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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 3: Do the Cougars get a rise after a good Falk-ing?

A team re-takes the top spot and voters are torn on the Golden Bears.

NCAA Football: Oregon State at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: Let’s cut to the chase and get straight into this week’s Pac-12 Power Rankings, where we rank the Pac-12 teams by some combination of their play this season, how their fans should be feeling, how strong their team looks and—especially—their most recent game.

Berkelium97: Sorting out all the undefeateds is getting tricky. Only Cal and USC have defeated two P5 teams, but both have looked flawed at times. UW is probably the conference’s best team, but they haven’t played anyone. Oregon hasn’t played anyone of note, but they did manage (barely) to defeat a P5 team. Wazzu hasn’t beaten any P5 teams, but they took down Boise State. Basically, what I’m saying is that 1–7 are mostly interchangeable in my ballot. But Cal is the only team to beat a good P5 team on the road and an even better P5 team at home, so they climb to the top of my ballot.

Nick Kranz: It’s worth noting that nobody in the Pac-12 has a win over a top 25 team... or even a team that would sniff being ranked. Cal, USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon are the only schools with wins over OOC Power 5 teams... and I’m being very generous by including Rutgers in that category. Cal’s road win over UNC still might be the best OOC win this season, which is great for Cal, but maybe not so impressive for the conference as a whole.

Ruey Yen: It was not a particularly impressive week for the Pac, but since I don’t think the Golden Bears are in contention for a College Football Playoff spot... it really doesn’t matter that the rest of the Pac underachieved. What this week showed is that some of the better Pac teams are still vulnerable—and that should be great for a solid Cal squad that is looking to overachieve.

Piotr T Le: The teams are slowly falling into the mold we expect them to be all year long. Pac-12 has two serious CFP contenders: Washington that has been dominant in its play and USC that has “the spark” with its games.

atomsareenough: San Diego State is 2–0 in Pac-12 play. If we were ranking them I might have them #2 in a “Pac-13” Power Ranking. OTOH, while it’s nice they embarrassed Stanfurd and all, who cares about the Aztecs. Anyway! The teams I thought were bad are still bad, the teams I thought were good are mostly pretty good, but there has been some movement in the middle. Stanfurd and UCLA seem to be noticeably worse than I was expecting. I thought those were fringe top-25 teams, but that was apparently generous. Oregon and to some extent Cal are better than I was expecting.

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 first-place votes) ↗

(3–0, 0–0 Pac-12); won over Fresno State Bulldogs, 48–16
Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (3): Another victory against an overmatched foe. We’ll finally learn something about the Huskies when they go to Boulder this weekend.

Nick Kranz (2): They deserve to miss the playoffs solely because of their awful OOC schedule. Was that collection of cupcakes Petersen’s doing or are they blaming Sark?

Ruey Yen (1): They really have not played anyone, but look impressive enough that they are still at the top of my ranking.

Piotr T Le (1): They keep playing against easy teams and demolishing them, as per keikaku (Translator’s Note: Keikaku means plan). Colorado will be their first opponent with some teeth and will pose the first semblance of a challenge. We’ll see if the CFP contender is for real or not.

atomsareenough (1): Poor Jeff Tedford, having to play ‘Bama and U-Dub in back-to-back weeks. I guess having had Petersen’s playbook last year wasn’t remotely enough to overcome the talent deficit. Anyway, nothing was learned here. I’m not looking forward to our trip to Seattle in a few though, I’ll say that.

Nik Jam (1): I’d give #1 to USC, but I have to punish them for nearly losing to Texas. This doesn’t mean I actually think UW is better than them.

2. USC Trojans (3 first-place votes) ↘

(3–0, 1–0 Pac-12); won over Texas Longhorns, 27–24 in 2OT
Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (2): 3–0 looks nice, but this USC team has looked underwhelming against some pretty weak competition. The run defense finally showed up, but QB Sam Darnold continues to throw too many interceptions.

Nick Kranz (1): If you look at the USC–Texas box score and squint, it looks not dissimilar to the Cal–Ole Miss box score. USC couldn’t really run the ball,and their passing game was very hit-and-miss with big plays, but lots of incompletions and QB pressure. A template the Cal defense can copy, perhaps?

Ruey Yen (4): USC looked quite vulnerable against a Texas teams that lost to Maryland. Then again, they get credit for mounting the late drive to send that game to overtime and obviously staying undefeated. Is Darnold crumbling under the pressure of being the presumptuous top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft?

Nik Jam (2): You can look at the score and see a close game, but it should be noted TEXAS WAS WINNING until USC hit a game-tying field goal in the final seconds of regulation. We are a few plays away from USC getting a major upset loss at home. How about a major upset loss on the road next week for them instead? I would very much like that.

3. Washington State Cougars

(3–0, 0–0 Pac-12); won over Oregon State Beavers, 52–23
Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (4): Luke Falk is back doing what Luke Falk does best—throwing passes and TDs all over the place.

Nick Kranz (4): Can Wazzu actually complete a perfect non-conference schedule next week? Nevada is 0–3, but weird things tend to happen when head coach Mike Leach is involved, so...

Ruey Yen (3): Beating Oregon State in 2017 is only so much better than beating a FCS team.

atomsareenough (2): It looks like the Cougs will make it through the early portion of their schedule without Cougin’ it for a change. Good for them. They dropped 50, they’re 1–0 in conference, and I’m more confident in them than in Utah, so they’ll slot in at #2 on my ballot.

Nik Jam (5): Needed a strong second half to put away Oregon State and should have lost to Boise State. They will have a shot at the Pac-12 North, but I actually have Cal’s home game against WSU as only just a bit more difficult than Arizona/OSU and would be disappointed with a loss. Might be the swing game that can determine whether Cal gets the necessary three conference wins for bowl eligibility.

4. Oregon Ducks

(3–0, 0–0 Pac-12); won over Wyoming Cowboys, 49–13
Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (5): This team’s ability to generate huge first-half leads is very impressive. The second-half performances have been much less impressive.

Nick Kranz (3): They beat a team they should beat and watched as their best win lost to Northern Illinois, so I’m not sure why I have them ranked third. I guess the main reason is that their underlying stats have been wildly efficient and they appear to have their world-destroying offense more or less back. I’m scurred.

Ruey Yen (7): Playing well for just one half has been enough for the Ducks thus far. Bad second half will cost the Ducks sooner than later.

Nik Jam (3): Oregon seems to be a team that our group is very divided about. I’m going to go ahead and still say they’re the best chance at unseating UW in the North this year, even more than WSU.

atomsareenough (5): I will say I’m somewhat surprised they’ve been as productive on offense and not-terrible on defense as they have been. I was expecting more of a transition period and I wasn’t exactly sure how different a Willie Taggart offense would be than the Kelly/Helfrich spread attack, but he seems to have taken a pretty good approach so far with what he has there.

5. California Golden Bears (1 first-place vote) ↗

(3–0; 0–0 Pac-12); won over Ole Miss Rebels
Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (1): The Bears have the best collection of wins in the conference, even if achieving them has been a struggle. In the second half of games, Cal has given up two TDs and scored 50 points. The ability of this coaching staff to figure out how to shut down opponents in the second half is remarkable. The second-half Bears might be one of the best (non-UW) teams in the conference.

Leland Wong (7): It’s entirely possible that, as a Cal homer, I’m overcompensating by being too guarded and cautious when it comes to ranking Cal high. But for the time being, Cal has had two close wins over Power 5 teams (who have only beaten Old Dominion, South Alabama, and UT Martin) and an even-closer win over an FCS team.

Nick Kranz (6): Again—if you’re résumé ranking, then Cal would have to be at least second in the Power Rankings. But there have been just enough struggles against probably-iffy Power 5 teams and Weber St. to withhold the most exuberant of rankings.

Ruey Yen (2): Bears have done just enough in each week to win the second half. As much as I tried to keep my homerism in check this year in the Power Rankings, I have got to reward the Bears for their solid non-conference résumé.

Piotr T Le (5): Cal has to show that the last few wins can be replicated. The offense especially has to find its rhythm earlier in the game with the defense figuring out how not to be beaten deep as often as they have been in the first half. The next three games will be a true test of how good this iteration of the Wilcox Cal Bears is and what the long-term ceiling maybe.

Nik Jam (7): Cautiously giving Cal a lower ranking than most because I know Ole Miss and UNC haven’t proven themselves to be great teams… but I will say this, I’ve been more optimistic over the USC, Stanford and Oregon games than I would be in other years, that’s for sure. I hope they can rise up in my rankings by season’s end.

atomsareenough (6): Do I want to rank Cal #1? Sure. Is it justified? Not really. The early indications are good—especially about the defensive improvement—but we still have a lot of questions that need answering, moreso than the teams ahead of us. On the other hand, if we’re able to handle USC next week somehow… well, I’ve got my sunshine pump filled and ready to go.

6. Utah Utes

(3–0, 0–0 Pac-12); won over San Jose State Spartans, 54–16
Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (6): Utah might have finally found a reliable, efficient passing game. Watch out, Pac-12 South.

Nick Kranz (7): BYU might secretly be awful, so I’m going to go ahead and say that we still know nothing about Utah... which means they’ll go 8–4 (5–4 Pac-12) like always.

Ruey Yen (5): Another team that is holding steady in my rankings. The Utes are a part of the solid, if not particularly spectacular, “middle of the Pac”.

Piotr T Le (6): Utah is in the same boat as Colorado and beat them out by having a better HC in Kyle Whittingham. They haven’t beaten anyone of note, with their toughest opponent being BYU whom they beat in the “Holy War” 19–13—the same BYU that got the tar beaten out of them by Wisconsin (40–6).

atomsareenough (3): I’m not quite sure what to make of Utah. I think they’re going to be a middling-to-decent team, but what’s their real upside? They’ve had a good enough non-conference slate against an unimpressive slate of opponents. They scored 54 points against San Jose State, which even considering the opponent, is impressive for a team that hasn’t been known for its offense. They’re ranked; they’ve got Arizona next week. Things look pretty good for the Utes, but we’ll likely not find much out until they play Stanfurd in October.

Nik Jam (6): Utah always seems to be in it every year, I expect them to be a factor in the Pac-12 South race, but their résumé isn’t impressive.

7. Colorado Buffaloes

(3–0, 0–0 Pac-12); won over Northern Colorado, 41–21
Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (7): A week after I praised them for not giving up a single touchdown, they let an FCS team keep it close for three quarters.

Nick Kranz (5): Have played a frisky Colorado State, but we have otherwise learned nothing—that changes very rapidly with Washington coming to town. I think the Buffs might have enough defense to turn the game into a low-scoring bruiser, but I’m leaning towards a comfortable, multi-score win for the Huskies.

Ruey Yen (6): Can’t say too much after they beat some FCS team with a Bear logo. They are basically holding steady this week.

Piotr T Le (7): They are undefeated like Cal, but its slate is a much less impressive. Next week—when Cal faces USC—Colorado will face the other CFP contender of the Pac. This will show if they are for real or just pretenders beating up on severely inferior competition.

Nik Jam (5): They gave up points! They’re slipping!

atomsareenough (7): I’m with Ruey. The Buffs have had some intriguing defensive performances, but we’ll know more when they start playing some real competition. Man, Colorado State, Northern Colorado and Texas State is such a garbage non-conference slate. I’d say that’s arguably even worse than Zona’s non-con schedule of Houston, Northern Arizona, UTEP. Shame on both of those programs.

8. UC Los Angeles Bruins

(2–1, 0–0 Pac-12); loss to Memphis Tigers, 48–45
Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (8): As inevitable as the sun’s rise each day, this loss was the only possible outcome after UCLA started the season 2–0.

Nick Kranz (8): I cannot express how much I love that Stanford and UCLA are playing each other just one week after they both lost to G5 teams. I also love that both teams are wildly flawed, but in completely opposite ways.

Ruey Yen (8): UCLA is this close to only having a win over Hawaii in 2017.

atomsareenough (9): Another week, another UCLOL. I was hoping they’d pull it out against Memphis only because I don’t want to see head coach Jim Mora fired just yet, but I can’t say I’m sad that they lost, either. They play us the last game of the season; I wonder if they’ll have given up by then, again.

Nik Jam (8): Like Stanford, I wanna actually see them struggle in Pac-12 play (Furd’s loss to USC doesn’t count) before I start getting all schadenfreude on them.

9. Stanfurd Cardinal

(1–2, 0–1 Pac-12); loss to San Diego State Aztecs, 20–17
Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (10): SDSU’s game-winning drive was interrupted by a 25-minute delay when the lights went out. This is #Pac12AfterDark on a whole new level.

Nick Kranz (9): Stanford appears to be Bryce Love and really not anything else. When Love didn’t touch the ball, Stanford gained 67 yards on 29 plays, which is a pathetic 2.3 yards/play.

Ruey Yen (9): The mediocrity of the Stanford offense caught up to them this past week. It will likely cost them a few more games this year.

Piotr T Le (8): The only reasons Stanfurd > UCLA is because SDSU > Memphis, plus UCLA beat Texas A&M while the Furd only beat up on a hapless Rice team. Two years ago, I quipped how the Furd offense’s synonym was “Christian McCaffrey” now, thy name is “Bryce Love” and four TEs.

atomsareenough (10): I’m not sure I understand the logic, Piotr. UCLA beating A&M while Stanfurd only beat Rice is a reason why Stanfurd > UCLA? I think SDSU and Memphis are similar honestly, so that’s why I gave the edge to the Bruins. Bonus from this week: boring-ass David Shaw actually getting hot with an Aztec assistant coach at halftime was just… [chef-kissing-fingers gesture].

Nik Jam (9): Now can they please go away forever instead of getting hot in October + November like every year? (I’d rather Cal end their losing streak in upset fashion, but they’d be the underdogs to them this year in virtually any scenario anyway, so Furd might as well stink.)

10. Arizona Wildcats

2–1, 0–0 Pac-12; won over UTEP Miners, 63–16
Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (9): They can beat up on bad teams (which is an improvement over last year), but I’m not convinced that they’re a middling Pac-12 team. They may be the best of the bottom third of the conference, though.

Leland Wong (10): The offense put up 63 points and the defense held the opposition to 1.2 yards per run and 201 passing yards—38 of which came from a WR on a trick play—so Arizona deserves a bit of a boost. Of course, they had to face off against FCS’s UTEP Miners to accomplish this, so they don’t rise too much.

Ruey Yen (10): Maybe Arizona should get some credit for easily handling some weak teams, but the momentum of them starting near the bottom of my ranking is strong. Now that Pac-12 play is in full swing, they have got nowhere to hide.

Nik Jam (10): Think its safe to vault Arizona over ASU. Very impressive win! Lets see how they do in conference play before I start declaring the Cal/Arizona a little dicey.

atomsareenough (10): I watched a good chunk of the UTEP game. Zona has some decent athletes and made some good plays, but UTEP looked pretty wretched too. QB Brandon Dawkins was accurate enough with the football, but I still don’t really buy him as a passer until I see him perform against a Pac-12–caliber defense. Still, I think they’re making a case that they belong slightly higher than the bottom tier of the Pac-12 with ASU and OSU.

ragnarok (10): Leland, UTEP is legit FBS as part of Conference-USA. They are 0–3 with losses to Oklahoma (56–7) and Rice, though, so I can forgive your confusion.

Leland Wong: In my defense, I’m very, very unintelligent.

11. Arizona State Sun Devils

(1–2, 0–0 Pac-12); lost to Texas Tech Red Raiders 52–45
Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (11): I wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t get another win until the November 18th match-up with Oregon State.

Nick Kranz (11): A question I have asked before and will ask again—if ASU is going to have an awful defense, then what exactly is the point of Todd Graham as head coach? The Devils have opened as 16-point home underdogs against Oregon next week, which says plenty about the direction their program is headed at the moment.

Ruey Yen (11): Is the end of the Todd Graham era in sight? ASU did make things more interesting against Texas Tech before faltering, but given the amount of money spent by that athletics department, I don’t think they are into moral victories. Remember ASU as the companion school to Cal in the inaugural season of The Drive back in 2013? College football head coaching tenures are sometimes pretty short.

Nik Jam (10): Tough way to start the season for them. Can’t see them overcoming a 1–2 start and reaching bowl eligibility, but it does appear that their offense is pretty good.

atomsareenough (11): I wonder what Todd Graham’s next dream job is… Looking at the schedule, I wonder if they’ll get even two conference wins. I know he’s had some coaching turnover in his staff, but it’s still puzzling how he went from 8–5, 10–4, 10–3 his first three years to 6–7, 5–7, and now terrible.

12. Oregon State Beavers

(1–3, 0–1 Pac-12); loss to Washington State Cougars, 52–23
Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): They kept it competitive for about 28 minutes, which is an improvement. But competitive isn’t good enough for year three of the Andersen era.

Nick Kranz (12): I’ve run out of interesting ways to say “Oregon State is bad” much earlier than I anticipated.

Ruey Yen (12): The Beavers are so bad that I am kind of punishing Wazzu this week for not routing Oregon State more efficiently in their game.

Nik Jam (12): I’m baffled by how bad they are at this point—last year it did seem like they were improving.

The data

Here’s how your ten esteemed writers voted individually this week:

Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 3

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 Cal USC USC USC Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
2 WSU USC Wash Wash Wash USC USC USC USC Cal
3 Utah Wash Utah Colorado Oregon Oregon Oregon WSU Cal WSU
5 Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Colorado WSU Cal Colorado Utah Utah
6 Cal Utah Cal Utah Cal Utah Utah Cal Oregon Colorado
7 Colorado Colorado Colorado Cal Utah Cal Colorado Utah Colorado Oregon
8 Arizona UC L.A. Stanfurd UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Stanfurd UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A.
9 UC L.A. Arizona UC L.A. Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd UC L.A. Stanfurd ASU Stanfurd
10 Stanfurd Stanfurd Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Stanfurd Arizona
Table 1. The ballots. No Russian interference here. Nor are there any topical jokes.

We calculate the responses that each team received and use those average rankings to determine the list above. But we can take a deeper dive into the data by analyzing the precisely-averaged values for each team as well as the standard deviation—the error bars that tell you how varied our responses were for each team. For example, we see that Oregon (the fourth-ranked team) is actually closer to the fifth-ranked team (Cal) than the boring list above reveals. Here, we continue to see a dominant twosome at the top, followed by a logjam in the middle—teams are tightly ranked with huge standard deviations. Cal has the biggest standard deviation with some voters thinking we have the best wins of the conference, but some of us see a disparity in talent or no definitive proof that our wins aren’t significantly better than any others in this group.

Figure 1. A more accurate hierarchy of the Pac-12 after the Week 3 games.

We can track these precise rankings over the course of the season, which doubles as a means to vertically stack each precise score and get a real feel for the distance between teams. Again, it’s pretty clear which teams are in the elite class of the Pac-12. The muddled mess in the middle has two fewer teams than last week, with UC Los Angeles and Stanfurd dropping out; Wazzu is also making some moves to distinguish themselves from the rest of us. Cal is in the thick of this for our rankings, but similar lists from ESPN and other Pac-12 blogs do not look at us so favorably. And while there’s indecision and conflict for the middle teams, the basement of the conference is clear. The five teams at the bottom each have precise rankings that are very close to the rounded ranking, meaning we—as a group—have some degree of comfort in their placement.

Figure 2. Something witty about time.

For the purposes of being complete, let’s also show off the rounded rankings as functions of time.

Figure 3. It’s great when you can pretend that being a smartass is an intentional sense of humor and not that you’re crazy busy and basically living in Cambridge.

As shown above, Colorado and Wazzu made their first moves of the season, breaking away from their preseason rankings. This means they finally make a mark on our tally of Madness—how much the schools are moving up and down our list. Those teams are tied with Oregon State—who have the opposite story by moving down one spot in Week 1 and holding steady since—for the lowest Madness. On the flip side is Stanfurd. They made a commanding move after a slaughter against the Rice Owls, but we read far too much into that result and subsequent losses to the Trojans and Aztecs have them plummeting down the rankings. They’re so so mad that Shaw’s about to do something dumb like yell at another school’s assistant coach. Oh wait.

Figure 4. Stanfurd is mad and I’m mad at Stanfurd.

But (routine) conference play is finally upon us! We’ll finally get some more information about our teams and (probably) put an end to some of the speculation and slapfighting.


Did Cal do enough to deserve a #1 ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    I love Cal too much to look at things maturely and objectively—so they’re #1
    (49 votes)
  • 10%
    Yes—Cal has two Power 5 wins
    (24 votes)
  • 68%
    No—they haven’t proven it yet
    (159 votes)
232 votes total Vote Now