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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 2: Does Sad Shaw make a USC victory worth it?

Finally, a Pac-12 team steps up with a justifiable stake on the top spot

NCAA Football: Stanford at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: With Week 2 of college football behind us, let’s get super-critical and judge the Pac-12 teams. We’ll be looking at overall performance with just so, so much data, but pay particular attention to the most recent games.

Berkelium97: This was a difficult week to assess when using a résumé-based ranking system. Several teams (Cal, Oregon, Wazzu) looked awful for long stretches of time before stumbling into victories. A few teams who looked mediocre last week (UW, USC, UCLA) looked much better this week. Other than the bottom dwellers, I’m not especially convinced that any team deserves its ranking.

Nik Jam: Now that I’m back from Europe, I can do these blurbs. I was able to pay attention to most of the action, while last week I just watched the Cal game. Doing blurbs last week just based on the final scores seemed like a bad idea. I now think I have some things to say about all of the teams…

Nick Kranz: Washington and USC are pretty clearly a step above the rest. Arizona, Arizona St. and Oregon St. are pretty clearly a step below the rest. Everybody else is somewhere in the muddled middle and you could probably justify most any order between 3rd and 9th.

Ruey Yen: I basically see four tiers amongst the Pac-12 teams. On a given week, a team will move up/down within that tier and it takes some extraordinary result (or more likely a 2–3 week change) to move up/down the tiers. At the top, it is Washington and USC. Following them is Wazzu, UCLA, Utah, Colorado, and Oregon. Cal is on top of the third tier above the Arizona schools. Oregon State is clearly the worst team of the Pac.

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 (7 first-place votes) ↗

(2–0, 1–0 Pac-12); defeated Stanfurd, 42–24
Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (1): Putting up 623 yards against the Lobsterbacks is very impressive. The run defense looks a little shaky and Darnold throws too many interceptions, but this is pretty clearly the strongest team in the Pac. UW might dispute that claim, but it will be hard to tell for several weeks because of the Huskies’ ridiculously easy schedule.

Nik Jam (1): Ugh. Can we have a few more weeks to prepare for them?

Nick Kranz (1): USC needed to do something spectacular to supplant UW. That was pretty spectacular.

Ruey Yen (2): Very impressive win, but I still think UW is the better team.

atomsareenough (1): Strong win against Stanfurd addresses a lot of questions from the previous week. The Trojans seem to be in the driver’s seat for now, especially in a down Pac-12 South.

Leland Wong (1): I know this isn’t exactly how Power Rankings work, but I feel validated for being the only one to rank the Trojans first in the prior weeks. Am I a genius or am I a strappingly handsome genius?

2. Washington Huskies (3 first-place votes) ↘

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Montana, 63–7
Last week: T1

Berkelium97 (4): Other than a trip to Boulder in a couple weeks, the Huskies’ schedule looks ridiculously easy until November. Unless they beat everyone 105–0, it’s going to be tough for them to climb too much higher in my rankings.

Nik Jam (2): Maybe I’m overrating them, but they’re still the Pac-12 North favorites until someone beats them.

Nick Kranz (2): If they can manage the Colorado road trip they’re gonna cruise through October undefeated. Gotta admit, I kinda want to see an undefeated UW/USC title game just for the spectacle. Not as much as I want to see USC lose every single game the rest of the season, but still.

Ruey Yen (1): Sure, they were a little bit lackluster in the easy win over Montana, but I don’t see why they are not as good (if not better) than last year.

atomsareenough (2): Took care of business. Not much to discuss in a game against Montana.

3. UC Los Angeles Bruins

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Hawai’i, 56–23
Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (5): Watch them squander all these good feelings by losing at Memphis next week.

Nik Jam (5): Looks like the bad first half against Texas A&M is behind them… but I still can’t expect them to push off USC and Colorado yet.

Nick Kranz (5): We’re kind of in a holding pattern after A&M looked awful against Nichols St., as UCLA might not have a win over anybody of note yet.

Leland Wong (7): Man, I’m a bit of an outlier here, but the Bruins own a tight, lucky win over a questionable team of Texas A&M Aggies and beat up on the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. I just think the other Pac-12 teams have more impressive performances to this point.

atomsareenough (4): Hawaii is no great shakes, but Rosen going 22 of 25 for 329 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, and a QB rating of 264.5 is… pretty good.

4. Washington State Cougars

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Boise State, 47–44 in 3OT
Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (6): What’s the opposite of Cougin’ it?

Nik Jam (7): I’m still pretty jet lagged, so I went to bed feeling sure that Washington State, Arizona, Arizona State and BYU were going to lose. I woke up completely surprised that the Cougs came back. I did watch the highlights and it looked like Boise State gave it away with some awful turnovers. I’ll need to see how they do in the next few games.

Nick Kranz (6): In no way did Wazzu deserve to win that game... but they did, so congrats. Now they have injury concerns and/or a quarterback competition? Maybe?

Ruey Yen (3): Week 2 beneficiary of #Pac12AfterDark, I am giving them a ranking boost because I was entertained.

5. Utah Utes

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated BYU 19–13
Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (3): I only watched the first quarter of this game, but the Utah offense looked great. I’m surprised they only finished with 19 points. QB Tyler Huntley is an accurate passer and elusive runner. If they can figure out how to snap the ball consistently, they’ll be pretty good this year.

Nik Jam (4): I assume BYU is still a solid team. Great road win for Utah. Should be a fun year over there.

Nick Kranz (7): BYU was never going to be able to beat Utah because their passing game was fully dysfunctional. What is concerning is that Utah only managed to turn that gigantic advantage into a 6-point win.

atomsareenough (3): Beating your blood rival on the road is always going to give you a nice bump on my Power Rankings.

Leland Wong (8): I wanted to rank them higher for a rivalry win, but none of their wins have been uber-impressive and the middle of the Pac-12 is just so competitive right now.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Texas State, 37–3
Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (2): They haven’t played anyone of note, but I am very impressed that they haven’t given up a single touchdown. That’s difficult to do in consecutive games against FBS foes.

Nik Jam (3): A lot of seniors graduated, you say? Could have fooled me—still seem like a threat in the Pac-12 South.

Nick Kranz (4): Texas St. is bad even by Sun Belt standards, so I don’t feel comfortable moving Colorado up in the rankings this high. But, again, somebody has to be up here and at least Colorado has looked good in both wins.

Ruey Yen (6): Not reading too much into this result, but I also have no reasons to drop them.

7. Oregon Ducks

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Nebraska, 42–35
Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (7): How do you outgain a team by 200 yards, have a +2 turnover margin, and only win by a TD? What happened in that second half?

Nik Jam (6): Unfortunately, that Oregon slide seems to have been short-lived. I think we can declare them back.

Nick Kranz (3): I’m drinking the Oregon kool-aid, even though they almost threw away a gigantic lead. The box score was significantly more dominating than the final score indicates (and somebody has to be third in these Power Rankings).

Ruey Yen (7): My perception of the Ducks is colored by how disheartened their fans were after they almost blew the big lead to the Nebraska. I am not declaring the Ducks as being back among the Pac elites just yet.

8. Stanfurd Cardinal

(1–1, 0–1 Pac-12); lost to USC 42–24
Last week: T1

Berkelium97 (9): Let us all laugh at the fact that they are in LAST PLACE IN THE PAC-12.

Nik Jam (8): Still have to rank them over Cal… but I still worry this is as low as they’re ever going to get this year.

Nick Kranz (8): This ranking is completely an overreaction, because Stanford is almost certainly still the third- or fourth-best team in this conference. And if they had at least kept it close I probably wouldn’t have slammed them in the rankings. But when you combine a typically conservative offensive game plan with a defense that can’t slow down the opponent’s offense, I get skeptical.

Leland Wong (6): I have the same thoughts as Nick in that Stanfurd is in no way this far down a ranking of Pac-12 teams based on actual ability, but the other teams have just shown better up to this point in this young season.

Ruey Yen (8): Unfortunately, Stanfurd still is one of the Pac’s top team despite this loss to USC.

9. California Golden Bears

(2–0, 0–0 Pac-12); defeated Weber State, 33–20
Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (8): The Bears drop 8 spots in my ballot this week for following up last week’s stellar win with an awful performance against an FCS team. Pass defense, run defense, and run offense all looked terrible for large stretches of time. Let’s hope this was a combination of a hangover from last week’s game and a self-destructively conservative gameplan.

Nik Jam (9): I think the Bears can still be a decent team, but this was disheartening. I should put them below teams like ASU and Arizona with the mindset that close losses to FBS teams > close wins to FCS teams... but I’ll still give them points for the UNC win and the higher ceiling.

Nick Kranz (9): For now I have Cal as solidly ahead of the dregs of the conference, but solidly behind the chasing pack as well. Still time to get better, but the win over Weber St. was a reminder of just how far the Bears would need to come.

Leland Wong (9): Against an FCS offense, the Cal defense looked like… the Cal defense of old.

Ruey Yen (9): Bears were somewhat exposed in this week 2 game. The line play (or lack of it) will likely hold the Bears back, but I feel like this team will surprise and upset one of the “better” Pac teams this year. (I really hope that is Stanfurd.)

atomsareenough (8): Although the Bears took a step back from Week 1, I’m relatively sanguine that the blown coverages are more like fixable issues rather than indicators of lack of ability. I think how Cal responds this week will be a lot more indicative of what the team can do this season. I’m also a little worried about the lack of consistency with the offense, but maybe we just need more experience in this new system under our belts. Hard to say at this point.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

(1–1, 0–0 Pac-12); lost to San Diego State, 30–20
Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (11): I’ll provide a comment when Rashaad Penny finally stops running.

Nik Jam (10): I will still put them above Arizona since their loss against SDSU was slightly less painful to watch.

Nick Kranz (10): ASU got absolutely torched on special teams, turning what probably would have been a coin flip into a 10-point SDSU win. And as Cal fans know, good Pac-12 teams should beat SDSU, while not as good Pac-12 teams probably won’t...

Leland Wong (11): Both coaches from the state of Arizona are sitting on such a hot seat that you’d think they’re in the midst of this Bay Area heat wave. (The heat wave was kinda more last week, but it’s still pretty hot at the time of writing this. Either way, I’m just on-fire with my references.) We know from experience that the San Diego State Aztecs are a tough team, but the Sun Devils beat the New Mexico State Aggies last week by less than a touchdown and lost to the Aztecs by two scores. What happened to RB Kalen Ballage and any semblance of a run game?

11. Arizona Wildcats

(1–1, 0–0 Pac-12); lost to Houston, 19–16
Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (10): Houston might be decent, so this loss may not look so bad in a few weeks. But the Pac-12 only has five losses so far, so losses will hit hard in my rankings.

Nik Jam (11): Some really bad turnovers late in the game tell me this team isn’t ready to compete in conference play yet.

Nick Kranz (11): Arizona doesn’t appears to have a quarterback—and it’s hard seeing this season improve much as a consequence.

Leland Wong (10): The state of Arizona is struggling, but the Wildcats at least blew out Northern Arizona last week and only lost this week by 3 points. Despite being captained by an offensive mastermind, the offense really struggled to do anything right against the Houston Cougars. The defense came away with two picks, but otherwise didn’t offer up much resistance.

12. Oregon State Beavers

(1–2, 0–0 Pac-12); lost to Minnesota, 48–14
Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): This team is bad. Abysmally bad. In-danger-of-going-winless-in-conference-play bad.

Nik Jam (12): Wow. They were picked to finish ahead of us??? (Hope I don’t eat those words.)

Nick Kranz (12): Oregon State is having the type of year NOW that I expected them to have last year, which really makes me think that 2016 was some kind of bizarre football magic act that has finally worn off. They were always badly under-talented—and those chickens are coming home to roost.

Ruey Yen (12): Easiest team to rank. Beavers are the worst.

The data

As usual, let’s take a look at how we each voted. Get ready for a lot of inconsistency for the middle teams!

2017 Power Rankings, Week 2: Table 1

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
2 Wash Colorado Wash Wash Wash Wash USC Wash USC USC
3 Utah Utah UC L.A. Colorado Oregon Colorado UC L.A. WSU UC L.A. WSU
4 UC L.A. Wash Utah WSU Colorado Utah WSU Utah WSU UC L.A.
5 WSU UC L.A. WSU Oregon UC L.A. UC L.A. Oregon Oregon Stanfurd Utah
6 Oregon WSU Stanfurd Stanfurd WSU Oregon Utah UC L.A. Utah Colorado
7 Colorado Oregon Colorado UC L.A. Utah WSU Colorado Colorado Cal Oregon
8 Cal Cal Oregon Utah Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd Cal Colorado Stanfurd
9 Stanfurd Stanfurd Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal Stanfurd Oregon Cal
10 ASU Arizona ASU Arizona ASU ASU ASU ASU ASU Arizona
11 Arizona ASU Arizona ASU Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona ASU
Table 1. The votes from your 10 CGB writers.

We aggregated the placements for each team and calculated the mathematical averages for each school. Arranging those averages from smallest to largest gave the ranking shown above, but let’s take a look at the precise averages that each team received. This is especially useful this week since there’s so much inconsistency between teams 3–8. We also added in error bars representing just how varied the responses were for each team (i.e., standard deviation).

Between the massive standard deviations for teams 3–8 (UC L.A. to Stanfurd) and how off-set they are from the teams just outside this range illustrate how close these teams all were.

Figure 1. A loooot of indecision mars the middle of the Pac.

An alternative way to illustrate the clustering of teams in the middle of the conference comes by vertically stacking the Pac-12 teams (Fig. 2). This view supports the three tiers of the conference; two up top, a mess in the middle that includes Stanfurd and Cal, and Oregon State & the state of Arizona at the very bottom. UC Los Angeles, WSU, Utah, Colorado, and Oregon are particularly clumped; I think Stanfurd probably belongs closer to this cluster, but we’re all probably reveling in some Schadenfurd and can you blame us? As for the state of Arizona (i.e., two of the schools that will be looking for new head coaches in 2018), Arizona makes to take a tiny dip despite having a closer loss than ASU.

Figure 2. Tiers visualized with our precise rankings.

But why do something unique and interesting with the data when we can conform? Let’s adhere to a strict, standard ranking in Fig. 3! There’s less information in this graph, but we can all enjoy the Stanfurd plummet. There’s no doubt in my mind they’ll be moving back up the ranks, so let’s just treasure this moment before we have to say goodbye. Meanwhile, Utah has an odd yo-yo performance that I think is relatively inexplicable; this is probably merely an effect of the pile-up with the middle teams. Additional for some meaningless observations that just look pretty? Colorado and Wazzu holding steady for three weeks and UC L.A. perfect slope

Figure 3. For anyone who ordered order.

We’ve quantified that up-and-down movement and collected it in Fig. 4, the table. Utah’s yo-yo gives them a Madness score of 8, which is nice and all, but outdone thanks to Stanfurd’s 7-spot collapse. On the other side of things, more than half the conference (seven teams) are holding pretty steady with Madness scores of 0 or 1.

Figure 4. Table 2.

Just one more week of mainly non-conference games, which probably means one more week with this ambiguity.