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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 6: Changes to the basement

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Plus, no one follow Stanfurd’s lead as they plummet down our Rankings.

NCAA Football: Utah at Stanford Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: I think we all have an idea of the darkness that’s coming.

As we seek a ranking of the Pac-12 teams—based on their overall performance and fanbase sentiment, but with a particular emphasis on the latest week—things can’t bode well for Cal after losing to one of our basement dwellers. Just how far did we fall? Let’s stop putting off the sorrow and just get to it...

Here are the latest set of games, including one particular tragedy:

  • #10 Washington def. UC Los Angeles, 31–24
  • Utah def. #14 Stanfurd, 40–21
  • #21 Colorado def. Arizona State, 28–21
  • Washington State def. Oregon State, 56–37
  • Arizona def. California, 24–17
  • Bye: Oregon, USC

Ruey Yen: Two of the biggest underachievers in the Pac thus far this year showed signs of life this weekend. Unfortunately, one was Arizona—which played Cal—and the other was UCLA (yes, in a losing effort), which is playing Cal next weekend.

Alex Ghenis: Sadly, I didn’t get to watch all of the games and am largely going off of the box score, existing record, and standing in the conference hierarchy. A bit of deference goes to success this week, but it was a tough balance—there were plenty of upsets and close wins and some of the winners still have worse overall and conference records than the teams they beat (e.g., Utah–Stanfurd). If anything, this week shows that there’s a bit more parity between the North and South compared to the last couple weeks.

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), Stanfurd (2/20), Utah (3/23), WSU (4/28), Oregon (5/31), USC (6/37), ASU (7/41), Colorado (8/50), Cal (9/54), Arizona (10/55), UC L.A. (11/69), OSU (12/104)

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 (5–1, 4–0 Pac-12; ten first-place votes) ↔

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

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (1): After last week’s beatdown of BYU (which now looks less impressive after Utah State crushed them), I expected much more from the Huskies against the hapless Bruins. Were they looking ahead to this weekend’s game against the Ducks?

Alex Ghenis (1): Washington was at number one last week because their sole loss (at Auburn) was still against top-tier competition. Well, Auburn now sits at 4–2 after losses to LSU and Mississippi State and Washington had to pull out a close one at bottom-dweller UCLA this week… So the Huskies aren’t astronomically above the rest of the Pac, but they are still the premier team to beat.

FPI #9 (-1), W 31-24 @ UC L.A. (74/69). Next week: @ Oregon (31) 65.2% win chance

Nick Kranz (1): You knew UW was going to dick around in at least one game this year, so they may as well have done it against the worst UCLA team in however many years.

T2. Colorado Buffaloes (5–0, 2–0 Pac-12) ↗

Colorado v Colorado State Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (2): The win over ASU was a great boost to their weak resume. The pass defense was unusually poor, however. Does this portend struggles against other top-tier passing attacks in the conference? Oh wait, it doesn’t matter because they only face mediocre pass offenses for the rest of the year.

Alex Ghenis (2): Colorado’s record so far comes against a bunch of teams with losing records and 3–3 ASU (by one score, at home). They are undefeated and ranked—and also showed a couple years ago that the program has potential—but per the computers, are only favored in one of their remaining games (vs. OSU). This week’s away game at a good USC team coming off a bye will be a strong test.

FPI #50 (+3), W 28-21 v ASU (37/41). Next week: @ USC (37) 26.0% win chance

Nick Kranz (3): I don’t actually think that Colorado is significantly better than everybody else in the muddled middle of this conference, but for now being undefeated is as good a reason as any to rank the Buffs ahead of everybody else.

T2. Oregon Ducks (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 3

Leland Wong (2): The Ducks are in luck and rise in the Power Rankings all the way to #2 while on their bye, largely indicative of how flawed the Pac-12 is this year.

Alex Ghenis (3): At this point, Oregon and WSU feel a bit interchangeable—so the Ducks at Cougars in a couple weeks will be something to watch… But for now, Oregon has to take on top-ranked Washington at home this coming Saturday. Washington will be on its second road game while the Ducks are coming off a bye, which might be a factor.

FPI #31 (-2), bye. Next week: v Washington (9), 34.8% win chance

Nick Kranz (2): Oregon will be kicking themselves for blowing that game against Stanford all year long. And I’ll be kicking them too.

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

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

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (5): Trailing Oregon State in the second half is not a good look. But they’re 5–1. The second half of the schedule looks brutal, however.

Alex Ghenis (4): The Cougars sit at 5–1 with dominating wins against bad-to-mediocre competition, a close win against a now-good-looking Utah team, and a close loss at USC. They also get a bye week before one of their tougher competitors (Oregon) visit them at home. The Mad Pirate could be looking at another 9-win season with 2- and 3-star recruits in the middle of nowhere.

FPI #28 (+4), W 56-37 @ OSU (104/104). Next week: bye

thedozen (6): Wazzu’s Gardner Minshew ended Saturday’s game with 430 passing yards, but I feel that any production against the Beavers should be devalued. As someone who is familiar with importing from Europe, I know just the tool for the job. Using a US Dollars to Euros conversion ($1 = 0.87 € as of this writing), I award Minshew a very respectable 373 yards for the game.

Nick Kranz (5): I do kinda think that WSU can give an iffy Oregon secondary a major test, but I just as much think that WSU might struggle against the Cal defense.

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

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

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (7): The ground game continues to be anemic, but the passing game looked pretty efficient (when they weren’t turning the ball over or getting sacked). They got beat up pretty badly in the trenches, which is not something that has happened often in the last decade.

Alex Ghenis (5): The vaunted Stanford defense has not been doing much of anything the past few weeks—including against a Utah team that was notoriously bad on offense earlier this season. When Bryce Love is hurt, the offense can’t do much of anything either. Still, with the upcoming schedule, the Trees are likely heading toward eight or so wins, which is nothing to sneeze at. (But it’s always nice to see them drop out of the Top 25.)

FPI #20 (-4), L 40-21 v Utah (36/23). Next week: bye

thedozen (4): Embrace the chaos! The Lobsterbacks had three receivers with triple-digit yardage, but Love’s ankle injury loomed large while Utah’s Zack Moss piled up big gains on the ground. Stanfurd allowing just three points to the Trojans seems like ages ago.

Nick Kranz (7): I don’t think I quite realized how much the concept of Bryce Love was propping up the Stanford offense.

6. Utah Utes (3–2, 1–2 Pac-12) ↗

Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (6): They forced four turnovers, which aided an already surprisingly productive offensive performance. I won’t read too much into this and expect improvement on offense because every season Utah has one or two of these games where it looks like the offense has finally figured things out. Fun fact: Utah is undefeated in Palo Alto.

Alex Ghenis (6): It’s always heartwarming to see a team completely demolish Stanford—and the combination of that win along with the Washington teams’ success push Utah up the Power Rankings and the computers as well. Utah also showed that it had a functioning offense hidden away somewhere, and this was a great game to let it show up.

FPI #23 (+13), W 40-21 @ Furd (30/32). Next week: v Arizona (55) 81.5% win chance

Nick Kranz (6): I don’t want to overreact to what was ultimately a turnover-fueled win, but Utah deserved a little bit of good fortune after a couple of close losses.

T7. Arizona State Sun Devils (3–3, 1–2 Pac-12) ↔

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

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (4): While the Sun Devils are 3–3, they have some fantastic talent on offense and their three losses were each by seven points to teams with combined records of 14–2. I would not be surprised if they lose only one more game this season (likely during the road trip to Oregon in November).

Alex Ghenis (9): ASU’s three losses were all within one score against teams that are currently either undefeated or only have one loss—and they were all on the road. The remaining schedule isn’t too friendly, though, and the Sun Devils will be fighting a tough road to bowl eligibility, likely until the Territorial Cup.

FPI #41 (-4), L 28-21 @ Colorado (53/50). Next Week: @ USC (37) 26.0% win chance

Nick Kranz (9): ASU gets its third respectable loss in four week and I suspect that three more respectable losses are upcoming on their schedule with Stanford, USC, and Utah up after their bye.

T7. USC Trojans (3–2, 2–1 Pac-12) ↗

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 8

Alex Ghenis (7): It’s hard to judge a team coming off a bye when so much other shuffling around has happened in the conference… What we know is that the early-season win at Stanford wasn’t quite so season-defining, but the loss at Texas was more respectable. The wins against WSU and Arizona are also tough to gauge. Middle-of-the-conference just seems right for now.

FPI #37 (-3), bye. Next week: v Colorado (50) 74.0% win chance

Nick Kranz (4): I’m amused that USC is probably the biggest obstacle between Notre Dame and the college football playoff. I also still think USC is the favorite for the Pac-12 South title, though they obviously need to beat the Buffs at home to make that happen.

9. Arizona Wildcats (3–3, 2–1 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (9): The defense has been opportunistic in the last couple weeks (forcing seven turnovers), but the offense is broken. It’s tough to see this team winning more than four games this season.

Alex Ghenis (8): Arizona’s three wins have come against an FCS team, @ OSU, and this week vs. a turnover- and penalty-prone Cal. Still, the Wildcats were dominated in pretty much every stat besides those turnovers and penalties, so they have quite a ways to go. Although they have a better conference record than Utah, the strength of record still keeps them lower in the Power Rankings (and the computers agree). Related note: you could hear the piped-in music/crowd noise through the TV, which surely contributed to the Bears’ false start penalties—and apparently, USC’s uncharacteristic number last week. Pac-12 officials should crack down on that practice.

FPI #55 (+2), W 24-17 v Cal (52/54). Next week: @ Utah (23) 18.5% win chance

thedozen (10): Why do I have Cal one place ahead of the Wildcats? First off, Saturday’s game was played in Tucson. Also, Arizona already lost to BYU at home while the Bears won in Provo. The match-up essentially came down to one unsuccessful 4th and 1 play for Justin Wilcox’s team.

Nick Kranz (10): I put Cal ahead of Arizona because winning a fluky game thanks to turnover luck at home doesn’t outweigh the non-conference gap in performance. Also I’m a spiteful jerk.

10. California Golden Bears (3–2, 0–2 Pac-12) ↘

Oregon v California

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (10): Cal outgained the Wildcats by 200 yards, dominated the time of possession, and held the Arizona offense to one TD. Yet they lost for the same reason they lost last week: inability to turn yardage into points and several atrocious turnovers. And an abundance of penalties on the O-line further hamstrung the offense. Cal will now need to win the next two games and pull an upset in November in order to get bowl eligibility.

Leland Wong (10): I try not to be too reactionary week-to-week, but it’s tough to argue Cal doesn’t belong this low right now. Not only have the Bears been the victims of lopsided losses for two weeks now, but the résumé of wins don’t even look that strong.

Alex Ghenis (10): The Bears have the 12th-ranked defense per FPI, but the 118th-ranked offense, for a bottom-third-of-the-conference overall rating. If it weren’t for a bunch of awful turnovers and O-Line penalties over the last two weeks, we might be sitting with a 5–0 record, but alas things have been a mix of inaccurate, sloppy, and plain unlucky on both those fronts. Brandon McIlwain could really be something special but is going through some major growing pains and the rash of injuries to our running backs sure doesn’t help. Hopefully, we can secure the next two games because the final stretch is going to be brutal… Although Colorado is still an underdog per the computers (which give us a 5.9–6.1 record). Fun fact for us immature fans: this upcoming game is against FPI #69, and we have a 69.9% chance to win. Fun times.

FPI #54 (-2), L 24-17 @ Arizona (57/55). Next week: v UCLA (69) 69.9% win chance

Nick Kranz (9): There’s a decent chance that Cal cuts out the worst mistakes they’ve been making and start performing more like, say, Utah or Stanford. Or we might keep turning the ball over in the worst ways at the worst times.

Nik Jam (10): Honestly a loss to OSU or UCLA wouldn’t shock me… though neither would a November win. Throw all the stats out the window except for turnover margin. That’s all that will decide the next few weeks.

11. UC Los Angeles Bruins (0–5, 0–2 Pac-12) ↗

UCLA v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (11): They never gave up, which is notable for a team whose preseason expectations are in tatters. While 0–12 looked likely after last week, I think they may pull an upset at some point this year (and if it’s this week, I’m giving up on football).

Alex Ghenis (12): The Bruins put up a good fight against a top-10 Washington team, but couldn’t claw their way back. Given the upward trajectory, I wouldn’t surprised to see a win somewhere in the future—hopefully not this coming Saturday—but it’s a damn tough schedule coming up and the Bruins are winless for now, so thus in last place.

FPI #69 (+5), L 31-24 v Washington (8/9). Next week: @ Cal (54) 30.1% win chance

thedozen (11): I saw much of the second half against Washington on a restaurant television while eating some Greek food. Dorian Thompson-Robinson seems to be improving his throws as he gains experience. I am a bit less excited for Cal to face the Bruins compared to two weeks ago.

Nick Kranz (11): Of course UCLA shows juuuuust enough of a pulse to make me nervous about what should in theory be an easy Cal win.

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

Utah v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (12): If you’re going to be awful, at least be entertaining. With an oddball onside kick attempt, a player trying to hide by lying face-down in the endzone on a kick return and then gaining 55 return yards on a lateral, and a 3rd and 55 (yes, fifty-five), Oregon State certainly provided some entertainment.

Alex Ghenis (11): The Beavers played feisty for the first half and then got demolished in the second. They have a win, so they still sit above UCLA—although the Bruins would likely win on a neutral field and held their own against Washington this week—sadly, the two teams miss each other this year. The Beavers get a bye week before Cal visits on the 20th… Hopefully that doesn’t spell doom for the Bears

FPI #104 (even), L 56-37 v WSU (32/28). Next week: bye.

Nick Kranz (12): Only Rutgers stands between OSU and the “worst P5 team” title.

The data

How exactly did we get to the point of Cal breaking into the former three-team basement that has persisted since the first set of 2018 games? Four turnovers. But more directly, by polling ten of or CGB writers (and three others who were too despondent to be respondents).

Table 1. Our Week 6 votes

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

The individual ranks for each team were mathematically averaged; sorting those averages by ascending order gives the rankings listed up above. But taking a look at those precise, averaged rankings will reveal a little bit more about how we (collectively) perceive our teams compared to the rounded, integral rankings. As is quite common to scientific writing, we’ll also consider the standard deviation (a measure of how much our responses for each team deviated from one another) as error bars (Fig. 1).

These precise rankings show quite a drop off between the second-place tie and the fourth-ranked team (Wazzu) and between USC and Arizona (which leads into the basement); each of these gaps is actually shown to be at least two of the rounded rankings or of larger magnitude. And looking at how close we had in the pairs of Stanfurd–Utah and OSU–UC L.A., I really wish they were just a tad closer for four ties this week.

Figure 1. This week’s precise rankings.

We can also chart out such precise rankings across the season—because what’s better than one-dimensional data if not two-dimensional data?

With the season-long precise rankings in front of us (Fig. 2), we see that for the first time sine the preseason, we have a unanimous #1—and it happens to be the same team. Unfortunately, this chart also reveals another first in the regular season—a team other than Arizona, Oregon State, and UC Los Angeles in the basement. And of course, it’s us. Lovely.

Figure 2. I’m trying out bolder lines to make them a little easier to distinguished.

We can also take a look at the season’s averaged rankings just to truly hammer home some bad news. Look at that Cal freefall... Not just this week, but also considering how far we’ve fallen since Week 4. And how sweet that after four weeks of flirting, Colorado and Oregon finally got together and made things official! I hear they’re exclusive now!

Figure 3. Also trying out a lighter shade of purple for that school.

But back to that depression (but enough with describing my life since 2012). That huge Cal collapse is tied for the biggest drop so far this season. What team did we tie with? Arizona themselves when they faceplanted in their season opener with such high expectations. The biggest single move so far this year was ASU after their debut, really cementing just how meaningless preseason expectations are. Interestingly, the Madness quantification also shows that the Stanfurd–Utah game resulted in each team moving three spots—with the direction depending on win or loss—in perfect mirror.

Table 2. Feeling quite mad about Cal’s last two weeks of Madness.

With Cal now in the bottom-third of the conference and us in the midst of a tour of said basement, these next few weeks are low-reward and high-risk. Cal going 2–0 against them will probably result in us going up one... maybe two spots. But if we lose one or both games, then we’ll also drop by no more than the same number of the spots—because it will be mathematically impossible to drop further. The profound significance is that we’ll have quite a compelling argument for belonging in that basement.