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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 5: Oregon on bye and big wins for Utah & Washington—who’s #1?

A big fall for the Golden Bears.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Utah vs Washington Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Leland Wong: I don’t have time for this and you don’t like how I write, so let’s just get into it.

The Power Rankings are an endeavor to rank Pac-12 teams by strength, performance, and fanbase emotion this year—particularly in a “what have you done for me lately” sense.

Here are the games from Week 5:

  • Arizona State def. #15 California, 24–17
  • #17 Washington def. #21 USC, 28–14
  • Stanfurd def. Oregon State, 31–28
  • #19 Utah def. Washington State, 38–13
  • Arizona def. UC Los Angeles, 20–17
  • Bye: Colorado, #13 Oregon

Berkelium97: I’m only here for the newfound explosion of comments that these posts get.

Alex G: Per usual, each of my posts will start with the team’s rankings both nationally and in conference for SP+, FPI and their averages. Each will end with next week’s game and FPI’s win chance. As for main talking points: the conference features five teams with only one loss and a whole roundtable of wins/defeats with a tough way to rank each one. My Power Rankings will do their best to balance the apparent quality of each team and the current state of the program, including the “emotional state” (so, for example, Cal’s malaise from losing our starting QB). It’s definitely tough this week to rank things, but I’ll do my best. Also, a side note: as much as I dislike Mack Brown, I’m bummed that UNC didn’t beat Clemson this week because a one-loss Pac-12 Champion would certainly have more claim to a playoff spot than a one-loss ACC team…

Piotr T Le: I am back! Mostly due to being on vacation and away from work or pressures of a new apartment purchases!

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. Oregon Ducks (3–1, 1–0 Pac-12; ten first-place votes) ↔

Cal v Oregon Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Last week: 1

Nick Kranz (1): Can we just fast forward a few weeks to the Oregon vs. Washington game? Hard to see how that isn’t the game that decides the North thanks to Wazzu’s struggles and Chase Garbers’ injury.

Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 12/2, FPI 10/1, Avg 11/1. The Ducks continue to look like the conference’s premier team and a bye week did nothing to change that perception. Auburn’s complete demolition of Mississippi State this week makes that early-season loss look respectable, all things considered (especially because the Ducks led most of the game). However, Furd’s ineptitude against OSU this week makes last week’s win over Stanford less impressive. Next week at home against Cal is almost certainly a win, but has some potential for trap game if Devon Modster shows up. Next week: v. Cal, 92.6% per FPI.

2. Washington Huskies (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12; one first-place vote) ↗

California v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (1): After the loss to Cal, the Huskies continue to steamroll everyone in their path. Jacob Eason looked great in the first half (although his final stats were merely okay) and the pass defense took great advantage of USC’s mistakes.

Nick Kranz (2): A nice performance from a UW defense that was probably pretty unhappy with their second-half performance against Cal. Rounding into shape after integrating new starters perhaps?

Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 11/1, FPI 13/2, Avg 12/2. The Huskies destroyed USC at home, being the highest ranked team to win a game this week. They are lucky to get most of the toughest future contests at home (with the late-season game at Colorado a mild challenge). That includes Oregon in Seattle in Week 8—which might even get Gameday, unless Michigan–Penn State gets the nod. Long story short: Huskies have shown themselves to be a damn good team and should feel pretty comfortable going forward. Next week: @ Furd, 78.2% per FPI

3. Utah Utes (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12; one first-place vote) ↗

BYU Cougars v Utah Utes Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (3): After getting torched by USC’s passing game last week, I thought the Utes might be in danger of losing this one. They bounced back with a vengeance by shutting down an extremely productive and efficient Air Raid. This was Tyler Huntley’s third game with more than 10 yards per passing attempt––that’s a fantastic stat.

Nick Kranz (3): We now have one piece of evidence that the air raid run with USC-level talent might be better than the air raid run by Wazzu-level talent (yes I know they’re not identical versions of the air raid and that this is a facile comparison—cut me some slack).

Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 17/3, FPI 18/3, Avg 17.5/3. Utah is a well-balanced team with what looks like a strengthening offense and a defense that consistently holds its own. Salt Lake City continues to be a damn tough place to play, as well, as the Cougars got pretty well slaughtered. For now, the Utes appear to be the best team in the South—but are ranked below ASU because of the strength-of-record. The home game against the Sun Devils on October 19 (just before Cal in SLC) will be telling in a muddled Southern division. Next week: Bye.

thedozen (3): Tyler Huntley and the Utes engineered three passing plays of 40 yards or more—and each found a different receiver. I suppose that’s not all that shocking after Washington State had no answer for the Bruins’ attack.

4. Arizona State Sun Devils (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗

Arizona State v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (2): It wasn’t pretty (is it ever with this team?), but they managed to grind their way to an impressive road win.

Nick Kranz (6): The Cal of the South gets an ugly win over the Cal of the North, but the performance of their previously-maligned offensive line is reason for hope. ASU hosts a bunch of conference-title contenders and may well have a ton to say about the course of the conference season.

Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 32/6, FPI 38/6, Avg 35/6. You’ve got to give credit to the balance of the Sun Devils on both sides of the ball and their ability to gameplan against the Bears. I’m still convinced that ASU would have lost if Chase Garbers didn’t get hurt, but that’s how the dice roll in college football (and sports in general). They have road wins over two ranked teams and are building momentum that should energize the fan base. They don’t yet deserve to be ranked above Washington or Oregon, IMO, and are probably not as good of a team as Utah—but they are still ranked higher than the Utes simply because the wins look more impressive at this point. The game in two weeks in Salt Lake City will probably decide the South division winner. Next week: Bye.

thedozen (4): Even Herm Edwards admitted that this game swung on the Chase Garbers injury. Then again, half the conference has endured a serious health issue with a starting quarterback already.

5. California Golden Bears (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) ↘

Cal Golden Bears v USC Trojans Photo by: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (5): Losing Chase Garbers played a huge role in the outcome, but the defense shares much of the blame. The death-by-a-thousand-cuts run defense now looks increasingly vulnerable to mobile QBs. And the DBs have shown an alarming tendency to lose track of receivers if the opposing QB scrambles out of the pocket to buy time. This highly acclaimed passing defense needs to get its act together ahead of a trip to visit the conference’s best QB.

Nick Kranz (7): Either Devon Modster needs to provide a reasonable Garbers facsimile or the defense needs to step up and play like they did during the second half of 2018—or else things could go south quickly.

Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 49/9, FPI 44/7, Avg 46.5/8. A completely heartbreaking loss and likely season-ending injury to the starting QB is beyond emotionally deflating, overcoming the transitive property of wins/losses and keeping Cal near the bottom of the 4–1 teams. Still, the Bears hold a road win at Washington and the home loss was with a backup QB against a top-20 defense—by one score. Next week will be interesting as the defense has more potential than they’ve shown and the offense (Modster especially) has more potential than the second half of the ASU game—especially if guys like Kekoa Crawford come back healthy. As I noted on Twitter, “Oregon has the bye but no real film on Modster. Cal has a long week given the Fri game. Oregon may be overconfident playing a backup QB and after demolishing North perennial contender Stanford. The Cal team is angry. Potential trap for the Ducks, at least.” Next week: @ Oregon, 7.4% per FPI.

Piotr T Le (7): I say, this is the most Cal thing to happen to a Cal football player. Criticised for his lackluster 2018 and early 2019, he was able to find his stride for a two-minute drive, then a whole game and a half of this only to be knocked out on a flukey shoestring tackle and a bad landing… Now Cal’s defense needs to find the defense from last year if they are to return to being a threat in the Pac-12 North as a team.

6. USC Trojans (3–2, 2–1 Pac-12) ↘

California v USC Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (7): Matt Fink played like a third-string QB following last week’s surprising debut. The Trojans were picking up heaps of yards on the ground, but it’s hard to rely too much on the ground game when down by several TDs in the second half.

Nick Kranz (4): I’m not going to kill them for losing on the road to UW with their third-string QB, particularly since turnovers were the difference in the game. But USC also will probably be vulnerable to turnover issues since they’re going to be playing with back-up/inexperienced QBs the rest of the way.

Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 28/4, FPI 23/4, Avg 25.5/4. Hard to gauge the quality of the Trojans given the developing records of their opponents so far, while a doubled score on the road was a gutpunch this week after rejoining the top 25. USC has a bye week before most likely getting demolished at Notre Dame, followed by a couple unknowns in Arizona & Colorado, a likely loss against Oregon, and more unknowns against ASU and the two UCs. This team just feels like one giant question mark TBH. Next week: Bye.

7. Colorado Buffaloes (3–1, 1–0 Pac-12) ↔

USC v Colorado Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (5): On one hand, my Colorado ranking is probably an overreaction to recent results and a misguided attempt to respect head to head results. On the other hand, Steven Montez and his offense really look legit and I suspect they can score alongside any other team in the conference.

Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 48/8, FPI 54/11, Avg 51/9. Honestly, I haven’t watched enough Colorado football to have much of a gauge on the team. The overtime win against Nebraska now looks relatively unimpressive, while the victory over ASU seems like more of a statement. We’ll see how things go moving forward, as the stretch between bye weeks has a bunch of toss-up games for the Buffs. Next week: v. Arizona 58.6% per FPI.

thedozen (7): I’m looking forward to the matchup between Justin Herbert and Steven Montez in a couple of weeks when the Buffaloes travel to Autzen Stadium. I have seen both ranked among the top five quarterbacks of some 2020 NFL Draft predictions.

8. Arizona Wildcats (3–1, 1–0 Pac-12) ↗

California v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 9

Nick Kranz (8): OK, it was just UCLA, but winning without Khalil Tate or J.J. Taylor and holding the same UCLA offense that just scored a kersplillion points the week prior to just 17 is an indication that Arizona could be a bit more dangerous than expected . . . if they get their skill position guys healthy, at least.

Alex G (7): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 36/7, FPI 45/8, Avg 40.5/7. Arizona’s backup QB is no Khalil Tate and the Wildcats just didn’t look up to snuff against UCLA. Even though they won, they deserve to be ranked last amongst the one-loss teams (doubly so because they’ve only played four games so far, compared to the other teams’ five). I also considered putting them below USC, but the win–loss gives them the nod at #7. Next week: @ Colorado, 41.4% per FPI.

thedozen (8): Every win counts, but Arizona was fortunate to dodge overtime after JJ Molson’s missed field-goal attempt. Colin Schooler was a defensive standout for the Wildcats with 13 tackles, including two for a loss.

9. Washington State Cougars (3–2, 0–2 Pac-12) ↘

Washington State v UCLA Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (8): When your coach describes the players as “fat, dumb, happy, and entitled,” it’s clear things have not gone well. The Cougs need to bounce back with a strong performance at ASU this week, because the second half of the season features an extremely difficult set of road trips (Oregon, Cal, UW). Things could quickly spiral following another loss.

Nick Kranz (10): I’m not giving Leach the benefit of the doubt any more. One blowout loss, one inexcusable home loss, and one kinda OK win over Houston gets you tenth place.

Alex G (9): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 30/5, FPI 30/5, Avg 30/5. The Cougars’ defense is horrendous, giving up a full 325 yards to Utah in just the first half. Even the most explosive Mike Leach offense can’t overcome that ineptitude—and then the offense goes and lays an egg in SLC. Although WSU is 3–2 overall, all wins were against Group of Five or FCS teams and things are winless in conference so far. That—plus this week’s shellacking and the humiliation hangover of Coug’n it a week ago—deserves a pretty low ranking. Next week: Bye

Piotr T Le (8): When HC Wilcox is angry it simmers; when HC Leach is angry it is a volcanic eruption. With two back-to-back loses (one backbreaker to a hapless UCLA team that came back from Hades and the recent whooping from Utah), the Cougs look to keep sliding down the Pac-12 North.

10. UC Los Angeles Bruins (1–4, 1–1 Pac-12) ↔

California v UCLA

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (10): After last week’s offensive explosion, the Bruins were back to business as usual—looking atrocious on offense. Actually, they were running decently well, but that passing game is woefully inefficient.

Nick Kranz (9): I want to give them a mulligan since Dorian Thompson-Robinson went out injured, but he was struggling before he went out. Really, failing to score much against a previously-awful Arizona defense is a huge step back after last week’s pointsplosion in Pullman.

Alex G (10): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 66/10, FPI 49/9, Avg 57.5/10. Last week in Pullman, UCLA’s offense was moving in the way many expected it would upon the hiring of Chip Kelly—and then the O failed miserably against Arizona. It’s hard to gauge the quality of the defense after getting completely torched by Wazzu in Week 4 and appearing reasonable against the question-mark level of Arizona’s back-up QB play. Next week at home versus bottom-dweller OSU might start to establish the lower-end pecking order, but who knows… Next week: v. OSU, 73.5% per FPI.

11. Stanfurd Cardinal (2–3, 1–2 Pac-12) ↔

California v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (11): Davis Mills played pretty well (then again, everyone plays well against the OSU defense), but they should be seriously concerned about 1) surrendering four TDs in fewer than 15 minutes and 2) only running for 100 yards against the Beavs. By contrast, Cal Poly ran for over 200 against them last week.

Nick Kranz (11): They still have a few receivers worth throwing jump balls to, but the fact that they are basically as good as Oregon State speaks volumes.

Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 73/12, FPI 51/10, Avg 62/11. A close win on the road against OSU shouldn’t get a huge pat on the back, but at least the Cardinal isn’t winless in conference anymore. The defense couldn’t hold its own against a good-but-not-great OSU offense, continually getting hit for big run and pass plays, while the final score actually ended up the same as OSU’s loss to Hawaii—so Stanford continues to look vulnerable. Next week’s home game against Washington will likely be a double-digit loss, so Furd will probably stay at or below 0.50 at least through October. ALSO THEY ARE LAST IN THE CONFERENCE ACCORDING TO SP+ HAHA! Next week: v. Washington, 21.8% per FPI.

Piotr T Le (11): This is a bad year for the Furd—they are as beatable as they have been since the year 1 of the Harbaugh era. So of course we’d be without our starting QB and a defense that struggles against the methodical, plodding inside runs that David Shaw considers the greatest thing in football and being given a chance to run the ball like that for every offensive play for effective yards a personal dream.

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

Oregon State v USC Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): After a lackluster first half, the offense exploded in the second half and started moving the ball at will. But special teams blunders (a blocked field goal in the first half, allowing a 43-yard return to set up the game-winning field goal) cost them the game. Fortunately, they have a chance to climb out of the basement with a trip to Pasadena this week.

Nick Kranz (12): The college football gods are cruel and unusual, allowing the Beavers to outplay Stanford in a variety of ways, but lose anyway.

Alex G (12): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 71/11, FPI 73/12, Avg 72/12. That was a tough loss—and ultimately missing out on the most likely win left this year. Still, the Beavers showed themselves to have both a solid offense and some spunk on defense, completely outplaying Stanford in the second half. OSU just might upset someone this year—fingers crossed it’s not the Bears after our bye—while beating UCLA next week would be a great option. Week: @ UC L.A., 26.5% per FPI.

Piotr T Le (12): The unfortunate winner for the “Pac-12 1st Half Toilet Bowl”. Needing a 14-point rush of points to go to the knife point against an ailing Furd team. There are sparks of good within the deep issues within the team.

The data

Despite coming off a tough loss, we actually received votes from all twelve of our writers (Table 1).

Table 1. The post–Week 5 votes

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

For each team, the numerical scores that they receive are averaged. Sorting those precise, averaged scores is how we determine the above ranking. The precise rankings are a little more informative and collected in Figure 1 as the columns. The error bars in Figure 1 represent the standard deviation; a large standard deviation means there was a huge difference in the responses for that team while a small standard deviation means we were in much agreement for that team. The precise rankings are graphed across time in Figure 2.

Figure 1. The precise rankings after the Week 5 games.
Figure 2. The precise rankings for the 2019 season.

Figures 1 and 2 do a better job of capturing more information than the main, rounded rankings. Those figures show a fairly sizable schism between the top and bottom halves of the conference (between the top seven and bottom five teams). With no team having fewer than one loss, one might expect the top half of the conference to be all of the one-loss teams; however, two-loss USC managed to sneak their way in there despite a fresh loss to Washington and one-loss Arizona remains in the bottom tier for barely sneaking past UC Los Angeles.

Squint and you’ll miss the differences, but Figure 3 is largely similar to Figure 2, except it uses the rounded rankings instead. We see some stability in the three-team basement—which includes Stanfurd. Cal now faces our lowest-ranking since an underwhelming performance against UC Davis back in Week 1—thanks to Arizona State. Speaking of the Sun Devils, they hit their highest ranking of the season, which has been marked by inconsistent performances and alternating from rising to falling each week.

Figure 3. 2019 in a nutshell.

That kind of movement up and down the ladder is captured in Figure 4 as the Madness score. With ASU’s constant fluctuations, we see they have increased their stranglehold on the title of Maddest team of the year (Fig. 4b). But thanks to stability in five teams (including the top team and the three bottom teams), this is a relatively un-Mad week; by pure coincidence, those stable teams are all consecutive and right in the middle of the conference when organized alphabetically (Fig. 4a).

Figure 4a. The Madness score each week of the year.
Figure 4b. The cumulative Madness as it changes each week of the season.

With all these changing graphs and data evolving over time, it may be helpful to take a look at the season overall. To do that, we take the average ranking of each team for the season (so each data point in Figure 2) to capture the average position of each team for the year; the results are graphed in Figure 5. The biggest move here is that Oregon has supplanted Utah as the team with the highest average ranking in 2019.

Figure 5. The average position that each team has held in 2019.

On a bye, Oregon not only managed to retain their top spot, but also earn the honor of holding the highest average ranking for the season overall (Fig. 5). One can only imagine what they can accomplish if they are not only active, but actually winning. Which won’t happen this week because Bears and all.

Speaking of the coming week, we will have the pleasure of seeing Oregon State face UC Los Angeles in a battle that will help determine the pecking order all the way down there. Plus, Washington will bring another victim to the woodshed in the form of Stanfurd while we’ll also see a battle of the Pac-12 middle as the Wildcats battle the Buffaloes.