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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 3: Someone hug USC—maybe not that hard, though

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It was a bad week for the SoCal schools—how will that be reflected in their rankings?

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: Ranking our Pac-12 teams tends to be difficult during the (mostly) non-conference part of the schedule. Our mission here is to rank the Pac-12 teams by overall strength, with an emphasis on the latest week. But when we’re playing non-Pac-12 teams, comparing such drastically, typically-independent data points makes it generally fairly difficult to draw comparisons and rank the Pac-12 teams.

Three weeks into the season and with three non-conference games, we’re finally finishing up with the bulk of our non-conference games. Our sole Pac-12 game was Washington vs. Utah, but check out the rest of these interlopers.

  • #9 Stanfurd def. UC Davis, 30–10
  • Colorado def. New Hampsire, 45–14
  • #20 Oregon def. San Jose State, 35–22
  • Nevada def. Oregon State, 37–35
  • California def. Idaho State, 45–23
  • Washington State def. Eastern Washington, 59–24
  • Texas def. #22 USC, 37–14
  • #10 Washington def. Utah, 21–7
  • Fresno State def. UC L.A., 38–14
  • San Diego State def. #23 Arizona State, 28–21
  • Arizona def. Southern Utah, 62–31

Piotr T Le: Thank you to BYU for making us feel better about the last two FBS wins for Cal. One note is that if we were to rank Pac-12 2018 and 2017 then nearly all 2018 teams got worse (Oregon State being one of the few improvements.)

Berkelium97: The rankings are starting to get a bit easier (and more interesting) because we can start to use the transitive property more reliably. BYU’s win at Wisconsin makes Cal’s win and Arizona’s loss look much better. And SDSU’s win over ASU makes the Lobsterbacks’ dominant season-opening win look even better. On the other hand, USC’s blowout loss diminishes LSJU’s win over them. And Houston’s surrender of 63 points to Texas Tech makes it even more mystifying that Arizona was shut out against them for over 40 minutes.

Alex Ghenis: This is probably the last week where things will be first sorted based on the win-loss column, and then worked out from there. However, there are four teams in the conference that have byes next week (including undefeated Cal & Colorado), so we’ll see how things go then. At least we are past teams playing FCS games and having more mutual opponents, since we are into conference play. Either way, it’s a shame that the conference has collectively face-planted in so many of its out-of-conference games… According to Seth Walder at ESPN Analytics, “ESPN’s Playoff Predictor: The SEC has a 49% chance to send multiple teams to the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 has a 19% chance to send one team.” ☹

ESPN FPI references: for each team, each post includes the current FPI and change over last week, then who they beat with last week’s FPI and the new FPI (##/##), then next week’s matchup with FPI and % win chance. This week, the Pac-12 is this order (#Pac/#FBS): Washington (1/7), Stanfurd (2/16), Oregon (3/31), WSU (4/34), USC (5/35), Utah (6/36), ASU (7/37), Cal (8/42), Colorado (9/57), Arizona (10/61), UC L.A. (11/71), OSU (12/94)

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. Stanfurd Cardinal (3–0, 1–0 Pac-12; eight first-place votes) ↔

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

Last week: 1

Alex Ghenis (1): It’s always hard to gauge the quality of a team in a somewhat low-scoring affair against an FCS foe. Either way, the win against SDSU in week 1 looks a bit better now and the win against USC last week is easier to shrug off. The primetime game this Saturday in Eugene will help to sort out the Pac-12 North pecking order—and the whole Power Rankings—but for now, the Furdies are the team to beat.

FPI #16 (-6), W 30-10 v UC Davis (FCS). Next week: @ Oregon (31) 56.5% win chance

Nick Kranz: (2): A pretty mediocre showing considering the opposition and there’s got to be some serious concern about Bryce Love’s health considering the production he put up in the first two games of the year before sitting out game three. But I’ll just assume Stanford is sandbagging until they actually get punished for their offensive shortcomings.

Mike Foiles (2): Another team hard to read. Have not been overly impressed by their supposedly dominant OL, though they have yet to play with all five starters healthy. They will this weekend, however, so it will be really interesting to see if the Bryce Love Show returns against Oregon. Defense is far improved with a deep set of good LBs.

2. Washington Huskies (2–1, 1–0 Pac-12; five first-place votes) ↔

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

Last week: 2

Nick Kranz (1): No style points earned, but of all the teams in the Pac-12 with kick-ass defenses, UW is probably the team most likely to support that defense with reasonably OK offensive production.

Mike Foiles (1): OL is not where it was supposed to be with LT Trey Adams done for the season; C Nick Harris went out in the second half as well. Really like the improvement of the skill position players and QB Jake Browning has to be a little less cavalier in trying to create plays that are not there. This defense is awesome on every level and this is the top team.

Alex Ghenis (6): Assuming they don’t lose any immediate upcoming games, the Huskies will continue to move up the Power Rankings. Some parts of the team are still a bit out-of-sorts, but if Chris Peterson’s track record is any predictor of future results, things will get sorted right soon. If Auburn had won this past weekend, their resume would be stronger… But the loss to LSU was only by one point, so it’s pretty much a wash.

FPI #7 (+1), W 21-7 @ Utah (34/36). Next week: v ASU (37), 88.5% win chance

Berkelium97 (5): Jake Browning, please explain this:

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

Oregon v California

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (2): The QB situation looks to be resolved as Chase Garbers was sharp and accurate throughout the day. Drops by the WRs and inconsistency of the run game continue to be issues, however. The best thing to happen to the Bears this weekend was BYU’s win at Wisconsin.

Alex Ghenis (2): The final score is misleading as most of Idaho State’s points were scored in garbage time against our backups and the refs just seemed to be messing with us. The QB situation is pretty well resolved and I feel comfortable with running backs after seeing what Marcel Dancy and Christopher Brown Jr. did on the ground (and hopefully Patrick Laird will re-discover his groove soon… although he had some solid runs and a long score called back for holding). BYU beating Wisconsin certainly helped our resume--enough to garner some votes in the AP and coaches’ polls. Depth at linebacker is a concern.

FPI #42 (-5), W 45-23 v Idaho State (FCS). Next week: Bye (∞) 100.0% win chance

Ruey Yen (3): I moved the Bears up more for that BYU win at Wisconsin than the Bears’ own win over Idaho State.

thedozen (4): I refuse to buy BYU as the #25 team in the land, but it’s nice to see the Bears climbing in part because they won in Provo.

Nick Kranz (5): I’m excited to see if the new contributors seen on Saturday can continue to shine in conference play.

Mike Foiles (5): Defense once again came out and played well. Staff has done an excellent job with filling the Cameron Goode void using Tevin Paul at OLB, though things will get more challenging when Cal plays a spread team with speed (Oregon). Really love the yearly improvement I am seeing from players on this side of the ball. Offense did not execute as well as I had hoped, but I am happy to see Garbers steadily improving as a passer. I imagine keeping Kanawai Noa out was only precautionary. The O-Line is better than last season, but is still not a great unit (particularly at guard). A little disappointed by Laird, Vic Wharton, and Ray Hudson in this game, but not overly concerned.

4. Oregon Ducks (3–0, 0–0 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (7): The Ducks are undefeated, but they dropped several spots in my rankings for playing a relatively close game against an abysmal SJSU team. Herbert was inaccurate, but efficient again and the ground game had an atrocious 2.7 yards per carry. Oregon should be very worried about this week’s visit from the Lobsterbacks.

Alex Ghenis (5): The Ducks have played three cupcakes and had a non-blowout win against one of the worst FBS teams in the country. The preseason hype was overdone, but at this point in the season, I’m still keeping things in order of wins-losses, so they are above the 2–1 teams. I’m anticipating a home loss against Stanford next week and thus a drop in the rankings. The primetime game will be telling…

FPI #31 (-8), W 35-22 v SJSU (123/117). Next week: v Stanfurd (16) 43.5% win chance

Nick Kranz (3): I’m sticking with my general opinion that Oregon is the best of the rest, but there are now more concrete reasons for skepticism after a mediocre showing against SJSU. If Oregon can’t move the ball against Stanford, there’s not a ton of reason to expect them to move the ball against us . . .

Mike Foiles (3): Ducks played sluggishly against San Jose State and we really won’t know a whole lot until they play Stanford this Saturday. Still really like Justin Herbert and the explosive ability of this offense, but this team is not back to the dominant force Oregon once was. Still will be a good team, however.

5. Colorado Buffaloes (3–0, 0–0 Pac-12) ↘

Colorado v Colorado State Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

Last week: 4

Alex Ghenis (3): Colorado is still undefeated, although the quality of their wins is questionable—especially after Nebraska’s loss vs. Troy this week. Like us, the Buffs switched over to the second- and third-stringers partway through the game and gave up a few points to FCS New Hampshire, but overall the stat lines for both sides of the ball were solid. A bye week and then UCLA means we probably won’t know much about their overall quality until ASU visits Boulder on 10/6… Either way, their schedule is looking damn easy with Washington as the only ranked team on the docket. The South is weak this year.

FPI #57 (+1), W 45-14 v New Hampshire (FCS). Next week: Bye (∞) 100.0% win chance

Nick Kranz (4): Like Cal, Colorado has proven something with wins over teams with a pulse, but those same teams have had very mixed results in their other games.

Mike Foiles (4): Do not discredit Colorado’s win in Lincoln after seeing Nebraska lose to Troy. The Huskers played a walk-on QB last week to fill in for Adrian Martinez, who looked quite promising. The Buffs are not the toughest up front, but QB Steven Montez, WR Laviska Shenault, and the rest of the skill players are for real. Defense will not be great but not a bad unit either with LB Nate Landman emerging.

6. Washington State Cougars (3–0, 0–0 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (4): At the start of the year, I expected them to finish in the bottom-third of the Pac-12 and now I’m expecting them to beat USC. Man, college football is weird.

Alex Ghenis (4): Like Oregon, Wazzu hasn’t played anybody of major substance—but they’ve beaten them in more convincing fashion than Oregon has (including the mutual opponent of San Jose State). This week’s game at USC will be a good test for the Cougs and the Mad Pirate. FPI has USC favored, but my gut is leaning toward WSU (it’ll be interesting to see what Vegas says when the line comes out).

FPI #34 (+6), W 59-24 v EWU (FCS). Next week: @ USC (35) 40.1% win chance

Nick Kranz (6): Wazzu’s system allows any half-decent QB to feast on bad defenses, so I try not to judge their QBs until I see what they can do when pressured. Will be interesting to see if USC can actually pressure Gage Gubrud.

Mike Foiles (7): Really need to see what they look like against a better team, but I am impressed so far. Thought the OL would be worse than it is and they continue to thrive defensively. I do not believe this is an elite defense and the offense will not perform nearly as well against good or decent defenses, but this is still a solid team.

7. Arizona State Sun Devils (2–1, 0–0 Pac-12) ↘

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

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (6): How do you give up 311 rushing yards to SDSU after holding Michigan State and UTSA to a combined 65 yards?

Alex Ghenis (8): As I mentioned last week, I was pretty sure that Michigan State was overrated and thus ASU’s win might have been taken a bit out-of-proportion as well. The passing offense is impressive, still. And as the announcers noted, there needs to be some sort of revision to targeting or other major interference on a reception past 15 yards… The way that the game ended was really a travesty and ASU likely would have taken things to overtime if the penalty was at the spot of the foul instead of just 15 yards and an ejection.

FPI #37 (-2), L 28-21 @ SDSU (68/65). Next Week: @ Wash (7) 11.5% win chance

Nick Kranz (8): I’m starting to come around to the idea that MSU was just completely unprepared to handle the Tempe heat. As much as playing in Arizona scares me, at least we don’t typically have to do it in September.

Mike Foiles (8): The loss to San Diego State is a game I will re-watch later in the week, but I was never convinced on their offensive line or their defense. It was an interesting coaching match-up with ASU DC Danny Gonzalez going up against his former mentor in Aztec HC Rocky Long. Long got the better of this matchup, but I still thought ASU would be able to put them away with their explosive passing game against San Diego State’s aggressive 3-3-5 defense. They did this to an extent, but not well enough failing to get a first down for most of the second half. A little surprised they could not stop San Diego State’s run game like they did last week vs. Michigan State (since they have similar styles of offense). I will watch the tape and get a better understanding of what happened here, but I knew coming in that ASU’s defense was young and these kinds of performances were a possibility.

8. Utah Utes (2–1, 0–1 Pac-12) ↔

Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (8): So far, my favorite play of the year is Pita Tonga’s Fat Guy Touchdown™ pick-six getting ruined when some otherworldly force sent the ball upwards into the air for no apparent reason.

Alex Ghenis (7): Utah’s offense wasn’t especially successful in its first two games and sputtered again against Washington. The defense was solid again, considering the competition. Considering the weakness in the Pac-12 South, Utah will still put up a fight in its effort to reach the conference championship.

FPI #36 (-2), L 21-7 v Washington (8/7). Next week: Bye (∞) 100.0% win chance

Nick Kranz (7): Utah was just never going to be able to move the ball on a top-10 defense, even at home. Still, the Pac-12 South is busted enough that I could totally imagine Utah earning themselves a rematch with Washington in Seattle that would be even uglier.

Mike Foiles (6): OL really has not gotten much better from last year and neither has QB Tyler Huntley. Really like this defense, even though it is not the typical Sack Lake City defense we are accustomed to.

9. USC Trojans (1–2, 0–1 Pac-12) ↘

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 7

Alex Ghenis (9): USC lost by 23 to a team that lost to Maryland by 5 and only beat Tulsa by 7. JT Daniels is getting a rude introduction to big-boy football… And it’s sure hard to carry the team on your shoulders as a 17-year-old true freshman when your team finishes the game with –5 rushing yards. I’m pretty sure they could still beat OSU or Arizona on a neutral field, but that Texas loss sure was painful.

FPI #35 (-9), L 37-14 @ Texas (30/25). Next week: v. WSU (34) 59.9% win chance

Nick Kranz (9): The performances from USC’s offensive and defensive lines have been shockingly bad, which makes me think there’s maybe a tiny chance that USC won’t figure things out by the time Cal comes to town. But they probably will.

Mike Foiles (9): Think it may be time to cut the ties with Clay Helton because this was not good. QB J.T. Daniels will eventually be good, but he is just incredibly young. Really shocked by the poor player development of the OL and the defense. Guys are not taking the necessary leaps to be a consistent power like they should be. I expect things to get better as time goes on, but they better not lose Friday vs. Washington State or Helton may be in trouble.

10. Arizona Wildcats (1–2, 0–0 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (11): They could have put up 150 points and they still wouldn’t have moved up in my rankings because I have no idea how this team fell behind 38–0 against a Houston team that gave up 63 points this weekend.

Alex Ghenis (11): A win against Southern Utah certainly doesn’t negate the awfulness of the Houston loss; although in retrospect now, the close loss to BYU is a bit more respectable. Arizona is essentially interchangeable with OSU… But just feels a bit lower on the rung considering their quality of play vs. talent on the roster.

FPI #61 (+6), W 62-31 v Southern Utah (FCS). Next week: @ OSU (94) 64.1% win chance

thedozen (10): Arizona got to have fun, fun, fun on offense until their schedule takes the T-Birds away. Khalil Tate managing five touchdowns on just 13 completions was an interesting wrinkle.

Nick Kranz (10): Arizona is still refusing to use Tate as a runner and while it’s easy to get away with that against Southern Utah, I don’t think Arizona did much to convince us that the problems they had against BYU and Houston won’t be problems in the future.

Mike Foiles (10) : Really disappointed of this team after three weeks. Khalil Tate suffered a lower-body injury at Houston and it was not a great sign that he did not run much in Week 3 vs. Southern Utah. Either way, the offense did fine—but this was just a seven-point game at halftime. The O-Line got a starter back, but this is far from a good unit and the offense will need all of Tate’s running ability to succeed. What concerns me almost as much as Tate’s health and Sumlin’s playcalling is how bad their defense has been. This group was supposed to be improved, but they look even worse than last year. Poor player development and mental buy-in combined with limited talent look like early problems for Sumlin in his first season in Tucson.

11. Oregon State Beavers (1–2, 0–0 Pac-12) ↔

Utah v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (10): An awful missed field goal cost them one of their best chances of earning an FBS win this season. Fortunately, they get another chance this weekend as the Wildcats come to town for a pillow fight.

Alex Ghenis (10): OSU seems to have a somewhat potent offense after putting up 30 points to Ohio State, a bunch last week against an FCS team, and 35 points away at Nevada despite three turnovers. They won overall yardage (540–357), first downs (28–17), and time of possession (34:47 minutes), but a 3–1 turnover ratio and a missed field goal in the final seconds stifled the potential comeback. (And really, there easily could’ve been a roughing-the-kicker penalty on that last play). If they can start to get the little things in order, the feisty Beavers could pull a conference win or two this season… Maybe even this coming week.

FPI #94 (-1), L 37-35 @ Nevada (90/93). Next week: v. Arizona (90) 40.2% win chance.

thedozen (11): Freshman Jermar Jefferson has already racked up six rushing touchdowns. I feel fine about slotting the Beavers ahead of the Bruins.

Nick Kranz (11): You could probably make a compelling argument that OSU shockingly has a top-half Pac-12 offense. Unfortunately, even if that’s the case, they have the conference’s worst defense by a pretty wide margin.

Mike Foiles (11): Starting to like this offense a little more as the season goes on. Much improved at the skill positions, but may struggle against better teams. The defense is awful, however, and wins will be tough to come by.

12. UC Los Angeles Bruins (0–3, 0–0 Pac-12) ↘

UCLA v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (12): I don’t think they hired Chip Kelly to build the 120th-ranked offense in the nation.

Alex Ghenis (12): A record of 0–3 puts the Baby Bears in last place… At least they’ll have a bye week to ponder their sad lives before losing to the Buffs on the 29th.

FPI #71 (-11), L 38-14 v. Fresno State (39/29). Next week: Bye (∞) 0.0% win chance

thedozen (12): It’s not good when your beat writer declares that the Bulldogs could have extended their first drive of the game to a city 8 miles away.

Nick Kranz (12): All that I ask is that the best Cal defense in at least a decade throttles the worst Chip Kelly–college offense ever. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Mike Foiles (12): This was just awful. Hats off to Tedford for winning one in the Rose Bowl. Want to re-watch this game to get a better read, but have not been impressed by anything this young team has done so far. Player development has been poor the last few seasons and the young guys look too young to win games.

The data

First of all, we have to figure out how we got here. Our 13 voters huddled together in Twist’s basement over the weekend to marathon the games involving Pac-12 teams and then ranked the teams 1–12. Our personal ballots are shown in Table 1, so feel free to hound any individual whom you disagree with for their personal decisions.

Table 1. Our votes following Week 3

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

We then took every single score for each team and calculated the mathematical average (to give a precise ranking) and the standard deviation (to show how much we differed on each team). Figure 1 combines these two values to show us where precisely we ranked each team (rather than the broad strokes of first or seventh) and a measure of how indecisive we were about them.

Figure 1. The precise rankings of each team post–Week 3.

One glaring detail from Fig. 1 is the massive standard deviation for Washington. Some of us still gave them first-place votes, but other voters are adhering more strictly to win-loss records and are subsequently punishing them for their road-ish loss to Auburn.

The actual (i.e., precise) distances between the teams can be seen in Figures 1 or 2; Figure 2 carries the same information, but the vertical stacking may make it easier to understand how close some teams are. For instance, we have a near-tie for third between Cal, Oregon, and Colorado. Cal won games that ended up close, including one over a potentially fierce BYU squad; Oregon played no one of note, but blew most of them out; and Colorado had a big road win over an Adrian Martinez–equipped Nebraska. Another key note is the massive distance between USC and the next-lowest three teams. In other words, we’ve got our basement! Three teams with two wins (over FCS teams) between them. All three teams have new head coaches (at that program) and Arizona and Oregon State are near-tied, while UC Los Angeles is the unanimous loser.

Figure 2. How our precise rankings have changed this year.

If you’re just interested in the rounded rankings (i.e., those featured in the main body of the post), then you can watch how these rankings have changed over the season as well in Fig. 3.

Figure 3. Another look at our season’s rankings, this time just our rounded rankings.

Here we see that Wazzu has finally moved from their perch at #9. Figure 3 also shows Cal and WSU experienced big jumps of three spots for big wins over FCS squads. Meanwhile, Colorado’s 31-point win over their FCS opponent led them to drop one spot. We’ve quantified how much the teams have moved up and down the list in Table 2. Our biggest mover is Arizona State dropping four spots by following up a huge upset win over Michigan State with a close loss to a feisty San Diego State. Although this was WSU’s first movement of the year, their Madness score of 3 skyrockets or plummets—depending on your perspective—them from least Mad team to fifth-least Mad overall.

Table 2. A quantified measure of how much volaility the Pac-12 teams have had this year.

And that’s scene. Now that we’re entering Pac-12 season, we should finally get more stable and understandable reviews of our teams.