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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 12: Return of the Quack

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Hope you’re not sick of that pro-Oregon line.

Arizona v Oregon
Genuinely have no idea what’s happening in this picture.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Leland Wong: Who isn’t in the mood for reading about football after a record-setting Big Game loss? Well you’re in luck because we’re here to talk Week 12 football and to compare everyone’s weeks. We’ll be ranking the Pac-12 teams by a combination of 2017 performance, the most recent week, and general fan sentiment. On the note of fanbase reaction, note that a few of these votes came in before Jim Mora’s dismissal by UC Los Angeles. And returning to the note of the last weekend, lookie here:

  • Arizona State defeated Oregon State, 40–24
  • #22 Stanfurd defeated California, 17–14
  • Oregon defeated Arizona, 48–28
  • #11 USC defeated UC Los Angeles, 28–23
  • #18 Washington defeated Utah, 33–30
  • Bye: Colorado, Washington State

Berkelium97: I won’t be mad when the Pac-12 doesn’t send a team to the playoffs. None of these teams deserves an invitation. UW and Wazzu looked great during the first half of the season, but both look vulnerable now. The stellar UW defense hadn’t allowed more than 313 yards or more than 4.67 yards per play in its first 9 games; they’ve given up more than 400 yards and about 5.7 yards per play over the last two games. Luke Falk was unstoppable until he visited Berkeley: starting with that game, he has 12 TDs and 12 interceptions. USC is too inconsistent to be a contender. LSJU is a decent team buoyed by a one-legged Bryce Love. I wonder how much our nine-game conference schedule is contributing to this. It would be nice to be an SEC or ACC team playing the likes of Citadel or Mercer this week.

Leland Wong: I’ll often be referring to the trio of games featuring five-win teams (Cal, UC Los Angeles, and Utah) that lost by one score to a top-tier team (Stanfurd, USC, and Washington). Get used to it.

Nik Jam: The Pac-12 will have nine teams with six wins or higher after Saturday. Cal–UCLA and Utah–Colorado will feature two five-win teams looking for a bowl game. At least we’re the only one of the four that wasn’t expecting more.

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 (10–2, 8–1 Pac-12; nine first-place votes) ↔

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (1): In our week 7 rankings, I predicted that they would finish the year as the worst 10–2 team in the nation. I stand by that assessment.

Nick Kranz (1): I really hope I don’t have to root for this team in the Pac-12 championship game because that’s been a recipe for certain disappointment in the past.

Leland Wong (1): The Trojans have our unanimous #1 vote, but I don’t think the decision was that easy. All of the top-tier teams were pushed to the limits by teams in that middle cluster, so none of them have distinguished themselves from the pack too much. USC at least won their rivalry game by more than a field goal and have locked up their division’s championship.

2. Washington State Cougars (9–2, 6–2 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (2): I hope they have used the bye week to fix the interception issues that have plagued Luke Falk since the Cal game.

Nick Kranz (2): BEAT STANFORD BY PROXY.

Leland Wong (2): It might be unfair to have the Cougars this high when they were on a bye, but they at least control their own fate to win the Pac-12 North.

3. Stanfurd Cardinal (8–3, 7–2 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (3): David Shaw is unusually gifted at getting 9- and 10-win seasons out of teams that most coaches would lead to 6–6.

Nick Kranz (3): Stanford finishes the season 4–2 in one-score games while Cal is basically 0–2 (I’m ignoring UNC’s moral-victory TD) because God hates us.

Leland Wong (3): They get a boost for a historic win streak against their archrivals. (Sigh.) They need Bryce Love back direly. Plus, their win was better than Washington’s because—while this was also a 3-point game—they were in full control and able to grind out nearly 7.5 minutes to seal the win. And their kicker has a sweet name. Please tell me that his middle name is “Black”.

4. Washington Huskies (9–2, 6–2 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (4): This team’s pass defense is turning into a liability at a most inopportune time as the Apple Cup approaches.

Nick Kranz (4): Thanks to Cal games, I haven’t been able to watch any of Washington’s recent games, but I’m a bit perplexed that a team that mostly romped through their first nine games has been so mediocre over their last two.

Leland Wong (4): Despite being a talented and well-coached team, they’re the worst-ranked of the top-tier teams because their win was the closest—needing 10 points in the final minute, including a field goal as time expired—and because they’ve been eliminated from winning their division.

5. Oregon Ducks (6–5,3–5 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 8T

Berkelium97 (5): It’s amazing how much better this offense looks with Justin Herbert. Playing one of the worst defenses in the conference certainly helps too. And the defense turned in arguably its best performance of the year. While it’s tempting to think Herbert’s injury derailed Oregon’s season, look over their schedule. They probably wouldn’t have lost to UCLA, but Wazzu? LSJU? UW? Those all still look like losses.

Leland Wong (5): Ducks fans are thanking Uncle Phil that Herbert is back. While our rankings are designed to take into consideration the whole season, now that Herbert is playing again, this ranking has a slightly stronger emphasis on the Herbert-led Ducks. That seven wins is still on the table (and highly likely) is a miracle.

6. Arizona Wildcats (7–4, 5–3 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (6): Wow. That was a terrible performance from a team I had ranked quite highly in past weeks. Arizona allowed more than 2 yards for every 1 yard they accumulated in the worst performance of the season for both the offense and the defense. Perhaps it’s premature to call them the Pac-12 South favorites in 2018.

Nick Kranz (5): I didn’t really punish Arizona for laying an egg because their post-Tate season has still been much stronger than the teams below them, but yeah. That was as comprehensive a beating as you’ll see a good team take at home.

Leland Wong (6): I guess it’s only fair to expect every team to have a flat performance like this once. Despite an off day by Tate, they’re still one of the stronger teams in the South—and the conference overall.

7. Arizona State Sun Devils (6–5, 5–3 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (7): Soundly beating OSU is the only predictable thing this team has done all season.

Nick Kranz (6): They don’t feel good enough to be 6th, but they beat Oregon when Hebert hadn’t gotten injured yet and somebody has to go 6th, so here they are.

Leland Wong (8): A boring, quality, all-around win over Oregon State. Nothing of note considering the opposition.

8. Utah Utes (5–6, 2–6 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (10): I’m now convinced that this Utah team is an incredibly unlucky version of the same Utah teams we’ve seen over the last several years. Utah is a team that wins close games with strong defense, solid special teams, and just-good-enough offense. Statistically, this team isn’t that different from recent Utah teams that won 9, 10, and 9 games over the last three seasons. Over the past several years and in no particular order, Utah has scored and allowed (respectively) an average of 29.8 and 23.8 points, 31.3 and 24.9, 29.1 and 24.9, and 30.6 and 22.3. Utah won 9 or 10 games in all those seasons except for this one. This season fits in with what Utah usually does, but the record doesn’t reflect that. Their respective offense and defensive yards per play tell largely the same story: (again, in no particular order) 5.35–5.34, 5.78–5.56, 5.11–5.18, 5.67–5.21. You might be tempted to think that this season is the only one in which they surrendered more yards per play than they accumulated. Nope. In fact, this season they have the largest positive difference between the two. And yet this is quite obviously not another 9 or 10-win Utah team. Turnovers and special teams aren’t meaningfully different this year. Instead, this looks like some bad luck.

Nick Kranz (9): BK97 nailed it. Utah’s problem is that they’ve always been a marginal team subject to the randomness of one-score games. I’ve actively been annoyed at how generally successful they’ve been in those scenarios, but I do feel a bit bad that all their regression has hit in one season.

Leland Wong (7): They earned my top vote of the three teams that lost close games to the top tier by virtue of having the closest loss in terms of scoring and the stats. The offense is continuing to struggle in their first year—as expected—with the run game in particular playing flat this week.

9. California Golden Bears (5–6, 2–6 Pac-12) ↗

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (8): So close. So very close. What if Matt Anderson’s kick had a more favorable bounce off the crossbar? What if Ross Bowers had hit an open Patrick Laird on the sideline? What if Love hadn’t slipped past the LBs on that long run? Fortunately for the Bears, Laird and the running game are putting in some great performances ahead of a date with one of the worst run defenses in the nation.

Nick Kranz (8): That was as even a game as you’ll likely to ever see, so of course the smallest of margins goes against the Bears.

Leland Wong (9): On the whole, Cal played well (defensively and rushing, in particular). But I’m dropping them a bit more for a record-setting loss to true evil. (See: Stanfurd section because I’m being repetitive right now.)

10. UC Los Angeles Bruins (5–6, 3–5 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (9): Josh Rosen can throw some great-looking passes when he’s not running for his life. If I were a UCLA fan, I’d be worried about facing a Cal team that is at its best when it relies on a run-first offense and uses a deceptive and attacking defense to confuse and harass QBs.

Nick Kranz (10): Dear Josh: UCLA doesn’t care about you—why risk injury in your last game when you can rest and prep for the draft in peace?

Leland Wong (10): I’m not crazy about UC L.A. being so low because I think they deserve credit for pushing USC. Still, the offense just didn’t show up against the Trojans and the team might struggle to find the motivation to earn bowl eligibility on a short week (of Thanksgiving) without a head coach.

11. Colorado Buffaloes (5–6, 2–6 Pac-12) ↘

Last week: 8T

Leland Wong (11): All the other teams with five or six wins either won or lost one-score games to the top-tier teams while Colorado sat idle on bye. They drop as a result.

12. Oregon State Beavers (1–10, 0–8 Pac-12) ↔

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): How crazy would it be if they hired Mike Riley this offseason? I bet at least a few OSU fans are thinking about it.

Nick Kranz (12): Who WOULD the right hire be? There are enough good jobs available that they won’t be able to get any obviously good hire. It doesn’t feel like there are any particularly hot coordinator commodities in the Pac-12 at the moment. Just doesn’t feel like a good year to be coach shopping.

Leland Wong (12): I’ve already called this game “boring”. Speaking of boring—Oregon State loses and is in the basement. Have they already lost the spark from their high-voltage interim head coach, Cory Hall?

The data

Look at how few blurbs we’ve got for you; end-of-season burnout coupled with a bad Cal loss tends to do that to us.

Table 1. The votes for Week 12

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 USC USC USC USC USC USC USC USC USC
2 Stanfurd WSU WSU WSU WSU WSU WSU WSU WSU
3 WSU Stanfurd Wash Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd
4 Wash Wash Stanfurd Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
5 Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Arizona Oregon Arizona Oregon Oregon
6 ASU Arizona Arizona Arizona ASU Arizona Oregon Arizona Arizona
7 Utah ASU Cal Utah Oregon ASU ASU ASU ASU
8 Arizona Cal ASU ASU Cal Utah Utah Utah Cal
9 Colorado UC L.A. Utah Cal Utah Cal Colorado Cal UC L.A.
10 Cal Utah UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Colorado Cal UC L.A. Utah
11 OSU Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado UC L.A. UC L.A. Colorado Colorado
12 UC L.A. OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU

We work our way through that table and find the mathematical averages for the votes that each team earned, which determines the order given above. But we can learn more about the rankings by studying those averages—rather than the boring rounded numbers—as shown in Figure 1. The error bars represent 1 standard deviation, meaning a big error bar represents a lot of variability in our responses for that team.

Figure 1. I fear that this figure is a slippery slope and I feel really uncomfortable making references to that band now.

In Figure 1, we see that USC was our unanimous #1 team this week. If we want to check if that’s happened ever before this season, we can do that by tracking the precise rankings over the course of the season (Fig. 2). And sure enough, USC is the first team to accomplish this for us. It wasn’t until Week 12 that we got a definitive #1 and they didn’t even have a particularly impressive win this week.

For another anomalous mathematical observation, this figure shows us that ASU’s precise, averaged ranking has been an exact 7.000 for the past two weeks. I can’t fathom how mathematically improbable it is for the averages of two sets of nine numbers to come out to a round number (and neither week did it happen with unanimous votes) for two weeks straight. Their progress these weeks is perfectly flat in Figure 2, which should capture the most minor of moves!

Figure 2. We must have used some Johnson & Johnson because our precise rankings have no more tiers.

When we track the rounded rankings for the season (Fig. 3), ASU’s weirdness continues. Despite having the exact same scores for the past two weeks, the movement of the other teams resulted in the Sun Devils dropping a spot. What is this madness??

The other interesting finding in Figure 3 is that the top four teams all held steady—even though one of them had a very different performance in the form of a bye. Couple with Oregon State’s basement monopoly, this makes for five teams that did not move since last week.

Figure 3. Things happened.

And as a result of five teams not changing positions, we have the least Mad week of the season. We calculate the Madness by adding up the magnitudes of how each team move up and down our list weekly; this information is summarized in Table 2—which is back to being a table! Heading into the end of the season, Cal is the Maddest team, led by the biggest individual move of the season—a seven-stop climb in Week 7. On the flip side, Oregon State is the least Mad team, taking one week in Week 1 to settle into the basement and living there happily since then.

Table 2. The Madness of the Pac-12 in Week 12

. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Post Team's Madness
. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Post Team's Madness
Arizona 1 0 1 -1 0 5 -2 3 3 -2 -1 -1 . . 20
ASU -1 0 -1 3 -2 0 4 2 -2 0 0 -1 . . 16
Cal 3 -2 4 0 -4 -2 7 -2 -3 1 -3 2 . . 33
Colorado 0 0 -1 1 -2 -1 -2 0 3 -1 1 -3 . . 15
Oregon 0 1 3 -5 3 -2 -1 -1 3 -3 2 3 . . 27
OSU -1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 . . 1
Stanfurd 2 -7 -1 2 2 1 2 -1 -2 0 2 0 . . 22
UC L.A. 2 2 -5 -2 3 0 -3 2 -2 -1 3 -2 . . 27
USC -1 2 -1 0 -2 1 2 -6 4 1 1 0 . . 21
Utah -4 4 -1 2 1 -2 0 -4 -2 4 0 -1 . . 25
Washington 0 -1 1 0 0 0 -2 2 0 0 -3 0 . . 9
WSU 0 0 1 0 1 0 -5 5 -2 1 1 0 . . 16
Total Madness 15 19 20 16 20 14 30 28 26 14 17 13 . . .

Check back next week to see how the madness of Rivalry Week affects our Pac-12 Power Rankings, while teams like Cal are playing our non-rivals in UC Los Angeles.