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Preseason Pac-12 Power Rankings: A repeat Pac-12 Champion and a... less-than-stellar Cal for 2017?

CGBears use a crystal ball to predict the Pac-12 season.

USC v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Leland Wong: Oh my. Real life can wait—football is upon us. College football means it’s time for hopes and dreams to crumble, disappointment to cast its inescapable shadow over us, and for all-around terribleness to engulf our existences save for some occasional respites of moderately good moments. So, it’s pretty much exactly just like real life.

But as we sit on the precipice of the 2017 college football season—congratulations on riding our coattails and copying our game, Stanfurd—that means it’s time for our Pac-12 Power Rankings. Because if Buzzfeed can put anything into a list, we should try to get something into a list. To connect with the millennials, you know?

If you’re new here, then let’s get you settled in. Hello—I’m the disarmingly charming organizer here. What’s the here? Our Power Rankings, wherein we rank the Pac-12 Football programs based on overall performance for the season with a particular emphasis on the most recent week’s games. For more information, let’s hand it to our more intelligent, less attractive contributors.

Berkelium97: I usually employ a fairly strict Power Rankings (i.e. résumé-based) approach, so I don’t have a ton of material to justify these preseason rankings. I haven’t followed any of these teams very closely this offseason, so I primarily generated my rankings by relying on a combination of how they fared last year and how much talent they return on offense and defense.

Ruey Yen: I see four different tiers and I rank within each tier based on personal preference. Washington and USC are the two top teams. Utah and Stanford are just below them. Wazzu, UCLA, Colorado, and Oregon formed the next tier. Cal, ASU, OSU, and Arizona are in the bottom of the Pac. The Pac-12 South has overall stronger teams than the North this year. Outside of Washington and (unfortunately) Stanford, Cal may be able to pick up few extra Pac wins against comparably flawed opponents.

Nick Kranz: My preseason methodology? Take last year’s results and then push teams up or down based upon returning production, with maybe a dash of general recruiting success/program stability.

ragnarok: I generally agree with Nick and considering that there have been zero games played between January and now, I try to avoid overthinking things too much in the preseason. We’ll have a much better idea where everyone settles in a couple weeks.

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 (8 first-place votes)

Fuck this school.

Piotr T Le (1): I put them above USC due to the wealth of returning talent, Coach Petersen’s reputation and capacity to maximize the performance of the team. I think he has a much better track record over Coach Helton.

atomsareenough (1): Make it to the playoff the previous season and come back with a mostly intact roster, you get top billing the next season.

Nick Kranz (1): It’s really hard to look at the schedules and not predict a UW–USC Pac-12 title game. I hate it as a fan of Cal, but I like it as a fan of good college football. Sigh.

2. USC Trojans (1 first-place vote)

Piotr T Le (2): Coach Helton is still a relatively new coach with a QB who, despite his explosive year, is still pretty new in the CFB QB field. I don’t doubt the quality of USC players but I don’t see the consistency that Coach Petersen has had over the years.

atomsareenough (2): Unlike some previous Trojan head coaches, Helton seems at least competent enough not to fritter away his massive talent advantage on such a regular basis. They seem like a lock for the South title, unless the Bruins can get their act together.

Leland Wong (1): They might not end the year on top, but they earn my #1 vote for their late-season run last year until another team takes the title from them as they’ve seemingly simply found a way to reload after last year.

Nick Kranz (2): Of all the dumb things I’ve written, doubting Clay Helton appears to be one of the dumber things. I think they have enough talent to replace that they’ll start the season trailing UW, but it’s really, really hard to see anybody in the South challenging them so their entire season may come down to the Pac-12 Championship.

3. Stanfurd Cardinal (1 first-place vote)

It's hideous, I know.

atomsareenough (3): I’m sure they’ll be boringly competent yet again. Is there a college football coach as insipid and lacking in personality as David Shaw? To paraphrase Walter Sobchak, say what you will about the incredibly annoying personality of Jim Harbaugh, at least he has a personality.

Leland Wong (4): I’m willing to knock them the slightest of notches for spotty play at quarterback, but they’ve recruited well, so I think they’ll unfortunately find a way to figure that out. All signs point to their defense continuing another strong year and despite losing Christian McCaffrey, Bryce Love is no slouch—and a Ron Gould–coached Bryce Love will probably be a terror.

Nick Kranz (3): If the conference were deeper, I might be inclined to consider moving Stanford down the rankings because Solomon Thomas and McCaffrey are pretty major losses. The defensive line didn’t really have any depth last year, so Stanford may have a couple of weaknesses that the right team can exploit. I’m just not convinced that there are many teams in this conference ready to exploit them. Dammit.

4. Washington State Cougars

atomsareenough (4): I think they’ve got enough on both sides of the ball to beat any team in conference on any given week, but not enough to win every week.

Berkelium97 (4): Which Wazzu team will show up, the one that won eight games in a row last season or the one that sandwiched said win streak with five losses, culminating in an inexplicable loss to Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl? Probably both, but I’m expecting a little more of the former this year based on all their returning talent on offense.

Nick Kranz (4): Like Washington in terms of returning experience, just with a lowered base of prior performance and general talent. Should be another typical fun-but-fatally-flawed season of Leach ball in Pullman.

5. Utah Utes

atomsareenough (6): They’ll continue to be solid on defense, and I think the addition of Troy Taylor will probably help with a needed offensive rebuild, but I don’t think they’ll put it together quite yet this year.

Leland Wong (3): I might be eating my words, but I think said offensive change will be the offensive revolution that the Utes have been awaiting to become a force in the South.

Nick Kranz (8): I’ve been a perpetual Utah skeptic, in that they seem to win more than their fair share of hideous close games and they never recruit all that well. My bold prediction: This is the year it comes crashing down! They saw eight(!) players taken in the draft this off-season and I’m skeptical that they’ll replace them. They’re throwing a true sophomore QB into the fire—meanwhile, they don’t get to play either Cal or OSU out of the North. I think Utah barely scrapes a 6–6 record this year.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

Berkelium97 (6): How well will they respond to the loss of the defensive coordinator, eight starters on defense, and Sefo Liufau? I’m betting on a regression-to-the-mean year in Boulder that culminates in around 6 or 7 wins thanks to a favorable schedule and a very weak Pac-12 South.

Leland Wong (8): They might have the right system in place with Coach MacIntyre, but with all those aforementioned departing pieces, I think the Rise is more of a Rebuild for 2017.

Nick Kranz (7): Yeah, I’m with you guys. Colorado just hasn’t had the level of recruiting over the last few years where they can just reload from this level of a talent drain. Hopefully Colorado fans are savvy enough to be satisfied with a middle-of-the-pack finish.

7. UC Los Angeles Bruins

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

Piotr T Le (6): Its ranking is boosted by three positions because I still believe that Josh Rosen can be an effective QB given the right O-line protection as well as health.

Leland Wong (7): Offensively, they should be more concerned about learning how to run the ball than with Rosen’s passing. Three offensive systems in three years might be just too much to process. Still, they recruit well and I think Coach Mora will get more out of this team than people are expecting.

Nick Kranz (5): I think UCLA has the widest range of possible outcomes this season. Losing Rosen for most of last year certainly hurt, but his absence alone doesn’t explain how badly the offense cratered. Meanwhile, the defense was excellent, but lost plenty of talent.

8. Oregon Ducks

atomsareenough (8): For some reason, I’ve been seeing the Ducks picked for the top-25 in a few places. Frankly, I don’t get it—I think they’re in a very similar boat as Cal. They hired a good coaching staff and have some talent on their team, but they have a lot of issues to fix. They’re not going to be bad or anything, but they’re not going to be immediately contending again either. This is a transition year for them.

Berkelium97 (8): I agree with atoms. This team won TWO Pac-12 games last season. They have some talent and a good coaching staff, but it’s not going to be an immediate reversion back to the Chip Kelly levels of success.

Leland Wong (6): I’ll chime in as someone drunk on the CGB North Kool-Aid. Oregon brought in a head coach with a proven track record of two program turnarounds and a defensive coordinator who—once again—has shown the ability to save failing defenses and in the Pac-12 no less. I don’t follow recruiting (I tried for one year and it ended up being the Toshpocalypse), but I believe Oregon has been recruiting well. I could actually easily see them earning a better spot than this, but they have to prove it.

Nick Kranz (6): I’ll mostly concur with Leland. The big difference between Cal and Oregon is that Oregon didn’t lose nearly as much production as Cal. Again, the question is talent vs. coaching—Oregon has generally recruited on a level below USC/Stanford/UW/UCLA, but ahead of everybody else and they’re returning most everybody on defense. If coaching/motivation was the issue, they could make an impressive bounce back.

9. Arizona State Sun Devils

Leland Wong (10): Injuries at quarterback last year (and a transfer from the Alabama Crimson Tide) mean the Sun Devils have plenty of options with some experience, but none who played the full 2016 season. To their detriment, they’re gonna be learning a new system from a first-year offensive coordinator… but he comes from Alabama. Coupled with Pac-12 offenses seemingly having figured out how to handle their aggressive defense, I think it’ll be a year or two of growing pains down in Tempe.

Nick Kranz (9): If ASU could find a solid quarterback, they might have an above-average Pac-12 offense, but it’s not clear that they have one—and that doesn’t get into trying to rebuild a defense that may have been worse than Cal’s last year.

10. California Golden Bears

Piotr T Le (11): We’re a really bad team in a tough conference. Arizona seems to have more problems than us. Which is not a great reason to put them below us. This may change depending how we perform in the Wilcox era.

atomsareenough (9): I disagree that we’re a really bad team; I think we’re at worst a mediocre team. The offense will probably take a step back from the top 25 nationally to something that ranks in the 40–50 range, but I think the defense can improve from ranking in the ~110 range to about the ~80 range. Similarly to last year, I think we’ve got a decent shot at a bowl game, but the tough schedule may prove tough to overcome. I don’t see us taking a big step back.

Leland Wong (11): I wouldn’t call us a bad team either; the low ranking has more to do with a tough Pac-12. The new coaching staff needs some time to acclimate to their new roles and build out their desired system until Strawberry Canyon becomes a feared destination once again.

Nick Kranz (11): The defining question of the season: Was it coaching or talent? If Cal’s defense was bad last year mostly due to a lack of talent, then this year is going to be a slog of a rebuilding year and a bowl would be a wild success. If Cal’s defense was bad last year mostly due to coaching, then there’s the possibility that Wilcox can coax some friskiness out of a team that most will discount.

11. Oregon State Beavers

Leland Wong (9): It probably greatly alleviates quarterback issues when you’ve got a powerhouse like Ryan Nall at running back—and former Duck Thomas Tyner at back-up. Still, they have to develop a pass attack and fix a struggling run defense from 2016.

Nick Kranz (10): Based on how much progress they made last year, there’s a decent case to be made for OSU as a dark horse to make a bowl and be good enough to play spoiler for the contenders. Still, I have concerns about their base talent level, and suspect that Gary Andersen wrung the maximum from his team last year.

12. Arizona Wildcats

atomsareenough (12): I honestly can’t claim to know a ton about the Wildcats this year, aside from the fact that everyone thinks they’ll be bad. Has Rich Rod lost the plot? Anyway, their OOC schedule is Northern Arizona, UTEP, and Houston, so they should be able to go 2–1 entering Pac-12 play and maybe they’ll make it to a bowl? I wonder if they’ll need to do that in order for Rich Rod to keep his job.

Leland Wong (12): I don’t think that the Wildcats are destined for failure… They do have talent if they can just overcome some bad luck with injuries these past two years.

Nick Kranz (12): Doesn’t seem like there’s much reason for excitement. Likely to have the worst defense in the conference and they just don’t have the talent at the skill positions to make up for that.

The data

Let’s take a look at the full ballots from the full panel of 10 esteemed experienced willing CGB contributors.

Preseason ballots

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 Wash Wash Stanfurd USC Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
3 Stanfurd Stanfurd Wash Utah Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Utah WSU Utah
4 WSU WSU WSU Stanfurd WSU Utah WSU Stanfurd Colorado Stanfurd
5 Colorado Utah Utah WSU UC L.A. WSU Utah Colorado Stanfurd WSU
6 Utah Colorado Colorado Oregon Oregon Oregon UC L.A. WSU UC L.A. UC L.A.
7 UC L.A. UC L.A. Oregon UC L.A. Colorado UC L.A. Colorado Oregon Cal Colorado
8 Oregon Oregon UC L.A. Colorado Utah Colorado Oregon UC L.A. ASU Oregon
11 OSU ASU Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal Arizona OSU
12 Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona OSU Arizona
Table 1. Transparent af.

We convert these ballots into the rankings above by taking those responses for each team, computerylizing them to get their mathematical averages, and then ordering those responses. Which is great for a broad-level look at things, but we lose sight of some of the details. For instance, imagine a unanimous first-place team and then a near-tie for second and third—simply ranking them 1st–3rd eliminates the detail that the second team barely bested the third. So, let’s try to capture these more precise rankings by graphing the averaged values. Beyond that, we can take advantage of even more of the data by adding the standard deviation as error bars—the size of the error bar is directly proportional to how much we disagreed about the ranking for each team.

Figure 1. One of one.

I’ve got one final piece of data for you—one that’s exclusive to our preseason rank. Back in the up-up-up, a lot of us disclosed how much we base our preseason rankings on last year’s performances. So.. let’s take an actual look at how accurate that was.

2017 preseason rankings vs. 2016 final rankings

School 2016 final 2017 preseason
School 2016 final 2017 preseason
Arizona 11 12
ASU 9 9
Cal 8 10
Colorado 3 6
Oregon 9 8
OSU 7 11
Stanfurd 4 3
UC L.A. 12 7
USC 2 2
Utah 5 5
Wash 1 1
WSU 6 4
Table 2. Are we so lazy that we’d just copy and paste our rankings to end last season?

What are my big takeaways? Well, super-relevant to Cal fans is that we dropped two spots, despite near-unanimous coaching upgrades. Personally, I think it has more to do with teams that will likely rebound in 2017... coupled with some classical Cal self-loathing. The biggest mover is UC Los Angeles; we have a five-spot improvement due to the return of Josh Rosen. On the other hand, we’re predicting big drop-offs for Colorado and Oregon State; for Colorado, it’s probably due to turnover on the roster and on the sidelines. I’m a little less sure about why this is the case for Oregon State. Is it based on their perception after years of struggling? Do we think last year was a fluke? Are we just mad at them because “Corvegas” is a terrible nickname?

Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week. We’ll be back in about a week and a half after every team gets to play their first game—and two games for Oregon State.


How would you preseasonly powerly rank Cal for 2017?

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191 votes total Vote Now