Leland Wong: Despite only two-thirds of the conference playing, it was actually a somewhat eventful week. In two of the games, the favorite won within one point of the Vegas closing line; the other two ended with upsets in favor of that Golden Bears worldwide.
- Washington def. Oregon State, 19–7
- Colorado def. Stanfurd, 16–13
- USC def. Arizona State, 31–26
- California def. Washington State, 33–20
- Bye: Arizona, #7 Oregon, UC Los Angeles, #8 Utah
Based on these latest results as well as the season as a whole, the Golden Bloggers are here to rate the Pac-12 teams by performance, team trajectory, and fanbase sentiment.
Berkelium97: While we normally focus our attention on the Pac-12, can we all take a moment to savor that LSU victory over the Tide in Tuscaloosa? I’ll never tire of see Alabama losing by double digits—especially at home.
With bye weeks for Oregon and Utah, nothing changes at the top of my ballot. But we had plenty of movement in the basement this week.
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 Pac-12 has a top duo of Oregon/Utah, followed by USC/Washington, a strange amalgamation of decent teams in Cal/UC L.A./ASU, and a curious bunch of hard-to-understand squads in Colorado/WSU/OSU/Furd/Zona. My power rankings are based on overall records, conference records, each team’s momentum, and what emotions might exist this particular week (e.g. Cal’s win over a two-score favorite WSU to break the Bears’ four-game losing streak). What’s amazing is that only four teams have winning conference records, while OSU(!) is the only even team at 3–3 and seven teams have losing records; only WSU has just one conference win while other losers are either 2–5, 2–4 or 3–4. As far as I can tell, the conference is strangely top-heavy while everything after Oregon & Utah is a circular firing squad of “any given Saturday” teams and contests.
Ruey Yen: I am just glad that Cal is back in the mix as one of the many teams that can beat any other Pac-12 team on any given Saturday night. I really only see two tiers in the Pac-12 this year—Oregon & Utah and then everyone else.
Nik Jam: It gets harder and harder to rank #3–10 with all the parity in the league. I make my choices and then compare to the rest and then question my life choices in every way.
Piotr T Le: This was a weird week for football. Dolphins beat a strong Colts team while Jets executed their stadium buddies (both teams earlier looked to be tanking harder than the battle of Kursk). Gophers beat a #4 Penn State and Furd lost to Colorado after an awful showing on offense. So basically there is a lot of ?????????, so is this ranking. We can all agree on Oregon/Utah being the top of the heap with the rest slaughtering each other towards over eight 6–6 teams by the end of the season.
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 (8–1, 6–0 Pac-12; eight first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 1
Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 16/3, FPI 7/1, Avg 11.5/2. Didn’t play this week, but the Ducks are still the team to beat in the North and overall. Luckily, the next trio of games (Arizona, at ASU and OSU at home) should all be wins, so the Ducks will almost certainly be in the conference title game and possibly heading toward the playoffs. Next week: v. Arizona, 96.4% per FPI.
Leland Wong (2): Probably the better team if they were to play Utah today (and my preseason #1 team)—and with a better loss. It’s only a matter of time until they take my personal top spot again.
Christopher_h (1): Oregon is on cruise control on their way to the Pac-12 title game with match-ups against Arizona, ASU, and a surprisingly competent OSU. I like Oregon in a theoretical match-up against Utah were the two teams to play tomorrow. Oregon’s defensive line is likely going to cause problems from Utah’s one weak spot—their offensive line. I thought Utah’s defensive line was unstoppable until I saw the way they struggled against Washington and Oregon has similar talent along the offensive line. That means it’ll be up to Justin Herbert and the receivers—and with Oregon’s receivers finally healthy (Juwan Johnson, Mycah Pittman, Brenden Schooler, etc), I expect Herbert to be able to pick on the weak spots of the Utah secondary.
2. Utah Utes (8–1, 5–1 Pac-12; three first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 2
Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 8/1, FPI 13/2, Avg 10.5/1. Utah will certainly challenge Oregon when the conference championship comes around, but for now they are behind the Ducks in my power rankings given they have a conference loss. The Bruins might challenge the Utes this coming weekend, but after that should be a couple wins against Arizona and Colorado. Which crew of Oregon and Utah deserves the #1 ranking won’t be decided until those teams meet in Santa Clara (a near certainty at this point). Next week: v. UC L.A., 89.4% per FPI.
Leland Wong (1): For me, this is not a statement about Utah being better than Oregon, but more of an indication that Utah has come off a recent hot streak of big wins.
Piotr T Le (1): Utah is very good. No real weaknesses that could be exploitable, no issues with any of the three phases of the game, and great coaching expected by Whittlingham. I think this puts them above Oregon, given the certitude that the disciplined Utah team can and will find a way not to lose a game.
Christopher_h (2): If you thought Oregon’s path to the Pac-12 title game was easy, take a look at Utah’s: UCLA, Arizona, and Colorado. This is good news for the Pac-12, as both Oregon and Utah should finish without a loss in the regular season, giving them prime positioning to sneak into the playoffs.
3. Washington Huskies (6–4, 3–4 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 3
Berkelium97 (3): Jacob Eason’s inconsistency is remarkable.
Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 12/2, FPI 18/3, Avg 15/3. Washington completely shut down OSU’s previously-shining offense, holding them to zero points as the Beavers’ only touchdown in the 19–7 defeat was a pick-six. But the Huskies’ struggles on offense against one of the conference’s worst defenses is not super encouraging. Still, the middle of the Pac seems like kind of a cluster of who-knows-who’s-better and Washington gets the benefit of the doubt, tied for the third-best overall record along with USC. And they beat USC in week 5, so they sit at #3. As an interesting note, the computers are still fond of the Huskies, so much that even with a 6–4 record, the Huskies are #12 nationally per SP+; this is phenomenal as every team above them has no more than two losses, the next-strongest three-loss team is UCF at #17, and the next four-loss team is #21 Iowa State. Tough to be a great team whose record doesn’t show it—I’m sure Chris Peterson is more than troubled by that trend so far. Next week: bye.
Leland Wong (3): An all-around dominant performance against the Beavers warrants a high ranking. The luster from the early season when they were running roughshod on their opposition is starting to wear off, however.
Christopher_h (3): I don’t like ranking them this high, but this is a team that had the talent to beat both Oregon and Utah, as both needed fourth-quarter comebacks to win against UW. If Washington didn’t inexplicably lose to a bad Stanford team, their wins over UW would look a lot better.
thedozen (3): It’s surprising that the Huskies were held under 20 points despite Salvon Ahmed’s 174 yards on the ground, including two touchdowns and one long run of 60 yards.
4. USC Trojans (6–4, 5–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 5
Berkelium97 (4): Once again, Clay Helton does just enough to keep his job. That’s good news for the rest of us.
Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 26/5, FPI 22/4, Avg 24/4. The Trojans looked like they were going to hand ASU a blowout loss, then the offense sputtered in the second half, so it was a bit of a squeaker—but a win nonetheless. USC is now tied with Washington for the third-best overall record (6–4) and has the third-best in-conference record (5–2), but the Trojans still have their flaws and are racking up injuries with no more bye weeks ahead. Fingers crossed that the flaws come out in full force this coming Saturday night. Next week: @ Cal, 63.1% per FPI.
Christopher_h (4): I really have nothing new to add here that I don’t say every week; USC is the same team it always is—very talented, poorly coached, undisciplined, and completely and utterly detestable.
thedozen (4): As good as Kedon Slovis was against ASU, the Trojans didn’t get much done on the ground. Can the Bears take advantage if their offense becomes one-dimensional?
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (5–4, 2–4 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 4
Berkelium97 (5): If you ignore that first quarter, they actually played pretty well against the Trojans. But that was an abysmal first quarter, as they amassed a whopping 1 yard and gave up 330 yards. After starting 5–1, ASU still has a decent shot to gain bowl eligibility, but OSU is feisty recently, so that game is no gimme. They may have a shot against Oregon since the Ducks always seem to self-destruct in the desert. And they should beat Arizona, but rivalry games can be unpredictable.
Alex G (7): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 41/6, FPI 47/6, Avg 44/6. A good defense will only get you so far if the offense is average—so in a way, the Sun Devils are like the Cal of the South (with the exact same overall and conference records), but with a less-stellar defense and slightly-better offense. They should be heading to a bowl, though, because if ASU can’t reach 6–6 by winning one out of their next three games (at OSU, then Oregon and Arizona at home), it’ll be pretty damn deflating. Next week: @ OSU, 55.6% per FPI.
Christopher_h (5): I really thought ASU would be a tougher defensive matchup for USC, but I was wrong. Yes, USC has a number of talented receivers, but they gave up a lot of big plays due to mistakes in coverage, such as the 95-yard Amon-Ra St. Brown touchdown out of the slot, where three defenders basically crashed into each other as St. Brown blew past the split safeties. I also didn’t expect backup QB Joey Yellen (a pocket passer) to play as well as he did, barring a few freshman mistakes. I had expected a low scoring game, but a freshman QB getting his first college game experience torched an awful USC secondary for 292 yards and 4 TDs, which is yet another data point showing how bad USC’s secondary is.
6. UC Los Angeles Bruins (4–5, 4–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 7
Berkelium97 (6): The Bruins have spent most of the past month and a half beating up on woeful Pac-12 defenses. This week’s trip to Salt Lake City should tell us whether this offense is legit.
Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 58/7, FPI 49/7, Avg 53.5/7. It’s increasingly hard to tell whether the Bruins are mediocre, just decent or trending upward. All their conference wins are against so-so teams (WSU, Furd, ASU and Colorado) while the losses are also against so-so teams (Arizona & OSU). Yet, UC L.A. has the fourth-best conference record at 4–2 and are one of only four teams with winning conference records, so they deserve some recognition. These next few weeks (at Utah, at USC and v. Cal) should help to expose the Bruins’ quality, whether good or bad. Next week: @ Utah, 10.6% per FPI.
Leland Wong (7): Generally a bipolar team with some good wins amid some bad losses, but I overall would guess they’re not quite as good as their record suggests and massive beneficiaries of scheduling.
Christopher_h (9): I hate to say it, but I think Dorian Thompson-Robinson is finally improving at quarterback. Colorado isn’t a very good defense, but DTR made some nice throws into coverage, including some picture-perfect throws that couldn’t have been any better. This was a stark contrast to what I was used to seeing out of him, which was throwing it into the dirt in front of an open receiver 5 yards away. UCLA’s offensive line has also started to play well together and they’ve been opening up some big holes for RB Joshua Kelley to run through. I’m hoping the good passing game was an anomaly because this team is much easier to beat when they’re one-dimensional.
7. California Golden Bears (5–4, 2–4 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 10
Berkelium97 (8): The Bears climb back into the muddled middle thanks to an explosion of offense against Wazzu. While the defense has taken a step back this year, they did a remarkable job of stopping Max Borghi.
Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 73/9, FPI 52/8, Avg 62.5/8. #5 feels a bit high, but Cal flashed the awesome pass defense we all love and also showed that they can have a good offense when key players are healthy (QB, experienced o-linemen, and some receivers). Overcoming the four-game losing streak earns a boost, especially because the Bears are one of only five teams with winning overall records (even though they are 2–4 in-conference). The next trio of games will likely be close, but Cal has a decent chance of making it to a Bowl game—and a long-shot at a winning conference record by season’s end. Next week: v. USC, 36.9% per FPI
Piotr T Le (9): Cal’s ranking is a range—against WSU, they played like a top-5 team in the Pac-12, but just two weeks ago, they were the Rutgers-of-the-West-Coast bad. There is just too much variance to put them anywhere higher than the bottom third. We need to get more consistency if we hope to not kill the rest of the Cal fandom in the upcoming three weeks.
Christopher_h (7): Signs of life! The bye week came at the perfect time, allowing a number of key players to return from injury (Mike Saffell, Kekoa Crawford, etc), which helped Cal have a functional offense again. Let’s not underestimate how bad the Wazzu defense was, though—pretty much every time I checked, a Cal receiver had beaten a Wazzu defensive back deep and Devon Modster occasionally connected on those throws. I think Cal’s receiver corps is better than people give them credit for. We saw a bit of that once they had a quarterback able to throw it to them (e.g. Chase Garbers in the Ole Miss game) and we had a quarterback able to throw it to them once the offensive line started holding up slightly better. It all starts with that offensive line.
8. Oregon State Beavers (4–5, 3–3 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 8
Berkelium97 (7): As disappointed as I was to see their offense get absolutely dominated and shut out, I was impressed by their defense’s ability to keep UW out of the end zone. They host ASU for a must-win game to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility. That we’re still talking about bowl eligibility for the Beavs in early November speaks very well of the improvements Jonathan Smith has made to the team.
Alex G (10): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 65/8, FPI 66/10, Avg 65.5/T-9. A 19–7 loss against Washington is admirable and the previously-maligned OSU defense held Washington well below their season average and even got a pick-six. Still, OSU looks like a rebuilding team bouncing between solid and bad any given week, are one of six teams with a losing record (albeit 3–3 in-conference), and are coming off a deflating loss. The next couple games seem winnable, but the Beavers will need a few lucky bounces to make a bowl game. Next week: v. ASU, 44.4% per FPI.
Leland Wong (10): Tough for me to grade this week. They kept it pretty close to Washington in terms of score, but gave up a lot of yards in a bend-but-don’t-break result. Ultimately, I ended up grading them a bit generously as the subjective nature of power rankings allows for a bonus boost when framing the game in the context of the Beavers’ season and perceptions.
Christopher_h (6): Okay, where the heck did this defense come from? I wasn’t terribly surprised Coach Petersen and the defense schemed up a gameplan to give QB Jake Luton fits (as to be expected when a QB really likes one particular receiver) and it’s what I expected the Cal defense would be able to do. What I didn’t expect was the defensive performance OSU put on and I think this game witnessed the beginning of some future defensive stars. I was particularly impressed with the linebacker play of Hamilcar Rashed and freshman Omar Speights; freshman LB Riley Sharp showed a lot of promise as well. CB Nahshon Wright came out of nowhere to play like a shutdown corner this game. I also thought the OSU secondary did a good job of communicating with each other, which led to the pick-six on Jacob Eason. I always said that OSU was like the inverse-Cal—a very good offense that just needs a functional defense… but this defensive performance for them was the equivalent of the Chase Garbers Ole Miss game with 357 yards and 4 TDs. If they put it all together, they’re looking like a peak Mike Riley–era team.
9. Washington State Cougars (4–5, 1–5 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 6
Berkelium97 (9): The Cougs somehow piled up 400 yards of offense, but they looked like a mess out there—boneheaded penalties, inability to convert third downs, negative plays, and surrendering explosive play after explosive play to a team with as much explosive potential as a bag of pop rocks. They have two must-win games against the Lobsterbacks and Beavs because it’s looking highly unlikely that they’re going to get bowl eligibility by winning the Apple Cup.
Alex G (9): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 25/4, FPI 31/5, Avg 28/5. Is the excitement of Mike Leach wearing off? It’s hard to tell, but one thing is for sure—the Air Raid can clearly get shut down by a good pass defense, especially without any semblance of a running game (WSU was listed at under 1 yard/carry). The Cougars actually have the worst conference record at 1–5, which seems almost worthy of last-place—but the failure of Arizona/OSU/Furd and the fact that WSU has seemed competitive against some good opponents keeps them above the other bottom-dwellers. A fun note about computer rankings—WSU is the highest-rated five-loss team in the country per SP+, with the next five-loss team as #32 TCU; they are also the highest-rated team with a losing record. FPI has them as the third-highest-ranked team with a losing record behind #25 Michigan State and #26 Mississippi State. Next week: v. Furd, 75.9% per FPI.
Christopher_h (8): Wow, apparently it’s difficult to win games with a really good offense but an atrocious defense. Who would have thought?
10. Colorado Buffaloes (4–6, 2–5 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 12
Berkelium97 (10): A loss on Saturday would have almost certainly guaranteed an eight-game losing streak to end the year (they’re getting blown out by UW and Utah after the bye week), so this was a nice, feel-good win for the Buffs.
Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 82/12, FPI 73/12, Avg 77.5/12. Kudos for beating the Trees, especially on a last-minute field goal to truly crush their hearts! It’s strange to move Colorado from bottom-dweller to low-mid ranking, but still feels right given the close home win over a perennial North challenger. The Buffaloes are lucky to have a bye week before the brutal final duo of Washington at home and Utah on the road, so Colorado might be facing the same final record as Arizona might have (4–8 overall, 2–7 in-conference). Things will likely change in the power rankings by season’s end. Next week: bye.
Christopher_h (10): Steven Montez is the biggest disappointment in the Pac-12 this season. Expected to anchor an offense that would need to carry the defense at times, he has seemingly regressed without much explanation. He was on a lot of NFL scouts’ radars, but he has not been playing like a future NFL QB this year. Still, the Colorado defensive line looked much better with the return of Mustafa Johnson and KJ Costello is particularly bad under pressure. WIth upcoming games against Washington and Utah, I don’t expect their defense to be able to carry them to victory again.
11. Stanfurd Cardinal (4–5, 3–4 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 9
Berkelium97 (12): Despite the return of KJ Costello, bowl eligibility is slipping away and I am savoring every moment of it.
Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 75/11, FPI 56/9, Avg 65.5/T-9. Furd is ranked this low not necessarily because they are the second-worst team in the conference, but because this year represents a total cluster for the Trees across the Bay. Furd is 4–5 and 3–4 in conference, with the rest of the season featuring a couple toss-up games at WSU and home v. Cal, plus a likely home loss against Notre Dame. The crash compared to the status quo is what truly brings the Trees to #11. How bad is it? Well, Furd hasn’t had a losing conference record since week 7 of 2016 (after losing 10–5 to Colorado)—and then finished that year 10–3 overall and 6–3 in conference. They haven’t had a losing overall record since the first week of 2015—and then rallied to win eight straight and finish 12–2 (8–1 in-conference). They also haven’t missed out on a bowl game since 2008 and have made New-Years-Six bowls in half of the years between 2009–2018. The combination of a deflating loss against a South bottom-dweller, losing records overall and in-conference, and the reasonable likelihood of missing out on a bowl knocks Stanford down pretty damn far. Next week: @ WSU, 24.1% per FPI.
Christopher_h (11): Quarterbacks never play as well when they’re under pressure, but KJ Costello is so bad under pressure that it should be a red flag on his NFL Draft prospects. He has an insistence on targeting TE Colby Parkinson, which has resulted in increased defensive attention on Parkinson, which has resulted in a lot of bad throws into tight coverage from Costello to Parkinson. Their offensive line can’t block the way they did in the McCaffrey/Love years (although they have improved since the UCLA game), so the talented RB Cameron Scarlett rarely has much chance to get anything done. It all adds up to a bad Stanford team—one as beatable as it has been in years. Don’t get me started about the defense either.
thedozen (11): The Bay Area see-saw continues, with Cal breaking its losing streak while the Cardinal fell to a Colorado team that had dropped five straight. Stanford had few answers for wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr.
12. Arizona Wildcats (4–5, 2–4 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 11
Alex G (12): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 74/10, FPI 68/11, Avg 71/11. Arizona is about to enter their most brutal stretch of the season, coming off a four-game losing streak and a bye. It wouldn’t be surprising for them to end up 4–8 overall and 2–7 in conference, all while dealing with a QB controversy and potentially a coaching one as well. Feels like the basement to me. Next week: @ Oregon, 3.6% per FPI.
thedozen (12): Following their bye week, Arizona’s reward is heading to Autzen. I’m not sure who will be left as a scapegoat following that one.
Christopher_h (12): Well, I did not expect to rank a potential 5-7 last in the Pac-12, but that’s just shows how even it is at the bottom of the rankings. Arizona is coming off losses to Washington, USC, Stanford, and OSU, and the schedule only gets harder from here. They sit at 4-5, but unlikely to make a bowl game with Oregon, Utah, and ASU to finish the season. I expect a competitive game against ASU and maybe an upset there, but that’s about all.
We’ll kick things off with a reflection on the 2019 season using a connection between the rankings and time—a reminder of where each team has been ranked over the course of the season (Fig. 1). We see that Cal has reached our highest ranking since Week 7, which was the bye after our competitive loss to Oregon. One fascinating finding is that Arizona got into the basement this week—their first time this season—despite being on bye. The five top teams have been the same since Week 8—although there’s been some minor flip-flopping within that group—while the bottom seven teams are in some tumultuous turmoil.
For a breakdown of our methodology, we start by individually polling the CGB writers to rank the conference (Table 1.)
Table 1. Our individual votes following Week 11
|6||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||OSU||Cal||Cal||OSU||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||ASU||UC L.A.|
|7||ASU||OSU||Cal||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||Colorado||OSU||OSU||UC L.A.||Cal|
The responses for each team are collected and we find the mathematical average, which determines the overall rankings listed above. The precise averaged values are shown as the columns in Figure 2; the error bars here are the standard deviation, which tells us how consistent or varied our responses were.
To continue into our data dump, we can also track these precise rankings each week (Fig. 3).
There’s an appeal to how legible and easy-to-follow the top of the conference has been since it’s been so consistent—contrast that with how much movement and flip-flopping we have in the bottom half of the conference. The teams’ movement each week as they gain or lose ground is captured in Figure 4 as the Madness. Despite so much volatility in the middle of the conference, this was a relatively un-Mad week by 2019 standards (Fig. 4a).
Cal continues to be the Maddest team of the year. I think this is in part because this is a Cal site (so we study every detail, relish the victories every bit more, and lament the losses even more), but there is also an objective component of this as Cal has been so inconsistent this year.
New to 2019 has been my endeavor to capture the 2019 season in one picture. But now, it’s in two pictures. Figure 5a shows you the average ranking that the teams have held up to this point in the season. To further reinforce Cal’s Madness, check out the massive error bar that we have—having to capture positions as high as #2 and as low as #12 will do that to ya.
A new minor features is simply the moving average for the teams (Fig. 5b). To explain in more detail, the ranks under the preseason are merely the preseason ranks; week 1 is the average of the preseason and week 1; week 2 averages the preseason, week 1, and week 2 ranks; and so on. The time component doesn’t add too much—results won’t change too much week-from-week (especially late in the season) as there’s a larger and larger pool pf data to drown out the weekly noise. One cool aspect is that it lets us see at what point teams overtake each other. Additionally, it makes it a tad easier (for me, at least) to capture those tiers or confidence clusters.
As for next week, Washington and Colorado will be on bye. UC L.A. will suffer their first great team in quite some time as they travel to Sack Lake City while the game between Stanfurd and Wazzu will feature two struggling teams that are fighting to stop freefalls.