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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7: Did the Bears hit rock bottom?


48th NAACP Image Awards - Backstage and Audience Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards

Leland Wong: You know why we’re here.

The very reason why none of us want to be here.

The Pac-12 Power Ranking series is an endeavor to rank the Pac-12 teams by their on-field performance this year and fanbase sentiment—with a large recency bias.

And recent results for Cal have been just terrific.

Were there at least a bunch of other Pac-12 games to distract us from that four-hour waking nightmare in which you find yourself back at school—fully nude and saggy—having forgotten to study for the big exam, which happens to be in a class solely populated by your exes and their judgmental stares, right?

Nope. One-third of the conference had a bye and one of the games was on a Friday, meaning all eyes on were on our wrinkled, exposed selves.

  • Utah def. Arizona, 42–10
  • #17 Oregon def. #7 Washington, 30–27 OT
  • UC Los Angeles def. California, 37–7
  • USC def. #19 Colorado, 31–20
  • Bye: Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanfurd, #25 Washington State

Berkelium97: The conference has decisively separated itself into three tiers: the good teams (Oregon and Washington), the dumpster fires (Cal, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon State), and the muddled mess of middling teams (everyone else). The latter two categories have so much parity that this week I am mostly ranking them based on who has won recently.

Alex Ghenis: In general, screw it all… But I’ll write notes about teams anyways.

ESPN FPI references: for each team, each post includes the current FPI and change over last week, then whom they beat with last week’s FPI and the new FPI (##/##), then next week’s match-up with FPI and % win chance. This week, the Pac-12 is this order (#Pac/#FBS): Washington (1/8), Utah (2/17), Stanfurd (3/22), Oregon (4/28), WSU (5/29), USC (6/40), ASU (7/43), Colorado (8/50), UC L.A. (9/60), Arizona (10/63), Cal (11/67), OSU (12/102).

Leland Wong: As we usually see, it’s so difficult to rank the middling mess (as mentioned by Bk97)—I went through so many different drafts, game analyses, and written out charts and diagrams. I think it was further complicated this week since half of those mid-level teams were on bye.

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. Oregon Ducks (5–1, 2–1 Pac-12; twelve first-place votes) ↗

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Last week: T2

Berkelium97 (1): It must be nice to be poised win the division after having three different head coaches in three seasons.

Alex Ghenis (1): Put up a whole bunch of points against one of the better defenses in college football… Justin Herbert sure is good and the Ducks showed why recruiting great athletes is key to putting together a good team. (They also did their part to bring Gameday to Pullman, which has been a long time coming. The computers still favor the Cougars, though.)

FPI #28 (+3), W 30-27 v Washington (9/8). Next week: @ WSU (29), 38.5% win chance

Nick Kranz (1): You could make a (not great) argument that UW is still the better team, playing Oregon to a standstill in Eugene . . . but at a certain point wins and losses do matter in this sport. Meanwhile, Oregon is demonstrating that.

thedozen (1): Imagine where the Ducks would be ranked nationally if they had held on versus the Lobsterbacks.

2. Washington Huskies (5–2, 3–1 Pac-12) ↘

NCAA Football: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (2): Jake Browning would be a fantastic quarterback if he didn’t always make a few mind-bogglingly bad decisions each game.

Alex Ghenis (2): Still a dominant team that lost a close one at one of the toughest venues in college football.

FPI #8 (+1), L 30-27 @ Oregon (31/28). Next week: v Colorado (50) 90.0% win chance

Leland Wong (2): Not a bad showing by the defense and they were but a missed last-second kick away from winning this game.

Nick Kranz (2): Over the last two years, UW has been the “best” Pac-12 team, but not so much better that they aren’t at risk of playing and losing close games to their biggest competition. A road loss last year to Stanford and a road loss this year to Oregon might well mean two-straight missed Pac-12 title games.

3. Washington State Cougars (5–1, 2–1 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 4

Alex Ghenis (5): The close loss at USC is looking more respectable now and early-season dominance over mediocre competition keeps the Cougars high up on the list. They were lucky to have a bye before playing Oregon at home. Congrats on getting Gameday!

FPI #29 (-1), bye. Next week: v Oregon (28), 61.5% win chance

Leland Wong (5): They’re a feisty team with a close win and a close loss to middling Pac-12 teams. We’ll see the true nature of this team in the next few weeks.

Nick Kranz (4): I’ll note that I’m one of the few pollsters here to put Wazzu above a Utah team that the Cougars beat . . . although to be fair Wazzu’s schedule makes it hard to figure out how good they are. Four easy wins over bad teams, and a 1–1 record in two coin flip games over their peers. College Game Day next week should tell us plenty.

thedozen (5): Hey, this is the one conference team Cal is ranked ahead of in the men’s basketball preseason poll!

4. Utah Utes (4–2, 2–2 Pac-12) ↗

Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (3): Now that the coaches are letting Tyler Huntley run the ball regularly, the offense looks vastly improved. Unfortunately, this improvement comes too late for them to win the Pac-12 South.

Alex Ghenis (3): Beat a bad Arizona team by a pretty huge margin. That also helped to kick Cal down the ladder, sadly enough. Previous losses were against top-notch competition.

FPI #17 (+6), W 43-10 v Arizona (55/63). Next week: v USC (40) 73.6% win chance

Leland Wong (4): Big win this past week coupled with a recent three-score win over Stanfurd. They were slow to gain our attention, but I think they’re finally becoming as good as some of us predicted in the preseason.

Nick Kranz (5): Utah has three tricky-but-winnable road games and two tough-but-winnable home games and while it’s easy to imagine Utah winning each individual game, pulling off all five (which is what Utah would probably need to win the South title) just isn’t realistic.

5. USC Trojans (4–2, 3–1 Pac-12) ↗

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: T7

Berkelium97 (4): No matter how mediocre USC is, they always find a way to spoil the hopes of some unorthodox Pac-12 South title contender.

Alex Ghenis (4): Just like UC L.A., USC’s true-freshman QB is starting to find his groove and the team is coming together mid-season. The two losses earlier this year were against respectable competition and this week the Trojans won a game they were favored in per the computers and Vegas. Hopefully they’ll have a hiccup in a few weeks when Cal visits, but I doubt it will happen.

FPI #40 (-3), W 31-20 v Colorado (50/50). Next week: @ Utah (17) 26.4% win chance

Leland Wong (3): I feel uneasy having a flawed USC team this high, but their losses were a few weeks ago and their win this week was over better opposition than other teams who would contend for this spot (i.e., Utah’s win over Colorado).

Nick Kranz (3): Yeah, no doubt that USC is directly benefiting from the fact that there simply aren’t any top-25 teams in the Pac-12 South. If they beat Utah this weekend, I think you can all but hand them the Pac-12 South title. Having said that, Utah might well be favorites at home in what would have been the game of the week most weeks.

thedozen (6): A good weekend for USC players both past and present. The Trojans cruised against the Buffs and Sam Darnold had a sparkling 113.9 passer rating in the New York Jets’ win over Indianapolis.

6. Stanfurd Cardinal (4–2, 2–1 Pac-12) ↘

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Stanford v Oklahoma State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 5

Alex Ghenis (6): It’s always tough to rank a team coming off a bye, but the Cardinal still have a good record, considering the ongoing strength of Notre Dame and the fact that Utah is looking like a better team than previously expected.

FPI #22 (-2), bye. Next week: @ ASU (43), 53.8% win chance

Leland Wong (8): They’re not a bad team and they have quality wins under their belt, but they’re on a two-game losing streak. They’ll move back up soon—unfortunately.

Nick Kranz (7): I wonder how much Stanford, the model of stability and continuity, benefits each season from getting to play USC, model of turbulence and turnover, in the second week every year.

7. Colorado Buffaloes (5–1, 2–1 Pac-12) ↘

Colorado v Colorado State Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

Last week: T2

Berkelium97 (7): 3.6 yards per pass attempt? 2.6 yards per rush? Against this mediocre USC defense? Ouch.

Alex Ghenis (7): USC was favored by a few points at home and put up a good showing. Colorado’s previously undefeated record against a pretty darn weak schedule shows that they are still an average-to-good team, but certainly not dominant.

FPI #50 (even), L 31-20 @ USC (37/40). Next week: @ Wash (8) 10.0% win chance

Leland Wong (6): Colorado made a late run in the fourth-quarter to keep this from looking too ugly. Can’t imagine how ugly they’d look without the game’s leading rusher and receiver, Laviska Shenault Jr.

Nick Kranz (6): I’ll tell you how ugly, Leland—Colorado averaged 2 yards per play on offensive snaps in which Shenault didn’t touch the ball. Colorado is desperate for another playmaker, although I’d be happily willing to settle for just one at the moment.

8. Arizona State Sun Devils (3–3, 1–2 Pac-12) ↘

NCAA Football: Southern California at Arizona State Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: T7

Alex Ghenis (8): Just looking at the conference record, ASU should be below Arizona… But Arizona beat bottom dwellers and got destroyed by good teams, while ASU lost close to good teams and beat a solid Michigan State squad.

FPI #43 (-2), bye. Next Week: v Stanfurd (22) 46.2% win chance

Leland Wong (7): I’m not happy with this ranking. I want to give them credit for the win over Michigan State, but I have to be fair and deemphasize that game since it was relatively long ago. Their last four games featured three losses (one of which to Washington) and one win over Oregon State, so I guess it’s only fair to have them somewhat low.

Nick Kranz (8): With trips to USC and Oregon still left, ASU has to be looking at this week’s game against Stanford as critical to their bowl hopes.

9. UC Los Angeles Bruins (1–5, 1–2 Pac-12) ↗

UCLA v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (9): The performances against Washington and Colorado (the first half, at least) do not appear to be flukes. This team is actually improving. 3–9 now looks probable.

Alex Ghenis (9): The Bruins’ losses are all against good-to-great teams and it looks like Chip’s crew found their mojo at an unfortunate point in the season. The blue-chip true-freshman QB is also catching on, which bodes well for the future.

FPI #60 (+9), W 37-7 @ Cal (54/67). Next week: v Arizona (63) 62.2% win chance

Leland Wong (9): They had the best Week 7 win of the basement teams, so they’re the best of the worst. Between a decisive win and hanging close with Washington, they might be on the rise.

Nick Kranz (9): As dismissive as I was of the “UCLA is dangerous” narrative that started last week, I will admit that there might be something to the idea that their offensive line was waiting to turn a corner once they got time and experience to pick up Chip Kelly’s blocking schemes. Sigh.

10. Arizona Wildcats (3–4, 2–2 Pac-12) ↘

NCAA Football: Arizona at California Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (10): For the second week in a row, the offense only managed one touchdown. This offense can’t possibly be worse than Cal’s...can it?

Alex Ghenis (10): Got destroyed by what’s turning out to be a good Utah team. Their wins are against an FCS team and arguably the two worst teams in the conference right now, so they are still near the bottom despite the 3–4 record.

FPI #63 (-8), L 42-10 @ Utah (23/17). Next week: @ UC L.A. (60) 37.8% win chance

Leland Wong (10): Their defense made the offensively-ineffective Utah team look like the second coming of the Bear Raid. Having Khalil Tate would have helped the box score, but probably not the end result.

Nick Kranz (10): If you told me before the season that Arizona lost Tate to a season-ending injury, this is about the level of performance I would have expected. Shame that injuries and/or coaching have robbed us of the Pac-12’s most fun player.

thedozen (10): It was 35–0 Utah before the Wildcats even got on the board. I am not sure whether I am more upset about Cal getting crushed by the Bruins or losing by any margin to Arizona.

11. California Golden Bears (3–3, 0–3 Pac-12) ↘

Oregon v California

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (12): It’s not uncommon that I drop a team into 12th after a particularly embarrassing loss. That is not the case this time. Based on the last two performances, I think this may genuinely be the worst team in the conference. If Cal can’t run for 250+ yards against an Oregon State defense that allows 6.7 yards per rush, they should leave Beau Baldwin behind in Corvallis.

Alex Ghenis (11): We’re above OSU because of our record, but otherwise it feels like we belong in the basement. A pretty fantastic defense is being wasted by one of the worst offenses in the FBS. Next week’s battle for last-place will be interesting, especially with our road woes the last couple years and the fact that OSU is coming off a week’s rest. At this point I’m just reminding myself that a 10-win WSU team lost 37–3 against a 5-win Cal team last year, so anything can happen in terms of future games and changing directions.

FPI #67 (-13), L 37-7 v UC L.A. (69/60). Next week: @ OSU (102) 66.3% win chance

Leland Wong (12): We have better wins than Oregon State, but those feel like they happened six years ago. Plus, Cal deserves a steeper fall because this is the loss that truly finalizes the unlikelihood that we’ll go bowling and the realization that we truly have deeper problems that naively expected once upon a time, whereas Oregon State knew they would be rebuilding this year.

Nick Kranz (11): Even considering the events of the past two weeks, there’s little objective reason to think that Cal is worse than Oregon State. BUT. Cal isn’t so much better that a road win can be assumed.

12. Oregon State Beavers (1–5, 0–3 Pac-12) ↔

Utah v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last week: 12

Alex Ghenis (12): OSU drops to the basement after UCLA’s win in Berkeley. The Beavers are still underdogs against Cal next week, but they are coming off a bye and Cal has been awful on the road (with some key injuries piling up, especially on a weak offense). I hate to say it, but it’s their best opportunity to put a notch in the win column.

FPI #102 (+2), bye. Next week: v Cal (67), 33.7% win chance.

Leland Wong (11): They’re out of my basement—hooray for not suffering a soul-crushing loss!

The data

And there you have it. This ties our worst finish since the post–Week 11 ranking in 2017. At one point, the votes that were submitted had Cal at the absolute bottom (for the first time since the preseason Power Rankings of the 2015 season), but some final votes bumped Cal up just enough.

Let’s start with a summary of who voted Cal at the bottom and who fought all reason and logic to prop us up just a bit higher.

Table 1. Our ballots after Week 7.

rk Alex atoms Bk97 Joshua Leland Nick K. Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Rob Ruey thedozen
rk Alex atoms Bk97 Joshua Leland Nick K. Nik Jam Piotr ragnarok Rob Ruey thedozen
1 Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon
2 Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash WSU Wash Wash
3 Utah Utah Utah Utah USC USC USC Utah WSU Wash WSU Stanfurd
4 USC USC USC USC Utah WSU WSU WSU Utah Stanfurd Stanfurd Utah
5 WSU WSU WSU WSU WSU Utah Utah USC Stanfurd Colorado USC WSU
6 Stanfurd Stanfurd ASU Stanfurd Colorado Colorado Colorado Stanfurd USC USC Colorado USC
7 Colorado Colorado Colorado Colorado ASU Stanfurd Stanfurd Colorado Colorado Utah ASU ASU
8 ASU ASU Stanfurd ASU Stanfurd ASU UC L.A. ASU ASU ASU Utah Colorado
9 UC L.A. UC L.A. UC L.A. Arizona UC L.A. UC L.A. ASU Arizona Arizona Cal UC L.A. UC L.A.
10 Arizona Arizona Arizona UC L.A. Arizona Arizona Arizona UC L.A. UC L.A. Arizona Arizona Arizona
11 Cal OSU OSU OSU OSU Cal Cal OSU Cal UC L.A. Cal Cal

We computer-fy the votes to find the average ranking for each team; sorting these numbers from lowest to highest is how we came to the main, discrete rankings listed above.

But let’s take a look at those precise, averaged rankings as well as the standard deviations (a measure of how wildly different our votes were for each team). Figure 1 shows the precise rankings (in the bars) and the standard deviations (with the error bars). This will tell you just how close—or how far—we collectively placed the teams rather than the boring integer values of first, second, etc. that are commonly used.

Figure 1. The precise rankings following the games of Week 7.

Figure 1 shows a great deal of indecision in the middle of the conference, evidenced by the large standard deviations. We can also see tiers for this week—the result of larger gaps than the standard set value of 1 separating seventh from eighth place in traditional rankings.

Said tiers can also be seen in Fig. 2, which traces the precise rankings of the teams over the course of the season. Oregon and Washington are basically perceive right at the discrete a.k.a. standard ranks of first and second. But we see a large gap that leads into the next tier—teams that will probably be fighting for a bowl (although Colorado’s soft non-conference schedule gives them an edge in that explicit endeavor, they’re still being perceived as good as the other teams here). We’ve also got such a close three-way tie between WSU, Utah, and USC for the best team in this tier. And then—at the very bottom—we see Cal get even more comfortable in the basement than we were last week.

Figure 2. The year’s precise rankings.

But if you do like those rounded, discrete rankings, then I’ve got your back. We also chart their progression for the season (Fig. 3). Here we see that Oregon has been on a nice, consistent climb since Week 4, gaining one spot per week until they reached the promised land. Colorado, on the other hand, has been within one spot or fewer with Oregon since Week 2, but a big loss to USC in their first real test of the season has them trending the wrong way.

Figure 3. Discrete rankings for the 2018 season.

And Colorado’s big drop catapulted them into a three-way tie for the most-Mad team at this point in the season. The other two teams with this title—ASU and USC—also had high expectations that they fell from; to make matters worse, ASU compounded upon this problem by starting with criminally low perceptions. Cal’s right on the heels of these teams; look on the bright side—if we really are in a slump, then we’re not gonna be able to drop any further than one spot! Among the teams with the lowest Madness are Oregon State and Washington, for never straying too far from the polar ends of the conference.

Table 2. This year’s Madness—a measure of how volatile each team’s ranking is for the season.

Next week will feature one game pitting some of the better teams against each other (Oregon–Washington State), a battle in the middle (USC–Utah), and a double-header of basement brawls (one of which will be particularly of interest to Cal fans).


Should Cal be the 11th-ranked team this week?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    No. Because I’m a homer who would put them higher no matter what.
    (1 vote)
  • 7%
    No. We should be higher because other teams are worse and Cal at least has some wins.
    (8 votes)
  • 33%
    No. We should be lower because life is terrible.
    (35 votes)
  • 57%
    Yes. It’s just right. =(
    (60 votes)
104 votes total Vote Now