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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 9: Cal flirts with (the) rock(‘s) bottom

Does an absolute embarrassment against one of the conference’s top teams result in last place?

Disney Studios Showcase Presentation At D23 Expo, Saturday August 24 Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Leland Wong: Welcome to the Pac-12 Power Rankings. You almost got a treat this week without any of my babbling as the evacuations and power outages in the North Bay almost left this post in the hands of Piotr and Rob. But unfortunately for you, I am the cockroach that keeps on scraping by and surviving...

We’re ranking the Pac-12 teams by performance and fanbase sentiment for the 2019 season, particularly the most recent weeks. Here’s the latest slate of games:

  • USC def. Colorado, 35–31
  • Stanfurd def. Arizona, 41–31
  • UC Los Angeles def. #24 Arizona State, 42–32
  • #12 Utah def. California, 35–0
  • #11 Oregon def. Washington State, 37–35

Berkelium97: Thanks to the Pac-12’s cannibalization of itself every week, we may see eight or nine teams qualify for a bowl this season.

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. This is the point in the season where depth is really starting to show—including with the rebound that can comes with an injured starter returning from a multi-week injury (e.g. KJ Costello). It’s just heartbreaking to see the tumble that the Bears have taken after starting the season 4–0 and it’s a perfect example of how important depth is in this sport.

Nick Kranz: There’s Oregon, there’s Utah, and there are 10 teams that all have a record somewhere in between 5–3 and 3–5, so I honestly couldn’t be much bothered with how any particular voter decided to rank teams 3–12. Also, I spent Saturday attending a USL soccer game in Reno, so my bit this week is wondering why weird things happened this week that I can’t explain with my eyes.

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. Utah Utes (7–1, 4–1 Pac-12; seven first-place votes) ↗

USC v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (1): If Tyler Huntley can stay healthy, then this team looks good enough to make a splash in the playoffs.

Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 9/1, FPI 13/2, Avg 11/1. Utah looked like the best team in the conference this weekend and have demolished their recent opponents. Honestly, I’m hoping they win out and USC stumbles somewhere because Utah is the best team in the South and deserves to make the conference championship game. Next week: @ Wash, 47.1% per FPI.

Nick Kranz (2): I’ve got the Utes at #2, but if you wanted to put ‘em 1st I wouldn’t complain. The offense is just so danged efficient. As Cal fans we’re rightly supposed to focus on our defense not doing the job for the first time in more than a year, but a lot of what happened on Saturday was about Huntley, Zack Moss, and the rest of their crew.

2. Oregon Ducks (7–1, 5–0 Pac-12; four first-place votes) ↘

Michigan State v Oregon

Last week: 1

Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 14/2, FPI 9/1, Avg 11.5/2. The Ducks are on a roll and are still the North’s favorite and make it to the conference championship—with an outside shot at the playoff. Still, the Ducks are behind the Utes because they’ve needed a few close wins (Cal and the Washington schools) while Utah has obliterated everybody after the Week Four loss at USC. Oregon needing to secure a Coug’n It WSU loss just isn’t as encouraging to the fanbase as Utah’s bageling of the Bears. Oregon seems to have outlasted its toughest tests, although this weekend at USC could be a challenge. Next week: @ USC, 63.7% per FPI.

Nick Kranz (1): That’s two weeks in a row that Oregon’s previously unopposed defense looked mortal and nearly lost the Ducks a game. With more competent offenses on the schedule, it’s probably more likely than not that Oregon drops a game before the Pac-12 title game.

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

Idaho v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Last week: 3

Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 15/3, FPI 16/3, Avg 15.5/3. Washington is a damn-good team and has the same overall record as USC (5–3), but they sit behind USC because they have a losing record in-conference while $C is 4–1 and Washington is coming off a loss and a bye instead of a couple wins. The computers love the Huskies and this weekend—home against Utah—will be a fun one to watch. Next week: v. Utah, 52.9% per FPI.

thedozen (3): Washington’s showdown with the Utes in Seattle is a day game that will be televised on FOX. That should help provide a bit more exposure for the conference.

4. USC Trojans (5–3, 4–1 Pac-12) ↗

Oregon State v USC Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (4): I wish I knew what it felt like to have your freshman backup QB throw for 400 yards and four TDs. It probably helps to have a functioning offensive line and a stable of 4- and 5-star receivers.

Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 26/5, FPI 21/4, Avg 23.5/4. It took a last-minute come back on the road, but USC pulled off a gritty win to maintain a winning record and pole position in the South. The roster depth from good recruiting classes is also showing itself at this point in the season. This weekend will likely decide whether Utah or USC reaches the conference championship; USC against Oregon will be the Trojans’ toughest test to stay in first place and Utah at Washington will be the Utes’ toughest game left. Next week: v. Oregon, 36.3% per FPI.

Nick Kranz (4): Having a bunch of high-end skill position talent really helps mask a host of other issues.

5. Arizona State Sun Devils (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘

Sacramento State v Arizona State Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (6): Herm’s teams had been competitive in every single game of his tenure until last week’s loss at Utah. I can understand getting blown out by the Utes, but falling behind 7–35 to UCLA? That is mind-bogglingly bad.

Alex G (7): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 38/6, FPI 44/6, Avg 41/6. ASU may be 5–3, but they have a losing record in-conference and the resume isn’t all that strong. Combine that with a couple of tough losses in a row, and #7 seems about right. Next week: bye.

Nick Kranz (5): ASU’s defense allowed 42 points to UCLA?! Whaaaaaaaa?

Leland Wong (6): I have a hard time placing them this high after an embarrassing loss to the Bruins, but it’s so tough to justify when every team in the lower half has had such bad showings.

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

Southern Utah v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (5): A strong offensive performance against a defense that has mostly held opponents out of the end zone. Two interceptions made for a 14-point swing (one was in the end zone and another was returned for a TD); if only one of those passes were on target, the Cougs may have pulled this one out. And if they had some semblance of a run defense, this would have easily been a win for the Cougs.

Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 24/4, FPI 25/5, Avg 24.5/5. WSU has an otherworldly offense per the stats and is the fifth-best team overall per the computers—yet they sit at 4–4 and 1–4 in conference (the same conference record as Cal and Colorado). The emotional letdown of three losses coming because of Coug’n It is all the more frustrating—almost certainly more than enough to counter the pride of almost beating a top-notch team on the road. Next week: bye.

Nick Kranz (10): There’s a universe where WSU beats UCLA, ASU, and Oregon and sits at 4–1 with a manageable final schedule before Apple Cup. But that didn’t happen and I don’t like Mike Leach, so 10th place it is.

7. Stanfurd Cardinal (4–4, 3–3 Pac-12) ↗

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (9): KJ Costello returns and now the Lobsterbacks have a functioning offense again.

Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 71/10, FPI 51/8, Avg 61/8. The return of the offense once Costello came back was really impressive and should worry the next few teams on the schedule. The defense is still a bit of a mess, which means that any team with a pulse on offense might win a shootout. Next week: bye

Nick Kranz (9): Beating up Arizona’s defense at home isn’t going to move my needle much, but it’s true that Stanford is a different animal with a solid QB. BTW, there’s a strong chance that Big Game will see the winner go to a bowl and the loser stay home. I feel queasy.

Leland Wong (7): More of a testament to Costello’s return than what happened on the field.

8. Arizona Wildcats (4–4, 2–3 Pac-12) ↘

Northern Arizona v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week: 7

Alex G (9): Arizona right now is on the lower end of mediocre, but the defense is costing them this far into the season—the Wildcats actually allowed Furd its most points of the season in the 41–31 loss. OSU this weekend is an interesting test for both teams, but after that Arizona will face a tough trio; they would be lucky to be a bowl team by season’s end. (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 62/8, FPI 61/10, Avg 61.5/9. Next week: v. OSU, 63% per FPI.

thedozen (9): Arizona fired defensive coordinator Marcel Yates after the team allowed 133 points in its last three games. If anyone can empathize with Yates this year, it’s me.

9. UC Los Angeles Bruins (3–5, 3–2 Pac-12) ↗

NCAA FOOTBALL: JAN 01 College Football Playoff Semifinal - Rose Bowl Game Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (7): They didn’t punt for the first time until 38 minutes into the game. Averaging 500 yards and 40 points per game in Pac-12 play, the Bruins may have finally found an offense.

Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 60/7, FPI 47/7, Avg 53.5/7. UC L.A. is currently 3–2 in conference and the three OOC teams the Bruins lost to only have one loss apiece. That, combined with the recent couple wins and the program’s sense of positive momentum, are why I put UC L.A. at #5. Next week: v. Colorado, 74.2% per FPI.

Nick Kranz (7): UCLA’s offense scored 42 points on ASU’s defense?!? Whaaaaaaaaa?!

thedozen (8): Despite the relentless negativity surrounding the program over the last season and a half, the Bruins seem to be figuring things out a bit. Or maybe that’s just my reaction having witnessed Cal’s recent tailspin.

10. Oregon State Beavers (3–4, 2–2 Pac-12) ↘

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 14 Colorado at Oregon State Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week: 8

Alex G (10): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 70/9, FPI 68/11, Avg 69/11. OSU amazingly has an even record in conference play (2–2) and could reasonably pull off the upset at Arizona this weekend to go 4–4 overall and 3–2 in conference. The perception of the Beavers, plus the fact that they are one of three teams with losing records, makes #10 reasonable. Next week: @ Arizona, 37% per FPI.

thedozen (12): Jake Luton has only thrown one interception this season against 16 touchdowns. I wouldn’t be shocked if Oregon State beat the Wildcats on Saturday either.

Leland Wong (11): Apparently we have no access to pictures of the outside of Reser Stadium. But winning two of the past three games (with the one loss coming against Utah) with a win over one of the other basement contenders is good enough to keep them out of the bottom spot.

11. Colorado Buffaloes (3–5, 1–4 Pac-12) ↘

Hawaii v Colorado Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (11): The Buffs carried a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and managed just two first downs in the final fifteen minutes while giving up 150 yards to the Trojans. This team is getting pretty good at collapsing on itself.

Alex G (12): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 73/12, FPI 72/12, Avg 72.5/12. That was one heartbreaker of a loss and through the Buffs into a pretty hard slide. Colorado and Cal are in similar waters around the state of a program in seeming freefall, albeit with different types of letdowns this week (Cal from complete embarrassment and a realization of their lack of depth and Colorado from the emotional pain of Coug’n it), so deciding 11 & 12 is kind of a wash—so Colorado’s worse overall record makes it #12. Next week: @ UC L.A., 25.8% per FPI.

Nick Kranz (11): They’re ahead of Cal because they have some offensive talent and spark, but I’m tempted to put them last since they basically punting the game away to USC. Cowards.

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

Nevada v California Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (12): The defense can’t stop opposing ground games and the pass defense has been alarmingly vulnerable (our inability to defend shallow crossing routes is a huge issue with Wazzu visiting next week). And the offense...well, words cannot adequately describe the ineptitude of that offense.

Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 72/11, FPI 58/9, Avg 65/10. An interesting observation, after this tough little slide… The preseason projections for both FPI and SP+, in terms of chances for each game and total wins over the season, took into account recruiting success over the previous 4–5 years, essentially as a proxy for depth. Cal got knocked down a bit compared to some other conference teams because of uninspiring recruiting classes. Now, Cal seemed to outdo the projections earlier on in the season, but as injuries have piled up since the ASU game, the recruiting history has shown itself and our lack of depth is getting exposed (especially QB and OL). We are at least lucky for another bye week and a couple home games after that, which could help secure a couple wins needed for a bowl game. Unfortunately, it’s not feeling all that likely at this point, with Cal as the underdog per FPI for all its remaining games. Next week: bye.

Nick Kranz (12): As I noted a few weeks ago when I was the low voter for Cal—if I’m trying to break a tie, it’s going to be based upon what I expect going forward. Maybe Cal gets healthy, but based on the personnel the Bears have put on the field the last two weeks, this is a last-place team.

Piotr T Le (12): When you’re starting a LG who started the season as a walk-on NG against a Whittingham defense… you’re going to have a bad time. Considering the number of OL taken in each recruiting class, one would think that we’d be able to slot in a recruited OL from the 2017–2019 batches (11 OL). Cal will keep losing as long as the health situation continues to look dire; as Avi pointed out in the subsequent tweet to the one above, the four WRs (plus Ashtyn Davis) who took nearly all the snaps… Maybe it was a good thing I had other engagements to attend to that night...

The data

Let’s track the performance of the teams over the season (Fig. 1). Utah broke Oregon’s five-week dominance at the top of the conference while Cal enters the basement for the first time this season. I wonder if this is the first time that the winner and loser of the same game were new claimants of the top and bottom spots. Meanwhile, the Bruins climbed the their highest position all year.

Figure 1. Every week’s ranking in 2019.

Here’s how the CGB staff voted individually:

Table 1. The individual votes after Week 9.

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 Utah Utah Utah Utah Utah Oregon Utah Oregon Utah Oregon Oregon
2 Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Oregon Utah Oregon Utah Oregon Utah Utah
3 USC Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash Wash
6 Stanfurd ASU ASU Stanfurd ASU Arizona ASU WSU WSU ASU WSU
7 ASU UC L.A. Colorado Arizona Stanfurd UC L.A. Stanfurd Stanfurd Stanfurd UC L.A. Stanfurd
8 WSU Arizona Arizona WSU Arizona OSU UC L.A. Arizona Cal Stanfurd UC L.A.
9 Arizona Stanfurd Stanfurd UC L.A. UC L.A. Stanfurd Arizona UC L.A. Arizona Arizona Arizona
10 OSU OSU OSU OSU Colorado WSU Colorado Colorado OSU OSU Cal
11 Cal Colorado UC L.A. Colorado OSU Colorado OSU OSU Colorado Colorado Colorado
12 Colorado Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal Cal UC L.A. Cal OSU

The numerical responses that each team received are averaged; when sorted (Fig. 2), that gives the overall, rounded rankings. But the precise rankings show a little more information into how we collectively perceived the teams; the error bars represent one standard deviation, which tells how varied or consistent our responses are.

Figure 2. This week’s precise rankings.

The precise rankings are tracked over the course of the season in Figure 3; here, we get a little more insight and detail into how we perceived the teams, such as Utah just slightly edging out Oregon for the top spot.

Figure 3. This year’s precise rankings.

The amount that teams move up or down the rankings is collected in Figure 4a as our Madness scores. The return of Costello pushed the Cardinal up by five spots—tied for the biggest gain. The other school to jump five spots is their better Bay Area brethren—the Bears. The cumulative Madness score for each team is graphed in Figure 4b.

Figure 4a. The Madness scores for this season.
Figure 4b. The cumulative Madness for each team in 2019.

If you want to sum up the entire season in 2019, just take a peek at Figure 5. For each team, took their ranking from each week and averaged it out to try to capture their season as a whole, even though that’s a bit of a fool’s errand. As projected last week, Cal lost their spot of fourth—they actually dropped two spots and are now sitting at sixth. Pretty fair for a team that peaked with a 4–0 run and as the last undefeated team in the conference and then sank to an 0–4 run with a loss to a basement team, injuries galore, and a shutout. Based on this, I think we can project with all certainty that the Bears will split our final games 2–2. The other cool finding is that Oregon and Utah are pretty clearly the top teams this year and then Washington at third pretty decisively. Given the volatility of the rankings and the game of football that is the 2019 Pac-12, the muddle in the middle (with the large standard deviations) aren’t too surprising. UC Los Angeles and Oregon State are pretty deeply entrenched in the basement, but they have shown some life in the past month, so we’ll see how long that lasts.

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

Next week’s games feature two match-ups between some of our top teams—Utah vs. Washington and Oregon vs. USC. Will any team lose badly enough to raise Cal out of the basement while on bye?


Is having Cal in the basement too harsh?

This poll is closed

  • 21%
    Yes—we aren’t absolute worst just yet
    (21 votes)
  • 78%
    No—we deserve it...
    (76 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now