We’ve been running this Predict-the-Pac-12-Season series for several years now, and we’re usually fairly accurate with our predictions (although there is often one team that is a surprise division contender—Wazzu in 2017, Colorado in 2016). If the results of these predictions come true, this season is going to be an utter delight for Cal fans. Get ready for satisfying wins and endless schadenfreude.
For each week, we’ll go through the list of games and see how many of us picked each team to win. Note: unlike our Cal season predictions, these results aren’t probabilities that each team will win. Instead these are simply the percentages of people who picked that team to win. We have 54 games to get through, so let’s get started.
USC (0-0) at Leland Stanford Junior University (0-0): LSJU (64.4%) def. USC (35.6%)
Bless all of you who saw this first game and resisted the urge to close the browser, shut down your computer, and throw it into the ocean. Once again, we all must suffer through another agonizing matchup between the two most obnoxious teams in the conference. Unfortunately, evil succumbs to eviler as nearly two-thirds picked the Lobsterbacks to win.
Washington (0-0) at Utah (0-0): Washington (86.2%) def. Utah (13.8%)
There’s not much hope for anyone playing the Huskies this season.
USC (0-1) at Washington State (0-0): USC (96.6%) def. Washington State (3.4%)
Arizona (0-0) at Oregon State (0-0): Arizona (95.4%) def. Oregon State (4.6%)
Arizona State (0-0) at Washington (1-0): Washington (100.0%!) def. Arizona State (0.0%)
Leland Stanford Junior University (1-0) at Oregon (0-0): LSJU (56.3%) def. Oregon (43.7%)
The Pac-12 slate continues to start slowly, as we have three snoozers and only one interesting match. Without Luke Falk or The Grinch, Wazzu will have a hard time beating the Trojans for the second consecutive year. Meanwhile Sumlin wins his first conference game with the Wildcats. And then we have a rare circumstance, a 100% unanimous vote for Washington over ASU. 100% votes are exceedingly rare in these predictions; in fact, we didn’t have a single 100% in 2017 or 2016. And we’ll have a couple more this year, owing to the agonizing depths of the Pac-12’s basement this year. Speaking of agony, the Lobsterbacks open conference play at 2-0.
Colorado (0-0) at UCLA (0-1): Colorado (51.7%) def. UCLA (48.3%)
USC (1-1) at Arizona (1-0): Arizona (50.6%) def. USC (49.4%)
Oregon State (0-1) at Arizona State (0-1): ASU (92.0%) def. OSU (8.0%)
Utah (0-1) at Washington State (0-1): Utah (71.3%) def. WSU (28.7%)
Oregon (0-1) at California (0-0): California (63.2%) def. Oregon (36.8%)
Look! Competitive matchups! Week 5 should be an exciting one, as we have two games that are coin-flips. Colorado is a narrow favorite to spoil Chip Kelly’s re-introduction to the Pac-12. In Tuscon, Arizona is barely favored to earn a huge win over the Trojans. With a second conference loss before the end of September, USC will have a hard time contending for the Pac-12 South title. Arizona State defeats the Beavers. Enjoy that win, ASU fans, because it will be a long, long time before another conference victory. Utah beats Wazzu and Cal avenges last year’s uncharacteristically poor effort last year against the Ducks. Interestingly, in yesterday’s Cal predictions we gave the Bears a 50.1% chance of beating Oregon, but here 63.2% picked the Bears to win. As I mentioned earlier, picking winners isn’t the same as picking win probabilities, but this is an interesting discrepancy.
California (1-0) at Arizona (2-0): California (58.6%) def. Arizona (41.4%)
Arizona State (1-1) at Colorado (1-0): Colorado (73.6%) def. ASU (26.4%)
Washington (2-0) at UCLA (0-2): Washington (90.8%) def. UCLA (9.2%)
Utah (1-1) at Leland Stanford Junior University (2-0): LSJU (73.6%) def. Utah (26.4%)
Washington State (0-2) at Oregon State (0-2): WSU (78.1%) def. OSU (21.8%)
Vengeance continues for the Bears, who pay the Wildcats back for last year’s double-OT loss in Berkeley. Colorado defeats ASU to stay tied with Arizona atop the Pac-12 South standings. In the state of California, Washington continues UCLA’s woes and the Lobsterbacks match the Huskies in the standings with a win over the Utes. Winless Wazzu earns a precious victory in its pillow fight against the Beavs.
Arizona (2-1) at Utah (1-2): Utah (72.4%) def. Arizona (27.6%)
Colorado (2-0) at USC (1-2): USC (98.9%) def. Colorado (1.1%)
UCLA (0-3) at California (2-0): California (86.2%) def. UCLA (13.8%)
Washington (3-0) at Oregon (0-2): Washington (82.8%) def. Oregon (17.2%)
Although Colorado enters the week as the only undefeated Pac-12 South team, it’s the Arizona-Utah matchup that will play a huge role in determining the winner of the South. We heavily favor Utah over the Wildcats in a weekend full of heavy favorites. USC ends Colorado’s undefeated season, although the Buffs remain atop the Pac-12 South standings. Cal and Washington keep their respective rivals UCLA and Oregon winless in conference play.
Leland Stanford Junior University (3-0) at Arizona State (1-2): LSJU (83.9%) def. ASU (16.1%)
Arizona (2-2) at UCLA (0-4): Arizona (58.6%) def. UCLA (41.4%)
USC (2-2) at Utah (2-2): Utah (56.3%) def. USC (43.7%)
Colorado (2-1) at Washington (4-0): Washington (97.7%) def. Colorado (2.3%)
Oregon (0-3) at Washington State (1-2): Oregon (78.2%) def. Washington State (21.8%)
California (3-0) at Oregon State (0-3): California 96.6% def. Oregon State (3.4%)
The Pac-12’s only undefeated teams reside in the North, and all three beat up on some outmatched competition this week. Utah wins a critical game against USC to put an end to the Trojans’ Pac-12 South title hopes. Coming into this week the Pac-12 had three winless teams, and Oregon’s win over the Cougs leaves Oregon State and the Bruins as the Pac-12’s doormats (can you imagine the implosion on Bruins Nation if they’re 0-5 after this?).
Utah (3-2) at UCLA (0-5): Utah (64.4%) def. UCLA (35.6%)
Oregon (1-3) at Arizona (3-2): Arizona (65.5%) def. Oregon (34.5%)
Arizona State (1-3) at USC (2-3): USC (96.6%) def. ASU (3.4%)
Oregon State (0-4) at Colorado (2-2): Colorado (96.6%) def. Oregon State (3.4%)
Washington (5-0) at California (4-0): Washington (79.3%) def. California (20.7%)
Washington State (1-3) at Leland Stanford Junior University (4-0): LSJU (89.7%) def. WSU (10.3%)
The premiere match of the week features undefeated UW and Cal (!), although the Huskies are heavy favorites to put an end to our premature hopes for a Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, the Lobsterbacks remain undefeated thanks to an easy win over the hapless Cougs. Even more hapless are the now-0-6 Bruins. Arizona defeats Oregon, USC defeats ASU, and the Buffs take down the Beavs.
Colorado (3-2) at Arizona (4-2): Arizona (88.5%) def. Colorado (11.5%)
Utah (4-2) at Arizona State (1-4): Utah (80.5%) def. ASU (19.5%)
USC (3-3) at Oregon State (0-5): USC (100.0%) def. Oregon State (0.0%)
UCLA (0-6) at Oregon (1-4): Oregon (86.2%) def. UCLA (13.8%)
Leland Stanford Junior University (5-0) at Washington (6-0): Washington (89.7%) def. LSJU (10.3%)
California (4-1) at Washington State (1-4): California (75.9%) def. WSU (24.1%)
Arizona’s win over Colorado propels the Wildcats and the Utes into first place in the South. USC is a rare 100% favorite over Oregon State. Meanwhile Oregon fans earn a satisfying win over the still-winless Bruins. For great justice, UW triumphs over the Lobsterbacks to earn a crucial tiebreaker win over both 1-loss teams in the North. At this point, the only way UW will relinquish the North title is if they lose to Oregon State and Washington State. So UW has basically clinched the North. Cal keeps its exceedingly slim hopes of a Pac-12 North title alive with a win over the Cougs. Alas, it likely won’t be nearly as dramatic as last year’s smoky, apocalyptic 37-3 beatdown.
UCLA (0-7) at Arizona State (1-5): UCLA (51.7%) def. ASU (48.3%)
California (5-1) at USC (4-3): USC (77.0%) def. California (23.0%)
Washington State (1-5) at Colorado (3-3): Colorado (63.2%) def. WSU (36.8%)
Oregon (2-4) at Utah (5-2): Utah (77.0%) def. Oregon (23.0%)
Oregon State (0-6) at Leland Stanford Junior University (5-1): LSJU (96.6%) def. OSU (3.4%)
UCLA HAS FINALLY WON A GAME! And it’s a nailbiter over the fightin’ Herms. If the Bruins manage to lose this toss-up, then their only chance for a win is next week against the Trojans (which would pretty much mean that they’re going 0-9). Despite Cal’s improbable season, the Bears can’t avoid a 15th consecutive loss to USC. That is an incredibly depressing number. Colorado and LSJU beat a couple bottom-dwellers and Utah moves one game closer to the Pac-12 South title.
Arizona (5-2) at Washington State (1-6): Arizona (62.1%) def. WSU (37.9%)
Arizona State (1-6) at Oregon (2-5): Oregon (97.7%) def. ASU (2.3%)
USC (5-3) at UCLA (1-7): USC (77.0%) def. UCLA (23.0%)
Utah (6-2) at Colorado (4-3): Utah (74.7%) def. Colorado (25.3%)
Oregon State (0-7) at Washington (7-0): Washington (98.9%) def. Oregon State (1.1%)
Leland Stanford Junior University (6-1) at California (5-2): California (80.5%) def. LSJU (19.5%)
Arizona, USC, and UW add to the misery of the Cougs, Bruins, and Beavers, respectively. Meanwhile, Oregon dismantles ASU and Utah clinches the Pac-12 South title. More important than all these games, however, is that the Sturdy Golden Bears finally bring the Axe back home to Berkeley.
Oregon (3-5) at Oregon State (0-8): Oregon (90.8%) def. OSU (9.2%)
Washington (8-0) at Washington State (1-7): Washington (94.3%) def. WSU (5.7%)
Arizona State (1-7) at Arizona (6-2): Arizona (88.5%) def. Arizona State (11.5%)
Leland Stanford Junior University (6-2) at UCLA (1-8): LSJU (73.6%) def. UCLA (26.4%)
California (6-2) at Colorado (4-4): California (94.3%) def. Colorado (5.7%)
All the rivalry games feature heavy favorites adding insult to their opponents’ miserable seasons. The Lobsterbacks and Bears each earn their seventh wins of the conference calendar.
After all this, we get our final standings.
|Pac-12 North||Pac-12 South|
|1. Washington (9-0)||1. Utah* (7-2)|
|2. California* (7-2)||1. Arizona (7-2)|
|2. LSJU (7-2)||3. USC (6-3)|
|4. Oregon (4-5)||4. Colorado (4-5)|
|5. Washington State (1-8)||5. UCLA* (1-8)|
|6. Oregon State (0-9)||5. Arizona State (1-8)|
*denotes winner of tiebreaker
Washington wins the North and Utah wins the South while Cal and Arizona finish as runners up. The North results are consistent with your responses to our poll for who wins the North, as UW earned 71.2% of votes, Cal received 18.4% (HOMERS), LSJU received 8.0%, and Oregon received 2.2%. Things diverge in the South, where USC earned more votes than Utah and Arizona combined. USC earned 55.2%, while Utah finished second with 21.8% and Arizona finished third with 20.7%. Somehow UCLA garnered 2.3% of the votes.
The discrepancy between the game-by-game results and votes for who wins the division is part of the reason I like doing this exercise each year. While it’s tempting to pick USC to repeat as Pac-12 South champs, their road to the title looks much, much tougher when you go through their schedule game by game. They play 5 conference road games, including road games against their chief rivals for the division title, Arizona and Utah. While Utah also plays 5 road games, 4 of those are against teams that are projected to win a combined 7 conference games; they also miss Washington and Cal, two of the North’s best teams per these projections. And Arizona plays only 4 conference road games, 3 of which are against Pac-12 basement dwellers. So while USC may be an appealing pick, the schedule is more accommodating to Utah and Arizona.
Washington is the clear favorite in our poll for the Pac-12 Champion. Washington earned 61.6% of the vote, Cal (lol) was second with 16.1%, LSJU and USC tied at 6.9%, Utah was fifth at 4.6%, Arizona finished 6th with 2.3%, and Oregon was 7th with 1.1%. No one else received votes.
If these results hold, it would be extremely difficult to pick the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Is it Whittingham for finally winning the division? Sumlin for having such a successful first year? Or Wilcox for orchestrating a remarkable two-year turnaround for the Bears?
While the Pac-12 has been characterized by surprising parity in recent years, these standings show that the conference has split into six strong teams (UW, Cal, LSJU, Utah, Arizona, USC), two mediocre teams (Oregon, Colorado), and four abysmal teams (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington State, Oregon State). It looks like the rebuilding projects for those four will be much, much more difficult than expected.
Projections vs. Predictions
As much as I’d like the above results to happen, we saw several games that were toss-ups, including several critical games that determined the Pac-12 South winner. We shouldn’t necessarily expect a team that 51% of us picked to win to be a guaranteed winner. Likewise, that 49% underdog shouldn’t be a guaranteed loser. A team favored by 51% of us in all 9 conference games would be projected to finish 9-0, even though it’s much more likely to win about half of its games. To remedy this I have included in the table below each team’s expected win total. I calculate that by adding up their percentages for all 9 games (so our 51% team would only be expected to win 4.59 games). Below I list the projected win totals, the expected win totals, and the difference between the two. We can think of this difference between expected wins and projected wins as a metric for how much we’re underrating a team. This measure is larger (i.e. positive) for teams likely to finish higher than their projected win totals and smaller (i.e., negative) for teams likely to finish below their projected win totals (such as our hypothetical 51% team above, whose score would be -4.41).
|Pac-12 North||Pac-12 South|
|Team||Projected Wins||Expected Wins||Difference||Team||Projected Wins||Expected Wins||Difference|
|Oregon St.||0||0.55||+0.55||Arizona St.||1||2.2||+1.2|
With 1.63 more wins than expected, Utah is our most overrated team, followed by LSJU (-1.52), and Arizona (-1.12). These three are most likely to suffer an upset at some point over the course of the season. UCLA has 1.63 fewer wins than expected, which places them as our most underrated team, followed by Wazzu (+1.47) and Oregon (+1.08). Unlike our overrated teams, these teams are most likely to upset someone.
The bad news for South division contenders Utah and Arizona is that USC is underrated by +0.75 wins while both Utah and Arizona are overrated. USC may be primed to notch an upset that allows them to claim the division crown. In fact, according to the expected wins metric USC is actually the top team in the South by a large margin. However, Kyle Whittingham is a coach who has made a career out of winning on the margins and if there’s anyone who can win a bunch of toss-up games, it’s Whittingham. I’ll be very interested to see how the Pac-12 South division title shakes out this year.
With nearly 6 expected wins, Cal is still better than LSJU (well, we always have been and always will be, even if the results on the gridiron don’t reflect it) and we’re still the second-place team in the North by a fair margin. Perhaps our delusions of grandeur are not so farfetched...