3–1 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (3): Apparently Khalil Tate can be stopped… but only briefly. Despite a somewhat quiet second half, he was unstoppable during the first half and overtime. The pass defense could use some work (then again, they were down to a third-string safety), but this team is in fantastic shape heading into the two toughest games of the year. If they win both, they should win the South. If they lose to the Cougs and beat USC, they’ll have a strong chance of earning the title.

Leland Wong (3): The Wildcats are in a similar spot as the Ducks, but with opposite results. This is not the same team as the start of the season, so I’m all but throwing out those games when Brandon Dawkins was the starting QB. The game was uncomfortable close for Arizona, but Tate is a beast and a gamer.

Nick Kranz (4): I’m fascinated by Arizona/Wazzu next week. Can Wazzu’s speed defense shut down the probably the best quarterback in the conference? I don’t think Arizona’s defense is good enough to win the South, but that they have a realistic shot blows my mind.

6. California Golden Bears (4–4, 1–4 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (7): The defense did an admirable job of stopping Khalil Tate during the second half and the Cal offense looks to be functional again after the atrocious performances against UW and Oregon. Fortunately, the Bears’ defense gets a much-needed reprieve when they face the Pac-12’s two worst offenses over the next couple weeks.

Leland Wong (6): I was so tempted to giving the Golden Bears a better ranking taking the Wildcats to double overtime, but terrible losses to Oregon and Washington are like your first love—they can’t be forgotten and they end up destroying your life in every sense of the word. The defense was hit or miss (as Bk97 said) and the offense was pretty good if not for two big interceptions.

Nick Kranz (7): Cal’s defense did much, much better against Tate than UCLA or Colorado’s defenses did. I’ll take it! Kinda!

Nik Jam (6): I feel pretty good about Cal finding a fifth and a sixth win.

Piotr T Le (7): I was not expecting to rank Cal at seventh in the middle of the season. I was expecting to be talking about finding silver linings in a rebuilt while having a big fat 10/11/12 next to the team’s ranking. We’re playing well in all matters.

atomsareenough (6): The Bears are right on track. Three of the next four games look pretty winnable, but then who knows anymore about anything in the Pac-12?

7. USC Trojans (6–2, 3–1 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (6): Finally this team gets exposed as a fringe top-25 team (lol at the #11 ranking). The next two weeks will be very, very interesting. I will be quite surprised if USC takes down both ASU and Arizona to lock up the South title.

Leland Wong (7): A national faceplant is a problem; the Trojans were scoreless in the first, second, and fourth quarters and the run defense was non-existent.

Nick Kranz (6): As inevitable as the USC faceplant to deny their college title aspirations is the inevitable post-collapse surge in which USC beats less talented Pac-12 teams. I still think USC wins the South.

atomsareenough (10): I put the Trojans down at 10 because that’s what you get when you get pummeled mercilessly by an archrival. To put this in perspective, this is Notre Dame’s most dominant win against USC since at least 1985—and arguably since 1966. And USC was ranked ahead of Notre Dame going in, lol.

8. UC Los Angeles Bruins (4–3, 2–2 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (9): A nice feel-good win heading into a brutal four-game stretch (@UW, @Utah, vs. Arizona, @USC). I’m sure I’m not the only one hoping for a four-game losing streak that ends their bowl hopes and gives them nothing to play for when Cal visits during Black Friday.

Leland Wong (9): It only took a game against a lost Oregon team for QB Josh Rosen’s statline to finally look respectable. Still, all of the Bruins’ losses have come to good teams, so I wouldn’t be stunned if they’re a better team than this, but they have to show it.

Nick Kranz (9): UCLA has proven they can beat anybody who doesn’t have a functional quarterback. Beware, Utes.

atomsareenough (8): Operation Mora-Wins-Just-Enough-Not-To-Get-Fired is continuing apace, but it’s possible the bottom falls out if they faceplant against Washington.

9. Utah Utes (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (8): Remember when Utah had a two-touchdown lead in the second half on the road against USC? It looked like they would finally win the South division after so many failed attempts. That must feel like an eternity ago for Utah fans.

Leland Wong (8): It was QB Tyler Huntley’s first action since late September… and it looks like he may have needed a little more time. Between his four interceptions and the run game barely gaining more than 100 yards, the offense just isn’t where it needs to be.

Nick Kranz (9): In case you ever doubted the importance of quarterback play: Remember when Utah beat Arizona because the Utes had their best QB on the field and Arizona didn’t?

atomsareenough (7): What happened to the Utes being able to run the ball?

10. Oregon Ducks (4–4, 1–4 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (10): Not even the worst rushing defense in the nation could cure the broken Oregon offense. It’s very difficult to envision how this team gets two more wins to earn bowl eligibility.

Leland Wong (10): The Ducks are in a terrible position and their Justin Herbert–led wins are just barely staving off a worse ranking. With three tough games coming up, it won’t be long until they drop further.

Nick Kranz (10): Turns out that if you give an opponent a full week to scheme against a team without a passing game, that team might be screwed.

atomsareenough (9): The Herbert injury really ruined their season, looks like.

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

Last week: 11

Leland Wong (12): The past four weeks have been tough for Colorado—two one-score losses, squeaking past Oregon State by three, and a blowout loss. Taking this into consideration—especially the fact that they got shut out by Wazzu this weekend—I think they deserve the basement.

Berkelium97 (11): The only way I can make sense of Colorado this season is to pretend that the 2016 season didn’t happen.

Nick Kranz (11): That Colorado fell back this hard isn’t the biggest of shocks. That the collapse is mostly due to the offense is the surprise. My kingdom for a Sefo!

atomsareenough (11): Oof, that was brutal. Getting shut out, Montez benched, his replacement completely ineffective, and MacIntyre having a protracted hissyfit on the sidelines. That guy’s gonna give himself an aneurysm at some point, I fear. The Cougars are good and Pullman’s a tough place to play, but the Buffs look to be coming apart a bit.

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

Last week: 12

Leland Wong (11): The Beavers’ bye came at a great time for interim head coach Cory Hall. (I spent most of my summer of 2007 inside Cory.) He had one game to test how his players would execute his vision, then a little extra time to tinker around and adjust based on that knowledge. Plus, they didn’t get shut out this weekend.

The data

Up first, we have our individual votes. We evaluated the teams by a combination of several factors, one of which being what they did this past week.

Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 8

rk atoms Bk97 Kevin Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Ruey
rk atoms Bk97 Kevin Leland Nick Kranz Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Ruey
1 Wash WSU Wash WSU Wash Wash Wash Wash Stanfurd
2 WSU Wash WSU Wash Stanfurd WSU WSU Stanfurd Wash
3 Stanfurd Arizona Arizona Arizona WSU Stanfurd Stanfurd WSU WSU
4 ASU ASU ASU Stanfurd Arizona ASU ASU ASU ASU
5 Arizona Stanfurd Stanfurd ASU ASU Arizona Arizona USC Arizona
6 Cal USC Cal Cal USC Cal USC Arizona USC
7 Utah Cal USC USC Cal USC Cal Cal Cal
8 UC L.A. Utah Utah Utah UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A.
9 Oregon UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Utah Utah Utah Utah Utah
10 USC Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
11 Colorado Colorado Colorado OSU Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado
Table 1. The responsible parties if you’re unhappy with this week’s rankings.

I run a script on those ballots to find where we ranked each team (e.g., Arizona) and spit out the mathematical average (e.g., 4.333 for Arizona) and the standard deviation (a measure of if our votes were in the same ballpark or not; e.g., 1.118 for Arizona).

We can visualize these precise rankings (and how they differ from the traditional, rounded rankings along with the standard deviations with a column graph (Fig. 1). To oversimplify, if the error bars for teams are overlapping, then that diminishes how “real” the differences between them are.

Figure 1. The actual rankings for Week 8.

On top of that, we also like to play with the data by charting out the precise rankings over time. Based on the criteria we use to grade the teams, this gives us a measure of their strength and consistency over time. (I say “consistency” because the latest week plays a big role in our consideration.)

As for this week’s data, we have three sets of near-ties: ASU–Arizona, Cal–USC, and UC L.A.–Utah. These teams are so close that I wonder if there’s some kind of threshold that I should establish such that these teams will be considered tied in the rounded rankings. Precise ties are rather hard to come by; we haven’t see one since Week 1.

Figure 2. Start saying your goodbyes to football...

And for the sake of being a completionist, let’s draw up a similar graph, but use the boring rounded rankings instead.

Hindsight’s 50-50 20/20, but rather than use the “chaos is a ladder” line last week—which was a notably chaotic week—it would have been most appropriate this week with Washington reclaiming the top spot thanks to USC’s loss, despite being on a bye. In more chaos-ladder-ing, Stanfurd was able to snag one first-place vote despite also being on a bye (although they overall fell one spot).

Figure 3. ...Because we’ve entered the second half of this series.

We can add up the magnitudes of how each team moved up and down our rankings (e.g., for a movement of +2 then –2, the magnitudes sum to 4 even though the net movement would be 0 spots). We follow this value across the season with the cutesy marketing-friendly name “Madness” and present it in Fig. 4.

After last week’s record-setting Madness for 2017, we follow it up with the second-Maddest week of the year. Cal continues to be the only team with a Madness score in the 20s, USC has the second-biggest move of the year, and Oregon State holds steady with their one move for the season.

Figure 4. Second-maddest week of the year.

Check back in a week for our next edition, when we’ll continue ranking the Pac-12 teams. Maybe we’ll even take into consideration their performances from that weekend’s games. What a novel idea!