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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 4: Way to go, Beavers

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Did a big loss to basement-mate Wildcats ensure that the Beavers get relegated to 12th place?

NCAA Football: Arizona at Oregon State Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: Now that we’re finally getting into Pac-12 play, it’s about to get a lot easier for our Pac-12 Power Rankings. For one thing, there are like half as many games for us to review. Beyond my laziness, conference games make it significantly easier to draw comparisons between teams as there are fewer independent data points.

But let’s push pause on this poorly-ordered intro to state why exactly we’re here. In our weekly Power Rankings series, we endeavor to rank the 12 teams of the Pac-12 through a combination of their performance and fanbase sentiment, with a keen emphasis on the latest week. What happened this last week, do you ask? Let’s segue:

  • USC def. Washington State, 39–36
  • Arizona def. Oregon State, 35–14
  • #7 Stanfurd def. #20 Oregon in OT, 38–31
  • #10 Washington def. Arizona State, 27–20
  • Bye: California, Colorado, UC Los Angeles, Utah

Alex Ghenis: This week was pretty tough to sort out—three of the four conference games were within one score (and both the USC/WSU and Oregon/Stanfurd games came down to the wire, while the losers Coug’d and Quack’d it, respectively). There are three undefeated teams left, but Washington jumps Colorado because now Colorado’s wins just don’t look so great, while both of Cal’s FBS opponents won this weekend (as did Wisconsin). The middle set of USC/WSU/Utah/ASU is all kind of interchangeable and we could probably send Colorado down into that group as well. It’s also starting to become clear that the North is better than the South as all of the conference’s ranked teams are in the upper division. Fun fact: all of the teams that were favored with FPI ended up winning. Computers must know something we don’t…

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), Stanfurd (2/11), USC (3/28), WSU (4/30), Oregon (5/33), Utah (6/37), ASU (7/38), Cal (8/42), Arizona (9/55) Colorado (10/62), UC L.A. (11/70), OSU (12/102)

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 (4–0, 2–0 Pac-12; six first-place votes) ↔

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

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (1): That passing game is worryingly productive. Bryce Love was mostly held in check (by his standards), but five receivers/TEs had a reception of over 20 yards.

Leland Wong (1): Given the wishy-washy aspect of Power Rankings to consider fanbase sentiment and the emotion of college football, Stanfurd narrowly and tragically earned my first-place vote for stealing the win at Autzen.

Ruey Yen (2): Stanford just did enough to capitalize on their gifts from Oregon. The vulnerability of this team was also on display though, particularly in the first half.

Nick Kranz (2): There’s going to be a game where playing 3 flies up to their pass catchers won’t work as a viable offensive strategy.

Alex Ghenis (1): Stanfurd got beaten in nearly every phase of the game (including 524–398 total yards) except for turnovers (3–0) and yards per pass (12.6–10.5). The turnovers and other boneheaded mistakes by the Ducks (*cough* coaching *cough*)—along with some lucky officiating—still got Furd the W. Being undefeated including a win at Autzen (no matter the process) still warrants first place.

FPI #11 (+5), W 38-31 @ Oregon (31/33). Next week: @ Notre Dame (9) 38.2% win chance

2. Washington Huskies (3–1, 2–0 Pac-12; three first-place votes) ↔

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

Last week: 2

Leland Wong (2): I’ll argue that they played a better game than Stanfurd, but it just doesn’t compare here due to the excitement of the Stanfurd win.

Ruey Yen (1): I had them ahead of Stanford all season long and nothing about this week changed my mind.

Nick Kranz (1): They’re not built to impress you much with the way they win games, but they will continue to win a bunch of games by 10–17 points all season long.

Alex Ghenis (3): Washington looked solid in their win against ASU, but a truly elite team would have won by more than just a score at home against the current Devils squad. Granted, Chris Petersen’s attempt at a trick play right off the bat ended up backfiring with an interception that put ASU within easy scoring range for their first touchdown and the Huskies were the better team for the rest of the game. A 373–268 advantage in total yards and only three penalties all game is nothing to sneeze at—but even though Washington held ASU to 4 yards per play, defensive pressure could be a concern, as UW had zero recorded sacks or QB hurries and only three TFLs (per ESPN box score). They just did a good Cal impression of giving themselves a scare by providing ASU an opportunity for a fourth-quarter comeback that was thwarted. Jumps ahead of undefeated Colorado because the Buffaloes’ wins aren’t looking so great anymore—but behind undefeated Cal because the BYU win is still solid.

FPI #8 (-1), W 27-20 v ASU (37/38). Next week: v BYU (61), 92.5% win chance

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

Oregon v California

Last week: 3

Leland Wong (5): Between Cal and Colorado—two undefeated teams on bye—Cal’s wins this year seem to be against better opposition, so they get the nod for me. What we thought was a well-placed bye to rest while Oregon played a physical game against Stanfurd might be even more critical with an angry Oregon team coming with something to prove.

Nick Kranz (5): Agree with Leland—Colorado’s big win against Nebraska has lost a ton of luster. But it wouldn’t surprise me if Colorado ends up with a better Pac-12 record than Cal thanks to a softer schedule since they miss both Stanford and Oregon.

Alex Ghenis (2): After the bye week, our defensive FPI is now #5 in the country (including tied for #2 in total interceptions, with only 3 games played) and although offense is bad at #101, I’m anticipating improvement given progress at QB and RB. The bye came at a good time with Oregon coming to town after a tough game. Also, most of the easiest games after that are early October, which will help the offense come together before we get into the meat of the schedule.

FPI #42 (same), Bye. Next week: v Oregon (33) 54.0% win chance

4. Oregon Ducks (3–1, 0–1 Pac-12) ↔

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

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (9): I was ready to have them at #1 after that first half because they looked phenomenal. Then they had one of the most spectacular collapses in recent Pac-12 history. Am I punishing them too much for their faceplant? Probably. But they looked utterly unable to respond to adversity. That pass defense was a mess in the second half. And what’s the deal with that center? His snaps alternated between going into the stratosphere and being burrowed into the turf.

Leland Wong (4): Oregon should be higher in the ranking with their first quality win of the year, but insert clichéd line about how the win slipped away like one of their two critical fumbles. They slip the furthest of the four top teams that played each other this weekend due to aforementioned added bonus of an emotional loss. Imagine how much that must sting for the fans? Or if you watched the game, you don’t have to imagine since the camera sadistically zoomed in on anguished fans after the game ended. How about that certainly certain 98.7% win probability on ESPN, eh?

Ruey Yen (5): Talent is obviously there for the Ducks, but how can you screw up just holding on to the ball to run out the clock!?!? Ducks were also not that mentally tough given their series of screw-ups after a rushing TD was called back that turned into a fumble-six for Stanford to turn the game around. Maybe it’s a good thing that the Golden Bears play them next week rather than a month from now.

Nick Kranz (4): Many have rightly pointed out how well the Ducks played to build what should have been a completely safe lead. I’d point out that Oregon managed to lose a game in which they got an absolutely A+ performance from Justin Herbert, one which I suspect he’s unlikely to duplicate again this season (JINXED US!).

Alex Ghenis (5): Wow, that was painful… I’m from Eugene (partly) and boy was my Facebook feed full of unhappy campers at the end of the night. After scoring on every first-half drive (3 touchdowns, 1 field goal), Oregon’s second-half drives ended in: punt, fumble-touchdown, punt, punt, touchdown, fumble. You could chalk the loss up to officiating—I personally think the calls about the pylons were correct—but to quote Justin Herbert, “unfortunately we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times and we did everything we could to just give Stanford the game.” Amazing athletes and a first-round quarterback will only go so far with blatant mistakes and coaching failures.

FPI #33 (-2), L 38-31 v Furd (16/11). Next week: @ Cal (42) 46.0% win chance

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

Colorado v Colorado State Photo by Joe Mahoney/Getty Images

Last week: 5

Leland Wong (6): Unfortunately for the Buffs, their one quality win—over the Nebraska Cornhuskers—is looking weaker and weaker, even with Adrian Martinez back. Also, seems to be poor timing on the bye as it’s coming before a Friday visit from UC Los Angeles.

Nick Kranz (6): Gotta like Colorado’s chances of getting to 5–0 with two home games against beatable teams up next. But by that same token, I have a hard time seeing the Buffs winning at USC, which might be necessary in any Pac-12 South title run.

Alex Ghenis (4): They are undefeated, so they stay near the top of the Power Rankings, but the quality of the wins sure doesn’t look so good anymore. Next week against UCLA is a likely win, but after that, FPI only has them favored against OSU at home (with every other game being under 40%). It’ll still take another couple of weeks to figure out the Buffaloes and I anticipate them dropping by mid-season.

FPI #62 (-5), Bye. Next week: v UCLA (70) 68.8% win chance

6T. Arizona State Sun Devils (2–2, 0–1 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (6): I’m impressed that they stayed within one score of the Huskies for most of the game, especially because UW had shut down their passing game.

Leland Wong (3): The Sun Devils have solid evidence that they’re legit between their win over the Michigan State Spartans and hanging close with the Huskies on the road. But they do need a better answer for what happens when the passing game—and N’Keal Harry—get stopped.

Nick Kranz (9): It seems like ASU is trying to steal the Utah/Cal playbook—playing strong defense with low-risk offense and eeking out a low scoring win. The problem is that ASU’s defense isn’t nearly as good as Cal and Utah.

Alex Ghenis (9): The game against Washington shows that ASU is at least a somewhat balanced and competent team. However, the score is closer than it should have been considering that an early foolish turnover by UW led to ASU’s first TD off a short field and they were mostly held in check for the remaining 50-plus minutes. Both of their losses were to good teams in close games away from home and it’s looking like Michigan State is still holding its own after soundly defeating 3–0 Indiana—so there’s solid potential to be competitive in pretty much every contest.

FPI #38 (-1), L 20-27 @ Wash (7/8). Next Week: v OSU 92.7% win chance

6T. USC Trojans (2–2, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗

USC v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (7): I am genuinely impressed that they rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit (and again from a 6-point deficit after taking the lead in the fourth quarter) to avoid a 1–3 start. They still look no better than a middling Pac-12 team however.

Ruey Yen (7): Sadly, this team will continue to rise in the rankings as they get more experience.

Nick Kranz (4): I’m fascinated by games in which both teams achieve the same number of scores but one team wins anyway. In this case, both teams scored 5 touchdowns and 1 field goal, yet USC won by 3 points thanks to WSU special teams and two-point conversion randomness. Also, USC has figured out the Stanford strategy—when in doubt, throw the ball up to athletically-dominant pass-catching options. Also also, I have USC at fourth because somebody has to go there and I usually bet on the team full of those types of athletically-dominant athletes.

Alex Ghenis (7): The Trojans are starting to find their groove and freshman quarterback JT Daniels seems to be adjusting to the speed of the college game. Even their first two losses were against teams that are now in the top 20 (#18 Texas and #7 Stanfurd). Granted, Friday’s win took a partial comeback to gain the lead for the final score, the defense is still having its troubles and struggled against the Air Raid, and the game was partly lost by the Cougars Coug’n it. I have a feeling that the quality of the offense will vary game-to-game, as Daniels is still relying on his athletic ability and throwing prowess while still learning game management, going through reads, etc.… We’ll see how consistent they can be in the coming weeks (and hopefully they’ll struggle on November 10), but for now they are in the middle of the Pac. Semi-related note: JT Daniels needs some coaching on his post-game interviews.

FPI #28 (+7), W 39-36 v WSU (34/30). Next week: @Arizona (55) 62.3% win chance

Leland Wong (7): For all the concerns of the youth and inexperience on offense, I’m questioning what happened to Clancy Pendergast’s defense, which let the Wazzu passing game run unopposed down the field.

8. Utah Utes (2–1, 0–1 Pac-12) ↔

Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 8

Leland Wong (9): I had perhaps unrealistically-high expectations for the Utes this year. They don’t really have any terrible losses yet, but no quality wins either. As such, they just kinda default between teams that have proven to be better and teams that have proven to be worse.

Nick Kranz (7): I could very easily imagine an unlucky Utah limping into Week 7 at 2–3 with three-straight tough, close losses to slightly superior teams.

Alex Ghenis (6): The Utes are still sitting with a winning record, but hard to gauge exactly how good they are coming off a bye and looking back at their scores (solid defense, really questionable offense). Part of me wants them below ASU given the relative scores against Washington, although the entire foursome of Utah/USC/WSU/ASU is tough to sort right now, so I’ll just give things another couple of weeks on that front.

FPI #37 (-1), Bye. Next week: @ WSU (30) 40.4% win chance

9. Washington State Cougars (3–1, 0–1 Pac-12) ↘

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

Last week: 6

Leland Wong (8): Hard to penalize them too much for such a close game against USC. My preseason concern for the Cougs—the loss of DC Alex Grinch—may have finally become an issue with true-freshman QB J.T. Daniels throwing multiple touchdowns for his first time as a Trojan.

Nick Kranz (8): Starting to look like classic Leach Wazzu, with exactly the type of secondary problems you’d want for maximum fun.

Alex Ghenis (8): This is the time of year where a team’s record isn’t the only thing that affects their Power Ranking and even though WSU is 3–1 and USC is 2–2, the Cougars lost Friday’s head-to-head match-up, so they are one spot behind. But also, they had a chance to hold onto the win in an away game, but somehow blew the lead and just Coug’d it at the end, which is a good way to fall behind in the Power Rankings. Next week’s home game against Utah will start to sort things out in the middle of the Pac, including balance between the North and the South.

FPI #30 (+4), L 39-36 @ USC (35/28). Next week: v Utah (37) 59.6% win chance

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

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

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (10): The running game looked phenomenal against an atrocious Oregon State defense. This should have been a breakout game for Khalil Tate, but he only had 143 combined yards and barely completed more than half his passes.

Leland Wong (10): A direly-needed win in that basement battle. Who needs Tate (who was a Heisman hopeful in what felt like so long, long ago) when you’ve got running backs like J.J. Taylor and Gary Brightwell (combining for 397 yards on 40 carries)?

Nick Kranz (10): So we give Arizona a little bit of credit for pretty decisively stomping on OSU in Corvallis after the Beavers looked frisky to start the season? Or is this more confirmation that OSU is who we all thought they would be entering the season? I’m leaning towards the latter.

Alex Ghenis (10): As Nick noted, it’s hard to decide whether to take a strong win at OSU as a sign of Arizona’s quality or confirmation of OSU’s lack thereof. Tate seemed to get a bit hurt at one point in the game, which could limit the Wildcats in the immediate future (perhaps when the Bears visit in a couple weeks).

FPI #55 (+6), W 35-14 @ OSU (94/102). Next week: v USC (28) 37.7% win chance

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

Utah v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (12): The offense looked shockingly productive in the first few games, so why did they suddenly look inept when one of the nation’s worst defenses comes to town?

Leland Wong (12): Their best chance at winning a conference game came and went… the Beavers lost by three scores, couldn’t move the ball, and let the Wildcats run for nearly 450 yards. An ugly performance deserves and ugly rank.

Nick Kranz (12): OSU had the worst Power 5 defense in the country last year and it looks like they have the worst Power 5 defense in the country this year. While the offense is better, it’s not nearly better enough to make up for that reality.

Alex Ghenis (11): They could easily be #12 if it weren’t for the fact that UCLA hasn’t won a game. The decent-looking offense was finally held in check and the awful defense shows it isn’t likely to improve anytime soon.

FPI #102 (-8), L 35-14 v Arizona (61/55). Next week: @ ASU (38) 7.3% win chance.

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

UCLA v Utah Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Last week: 12

Leland Wong (11): Still a bad team, but hip-hip-hooray for Oregon State being even worse! They had a little bye-week drama with QB Devon Modster announcing that he will transfer from the program and can look forward to visiting a quality Colorado squad with the nation’s attention on Friday night.

Nick Kranz (11): I really liked (or, I guess, hated) what I saw from Modster last year against Cal and was pretty baffled that he was third on the depth chart to start the season. Keep it up Chip!

Alex Ghenis (12): Still winless, thus at the end of the Power Rankings despite OSU’s faceplant at home. The combined records of the teams they lost to are 10–1, so they could jump OSU next week depending on how they look against Colorado (even with a loss).

FPI #70 (+1), Bye. Next week: @ Colorado (62) 31.2% win chance

The data

With Cal on bye this past week, apparently that means CGB writers were also on bye as we had our lowest turnout of the season. We had 14 writers sign up, but one has never participated once, so we’ll call it 13; we hit 13 every week except for Week 1, which only had 12. This week, we’ve only got nine. Here are the individual ballots from our nine writers.

Table 1. The nine ballots for the Week 4 games

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

Using these full ballots, we compute the mathematical average of the rankings that each team received; ordering the teams by those precise rankings is how we came to the main ranking shown above. But down here in the pseudo-supplement, we’ll take a closer look at the precise data as well as the standard deviations for each team, which will tell us how conflicted we were on each team.

Fig. 1 shows pretty large standard deviations for Oregon and Arizona State—two teams that took their shots at the top talent in the conference, but came up short by merely one score each; the writers were split on how much credit they should get for this game or if an L is an L. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s no standard deviation for Arizona as they clearly proved themselves to be the best of the worst this year. Congrats?

Figure 1. The precise rankings after Week 4 along with the standard deviation.

We can also analyze how our rankings have changed over the season. Up first, we’ll do this for our precise rankings (Fig. 2). Echoing the worst number in the world, Week 4 has revealed four tiers of teams. At the top is Stanfurd and Washington, who were both successful in repelling usurpers. The next tier consists of three teams with one total loss in Cal, Oregon, and Colorado. Up next is ASU, USC, Utah, and WSU; USC and ASU have multiple losses apiece, but WSU and Utah each only have one loss. Utah’s loss was a bit of a big one, but I do think we’re sleeping on Wazzu a bit. And finally, we ave the basement. Arizona is actually a bit above the others, but I’m still calling this a triad of terribad. Oregon State and UC L.A. are coming a bit closer to each other this week than they were last week with Oregon State’s poor showing.

Figure 2. The precise rankings over the course of the season reveals four tiers for the conference.

We can do a similar season study of the rounded rankings. Here, we see plenty of stability. This is likely due to a whole third of the conference being on bye as well as two of the games (Stanfurd–Oregon and Washington–ASU) ending with the favorites on top. ASU gained some respect in their loss to a top-caliber team, while WSU dropped three spots for losing to a questionable USC (which had a reciprocal rise of three spots). Those were the only teams that moved—a whopping nine teams held steady.

Figure 3. The progression of our rankings over the year.

The Madness score—a quantification of how many spots tea teams move up or down the Power Rankings—backs up the static movement this week. The Madness score is less than half of the next-lowest week and less than one-third of the Maddest week this season. As for individual teams, ASU continues to be the Madddest team thanks to the surprise success of Herm Edwards. USC is just a bit behind them; perennially one of the Maddest teams, my personal guess is that it’s due to a combination of their high expectations and talent level coupled with our personal love of making them plummet for every misstep and whenever they fail to match these expectations.

Table 2. Our Madness score is used to quantify how much each team moves up or down the Power Rankings.

Week 5 has some games that should have big ramifications to our Power Rankings since the opponents are relatively evenly-matched—Utah vs. Wazzu and Cal vs. Oregon. And should Arizona upset USC, that would undoubtedly add majorly to our post’s Madness and to our fanbase’s happiness.