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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 8: Hello darkness, my old friend...

The “darkness” line works on—like—four different levels. At least.


Leland Wong: Here’s to another oh-so-exciting week of the Power Rankings, where we’ll just watch the sturdy Golden Bears fall, fall, and fall again.

If you’re new here, you quite possibly don’t know what I’m talking about.

What are we falling down? The Power Rankings, which is a listing of the Pac-12 teams by their performance, fanbase, and outlook this year, with particular emphasis on the most recent weeks.

Why is Cal falling? Because of a wondrous three-game losing streak. Here’s how we lost and how the other teams did:

  • UC Los Angeles def. Stanfurd, 34–16
  • Oregon State def. California, 21–17
  • #12 Oregon def. #25 Washington, 35–31
  • #13 Utah def. #17 Arizona State, 21–3
  • Washington State def. Colorado, 41–10
  • USC def. Arizona, 41–14

Berkelium97: The big decision this week is whether to have Utah or Oregon at #1. Beating ASU or UW is equally impressive for the resume since both teams are about equal (it’s a shame they don’t play each other this year). Oregon won on the road and rallied from a 10-point deficit while Utah cruised to victory. What propelled Utah ahead of Oregon in my ballot was their incredible performance against Jayden Daniels—he had 25 yards on 18 passes and 25 yards on 13 carries (that doesn’t include sacks). Utah’s defense has looked like the best in the conference over the past two weeks and they are peaking heading into a pretty easy second-half of their schedule. Right now, I’d favor Utah on a neutral playing field.

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: in terms of overall performance, there seems to be a top duo of Oregon/Utah, followed by USC/ASU/Washington, and a bunch of I-have-no-idea type teams. Even the team with the worst record (UCLA) is 2–2 in-conference—just like OSU, Arizona and ASU. The pre-season doormat, OSU, has two wins on the road as well. One of the big realizations at this point in the season is each team’s strengths or struggles around recruiting strategy, roster depth and coaches’ skills at player-development. Multiple starting QBs have had season-ending injuries, missed multiple games due to injury, and/or were just slowed down by something lingering. The breakdowns of Cal and Furd’s O-lines—with multiple injuries, patchwork rosters and backups thrown-into-the-fire—are testaments to the impact of injuries across position groups. Upcoming injuries, recovery, opponent strength and timing of bye weeks will have even more importance than the past few weeks.

Nick Kranz: I particularly struggled picking a team for third place this week, as eight conference teams now have three or more losses. I think ASU is the only pick, even if Utah pretty firmly exposed them.

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 (6–1, 4–0 Pac-12; 10 first-place votes) ↔

Washington v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Last week: 1

Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 11/2, FPI 9/1, Avg 10/1. Oregon sits atop the Pac 12 as the only team unbeaten in conference play—and is favored in all its future games. Deserves a number 1 vote. Next week: v. WSU, 86.2% per FPI.

Christopher_h (1): Oregon remains the team to beat. They took the Huskies best shot and came out on top yet again. I give them the edge over Utah because at least they’ve been consistent, while I can’t say the same after Utah’s meltdown against USC. Utah definitely has the potential to beat Oregon, but at least Oregon has shown up in every game this season.

2. Utah Utes (6–1, 3–1 Pac-12; one first-place vote) ↔

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Northwestern vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (1): The Utes absolutely dominated ASU and that was despite four turnovers (included one inside ASU’s 10-yard line and one inside their own 20, which led to ASU’s only points of the evening). I am dreading Saturday night’s game.

Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 9/1, FPI 13/2, Avg 11/2. First place in the South and one of two remaining one-loss teams gets the #2 vote. Of major concern, the Utes will likely be playing a back-up QB (potentially their third-stringer) next week—just like their opponent—and neither back-up who came in vs. ASU played especially well after Tyler Huntley went down. If the defense keeps doing its thing, though, a sluggish offense should be enough on Saturday. Next week: v. Cal, 88.1% per FPI.

Christopher_h (2): Honestly, if Cal can get through the game without any offensive injuries, it should be considered a victory. Utah has one of the best defensive lines in the country and Cal has a couple of bowling pins for the offensive line. I was worried about this game even in the beginning of the season because Cal simply does not match-up well with Utah and we’re even worse off now with all the injuries. (1) Cal struggles against dual-threat QBs—all of whom were significantly worse at throwing the ball than Tyler Huntley (Tate, Thompson-Robinson, Daniels, etc). (2) Cal’s offensive line is no match for Utah’s defensive line. Devon Modster or Spencer Brasch will have absolutely no time to throw (although on the bright side, perhaps they should be used to this by now) and the amount of penetration OSU had in the Cal backfield will be nothing compared to what Utah will do, so don’t expect much of a running game either. I can’t even plausibly imagine how Cal could win this. QB Jason Shelley would pose similar struggles for Cal (so let’s hope they continue to play Drew Lisk as backup) and Utah has about five RBs they use regularly, so it’s not like they’re at risk of losing even if they were to sustain some injuries to key players. That’s how deep they are. My most plausible explanation for a Cal victory—using the forces of Pac-12 After Dark, Cal’s defense plays the best game of their careers and manages multiple touchdowns on defense or special teams; Utah plays Drew Lisk for some reason and he’s ineffective passing the ball against the Cal secondary; and Utah commits a number of stupid penalties for no reason at crucial times to lose the game.

3. Washington Huskies (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↗

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Penn State vs Washington Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 4

thedozen (3): The Huskies led 31–21 in the third quarter, but were unable to secure the victory thanks to an Oregon comeback led by who else but Justin Herbert. Still, it’s hard to believe that Washington has lost to both Bay Area schools.

Berkelium97 (4): Huskies fans are going to have nightmares about the 4th-and-3 pass to Mycah Pittman that turned into a TD and brought the Ducks back within three points. That was a huge defensive lapse.

Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 13/3, FPI 14/3, Avg 13.5/3. The Huskies have a losing record in-conference, including the first couple losses at home in over two seasons, but are still one of the top-five teams in the Pac 12. The Huskies are favored in all of their upcoming games per FPI—and that includes the home game in two weeks against Utah, when the Huskies will be coming off a bye. And honestly, it’s not shameful to lose at home by less than a touchdown against a playoff-contending Oregon team. Next week: bye

Christopher_h (4): Coulda, woulda, shoulda, Washington.

4. Arizona State Sun Devils (5–2, 2–2 Pac-12) ↘

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 3

thedozen (4): Arizona State managed 25 passing yards in the entire game! The Sun Devils still find themselves in my top third of the conference because it’s absolute mayhem.

Berkelium97 (3): ASU suffers the rare blowout loss, but I think this speaks more to the quality of Utah rather than the deficiencies of the Sun Devils. I think Oregon is the only team that would not get blown out by Utah right now (maybe UW, but we’ll find that out next weekend).

Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 34/6, FPI 37/6, Avg 35.5/6. Washington is likely the better team than ASU, but ASU has a better record (and the losses, which were a close loss at home and a blowout on the road, kind of feel like a wash given the opponent/point differential/location). ASU has a tough-but-not-horrific schedule ahead and should end up with a winning record. Next week: @ UC L.A., 48.9% per FPI.

Christopher_h (3): I feel like ASU is overrated, but I can’t justify switching them with anyone else. By all accounts, they’re playing above their potential, which is really a testament to their coaching with Herm Edwards. However, Utah completely obliterated them and Jayden Daniels went 4/18 through the air as Utah pressured Daniels to beat them through the air. Not surprisingly, ASU only managed two first downs in the entire first half. Yes, Daniels is a talented runner, but you need more than that to beat Utah. This score could have been much uglier if it weren’t for four unfortunate Utah turnovers in or near the redzone.

5. USC Trojans (4–3, 3–1 Pac-12) ↗

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

Last week: 6

Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 23/4, FPI 18/4, Avg 20.5/4. USC only has one loss in-conference and two of their defeats were against damn good teams (at Washington and at Notre Dame). The return of the second-string QB is also promising and he showed well in the beatdown of Arizona Saturday night. If USC can run the table —not exactly easy with a home game against Oregon in a couple weeks—then they will also win the South. Next week: @ Colorado, 82.1% per FPI.

Christopher_h (5): Big credit to USC DC Clancy Pendergast, who knew just how to stop Arizona (hint: it involves having a monstrous defensive line swallow up the opposing QB on every play). USC also contrasts well with Cal, in case you wanted to see what it looks like when a team has enough depth that their fifth-string running back (Kenan Christon) can still break off two touchdowns after the first three guys get injured and #4 just fumbled. Injuries on the defensive side of the ball are more concerning, as USC seemingly lost star (freshman) DE Drake Jackson and S Talanoa Hufanga to injury. While USC’s defensive line is (was?) impressive, their secondary is ripe for the picking.

6. Washington State Cougars (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↗

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 06 Washington State at Oregon State

Last week: 10

thedozen (6): Anthony Gordon continues to rack up passing yards. Gordon had 369 in this one, which was his second-lowest total of the season. By contrast, he reached 570 in the infamous UCLA game.

Berkelium97 (6): The pass defense didn’t surrender a million yards, so that’s an improvement. In fact, holding Montez to 129 yards on a miserable 4.3 ypa is pretty impressive.

Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 26/5, FPI 27/5, Avg 26.5/5. A blow-out home win against one of the worst teams in the conference—and the increasing evidence that the prior losses (UCLA, Utah, and ASU) were against at-least-decent teams—allows WSU to be near the top of the conference middle. Next week: @ Oregon, 13.8% per FPI.

Christopher_h (6): Don’t read too much into the defensive stats—they’re still terrible on defense and they’re about to get torched by Justin Herbert.

7. Arizona Wildcats (4–3, 2–2 Pac-12) ↔

NCAA Football: Arizona State at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (7): Grant Gunnell played surprisingly well after replacing Khalil Tate (who was sacked a whopping SIX times in two quarters and one drive). That’s the only silver lining from a pretty miserable evening in Los Angeles.

Alex G (7): The Wildcats really, really struggled at USC, including after Khalil Tate went down and the Wildcats had to go with true-freshman Grant Gunnell. Seems that our conference is the one of back-up quarterbacks. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 58/7, FPI 61/10, Avg 59.5/9. Next week: @ Stanfurd, 34.1% per FPI.

Christopher_h (7): Arizona was completely dominated by the USC defensive line and found themselves unable to sustain drives as USC kept QB Khalil Tate stuck in the pocket all night to prevent big plays. Grant Gunnell is still a freshman and the fact that he somehow poses a quarterback controversy for Arizona shows how much they’ve wasted Tate’s talent. While I like CB Lorenzo Burns, the Arizona secondary as a whole struggled—and the best this team can hope for is to be thoroughly mediocre.

8. Oregon State Beavers (3–4, 2–2 Pac-12) ↗

Oregon State v Washington State X

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (9): The Beavers had their best defensive performance of the Smith Era, by far. And the offense moved the ball pretty well against a decent defense. A bowl berth has gone from an impossibility to an outside chance (beat Arizona, Wazzu, and upset one of UW/ASU/Oregon).

Alex G (10): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 68/10, FPI 72/11, Avg 70/11. OSU is doing surprisingly well in-conference and has rocketed up the computer rankings since the preseason. It’s all respectable, but the Beavers remain low because they are one of the few teams with a losing record overall. Next week: bye.

Christopher_h (8): Cal had to have known what was coming on offense from OSU and yet they failed to stop OSU on three touchdown drives. OSU’s improved run defense this year was mainly due to occasionally getting into the opposing backfield, but unfortunately it seemed like they did it nearly every play against Cal. Their offense will win them games, even if I’m not sold at all on their defense.

9. Colorado Buffaloes (3–4, 1–3 Pac-12) ↔

Nebraska v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (8): Colorado has lost three in a row and has not been competitive in the past two games (particularly egregious against that WSU defense). It’s starting to feel like last season’s second-half collapse may be occurring again.

Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 72/11, FPI 76/12, Avg 74/12. Colorado had a solid road win over ASU in Week 4, but after that it’s been a train wreck. The Buffs are set to be underdogs in all their future games and are lucky to have Furd—their easiest opponent—at home. Next week: v. USC, 17.9% per FPI.

Christopher_h (9): I’m supremely disappointed in QB Steven Montez this season. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection, his receivers struggle to get open, and Montez makes far too many bad decisions as he tries to do too much for the offense. It’s particularly egregious since they have some serious playmakers at wide receiver (Laviska Shenault, KD Nixon, Tony Brown, etc) and yet they continue to struggle on offense. Shenault is not having the impact I expected him to have after returning for injury, but I am not sure if that’s due to lingering effects of the injury, an increased defensive focus on Shenault (whose frequent double teams should open up the rest of the receivers), or a reluctance to use Shenault every play on offense the way they did last year. Their defensive line has struggled without DL Mustafa Johnson and their secondary is pretty bad outside of lone bright spot S Mikial Onu.

10. California Golden Bears (4–3, 1–3 Pac-12) ↘

NCAA Football: California at Colorado
The most expressive Justin Wilcox has ever been.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (10): The Bears have plummeted in my ballot thanks to complete ineptitude on offense and regression on defense coupled with recurring defensive depth issues in the second half. To come out of a bye week and play like that against Oregon State is an incredible contrast to the team that beat UW and played 60 minutes of competitive football with Oregon.

Alex G (9): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 61/8, FPI 48/7, Avg 54.5/7. Honestly, I have no idea what to do with this team. We keep going down the backup-QB-chain as so many other teams have done this season and are playing a painfully patchwork O-line. It would take a miracle to win in Salt Lake City—and if the Bears do win, I’ll be ecstatic—but the team is lucky to have another bye week after Utah to prepare for what are looking like close-but-winnable games. Next week: @ Utah, 11.9% per FPI.

Piotr T Le (11): “Why do I do this to myself?” I asked myself as I returned to Memorial Stadium for the first time since 2014 BYU game. However, it was different—during that season it was all about Jared Goff showing what he can do with a WR corps full with potential NFL talent. Now I just saw an exercise in insanity where the OL was trying and failing to execute a run-heavy gameplan. The #11 ranking reflects the fact that the offense will find a way to screw up the team’s efforts, causing fans to cheer a basic first down.

Christopher_h (10): This is where I finally admit I have overrated Cal. I had been saying for weeks that OSU was going to upset someone and I hope it wouldn’t be us, but, well, it was us. If Cal still had their starting offensive line and QB Chase Garbers, I still believe we’d be competing for the Pac-12 North. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of football (more than half the Pac-12 have played backup QBs at some point this season) and the lack of depth Cal has on offense is embarrassing. The single biggest concern is the offensive line. I think Cal is serviceable at the skill positions and we don’t need more than a game-manager QB with our defense… but that all goes out the window when the offensive line is getting blown up on every play. We weren’t that great before the injuries either, but now it feels hopeless. OSU’s defense is not that good (9 sacks, 14 TFLs)—Cal’s offense is just really, really bad. This offense is the equivalent of the Goff-era defense—another generational talent wasted.

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

Oregon State v UCLA Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Last week: 12

thedozen (11): The Bruins broke a losing streak against the Cardinal spanning 11 years. That’s a run of futility towhich I can relate.

Berkelium97 (11): What do you do when DTR is your best option at quarterback? Run, run, run. Turns out the Bruins are pretty good at it, too (at least, against lesser competition).

Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 65/9, FPI 51/8, Avg 58/8. The computers think that UC L.A. deserves to be ranked around 8 and I generally agree. A road win over a rival—plus the comfort that other teams can lose to OSU at home—are factors. Next week: v. ASU, 51.1% per FPI.

Christopher_h (11): Oh whoop-dee-do, you beat up an awful Stanford team. You want a medal?

12. Stanfurd Cardinal (3–4, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘

Stanford v Arizona State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (12): UCLA gave up over 500 yards per game heading into Thursday’s game and the Lobsterbacks only managed 198 yards against them. I’d feel much happier about rightfully ranking LSJU last in the Pac-12 if we hadn’t embarrassed ourselves against OSU.

Alex G (12): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 76/12, FPI 54/9, Avg 65/10. Stanfurd’s early-season losses—at USC, at UCF, and home against Oregon—were all understandable, then the win at OSU was uncomfortably close, the win at home against Washington was surprisingly positive, and the loss at home against UCLA was hilarious. The biggest reason why the Cardinal are #12 is because this is a real crash of a season relative to the past decade or so and fans, recruits, etc. are likely beginning to question the future of the football program. Next week: v. Arizona, 65.9% per FPI

Christopher_h (12): It’s impossible not to draw parallels between the struggles of Cal and Stanford. Stanford started their third-string QB (Jack West) and he did terrible as he received no help from a back-up offensive line. West had about two seconds to throw each play and the few times he did manage to get a throw off, the wide receivers would drop it. It’s hard to go 30 plays with nothing happening and then be expected to catch a pass on play 31. More baffling was how poorly the defense played. UCLA is not a good team—and I give them zero credit whatsoever for anything—and yet Stanford struggled to stop them. Stanford looked uncharacteristically bad on defense and I don’t have an answer as to why. They took poor angles on runs, their secondary has not been playing well together, and even star CB Paulson Adebo is getting picked on. Nothing is going right for the Cardinal and I’m sure all four of their football fans are very upset about it.

The data

Those are our rankings for the week, but let’s take a look at how the rankings have progressed over the year (Fig. 1). This week had some pretty big shake-ups and we were on the wrong end of one of them.

Figure 1. The 2019 Power Rankings.

We came to our rankings by polling our 11 writers (ragnarok was out of town gallivanting around Versailles and suckling champagne). CGB is basically scotch tape because we’re so transparent that we’ll show off our individual votes in Table 1.

Table 1. The individual votes after Week 8

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

From those individual votes, we hire interns out of Evans Hall to collect the individual ranks that each team received and average them to determine how we collectively rated our conference-mates. These precise, average scores are shown as columns in Figure 1. To measure how varied our responses are, we hire a second team of interns to calculate the standard deviation, which is shown in the error bars and illustrate how much we agreed on each team. We employ a second set of interns to maintain objectivity and such.

Figure 2. A closer look at our perceptions of the conference this week.

When taking a look at these precise rankings, they can correlate with differences in strength or perception to a greater degree than rounded rankings do. For example, consider a group of three teams where there’s unanimous agreement voting for the first-place team, while the other teams split second- and third-place votes. The rounded rankings would tell you that the difference between first and second place is 1; the precise scores would give rankings of 1.0 and 2.5, meaning a difference of 1.5. You can see the differences in the precise rankings in Figures 2 or 3. The split between the top five teams illustrates this—we’re fairly confident in our perceptions of Oregon and Utah, but conflict between Washington, ASU, and USC results in this cluster being offset significantly from that top tandem.

That being said, I don’t have a solid explanation for why Wazzu and Arizona are split off from the top and bottom teams in their own tier (other than their feline representation). The Cougs have seen a lot of trouble this year, but enjoyed a big win over a middling team while the Wildcats have been meh all year, culminating in two consecutive blowout losses to quality teams. This observation is caused by these two teams near-unanimously earning all of the votes for sixth and seventh places with Rob being the outlier (Table 1).

The bottom tier consists of two teams that have flopped year-long, but secured upset wins; two Bay Area teams that fell to basement-dwellers; and Colorado. I don’t know why Colorado.

Figure 3. The precise rankings for the 2019 season.

The number of spots that each team traverses each week is collected in Figure 4a and is known as Madness. Thanks to Cal’s massive five-place plummet, they have tied Washington as the teams with the highest Madness at this point in the season. No team has moved more than five spots in a single week and Cal has managed to do so twice—for upsetting Washington and for pratfalling against Oregon State. We can tell from the comments and clicks that you guys are all massive fans of this inconsistency. Figure 4b tracks the cumulative Madness for each team over the season; with the Beavers’ big win, they hand over the title of Least Mad team to the Ducks.

Figure 4a. The Madness of each team this season—how much they move up and down the rankings.
Figure 4b. The cumulative Madness as it grows over the year.

Lastly, Figure 5 is a measure of the average ranking that each team has held over the year. Between Cal’s early peak and recent struggles, we still have a tenuous hold on the fourth-place position for the 2019 season overall, but ASU and USC are gunning for it and will probably leapfrog us next week—barring a massive upset over Utah. Meanwhile, the Beavers and the Bruins are nigh-tied for the basement spot for the 2019 season—will either of them seize the opportunity to use their big Week 8 win as a turning point to climb out of this spot?

Figure 5. The average rank that each team held in 2019.

Next week shouldn’t be interesting, but in the Pac-12, that means it probably will be. Most games pair up a heavy favorite versus a team that’s struggling, with the exception of perhaps USC–Colorado as both teams have varying degrees of issues with consistency; the Buffaloes are struggling with getting acclimated to Mel Tucker in Year One and the Trojans seemingly have this issue because Clay Helton.

(That being said, I checked the Vegas opening lines after writing that and USC is favored by two scores while Arizona over Stanfurd and ASU over UC L.A. are projected by just three points.)

We’ll see if any upsets happen (please God in the Cal game) to shake up the Power Rankings or if things stay fairly quiet with the favorites coming out on top.


How would you rank Cal after the Oregon State loss?

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