Leland Wong: Welcome to this week’s Power Rankings! After our big upset, I know that you couldn’t care less to read my tired intro and you’re already ctrl + F–ing to “california golden bears” to see where we fall, so I’m including that text up here so that you’re stuck here. (Please don’t ctrl + F to the next instance.)
In the Power Rankings, we aim to rank the conference teams by a combination of overall record and fanbase sentiment, but also looking closely at the most-recent results. And you can imagine with a week of upsets that clash with overall history, things are gonna get a little crazy. Like, how-my-Ex-describes-me levels of crazy.
- #23 Utah def. UC Los Angeles, 41–10
- Oregon State def. Colorado, 41–34 OT
- Arizona State def. USC, 38–35
- California def. #15 Washington, 12–10
- #14 Washington State def. #24 Stanfurd, 41–38
- Arizona def. #19 Oregon, 44–15
Nik Jam: How do you do a Power Rankings when mostly underdogs win? Do you put all the winners above the losers or do you take more into account the entire season? This was difficult, but I tried to a combination of both. When both Oregon State and Colorado have been losing a lot recently, it is hard to justify putting Colorado above Oregon State despite the overall records. But since Arizona has largely been bad and Oregon has mostly been good, I couldn’t justify dropping the Ducks below the Wildcats. I wound up putting Cal above Washington since the Huskies have put themselves all but out of contention this year and Cal’s turnover-laden losing streak appears to hopefully be behind them.
Berkelium97: We’re at the point in the season where several teams have demonstrated that they have passed an inflection point and are on a new trajectory. My ballot heavily reflects where I think these programs are heading, although I also administered a rather draconian punishment to a couple teams who suffered eye-bleachingly bad losses. And I tried to incorporate some consistency with results on the field—I originally had UW one spot ahead of Cal, but I can’t justify that ordering given that Cal just beat them. In sum, my ballot is a mess this week, but that’s to be expected after witnessing one of the wackiest weekends in recent Pac-12 history.
Alex Ghenis: Oh boy, is the Pac-12 hard to sort out. In this week’s six conference games, five were upsets (both for FPI and Vegas lines) and the overall conference standings are just a mess. If we look at win-loss records (overall and in-conference), there are two clear top tiers of WSU & Utah and Washington & Stanford, then a whole mess in the middle, then UCLA and OSU at the bottom. Outside of Utah in the South, every other team is either 3–3 or 2–3 in-conference and only one (Colorado, 2–3 in the Pac-12) has a winning record (5–3 overall) due to its super-weak out-of-conference schedule. So let’s just say I did my best to put things in order—partly including recent momentum—but there are many arguments about the order between 5–10.
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 (1/9), Utah (2/11), WSU (3/22), Stanfurd (4/24), USC (5/41), Oregon (6/42), ASU (7/44), Arizona (8/51), Cal (9/54), Colorado (10/58), UC L.A. (11/65), OSU (12/103).
S&P+ uses a different methodology than FPI does and has the conference order as: Washington (1/7), Utah (2/12), WSU (3/23), Stanfurd (4/39), USC (5/43), Oregon (6/53), Cal (7/58), ASU (8/62), Colorado (9/65), Arizona (10/73), UC L.A. (11/93), OSU (12/117)
Piotr T Le: Honestly, the Pac-12 has three tiers with interchangable teams: WSU and Utah (probably Pac-12 Championship Teams); then Furd, Cal, Washington, Oregon, ASU, Zona, and USC; and then the bottom tier UCLA, OSU, and Colorado.
Nick Kranz: When eight teams are within a game of .500 one way or another, what’s the difference between them really? You could probably justify 50 different rankings this week.
Ruey Yen: What a week of upsets in the Pac! On a given Saturday, I guess any Pac-12 school can beat any other one (and ruin the conference’s shot at a College Football Playoff berth and the big money that goes with that).
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 State Cougars (7–1, 4–1 Pac-12; eleven first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 1
Nik Jam (1): They should win the North, but have yet to play Cal and UW. Colorado and Arizona won’t be gimmes either. I’d feel no guilt whatsoever if we ended the conference’s playoff hopes on Saturday. But honestly, I see the Cougs winning out.
Alex Ghenis (1): WSU stays ahead of Utah because of its one-loss record, although my general feeling is that the Utes would beat the Cougars on a neutral field. A win at Furd, whose only previous losses were against #3 Notre Dame and #16 Utah, also strengthens their resume (though Oregon’s loss this week doesn’t make that win look as good anymore). Mike Leach’s team has a prolific offense (#4 FPI/#8 S&P+), but a questionable defense (#66/#77)—which should make for a very interesting match-up next week against Cal. WSU will be the clear favorite, but the Bears should have a fighting chance—especially if it’s a rainy night.
FPI #22 (+5), W 41-38 @ Stanfurd (22/24). Next week: v Cal (54) 81.5% win chance
Leland Wong (1): Woulda been nice if they could have beaten Stanfurd by more than a last-minute field goal (for their standings and for me as a Cal fan), but they’ve got the fewest losses of any team in the conference—and that came by just three points.
Nick Kranz (1): Won a tough, close game thanks to a +1 in the turnover column and one extra field goal. While maybe there should be a bit of concern that they allowed a restricted Stanford offense to score 38, when you control your own conference destiny entering November, you can be forgiven for not worrying about that sort of thing.
thedozen (1): Man, the Apple Cup is going to be fun this season.
2. Utah Utes (6–2, 4–2 Pac-12; one first-place vote) ↗
Last week: 4
Nik Jam (2): The Utes look well on their way to achieving their first Pac-12 South title, but this year has shown that anything can happen and no wins can be assumed.
Berkelium97 (2): The Utah team that only scored 17 against Northern Illinois is a distant memory from the juggernaut that is now scoring 40+ per game and laying waste to the Pac-12 South.
Alex Ghenis (2): Utah now has the second-best win-loss record in the conference and thus is second in the Power Rankings. Both computers also put them #2, although that’s behind Washington instead of WSU. FPI gives them a 22.9% chance to win out and 48.4% chance to win the conference—more than double the next-closest team (Washington, 23.6%). The complete shellacking of UC L.A. was fun to watch and points toward a strong finish to the season.
FPI #11 (+3), W 41-10 @ UC L.A. (59/65). Next week: @ ASU (44) 69.0% win chance
Nick Kranz (2): When Utah scores 40 points in back-to-back-to-back weeks, this is what I think about.
3. Stanford Cardinal (5–3, 3–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 5
Nik Jam (3): No shame in losing to WSU. The UW game will probably tell us about our Big Game chances. Stanford’s offense doesn’t look like it will give Cal’s defense trouble, but they still looked very competent.
Berkelium97 (3): The passing game has been surprisingly and consistently competent this season. But without a healthy Bryce Love, it hasn’t been enough to translate into wins.
Alex Ghenis (3): Stanfurd’s three losses come at #3 Notre Dame, vs. #10 WSU (by 3 points) and vs. #16 Utah. They also are one of the four teams with a winning conference record, so are hanging out in third place despite some difficulties the past few weeks.
FPI #24 (-2), L 41-38 v WSU (27/22). Next week: @ Wash (9), 26.6% win chance
Nick Kranz (3): I really didn’t want to put Stanford third, but of the many two-loss teams in this conference, Stanford’s losses are the most forgivable. Sigh.
4. Washington Huskies (6–3, 4–2 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 2
Nik Jam (7): The Huskies’ dominance over the Pac-12 and the North appears to be over. I’d love to see some parity in the league next year, especially if that means Cal will be in it.
Berkelium97 (5): I wonder how much Coach Petersen regrets replacing Jake Browning with Jake Haener for a few series. Browning wasn’t having that bad of a day and it’s hard to imagine that a freshman would have much success against the conference’s best defense, particularly when that defense is having its best game of the year.
Alex Ghenis (4): Washington still has the third-best overall record in the conference, holds an away win over second-ranked Utah early in the year, and interestingly is still #1 in the conference according to both computers. The Huskies just haven’t been as strong of late, though, losing two of the last three games and barely squeaking by a UCLA team that Utah walloped this week. The offensive struggles Saturday at Cal are even more cause for concern. This is one of those teams where it’s tough to balance overall resume with recent success (or lack thereof), but number three or four is still about right.
FPI #9 (-1), L 12-10 @ Cal (58/54). Next week: v Stanfurd (24) 73.4% win chance
Nick Kranz (4): UW just keeps finding new and different weird ways to lose games that they probably should’ve won—and for that I commend them.
Ruey Yen (4): If Chris Petersen didn’t try to motivate Browning, maybe Cal would not have beaten UW this past Saturday, particularly if they have more time at the end.
5. California Golden Bears (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 10
Nik Jam (6): One one hand, those UCLA and Arizona losses could wind up being huge if the Bears win more often than they lose in November. On the other hand, the offense clearly needs a lot of work, so it’s tough to say they deserved a high-quality bowl even if they notch a few more upsets. The defense was clearly capable of winning a game by themselves, but who knew it would be Washington?
Berkelium97 (4): After a bizarre three-week span in which the Bears improved offensive production, but turned the ball over 19 times, Cal is back to a grinding, clock-controlling offense that pairs perfectly with their suffocating defense. They missed several opportunities in the red zone, but that five-minute game-ending drive was a delight to watch. At this point, the defense is playing well enough that all the offense needs is a TD or two to win. Or the defense can simply handle the scoring duties itself.
Alex Ghenis (5): Cal now has the #10 defense in the country per FPI and #11 per S&P+, both second in the conference (FPI has Utah #1 and S&P+ has Washington #1). That stellar defense was good enough to get Washington’s starting QB pulled and then pick-six the backup, while holding the Huskies to their lowest point total of the year (previous was against Auburn, where they lost 21–16). The offense now looks at least capable enough to keep the Bears in games, even if that means slowly churning out yards and controlling the clock in a way that pairs well with the D. With a completely muddled middle of the conference, Cal sits closer to the top because of the strength of the last couple wins—though the next three weeks still pose pretty tough challenges, especially with two games on the road.
FPI #54 (+4), W 12-10 v Wash (8/9). Next week: @ WSU (22) 18.5% win chance
Nick Kranz (7): Did Cal’s defense hold the opponent to one touchdown drive or fewer? If Yes, then proceed to potential win. If No, then proceed to defeat.
Ruey Yen (5): Bears showed that they have a defense that is good enough to beat anyone. Still, there are questions about the offense (sorry to be a Debbie Downer) and I am still not sure that the Bears will be considered the favorite (by Vegas) against USC or Colorado right now.
thedozen (6): This feels too high, but everything is chaotic, so I’m embracing the entropy.
6. Oregon Ducks (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 3
Nik Jam (4): The Ducks can get a high ranking because they still appear to be a really good team, but loses to Stanford and Arizona are mind-boggling.
Berkelium97 (11): Oregon’s offense has a very bad habit of sleepwalking for an entire half. This time it happened in two halves of the same game and the results were hideous. This result was eerily similar to Oregon’s last trip to Tuscon, when the fifth-ranked Ducks were annihilated 16–42 by an unranked Wildcats team.
Alex Ghenis (8): Well, that’s what happens when your first-round QB throws for 50% and a 3.9-yard average, you can’t run the ball, and give up 276 yards on the ground. The Ducks still hold a winning record and will likely go bowling barring some phenomenal missteps, but that kind of a loss bumped them down pretty low in the Power Rankings. At least there’s next week against the Bruins.
FPI #42 (-13), L 44-15 @ Arizona (62/51). Next week: v UC L.A. (65), 77.0% win chance
Nick Kranz (5): I cannot understand how Oregon’s offense could possibly produce the stats Alex lists against Arizona’s defense. I reject this reality and substitute my own.
7. Arizona State Sun Devils (4–4, 2–3 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 8T
Nik Jam (5): The Devils look like a decent team that will have a tough time because of the depth of the Pac-12.
Alex Ghenis (7): All of ASU’s losses were by pretty close scores, including the ones against solid-but-not-spectacular teams. At the same time, their only conference wins were against OSU by a lot (which should be expected) and a close squeaker at USC, while the early-season win over Michigan State keeps looking less impressive. They hang out above Oregon, though, because they actually won this week and didn’t get completely embarrassed.
FPI #44 (+1), W 38-35 @ USC (38/41). Next Week: v Utah (11) 31.0% win chance
Nick Kranz (7): I would love love love if ASU beat Utah next week to send the Pac-12 South even further into absolute chaos.
thedozen (7): The 92-yard punt return by ASU’s N’Keal Harry is what really broke the Trojans.
8. Arizona Wildcats (4–5, 3–3 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 11
Nik Jam: (9) No amount of wins will make the Cal loss to them more acceptable, but the Wildcats looked like the team from last year. Can they keep it up?
Berkelium97 (7): what.
Alex Ghenis (6): This is where things start to get interesting. Just looking at recent success, was Arizona’s destruction of Oregon impressive enough to jump them ahead of #5 Cal and its close defense-oriented win over Washington? Should the slightly better conference record (3–3 instead of 2–3) and head-to-head match-up also jump them above the Bears? Or should the recent loss at UCLA, overall losing record, and statistics put them lower? I’m going with the latter, but keeping them above the other middle-of-the-conference teams because of the dominance of this week’s win. A couple things are for sure—the defense showed itself to be competent and the offense is much better with Khalil Tate back and doing his thing. If he stays healthy, Arizona just might make a bowl game and even scare WSU in a few weeks.
FPI #51 (+11), W 44-15 v Oregon (29/42). Next week: v Colorado (58) 62.6% win chance
Piotr T Le (7): To paraphrase Berkelium97: Nani the f? Arizona was able to run all over the Oregon defense. Taking advantage of Oregon’s turnovers, they took off running with the score. Pac-12 is too unpredictable with upsets across the board besides the WSU–Furd game.
Nick Kranz (6): That Arizona was able to run the ball and score on an increasingly suspect Oregon defense isn’t so surprising. That Arizona’s defense was able to bottle up the Oregon offense? I have no context with which to understand this reality.
thedozen (9): What a day for teams known as the Wildcats. In other conferences, Northwestern upset Wisconsin and Kentucky won at Missouri.
9. USC Trojans (4–4, 3–3 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 7
Nik Jam (8): This team is clearly not very good. I was always going to go down to LA, but cancelled those plans after the UCLA loss. Now I’m reconsidering it.
Berkelium97 (8): After a few bad weeks, the passing game looks decent again. However, the defense is being depleted by injuries.
Alex Ghenis (9): The whole Pac-12 South is a mess right now, with five of the teams having three losses each. USC sits low in the Power Rankings because of the recent two-game skid, but they’ll likely jump next week if they hold their own at OSU. Hopefully they will drop back down after losing to the Bears on November 10…
FPI #41 (-3), L 38-35 v ASU (45/44). Next week: @ OSU (103) 86.8% win chance
Nick Kranz (9): On one hand, they were mildly unlucky to lose what was a statistical coin flip of a game. On the other hand, should USC really be playing coin flips at home against Arizona State? Considering their injuries, maybe!
10. Colorado Buffaloes (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 6
Nik Jam (11): If you can’t beat Oregon State with a 31–3 lead at home… whom can you beat to get to win number six? This question was asked by Cal fans after losing to UCLA—and we somehow beat the Beavers and Huskies to partially answer that question. What will Colorado’s answer be? (Hopefully not us)
Berkelium97 (12): More like Lolorado, amirite? Colorado held a 90+% chance of winning from the opening kickoff until the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. The anchor of Mac’s teams is usually the pass defense, but they were torched by an offense that looked helpless in the previous week (although I think we’re increasingly seeing that Cal has the best defense in the conference). Blowing a 28-point lead to anyone is embarrassing, but doing it against the worst team in the conference, by far, is embarrassment on another level.
Leland Wong (11): More like Cololrado, if you ask me. Blowing such a big lead to a dud of a team almost warrants last place, but they at least hold a head-to-head over UC L.A.
Alex Ghenis (10): Oh, Buffs, it sure has been a tough couple weeks and you wouldn’t be ranked #10 if you didn’t give up a 28-point lead to the worst team in the conference. The back half of the schedule is now looking pretty tough, with Colorado as underdogs in every game… And all of a sudden, losing seven in a row to miss a bowl game might just be in the cards. Ouch.
FPI #58 (-9), L 41-34 v OSU (114/103). Next week: @ Arizona (51) 37.4% win chance
Nick Kranz (10): We’ve been talking all year about how the Buffs are dangerously reliant on Laviska Shenault Jr., but GOOD GOD.
Ruey Yen (10): I think I was higher on Colorado (no pun intended) than the most at the start of the season, but this loss to OSU is pretty much indefensible. The Buffs are now at a crossroad (akin to what the Bears faced two weeks ago after the loss to UCLA)—they may either rebound or this promising year may turn nightmarish.
11T. Oregon State Beavers (2–6, 1–4 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 12
Nik Jam (10): Incredible comeback by the Beavers. It is clear that allowing seven points to them was a huge credit to Cal’s defense. Little reason to think they’ll win out to get a bowl, but there’s reason for hope in Corvallis for next year.
Berkelium97 (10): Despite last week’s shellacking, it’s clear the Beavers still have a very productive offense. Someone was bound to be upset by that offense this year—and I’m glad it wasn’t Cal.
Alex Ghenis (12): As a few recaps have noted, we have to question how much of that comeback was the Beavers playing off-the-charts (with a second-half QB switch to the now-conference-offensive-player-of-the-week) or Buffs falling asleep when they thought the game was put away. Regardless, a win’s a win, so OSU deserves some congratulations. I just wish it were enough to put them higher than number 12, but they still have the worst record in the conference and will hang out in last place until they improve that key stat.
FPI #103 (+11), W 41-34 @ Colorado (49/58). Next week: v USC (41), 13.2% win chance.
Leland Wong (10): Grabbing your first FBS win in over one full season deserves a bonus bump in my book.
Nick Kranz (12): Great win and I’m happy for the Beavs . . . but they’re still the only Pac-12 team with only one conference win and the only Pac-12 team more than a game below .500 in conference—and somebody’s gotta occupy the basement.
11T. UCLA Bruins (2–6, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 8T
Nik Jam (12): Unfortunately at Cal’s expense, the Bruins have proved they can hang with anybody. But they’ve also proved in their blowouts against great teams that they are very bad.
Berkelium97 (9): This defense is terrible at tackling.
Alex Ghenis (11): That was one painful loss, albeit against one of the top teams in the conference. The Bruins sure are Jekyll and Hyde from week to week, so they might still have another win somewhere on the schedule (the likeliest at home against the Trojans in a few weeks). The only reason they aren’t #12 is because they have an extra conference (and FBS) win compared to OSU.
FPI #65 (-6), L 41-10 v Utah (14/11). Next week: @ Oregon (42) 23.0% win chance
Leland Wong (12): Couldn’t move the ball, couldn’t protect the ball, and couldn’t keep it close. With the biggest margin for defeat this week, is there any team that’s more deserving of the basement?
Nick Kranz (11): Ran into Utah at the worst time and now they have to go on the road back-to-back against teams that are probably better than they are.
Alas, Oregon State did not escape the basement.
But they’re not alone!
While their conference upset was not enough to get them out of the basement, it was just enough to get them a buddy down there. Just barely. It came down to our final voter—ragnarok himself—to help the Beavers pull the Bruins down with them. Ah ragnarok, you are twice as handsome as Chris Hemsworth and thrice as wise.
On the subject of these individual votes, let’s take a look at how each of the writers ranked the conference this week.
Table 1. The post–Week 9 ballots
|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|
|10||Colorado||Colorado||OSU||OSU||OSU||Colorado||OSU||OSU||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||UC L.A.|
|11||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||Oregon||Colorado||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||Colorado||OSU||Arizona||UC L.A.||Colorado|
|12||OSU||OSU||Colorado||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||OSU||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||OSU||OSU||OSU|
For each team, the ranking from each writer is taken and we calculate two things for each team: the average ranking and the standard deviation (i.e., how varied the responses are for this team). We sort the average rankings in ascending order and then assign the discrete, integer rankings that were shown in the main text up above.
However, the precise rankings and the standard deviations are combined in Figure 1; the precise rankings are graphed by the bars and the standard deviation is shown in the error bars, which kind of gives you a better idea of the actual range of responses for each team.
We’re in pretty solid agreement for the top three teams, but then look at all that uncertainty for the rest of the conference! It was a tough week to grade after such a crazy slate of games.
The precise rankings have also been charted over the course of the season (Fig. 2) to show progress and for the lulz. For some giggles, look at UC L.A. coming crashing back down after a two-week vacation in the land of “maybe we’re good at football”.
Figure 2 also shows a bit of a clustering in the middle of the conference, including Cal, Oregon, and ASU; Arizona and USC are right outside of this and one could even argue that the former is a part of it. Coupling this with the large standard deviations (Fig. 1) really emphasizes how close the teams are in our assessments.
Beyond this clustering, we don’t have strong divisions and tiers as I like to typically break down. I think this has much to do with the parity of the conference this year—a bottom team could quite conceivably defeat a top team in the Pac-12.
The discrete, rounded rankings are tracked in Figure 3. They say that beauty is epitomized by me. But it’s also believed to be dictated by symmetry. And as beautiful as California’s two-week rise—particularly the win over Washington—it’s also symmetrical; since Week 5, Cal had a five-spot drop, a one-spot drop, a one-spot rise, and a five-spot rise.
We have quantified such movement across the rankings over the season and collected these in Table 2. California’s two five-spot moves are the second-biggest of the season (which was ASU’s debut after months of doubt and ridicule). This big rise and a whole mess of other upset-related moves resulted in the Maddest week of the season. The only team that held steady (i.e., the only team that did not contribute to the conference’s Madness) was Wazzu with their steady hold on the top spot. Table 2 also shows that we only have two teams with single-digit Madness scores.
Last week, I closed this column with a line that seems somewhat profound when looking back at what happened this week.
We’ll see if Week 9 holds any upsets that introduce more Madness to our rankings. I know we’re all hoping for one particular upset, but let’s see if anything else can happen.
Oh, behold the power I wield with my conclusions. I shall use such blinding power to say...