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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 1: Was UC L.A.’s improbable comeback over Texas A&M enough to muscle into our top spot?

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After the first week of games, we’re entirely split on the Pac-12.

Texas A&M v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Leland Wong: Welcome to our first week of Power Rankings with actual data! We—the sufficiently stupid to pledge our lives to diligently maintain CGB—are here to rank the Pac-12 teams for their performances this year, particularly for the latest week. For the purposes of this post, we’re counting the Week 0 games (i.e., Stanfurd–Rice and Oregon State–Colorado State) as if they just happened. (Also, the concept of Week 0 is even stupider than us.)

I find that ranking teams in Weeks 1 and 2 are actually tougher than the preseason. In the preseason, I accept that no one has any idea what’s going on and I’m not paid enough to follow all of Pac-12 teams too closely, so I’m fine with being wrong. But with just a few games, I struggle with going all in for those games, writing them off as flukes, or questioning if the opponents are better or worse than expected.

Nick Kranz: The classic early-season conundrum: Do you reward teams for easy wins against meaningless opposition? Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington State all romped to easy wins over teams that are literally FCS teams or their functional equivalent. Since we learned nothing about them, I tried not to change their rankings much, so any movement has more to do with good or bad things we learned about other teams.

Berkelium97: I’m utilizing a pure power rankings format, where teams are only judged by their performance on the field. Obviously, wins > losses, but there is some nuance here. Road wins > home wins > road losses > home losses. Power 5 wins > G5 wins > FCS wins. Dominant wins > oh-wait-we-should-actually-put-some-effort-in wins (ahem, USC).

atomsareenough: My approach in power rankings is to blend information we already know about a team with with new information as we get it week by week, with some extra weight on this week’s events. It kind of conveys “how do I think the fanbase of this team is feeling”—or in the case of Stanfurd, “how would this team’s fanbase feel if it actually had one”. So, if you’re expecting to contend and you’re still on track, then you’re going to stay toward the top. A gut-punch loss could send you plummeting down the rankings at least for the week.

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.

T1. Washington Huskies (5 first-place votes) ↔

Fuck this school.

Last week: 1

Leland Wong (3): It took the Huskies a little bit to find their groove last year, so I’m not going to penalize them too harshly for “only” a 16-point road win. Their offense was a little off, but I unfortunately know that they’ll figure it out soon.

Nick Kranz (1): It’s tempting to penalize Washington for 30 minutes of sleepy football, but Browning looked himself in the 2nd half and even when they were struggling they made enough plays to gain a comfortable lead. They earned plenty of leeway last year; I’m sticking with them at #1.

Berkelium97 (5): Yes, it was a road game against a Big Ten team and the season opener, so some sloppiness could be expected. But it’s Rutgers. I’m sure the Huskies will look better soon, but this was an unimpressive opener.

atomsareenough (3): I dropped the Huskies a couple of spots for looking underwhelming in their opener against a team they should have handled easily. I’m confident Petersen has a plan though, so this will just be a temporary drop.

T1. Stanfurd Cardinal (3 first-place votes) ↗

It's hideous, I know.

Last week: 3

Leland Wong (2): I begrudgingly expected a strong Stanfurd team in 2017 and even still, that was a more dominant performance than I expected. Credit to Ron Gould for keeping their running game potent.

Nick Kranz (3): Easily beat the functional equivalent of a not-very-good Big Sky team. No change.

Berkelium97 (4): A thoroughly dominating performance against a terrible FBS team.

atomsareenough (1): Is there anything so boring to write or think about as Stanfurd football? I say there is not. They look solid on both sides of the ball. They’re going to be ranked and in contention for the Pac-12 title all year, I imagine. Blah blah blah.

3. USC Trojans (1 first-place vote) ↘

Last week: 2

Leland Wong (1): Last week, I was the only CGB writer to put USC in first and after their performance on Saturday—having just a 4-point lead over the Western Michigan Broncos with less than 5 minutes left in the game—I’ll probably look even crazier. But I’m willing to give them a little credit—although Western Michigan lost superstar coach P.J. Fleck, they’re still coming off a 13-win season, so they might end the 2017 season as a great team.

Nick Kranz (2): I was pretty shocked that USC struggled so much with WMU—not only did the Broncos lose Fleck, but they also lost the majority of the production that made Fleck’s team so successful. Still, some of the issues were turnovers/special teams weirdness and in the end, USC’s talent clearly won out. Again, now is probably not the time to sell USC stock. You typically wait until after they gack it against Stanford.

Piotr T Le (3): USC narrowly won a sloppy game against an opponent that across the line had inferior talent. Of course, both of WMU’s RBs are on the Doak Walker watch list, but none of the OL are anywhere close to the quality that the USC DL has and yet the former was able to open up holes for the RBs to have them run roughshod over the highly recruited USC D. This can come back to haunt SC as they face Stanfurd and other run-heavy teams with better talent up-front. Sam Darnold had a bad game with two picks and a rushing TD; he can’t continue to play this way if SC has natty-level aspirations.

Berkelium97 (8): Why does this sloppy, lazy, underperforming version of USC never show up when we play them?

atomsareenough (4): I dropped the Trojans a couple spots this week for underperforming against a flawed Western Michigan team missing a lot of pieces from last year. USC starting slowly has become a thing in recent years, it feels like, but I trust the talent and usually they manage to get their act together by the time they face Cal. For now, they’re at #4.

4. Washington State Cougars

Last week: 4

Leland Wong (6): Mike Leach was supposed to be known for his Air Raid, but ended up complementing it with a dangerous run game. Mike Leach was supposed to be known for his offense, but the star of his season-opening game was the defense, which shut out their FCS foe. Sadly, they broke their streak of season-opening losses to FCS squads.

Nick Kranz (5): Easily beat a not-very-good Big Sky team and I’m not going to pretend that it’s a big deal just because they’ve blown it against Big Sky teams in the past.

Berkelium97 (6): Based on patterns observed over the past several seasons, Washington State’s victory over an FCS squad likely means they’ll have a bad year. Had they lost, they’d probably be a strong contender in the Pac-12 North.

atomsareenough (2): The defense pitched a shutout against an FCS team, Luke Falk was 33 of 39 with no picks and Jamal Morrow averaged 9 yards a carry. That about checks all the boxes if you’re Wazzu, I’d say. Good opening week for the ranked Cougs. Washington and USC going through the motions in their openers means the Cougs rise to #2 on my ballot this week.

5. UC Los Angeles Bruins

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

Last week: 7

Leland Wong (4): To be fair, they lost to a pretty solid Texas A&M team. And to be fair, QB Josh Rosen looked pretty impressive at times. But… the run game continued to be nonexistent and Rosen took three sacks—fumbling away the ball on two of them. This game was like classic Cardiac Cal for A&M—unable to grind out the clock due to offensive scheme and being forced by injury to play their true freshman quarterback—making the final score look closer than it actually was.

Sports are dumb. Because you write things like the above to help you make deadlines and then Josh Rosen goes and single-handedly saves his team. This is one of those games that are tough to grade—do you fault UC Los Angeles for putting themselves in position to be down 44–10? Or do you give them absurd credit for scoring 35 unanswered points—due to a combination of stellar quarterbacking and some dumb, lucky plays?

Nick Kranz (4): Last week I said that I thought UCLA had “the widest range of possible outcomes.” I was referring to the season, not the first game, dammit. What a weird team.

Piotr T Le (5): As someone aptly said on the internet: Texas A&M experienced its whole season in 1 game: hype hype hype… and oh god oh god no. UCLA on the other hand, probably saw a whole month worth of Pac-12 After Dark magic just in one quarter. As crazy as this is, this is why the game is played from starting to the final whistle.

UCLA showed that it can both be horri-bad and have bad games, but by god can they play well and how Josh Rosen can lead a team. With the poor performances by Sam Darnold and Josh Allen, Rosen and Lamar Jackson have vaulted themselves into the national conversation as the two top QBs in the upcoming draft.

Berkelium97 (2): Falling behind 44–10 at home is bad. Scoring 35 unanswered points is good. Those things rarely happen in the same game. Some Pac-12 After Dark™ magic helped the Bruins earn the conference’s second-most impressive win of the week.

atomsareenough (8): Now THIS was not boring. As someone who dislikes both UC Los Angeles and Texas A&M, there were so many lulz to be had in this game. So many. The entire first half, the Bruins looked absolutely incompetent on both sides of the ball. Their o-line was trash, and they could not stop the Aggies in any way on defense. So that was fun to watch. But around the 3rd quarter, the tide started to turn. Suddenly Josh Rosen had a little time to throw and the UCLA receivers were getting open. Meanwhile Aggie true freshman QB Kellen Mond—replacing the starter who got injured late in the 2nd quarter—was electric with his feet, but inconsistent passing the football and managing the game; UCLA took full advantage and completed a ridiculous comeback after being down 44–10. Lawrence Ross (@alpha1906 on Twitter) compared Kevin Sumlin’s game management style to Sonny Dykes and well... I totally see it. Anyway, what does it mean? It means UCLA has enough talent to compete, but there are some serious red flags. Bruin fans should be relieved to win, but concerned about how the game played out.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

Last week: 6

Leland Wong (8): QB Steven Montez threw two picks, but that was practically inconsequential with their talented run game; their defense had a pretty impressive showing in their first game without former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.

Nick Kranz (7): Yeah, the story of this game is that Colorado’s almost completely rebuilt defense stoned a pretty excellent offense. Colorado will be wondering if their offense is good enough to support them, but if they can continue to play defense at that level. they’ll be competitive against most of the conference.

Berkelium97 (3): The offense didn’t look great, but the defense held the Rams without a touchdown. And this is after the Rams put up 58 on Oregon State last week.

atomsareenough (6): I wasn’t expecting the Buffs to take a huge step back and it looks like they won’t. I think this is a bowl team, in the same tier as Cal.

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

Last week: 10

Leland Wong (9): There are only two other Pac-12 schools who can say they have a road win, so the Golden Bears get a considerable boost in my book. The defense was a little better than expected, but the offense was a little worse than expected; still, this was a great first step for Cal.

Nick Kranz (8): If this were a pure résumé-ranking poll, I’d be trying to decide between Cal and UCLA at #1 in my rankings. As it is, Cal immediately demonstrated that they’re more likely to be competing with teams like Colorado and Oregon in the middle of the conference standings rather than teams like Arizona and Oregon State at the bottom.

Piotr T Le (8): Cal beat a 14-point Vegas spread and reverse-covered a 5.5-point S&P+ spread. (I don’t count garbage time TDs as “real-game TDs”.) This performance showed that our Bears have some teeth to them and can be a trap game for any of the Pac-12 big names. However, this win isn’t enough to vault them from the #11 ranking we gave them last week. The next big test will be Ole Miss, where we will face a squad coming off from two cupcake games before coming to Strawberry Canyon.

Berkelium97 (1): Cal is the only team that went on the road and knocked down a Power 5 team that was bowl-bound last year. And they did it as double-digit underdogs. I have a legitimate reason to put them at #1!

atomsareenough (5): Cal met and even slightly exceeded my expectations at UNC. I was expecting a competitive game—and we got one! For this year, I was expecting 5 to 7 wins and a bowl berth and we’re still on track for that. So, this is a middle-of-the-pack team and I’m not going to bump us all the way to the top just because we beat a credible Power 5 opponent on the road, but we had a good week and validated the more optimistic views of where the new coaching staff has the program at this point, so we get moved up a few spots for that.

8. Oregon Ducks

Last week: 8

Leland Wong (4): I know that they were only facing off against an FCS school, but they were utterly unstoppable.

Nick Kranz (6): Easily beat a not-very-good Big Sky team. No change.

Berkelium97 (7): It was a slow start and a somewhat sloppy performance (four turnovers), but the Ducks had dominant performances on offense and defense.

atomsareenough (7): 77–21 is a Chip Kelly–esque score, though the level of competition makes it hard to draw meaningful conclusions. I still don’t think the Ducks are a contender yet this year, but we’ll see.

9. Utah Utes

Last week: 5

Leland Wong (7): This was a typical Utah game where the score doesn’t reflect just how in control the Utes were. And in typical Utah fashion, the offense wasn’t particularly notable—despite my high expectations for new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor.

Nick Kranz (9): Easily beat a not-very-good Big Sky team. I moved Cal ahead of them because I wanted to.

Berkelium97 (10): It looked like a back-and-forth game until Utah took over in the second half. Others had better wins—even against FCS opponents—so Utah does not fare so well in my ballot this week.

atomsareenough (9): You know, at first I thought they played North Dakota State (Bisons), so I was willing to give the Utes some credit for this win. But it’s actually North Dakota (Fighting Sioux Hawks), so this is just an unimpressive win over a random FCS team. Meh.

10. Arizona State Sun Devils

Last week: 9

Leland Wong (11): Oddly enough, this game was kind of emblematic of Todd Graham’s feast-or-famine defense. For two of the quarters, the New Mexico Aggies went scoreless; for the other two, they scored a total of five touchdowns. The passing game looked good, but the Sun Devils need work on defense and in the run game—RB Kalen Ballage looked like a beast at time, but both need consistency.

Nick Kranz (10): New Mexico State finished 3–9 last year and that record was probably a bit flattering... and they outgained ASU by 0.5 yards/play. Now to be fair, ASU was playing some late-game prevent defense after building a lead, but that’s got to be concerning.

Berkelium97 (11): 1-point lead at halftime? Outgained 549–400? At home? That was not a good performance.

atomsareenough (11): A competitive game against New Mexico State is not an encouraging sign. This is looking to be a rebuild year in Tempe.

11. Arizona Wildcats

Last week: 12

Leland Wong (10): This might be too big of a boost considering the level of competition, but Wildcat fans have to be happy that the offense is back to the effectiveness you’d expect from the founding father of the run-based spread.

Nick Kranz (11): Easily beat a not-very-good Big Sky team. No change

Berkelium97 (9): It was closer than I expected during the first half, but the Wildcats ended up taking care of business.

atomsareenough (10): Beat an FCS team they were supposed to beat. Gave up 24 points in the process, so I expect some concern about the defense is warranted. I still think they’re in the bottom tier of the conference, so not much change.

12. Oregon State Beavers

Last week: 11

Leland Wong (12): Oregon State is the only team with two games on their résumé and they made the most of both opportunities to justify this ranking. They were humiliated at Colorado State and needed a redshirt freshman to miss a game-tying field goal (on top of their starting kicker missing his only two PAT attempts) to beat Portland State. The team looked like they gave up against Colorado State and were playing undisciplined against Portland State; has Gary Andersen lost control of the team?

Nick Kranz (12): Barely beat a not-very-good Big Sky team and got pantsed by a team that only scored 3 on Colorado’s revamped defense. To last place with you!

Piotr T Le (12): 35–32 against an opponent that by all means one should’ve crushed easily. This could either be a blip on the radar a la WSU last year, but what this may indicate is a long year ahead for the OSU squad.

Berkelium97 (12): First they were blown out by Colorado State and then they barely slipped past an FCS team. It looks to be a rough year for the Beavs.

atomsareenough (12): Yikes, this is going to be a long year in Corvallis. Portland State might end up being their only win this season. We can certainly sympathize. However, this is Gary Andersen’s third year, so there’s no major transition to excuse the results. It’s just bad.

The data

In our first week of game data to discuss... we’ve got a lot to discuss. First of all, as you saw above, we have our first tie of the season! No team really came out and solidified their spot at the top. This resulted in four teams earning first-place votes; at most, one team earned five first-place votes—that is, they earned that recognition from half of our writers.

2017 Power Rankings, Week 1: 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
1 Stanfurd Cal Stanfurd USC Wash Stanfurd Wash Wash Wash Wash
2 WSU UC L.A. USC Stanfurd USC USC Stanfurd Stanfurd WSU Stanfurd
3 Wash Colorado Wash Wash Stanfurd Wash USC USC USC UC L.A.
4 USC Stanfurd WSU UC L.A. UC L.A. WSU Utah Utah Stanfurd USC
5 Cal Wash Utah Oregon WSU Oregon UC L.A. Colorado Cal WSU
6 Colorado WSU UC L.A. WSU Oregon UC L.A. WSU WSU Colorado Colorado
7 Oregon Oregon Colorado Utah Colorado Colorado Colorado Cal Utah Cal
8 UC L.A. USC Oregon Colorado Cal Utah Cal Oregon Oregon Oregon
9 Utah Arizona Cal Cal Utah Cal Oregon UC L.A. UC L.A. Utah
10 Arizona Utah ASU Arizona ASU ASU ASU ASU ASU Arizona
11 ASU ASU Arizona ASU Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona Arizona ASU
12 OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU OSU

We average out the responses for each team; line up all the numbers; and use that to determine 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. Those round numbers give an easily-digestable format, but you lost a lot of detail in our responses. So, to fully capture all of that information, I present to you the raw averaged data in Figure 1. That gives you a better idea of how closely-ranked teams are; the degree of disagreement in our responses is represented in the error bars (standard deviation).

Figure 1. Oh god, those hideous error bars.

Holy mother of potato salad, this data is ugly. Well, inconclusive, to be exact. With those massive error bars, it’s hard to draw conclusive conclusions about these teams. Well, except for the fact that Arizona State, Arizona, and Oregon State were a class below the rest—Oregon State in particular. Based on the games alone, I’d expect UC Los Angeles to have the biggest standard deviation due to differences in how writers viewed the terrible play followed by the miraculous comeback; and with a standard deviation of 2.459, there’s good reason to believe my hypothesis would end up being right. Except for Cal. Cal beats our baby bears with a standard deviation of 2.530—just barely out UC L.A.—thanks to due to two outlying votes at 5th and one at 1st.

When I graph out these precise rankings as a function of time this year (Fig. 2), we can see how much the teams are fluctuating; I also think that stacking the precise rankings on the same vertical axis makes it easier to visualize clustering and grouping, but that’s just how things work with my eyes and my brainyspace.

In either Figures 1 or 2, we see three clusters of teams. There are three teams at top (with two tied) and five teams in the middle (UC L.A., Colorado, Cal, Oregon, and Utah); Washington State is kinda in between. At the bottom we’ve got Arizona State and Oregon State—two teams that spent considerable time in our basement in recent years—and one team that’s brand new: Arizona State. (Not fully sure if it’s fair to call Arizona State’s placement here “brand new”, but I just really wanted to finish out the At the Bottom reference.

Figure 2. We have tiers.

We can also chart out the rounded rankings for those of you who abhor details.

Figure 3. What’s a “tier”?

The rounded graph gives us a cleaned-up look at movements up and down the conference visually. We can take a look at the same information quantitatively by calculating the vertical movement of each team weekly, termed madness (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. More of a table, really.

Putting the Madness information in an actual table is going to be a pain in the ass with the new SBN editor, so if any of you really wants to see that, please feel free to buy Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Office for my personal computer. (I hope that you would do this for me.)

USC is consistently one of our Maddest teams, but in this nubile season, Utah and Cal are out-Maddening them. Cal also tends to be quite Mad, but I attribute that in part to this group of Cal fans overreacting to every one of our games.

Come back next week for continued lack of clarity via out-of-conference games and a big match-up of Stanfurd against USC.

Poll

Objectively, which team earned your first-place vote?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Wash
    (49 votes)
  • 32%
    Stanfurd
    (51 votes)
  • 8%
    USC
    (13 votes)
  • 20%
    Cal
    (32 votes)
  • 7%
    One of the other teams
    (12 votes)
157 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Where does Cal place on your Power Ranking?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    1
    (21 votes)
  • 2%
    2
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    3
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    4
    (9 votes)
  • 10%
    5
    (17 votes)
  • 16%
    6
    (27 votes)
  • 16%
    7
    (28 votes)
  • 16%
    8
    (28 votes)
  • 9%
    9
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    10
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    11
    (1 vote)
  • 2%
    12
    (4 votes)
165 votes total Vote Now