Leland Wong: In the Pac-12 Power Rankings, we’re here to rank the conference—but not strictly on a “who would beat whom” basis. Everyone has their own personal formula, but it tends to come down to performance, potential, and fanbase sentiment for the 2019 season with recency bias encouraged.
Week 6 was pretty nuts, in my opinion. (Apologies to those of you who are here for just the facts and not my opinions.) In one game, the favorite won, but in a much tighter margin than the experts dismissively predicted; in another, a huge underdog pulled off the upset; there were two toss-ups, but one featured the bottom teams in the conference; and one-third of the conference decided to take the week off.
- #13 Oregon def. California, 17–7
- Stanfurd def. #15 Washington, 23–13
- Arizona def. Colorado, 35–30
- Oregon State def. UC Los Angeles, 48–31
- Bye: Arizona State, USC, Utah, Washington State
Making my personal rankings, this is one of those weeks where I really would like to set a top three, then a gap, and then scrunch in a bunch of teams in the middle. It feels disingenuous to say the teams that hold the spots like fourth and fifth from me this week really are the fourth- and fifth-highest teams this week.
Christopher_h: Shoutout to OSU for finally winning a game—and whatever the opposite of a shoutout is to Washington for diminishing Cal’s signature win of the season so far. Oregon State, Stanford, and Arizona won conference games this week, while UCLA beat Washington State last week. Oregon State is currently tied for second in the Pac-12 North. Arizona sits alone atop the Pac-12 South. What is this madness?
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 whole conference is turning into the epitome of “any given Saturday” (or Thursday/Friday night); Pac 12 After Dark continues to hold its own; and there appears to be some more parity in the middle. At least it’s entertaining!
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 (4–1, 2–0 Pac-12; twelve first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 1
Christopher_h (1): I think if Cal had Chase Garbers and a healthier offensive line (and maybe some less-terrible refs), they would have won this one in Autzen. I don’t think Oregon belongs in the playoffs after that performance at home.
Berkelium97 (1): The presumptive favorite in the North after Washington’s faceplant in Palo Alto. Other than Washington, none of their opponents has the defense to stop Justin Herbert’s passing attack. And none of their opponents has the offense to keep up with them in a shootout. If Oregon is going to lose in the coming weeks, they’re going to beat themselves (which they’re certainly capable of, as we saw this week amid that flurry of turnovers, penalties, and off-target passes).
Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 11/1, FPI 11/1, Avg 11/1. Clearly the best team in the conference—and SP+ even has them with the best defense in the country(!) right now, so it’s not just the much-touted offense keeping things afloat. FPI has Oregon favored in every game left on their schedule—the closest margin is at Washington in two weeks (58.3%) and at USC in four weeks (66.6%) with every other game at 78% or higher. Next week: v. Colorado, 93.7% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (1): Said this on Twitter after the game—Oregon has a top-10 defense, the best offensive line in the conference, and the best quarterback in the conference. They also have a two-game lead over everybody in the North but Oregon State. The Ducks should be able to sleepwalk to the Pac-12 championship game—and if they don’t, I won’t ever trust Mario Cristobal again.
Piotr T Le (1): The #TAKERS made Herbert look mortal, as they do with most QBs. Alas, the level of talent and defensive skill makes them the CFP hope for the Pac-12. However, it doesn’t help that Auburn just lost their SEC match-up with Florida.
2. Utah Utes (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 3
Christopher_h (2): A week after its uncharacteristic implosion against USC, they completely manhandled Washington State, scoring at will and frustrating QB Anthony Gordon all night. They’ll cruise next week against OSU before facing ASU for possible control of the Pac-12 South. However, they won’t be seriously tested until the week after that, when they face the team in the Pac-12 that’s known for all of its super-smart and super-attractive fans.
Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 16/2, FPI 20/3, Avg 18/2. The best-looking team in the South didn’t win this week, but they didn’t lose either. Well-played. Next week: @ OSU, 77.1% per FPI.
thedozen (2): Tyler Huntley had 334 passing yards against the Cougars, which makes me wonder how crazy the numbers could be when Utah faces Oregon State on Saturday.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils (4–1, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 4
Christopher_h (3): I don’t really buy the narrative that ASU has a strong defense, as I think it’s more the fact that they’ve faced a lot of terrible offenses (Kent St, Sac St, MSU, Cal…), but we’ll see just how good their defense is next week against Washington State. Their 3-3-5 defense should provide some new challenges for Washington State’s Air Raid offense.
Leland Wong (3): One of only four one-loss teams in the Pac-12. Exactly what we all expected for a true-freshman quarterback.
Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 34/6, FPI 37/6, Avg 35.5/6. From the looks of it, ASU is the third-best one-loss team in the conference, so here they sit at number 3. I’m pretty surprised that FPI is giving them such a slim margin over WSU at home next week—but the battle in Tempe on Saturday will show if the Sun Devils are actually contenders or just a decent team that has its current ranking and record partly from getting lucky against the Bears’ injury and QB situation a couple weeks ago. Next week: v WSU, 56.4% per FPI.
4. California Golden Bears (4–2, 1–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 5
Christopher_h (4): I’m starting to think I may have Cal too high here, but it’s extremely impressive that Cal shut out Oregon in their own house for an entire half and held them to just 17 points overall. Further, Justin Herbert learned not to test the Cal secondary, relying on a lot safer passes in the second half after Ashtyn Davis picked him off in the first. It’s hard to expect too much from the Cal offense with a back-up QB and a back-up offensive line, but 7 points isn’t going to cut it against pretty much anyone in the Pac-12. Devon Modster showed some flashes of ability and I think he can play, but he’s going to continue struggling if he has a series of turnstiles as his offensive line. If Valentino Daltoso and Michael Saffell are going to be out for an extended period of time, I will definitely have to downgrade this ranking because it no longer represents whom I think Cal “could” beat. This bye week should certainly help Cal recover from injuries, though.
Berkelium97 (4): The bye week couldn’t come at a better time as injuries have destroyed the offense (especially that O-line). The Toyota Tercel offense is riding on a spare tire, running on only three of four cylinders, and turning the windshield wipers on and off at random for no discernable reason. Modster was serviceable enough, given the complete lack of a running game. The Bears largely stayed in the game because the defense triumphantly bounced back after an underwhelming past few performances.
Leland Wong (5): I don’t want to have Cal this high, but I can’t justify anything else. Their two losses are against seemingly good teams and they have a win over a Washington team that dominated every other opponent (up until this last week…). But I think Cal actually deserves to be lower for the concern in the fanbase that’s growing over all the injuries and the discontent that’s been brewing over the offense.
Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 54/10, FPI 45/8, Avg 49.5/8. The computers hate the Bears despite some competitive, close contests against good and great teams, but I’m confident in the past performance and forward-looking potential of this team. Also, there are only two teams with a 4–2 record (Cal and Washington) and the Bears beat the Huskies, so the combo of performance and head-to-head record keeps the Bears at #5. QB and OL are clearly the biggest concerns: Modster showed he has pretty good potential, but also issues around consistency; the OL is made up of second- and third-stringers with veterans dropping like flies. Two byes in four weeks are life-savers for a team struggling with injuries, depth, and experience. Next week: Bye.
Nick Kranz (6): I think I’m the low voter on Cal, so I guess I have to explain. For one thing, I think Cal was a touch fortunate that three turnovers ended Oregon scoring chances and so I don’t think the 10-point final margin was really an indication of the true gap between the Bears and the Ducks. But more than anything, I think my ranking might even be generous to where Cal’s rank would be if you tried to project performance based on the offensive injury situation. Is Cal really a top-half Pac-12 team down ~7 offensive starters?
Leland Wong: I’m gonna slide in with a last word as the benefit of being the one who finalizes these posts and because I’m a stickler for turnover talk. Two of those are better described as Cal takeaways—a smart play by Davis to cut the route and steal the ball and a solid strip by Trey Turner III. The third turnover was more on Oregon RB Travis Dye as he pushed the ball forward to fight for yardage, so I think it’s only fair to consider Cal fortunate for one of those turnovers.
Piotr T Le (5): I have Cal conditionally at 5 due to the way we kept in the game against the #1 Oregon (also I can’t slot anyone over them from the bottom seven). However, with the fact that we might have to suit Steve Greatwood up at Guard by the end of the year bodes poorly for this offense. QB and C are the two most important positions on offense in the pre-snap phase; the former analyzes and checks the team out of plays if he sees fit and the latter makes the necessary OL run- or pass-blocking adjustments. If Mike Saffell is out for the year, it means both of our key offensive players are out. There is a reason why Luke Kuechly called both Alex Mack (C for the Falcons) and Jason Kelce (C for the Eagles) two of the five hardest players to play against in the NFL.
5. USC Trojans (3–2, 2–1 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 6
Christopher_h (5): I never know what to expect with USC, but I always root for them in meaningless games (like their OOC matchup with Notre Dame next week) because it helps with Clay Helton’s job security—and I don’t want them to find their next Pete Carroll. They probably won’t win, but they definitely have the potential to beat Notre Dame. All they need to do is stop committing a bunch of unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, getting flagged for taunting on a play where their offense throws an interception, and otherwise continuing to shoot themselves in the foot over and over again.
Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 29/4, FPI 23/4, Avg 26/4. Computers love the Trojans, and they sit at #2 in the South standings (3–2 overall and 2–1 in conference). However, it’s pretty hard to gauge things after a bye week and the performances of USC’s prior opponents so far (Fresno State, BYU, UW and Furd are all head-scratchers), so I’m just leaving them where they were last week. USC will almost certainly lose in South Bend this week, but the performance against major talent will be interesting to watch. Next week: @ Notre Dame, 15.8% per FPI.
thedozen (6): It’s kind of surprising amid all the quarterback turnover, but wide receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. ranks second in the conference with 501 receiving yards.
6. Arizona Wildcats (4–1, 2–0 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 8
Christopher_h (7): Khalil Tate returned for the Wildcats and even though I don’t think he’s the best quarterback out there, there is no denying the effect he has on defenses. Teams are so afraid of the threat of Tate running the ball that defenders are frequently pulled out of position on coverages to leave receivers wide open—and Tate is at least good enough to make those throws. Arizona looked sharp against Colorado, and would score almost immediately after Colorado did.
Berkelium97 (6): I had forgotten that this is a one-loss team until I watched the tail end of that Colorado game. After surrendering 86 points in the first two games, they seem to have improved notably by giving up only 20 points per game since. Of course, the schedule has been pretty weak so far. With a dramatic increase in schedule difficulty in the coming weeks, they will probably only be favored in one remaining game.
Leland Wong (8): I’m tempted to put them up higher for having only one loss and being the only South team without a conference loss, but their FBS wins have generally been close and against lulz-worthy UC L.A. and a middling, rebuilding Colorado. They certainly have room to move up with games against Washington and USC up next.
Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 37/7, FPI 46/9, Avg 41.5/7. There are currently four one-loss teams in the conference and from the looks of it, Arizona is the lowest-quality on the list (per their resume and the computers). I considered putting them at #5—just below the Bears—but will give them the nod because they are on a four-game win streak, beat Colorado on the road, and also just got Khalil Tate back (which is a huge bump to the program). Next week: v Wash, 31.8% per FPI.
7. Washington Huskies (4–2, 1–2 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 2
Christopher_h (11): I don’t really think Washington is the 11th-best team in the conference; this is a punitive ranking for losing to Stanford. I would have ranked them last for diminishing Cal’s best win so far this season, but I can’t in good conscience rank anyone below the garbagest of garbage teams, UCLA. Washington played a terrible game against Stanford, struggling to protect Jacob Eason long enough for routes to develop, but most surprising was seeing star left tackle Trey Adams getting beat multiple times. UW has not won in Stanford Stadium since 2007 and they certainly played like it.
Berkelium97 (5): What?! How? Why?
Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 23/3, FPI 14/2, Avg 18.5/3. Washington managed to faceplant, hurt Cal’s resume, and continue the conference’s reputation for roundtable cannibalism, all in one game. Thanks a lot, Chris. Next week: @ Arizona, 68.2% per FPI
thedozen (7): Aaron Fuller had a fantastic game, but unfortunately for the Huskies, all other Washington targets combined for 35 receiving yards.
Nick Kranz (7): I didn’t watch the game, but based on what Cal did to UW and what Stanford did to UW in the box score, my educated guess is that UW’s defensive line is baaaaaaaaaaad.
Piotr T Le (8): UW is on fire. Huskies running amok and citizens of Seattle wondering… who let the dogs out?
8. Stanfurd Cardinal (3–3, 2–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 11
Christopher_h (9): Stanford’s performance against Washington shows that, like Cal, they can beat anyone in the Pac-12. Davis Mills looked very impressive after struggling in his first two starts, making a number of nice throws against a tough Washington secondary. They’ve lost to teams like UCF, Oregon, and USC, so it might be fair to rank them higher, but let’s not forget that they barely survived a late comeback by OSU. Also I hate them (more than usual for beating UW), so I think ninth sounds perfectly reasonable.
Berkelium97 (8): This was a bizarre throwback to the Lobsterback teams that dominate the clock, stifle the opposing offense, and churn a couple hundred yards on the ground. After everything we’ve seen from this team this year, I was genuinely shocked by this outcome.
Leland Wong (7): This is why teams that recruit well should never be taken lightly. Even their back-ups are talented. Even at the quarterback position. Their three losses were against three tough teams—although they were blowouts—so this might be the start of them climbing back up the rankings.
Alex G (7): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 69/12, FPI 40/7, Avg 54.5/T–9. OSU’s performance in Pasadena this week makes Stanford’s squeaker in Corvallis look less shameful—and this week’s win at home over a conference powerhouse brings the Cardinal back up from the power rankings basement. It was a tough debate whether to put Furd above Washington considering the head-to-head win—but I kept Furd at #7 for a few reasons: the worse overall record, the fact that this week’s win had the home-field advantage, a notable gap in the computers (SP+ last-place in the conference), and Furd’s horrendous troubles with injuries & depth at OL. Just like Cal, they get a well-timed week off to figure out what to do with only six remaining healthy linemen. Next week: Bye.
Nick Kranz (9): I’m leaning towards thinking that this is a one-off/dead cat bounce and that Stanford’s offensive line will go back to being bad soon, but if they have found some stability post-injuries then I’m going to be equal parts mad and terrified.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (3–2, 1–1 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 7
Christopher_h (8): The Buffs are still hurting from the loss of playmaker WR Laviska Shenault, but WR Tony Brown looked pretty good in his absence. At some point, Colorado may realize that you don’t need a single player to carry an offense––as they’ve simply subbed Brown for Shenault––but they still have a team that can score. I don’t want to be too critical of their defensive performance, since Cal also struggles with mobile QBs, but Colorado left way too many players wide open and had trouble containing the big plays from Arizona.
Berkelium97 (9): You know how every team has that one nightmare player who destroys their defense no matter the circumstances (cough Ed Dickson cough)? Tate is that player for Colorado. In three career games against Colorado he piled up 1273 yards and 9 TDs.
Alex G (10): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 48/8, FPI 61/11, Avg 54.5/T–9. Colorado and OSU feel like a toss-up for #9 and #10, but Colorado lost at home (while OSU won on the road) and is not looking so hot going forward—FPI has them as underdogs in every remaining game, with their best chance being a week-11 home contest against Furd (43.9%). Next week: @ Oregon, 6.3% per FPI.
10. Washington State Cougars (3–2, 0–2 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 9
Christopher_h (6): Washington State just lost their defensive coordinator, Tracy Claeys, but this doesn’t affect my ranking too much since Washington State wasn’t bothering to play defense anyway. I still think they’d beat the teams I ranked immediately after them, such as Colorado and Arizona.
Berkelium97 (11): Ordinarily a midseason resignation would be terrible news, but they may be better off by losing someone whose defense surrendered 67 points to a UCLA team that otherwise averages 18 points per game. Still, the Cougs are in a deep hole with a brutal schedule over the next month (at ASU, vs. Colorado, at Oregon, at Cal).
Leland Wong (11): Being the bottom team in the Pac-12 North is a once-familiar feeling, but speaks volumes about Mike Leach that it now feels foreign. Their fall has more to do with the teams once below them winning rather than anything they did during the bye week.
Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 31/5, FPI 29/5, Avg 30/5. WSU’s loss against UCLA a couple weeks ago is looking even more hilarious. They might not be the second-worst team in the conference, but they are going through a bunch of turmoil with their DC resigning and facing a darn-tough stretch of games ahead. That, combined with OSU actually winning a game on the road, puts the Cougars at #11. Next week: @ ASU, 43.6% per FPI.
11. Oregon State Beavers (2–3, 1–1 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 12
Christopher_h (10): OSU finally won a game! I knew they had it in them. Of course, they beat up on the new Oregon State of the Pac-12, UCLA. Fun fact: with the win over UCLA, Coach Jonathan Smith now has a better record at OSU than Chip Kelly does at UCLA.
Berkelium97 (10): The Beavs have finally climbed out of the basement! I’m genuinely happy for them. They may not be a good team, but they’re fun to watch (or they would be, if all their games weren’t aired on the inaccessible Pac-12 Networks).
Leland Wong (10): Bonus bump for a win-starved team finally winning! (Even if it is only against UC L.A.) Love how they pulled out all the stops like the onside dropkick as they knew they were in a winnable, must-win game—like when a gazelle in the wild is targetted by a marginally more aggressive gazelle.
Alex G (9): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 53/9, FPI 62/12, Avg 57.5/11. Although Colorado could probably beat OSU, I’m keeping the Beavers above the Buffs for a few reasons. First off, they actually won this week—and on the road, at that. It was also a pretty solid boost to the program, so just the emotional bump deserves a bump in the Power Rankings. Finally, OSU’s win snaps a five-game conference losing streak; their last win was an overtime road win at Colorado last year… So the most recent head-to-head contest also gives them the nod. Next week: @ Utah, 22.9% per FPI.
thedozen (11): Jermar Jefferson returned from injury, but Artavis Pierce continued as the primary running back for the Beavers.
Piotr T Le (11): Welcome to not being twelfth. Finally it can get worse!
12. UC Los Angeles Bruins (1–5, 1–2 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 10
Christopher_h (12): I wish I had 12 hands so I could give this team… 12 thumbs down. I felt obligated to take them out of the cellar after their surprise win (read: Washington State meltdown), but deep in my heart, I always knew UCLA was the fieriest of dumpster fires.
Berkelium97 (12): NINE MILLION DOLLAR BUYOUT
Leland Wong (12): I remember when they were supposed to be one of the best teams this year. The agony of trailing 21–0 in the first quarter after escaping the Palouse and falling to the Wildcats by a field goal is just exquisite.
Alex G (12): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 68/11, FPI 60/10, Avg 64/12. This implosion is really, really fun to watch. On a serious note, though, it’s shameful that Chip Kelly left the starting offense on the field, running passing plays and trying to score a touchdown while down three scores with all of 5 seconds left… Each of those plays risks injury to these college guys and Chip tried to get a few more points by putting their bodies on the line, just to protect his ego or whatever other bizarre goal he had. Next week: Bye.
Nick Kranz (12): I have decided that going 1–11 with THAT win over Wazzu is infinitely funnier than just going 0–12. Also, please go 1–11, UCLA. Do it for me.
Piotr T Le (12): UCLA is a one-in-a-million miracle comeback away from being 0–6. After getting shellacked in the first quarter, they tried and failed to mount a comeback. Again despite being a one–miracle win team, I still feel queasy about Cal’s chances against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
I’m going to kick things off by studying how the rankings have progressed over the season. Oregon has tied Utah’s record for three-straight appearances in the top spot this season. Their latest victim—Cal—benefits with a one-spot rise despite said loss. Their archrival—Washington—plummeted five spots for that headscratcher of a loss to Stanfurd.
Given that there are twelve items being evaluated (i.e., the twelve in the conference), it has been mathematically proven that the optimal number of voters is also twelve. (If you don’t exactly understand why, then it’s a fairly straightforward proof that I would recommend you work out on your own for your edification.) The twelve ballots from this week are collected in Table 1.
Table 1. Our individual votes after Week 6
|12||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.|
To transform the data from Table 1 into meaningful rankings, I collect all the responses that each team earned and calculate the mathematical average. The team with the smallest average earns first place and so on all the way down to the team with the largest average, which gets stuck at the bottom. Figure 2 graphs these averages as columns and the standard deviation (a sign of how varied our responses were for each team) as the error bars.
Figure 3 collects these precise rankings and graphs them over the season (similar to Fig. 1). Here, we see that for the first time in the season, we have a unanimous #1 team; it’s also the first time we’ve had a definitive team at #2 and ASU was nearly unanimous at #3. From there, there’s a precipitous drop leading to the rest of the conference; the fourth-ranked team (Cal) actually earned a precise ranking that’s far closer to 5.0, suggesting that a more-accurate ranking for them would be fifth this week. There isn’t much separation between the middle of the conference—including Wazzu and Oregon State. The Bruins are actually pretty clearly perceived as the worst team this week by a bit of a margin.
There was actually a fair amount of movement this week thanks to one game—Washington getting upset—and five teams moving up one spot apiece to fill the resulting void. Figure 4a collects such movement—rises as positive numbers and falls as negatives—and is termed Madness. The absolute Madness of the whole conference each week is shown on the bottom row and the right-most column collects the total movement that each team has made every week; in both figures, the direction of movement (i.e., up or down) is disregarded. Figure 4b collects the total Madness for each team over the season; Arizona State continues to be the Maddest team and upped their score by one while on bye, but Washington made a big move for that title. The two least-Maddest teams have been hallmarks of consistency, but at the two different opposite ends of the win–loss spectrum. UC Los Angeles is also pretty low in Madness because we collectively predicted their struggles—unlike the popular media and their preseason hype.
The last figure (Fig. 5) is a snapshot of the entire season. For each team, their precise ranking every week (i.e., the bullets in Fig. 3) are averaged to get an idea of how they’ve performed on the season overall without all the detail and volatility. Oregon continues to be the team with the best season-long ranking on average, but their score is actually lower than 2.0. And with Wazzu on bye, we’ve had but another week to contemplate their blowout losses against UC L.A. and Utah with no good data to cleanse our pallets; with a Week 6 ranking near the bottom of the conference, their season-long ranking dropped from fifth to seventh.
Although this week’s Power Ranking has Arizona above Washington by a pretty healthy amount, I would consider Washington to be the favorite when they meet this upcoming week (and heaven-on-earth a.k.a. Vegas agrees). The only game that looks to be close is when the Cougars face the Sun Devils, so we’ll see if there are any other upsets this next week to shake up the rankings. I’m also working on a beta test for something to add to the Power Rankings on a non-weekly basis, so check back next week to see if I got my shit together to have it ready to roll out.