Leland Wong: Believe it or not—although Cal did not play last week, college football still was played. (I guess that isn’t too surprising as that has basically happened every December and January for the past decade—sob sob sob.)
CGB is here to grade out the Pac-12 teams for their performance this past week—yes, we do consider the season overall, but there is a focus on recent results and the latest weekend in particular. Everyone has their own formula, but we generally rank based on on-field performance, fanbase excitement, and even off-field happenings as they should happen.
If you tuned out of football this past Saturday, here’s what happened:
- #7 Oregon def. USC, 56–24
- #9 Utah def. Washington, 33–28
- Oregon State def. Arizona, 56–38
- UC Los Angeles def. Colorado, 31–14
- Bye: Arizona State, California, Stanfurd, and Washington State
Berkelium97: Nine teams in the conference have four or five wins, so this week’s ballot is Oregon/Utah and then a giant mess of mediocre teams. Surprisingly, UCLA and OSU have climbed from the basement into mediocrity while UW has plunged from elite to mediocre. The biggest decision this week is picking Utah or Oregon as #1. Both played roughly equal teams, but Oregon had a blowout win while Utah had to rally from an early deficit. So Oregon gets the nod 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 conference clearly has a top duo of Oregon and Utah, but Oregon had a better dismantling of a strong team on the road, so they are #1. After that, the rankings get a bit tricky—mainly because of the difference between overall records and conference records/standings. For example, UC L.A. has a losing record of 4–5, but sits tied for second place in the South with USC (5–4 overall) with 4–2 conference records. OSU suddenly has a winning conference record (3–2) and is batting 0.5 overall (4–4), beating out the other 4–4 teams in the North who have conference records of either 3–3 (Stanfurd) or 1–4 (Cal & WSU). Did my darndest to arrange things the right way, but the middle is a bit tough to work out since the records are all over the place.
Piotr T Le: The overall W–L records cluster the Pac-12. In the North, we have the sole king in Oregon and a hobnob of 4–4 (and a 5–4 UW) teams who each look hampered by one thing or another. In the South we have… chaos. Colorado is consistently bad, Zona is consistently underperforming, Utah is consistently good, ASU is this close to being real good, and UCLA and USC seemingly perform a Jekyll and Hyde routine of “oh god no” to “oh god yes?!”.
Rob Hwang: Welcome to the Pac-12—the hardest P5 Conference to win enough games to enter the CFP.
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; seven first-place votes) ↗
Last week: 2
Berkelium97 (1): I was surprised by their slow start (one first down in the 1st Q). They fell down 0–10 and the deficit looked to grow as USC was driving down the field. Then, Oregon intercepted Kedon Slovis and scored every time they touched the ball (including a pick-six later in the half). They’re playing at a dominant level right now.
Alex G (1): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 14/2, FPI 8/1, Avg 11/T-1. After a slow first quarter in the Coliseum, the Ducks pumped out a 28-point second quarter that included a pick-six and a kick-six, the latter with just a few seconds left before halftime. The beginning of the second half seemed to be moving toward running away for a wide victory, but then a defender fell onto Justin Herbert’s knees and it didn’t look pretty. Of course, Herbert came right back to throw a touchdown pass and didn’t seem to be in pain at all—and the offense put up the most points the Trojans have allowed this year, reaching that figure midway through the third quarter. The Ducks continue to roll through this season—looking good along the way—and seemed complete in all phases of the game. Deserving the #1 spot (especially if Herbert is healthy from that low hit). Next week: bye.
thedozen (1): Juwan Johnson entered Saturday’s game with two career receiving touchdowns—both while playing for Penn State. He surpassed that mark with three scores against USC on Saturday.
Christopher_h (1): Oregon thoroughly dominated USC, likely looking to make a statement before the first College Football Playoff Committee rankings are released by blowing out the team that beat Utah. USC fans were actually chanting “overrated” in the first quarter against Oregon, before Oregon went on a 56–7 run the rest of the way (I’m ignoring the final garbage time TD). WR Juwan Johnson finally looked like the #1 receiver I expected him to be after the spring games. If Oregon were to rematch Auburn now, with WRs Juwan Johnson and Mycah Pittman healthy, I see that game going much differently than the first time around. Also, a shoutout to S Verone McKinley, who is always in the right place at the right time (like a safety should be) to continue racking up interceptions. I don’t know how he knew to be where the ball was about to be deflected, but he keeps catching them, so he’s obviously doing something right.
Rob Hwang (2): FIRE UP THE CRISTOBAL-TO-FSU RUMORS
2. Utah Utes (8–1, 5–1 Pac-12; four first-place votes) ↘
Last week: 1
Berkelium97 (2): With USC’s loss and three games against some of the conference’s bottom feeders, the Utes are in a great position to win the South.
Alex G (2): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 9/1, FPI 13/2, Avg 11/T-1. It took a few lucky bounces and clever tricks—and turnovers, including a pick-six—for the Utes to win in Seattle. But darn it—they also won despite a slow start and made adjustments that had a solid impact, including some impressive deep throws from Huntley and stout defense. The Utes now just need a trio of pretty-easy-looking wins (after an extra week’s rest) and they’ll make the title game, with a shot at the Rose Bowl or even the Playoffs. Next week: bye.
Christopher_h (2): Utah finally got over the hump by beating Washington. QB Tyler Huntley’s mobility was a bit limited this game and Washington’s defensive line was dominating Utah’s offensive line to get pressure on Huntley and blow up runs early, but ultimately it was Huntley’s arm that saved the day. Huntley made a number of gorgeous throws on critical downs to keep the Utah offense moving. Utah did struggle in individual match-ups against a team with as much talent as Washington—which doesn’t bode well for them once they get to either the Pac-12 Championship or a bowl game—but they put together a solid performance to beat a pretty good Washington team.
Rob Hwang (1): They’re the best team on both sides of the ball. Oregon may be more talented, but are highly inconsistent. Utah comes in with the better floor and consistency game- n and game out.
3. Washington Huskies (5–4, 2–4 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 3
Berkelium97 (3): They have three winnable games on the schedule, so an eight-win season is possible. But this is definitely a disappointing year in Seattle.
Alex G (3): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 17/3, FPI 15/3, Avg 16/3. Washington put up a valiant effort against the Utes on Saturday, but it just wasn’t enough to get the upset. After Washington’s solid start, Utah was able to shut down the Washington run game and got the best of Jacob Eason through the air to pull off a comeback win. This is a very unfamiliar spot for Chris Peterson, especially if the now-pesky Beavers keep being pesky in Corvallis this weekend. Next week: @ OSU, 81.3% per FPI.
Christopher_h (3): Washington’s lines were winning the game for them early against Utah—the Huskies’ offensive line did a great job of protecting QB Jacob Eason in the first half against Utah’s standard four-man rush (forcing Utah to adjust in the second half to bring additional pressure and start to rattle Eason) and UW’s defensive line was simply too much for Utah’s offensive line (which I contend is still Utah’s biggest liability), picking up 4 sacks and 9 TFLs against a team that was previously giving up less than 1 sack per game. While Eason made a number of nice throws against a tough Utah defense, it was ultimately turnovers by Eason that cost Washington the game. A fumble on a QB run, an interception on a bad throw, and a pick-six on a bad read proved to be the difference in a tight game. Washington is still hurting with the injuries to RB Sean McGrew and Richard Newton, as UW pretty much abandoned the run game since RB Salvon Ahmed is clearly not an every-down back.
4. Arizona State Sun Devils (5–3, 2–3 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 5
Alex G (6): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 44/6, FPI 44/6, Avg 44/6. They didn’t play this week, so they neither won nor lost. Kudos! Next week: v. USC, 46.6% per FPI.
thedozen (5): The Sun Devils allowed a career-high four touchdowns to Joshua Kelley in their last game against UCLA. The good news: ASU’s next opponent is USC. No Trojan running back has more than four rushing TDs this entire season.
Christopher_h (4): A #4 ranking seems a bit high for a team on a two-game losing streak—especially considering one of those losses was to UCLA—but I am not sure whom else to put here. I’m expecting a low-scoring game against USC next week as it will be offensive strength versus defensive strength for both teams. ASU is great at running the ball behind QB Jayden Daniels and RB Eno Benjamin, but USC has a very tough (albeit currently banged-up) defensive line. USC has abandoned their run game as they are down to their fourth- and fifth-string running backs, but ASU’s 3-3-5 defensive will prove challenging for a freshman Air Raid quarterback who has yet to see such a defense. ASU is not good at stopping the run (as they were steamrolled by UCLA’s Joshua Kelley), but USC can’t run the ball. USC has an awful secondary (as they were torched by Herbert for 50+ points), but Jayden Daniels isn’t a very good passer.
5. USC Trojans (5–4, 4–2 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 4
Berkelium97 (5): Turnovers killed the Trojans. Oregon scored 28 points off those turnovers, including a fumble inside the 10. With the offense averaging a woeful 4 yards per play, they could not afford any turnovers, let alone four.
Alex G (4): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 27/5, FPI 23/4, Avg 25/5. The Trojans looked solid in the first quarter, but then the offense began to struggle and the freshman QB made some freshman QB–style mistakes. The next few weeks should all be winnable games, so USC could realistically end up anywhere between 5–7 and 8–4. One downside—the Trojans’ bye week is in week #14, meaning they only got one weekend off the whole season. The lack of rest and recuperation means the Trojans will be hurting going into the last game—and the rivalry game against Cal just before that. Next week: @ ASU, 53.4% per FPI.
Christopher_h (5): Pfft—no respectable team loses to Oregon by more than 10 points. Every week, I wonder if it’s possible to dislike USC more than I currently do and every week, the answer is yes. USC took a number of late shots on QB Justin Herbert in a game they were already losing badly, including one where LB Kana’i Mauga took a cheap shot with his helmet to Herbert’s knees. Mauga was likely upset about completely whiffing on the tackle when Herbert ran the ball himself for a touchdown and apparently figured it made sense to go for the quarterback’s knees in retribution. He also played terribly in pass coverage and was a liability the entire game. Oregon probably should have pulled Herbert earlier than 49–17 in the fourth quarter, but they were lucky to survive the cheap shots by USC as they ran up the score.
6. Washington State Cougars (4–4, 1–4 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 6
Alex G (9): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 24/4, FPI 24/5, Avg 24/4. They didn’t play this past Saturday and are sad—tied in last place in the North along with their next opponent, Cal. It’s that much more painful because WSU has been competitive against some good teams and truly Coug’d It in some of those losses. Regardless, this coming weekend at Memorial Stadium will help determine the saddest team in the North. Next week: @ Cal, 65.3% per FPI.
Christopher_h (6): An Air Raid team that’s all offense, no defense—sound familiar? Washington State was actually in control against Oregon last week, as Wazzu’s numerous wide receivers were able to overwhelm Oregon’s defensive backs in man-coverage (Oregon has a couple good DBs, but not as many as Wazzu has WRs) and thus QB Anthony Gordon was frequently able to find a mismatch or a receiver open. I don’t think Cal will have this problem, since we have about as many DBs as they have WRs. Wilcox has had Leach’s number recently and hopefully this trend can continue.
Piotr T Le (4): Mike Leach had one year with a good DC who could keep the score within realms of regular Pac-12 football. After Alex Grinch got poached by Oklahoma, Leach hasn’t been able to score enough. Of course, the Cougs will always find ways to score and matriculate the ball down the field, but will the defense keeps getting in their way.
Rob Hwang (6): FIRE UP THE LEACH-TO-FSU RUMORS
7. UC Los Angeles Bruins (4–5, 4–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 9
Berkelium97 (8): Dorian Thompson-Robertson had a decent day! Although that’s more of an indictment of the Colorado defense than a credit to UCLA’s offense.
Alex G (5): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 58/7, FPI 48/7, Avg 53/7. It’s hard to tell if UC L.A. has become a good team or if they were just demolishing a bad Colorado team, as most recent Colorado opponents have done. Still, they sit alone at second place in the South with a 4–2 conference record and, if they win out, will actually make the title game. The computers aren’t totally sold on the Bruins (both SP+ and FPI have them at #7 in the Pac-12), but right now UC L.A. is a team that deserves to be in the upper half of the Power Rankings. Next week: bye.
Christopher_h (9): UCLA has won three games in a row for the first time since 2015, so apparently this means Chip Kelly is “back.” I think the biggest difference I’ve noticed with this team is that their young offensive line is starting to gel and they’re opening up running lanes for an extremely talented RB Joshua Kelley. They remind me a lot of ASU on offense. I don’t put too much stock in their three-game win streak—they beat a banged-up Stanford playing its third-string QB, they matched-up well with ASU, and they beat a Colorado team in the midst of another meltdown. They’ve gone from abysmal to merely terrible. Chip Kelly is not back.
Piotr T Le (6): Is UCLA back? Not really—one three-game win streak doth not make spring. However, there are positive signs for a program that looked dead in the water just a month ago. As noted by Christopher_H, their wins aren’t against any strong teams; however, winning against teams that you’re supposed to win against is a good sign for a team coming back from the abyss of 2018. Looking at how volatile the performances of the Pac-12 South teams (minus Utah) are, there is a good chance that UCLA might win some more.
Rob Hwang (9): Chip can still coach, but is it a little too late?
8. Oregon State Beavers (4–4, 3–2 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 10
Berkelium97 (7): This was a must-win to have hope for bowl eligibility and the Beavs cruised to an easy victory on the road. I’m impressed with their climb out of the basement this year.
Alex G (7): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 59/8, FPI 63/10, Avg 61/8. OSU has turned into an interesting team that suddenly is showing enough promise to maybe—just maybe—make it to a bowl game. The offense was beastly at Arizona and the defense wasn’t half-bad (as opposed to its previous levels of abysmal). Unfortunately, the upcoming schedule is brutal, so it would take some impressive upsets to make a 6–6 record (or better) happen. Next week: v Wash, 18.7% per FPI.
Christopher_h (7): I’m genuinely surprised I have OSU this high, but here we are. The OSU offensive line dominated Arizona’s defensive line—consistently opening up giant holes for their talented running backs to run through—and QB Jake Luton was given easy throw after easy throw. More surprising was to see the pressure that OSU’s defensive line was able to generate on QBs Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell, picking up sacks and forcing fumbles. OSU has been starting to put things together. Their over/under for wins this season was two. They’re currently 4–4 and mathematically alive for the Pac-12 North title, sitting in second place behind Oregon. Raise your hand if you saw that one coming.
Rob Hwang (7): Not hiring Beau Baldwin may have been the perfect scenario for them in hindsight. Johnathon Smith knows what he’s doing and is being creative across the board to try and get his team to win.
9. Stanfurd Cardinal (4–4, 3–3 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 7
Alex G (8): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 77/11, FPI 53/8, Avg 65/10. They didn’t play this week, so they neither one nor lost. (Note: Furd has a mild back-half of the conference schedule, but close out with a visit from Notre Dame, so it’ll likely be a mediocre bowl game for the Trees). Next week: @ Colorado, 60.5% per FPI.
thedozen (8): Stanford’s win over Arizona looks less impressive after OSU obliterated the Wildcats. Nevertheless, the team stands a reasonable chance at Colorado with KJ Costello back in the fold.
Christopher_h (10): The biggest surprise for me was that Stanford’s (back-up) offensive line played well against Arizona after getting demolished by UCLA. Stanford will definitely need their offensive line to play well if they’re to win any more games. Without a good offensive line, KJ Costello may as well be Jack West.
10. California Golden Bears (4–4, 1–4 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 12
Berkelium97 (11): We didn’t lose! That’s clearly worth a one-spot bump in the rankings.
Alex G (11): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 72/10, FPI 56/9, Avg 64/9. If the Bears got a bit more healthy in the bye week—including the likely scenario putting Devon Modster on the field this coming Saturday and the reasonable scenario getting other offensive players (namely Saffell and some WRs) back—then the defense might not need to be bailed out quite as much as recent games. On the bright side, the Bears’ strength on defense is against the pass and WSU (this weekend’s opponent) is as pass-happy as they come. Next week: v. WSU, 34.7% per FPI.
thedozen (10): I used the bye-week Saturday to decompress and visit an art gallery. Hopefully the Bears are equally refreshed entering an important match-up with the Cougars.
Christopher_h (8): Apparently I’m the optimist here on Cal. I like Cal’s chances in all of its remaining match-ups. The toughest part of our schedule is over, Cal has a bye week to rest and recover, and Cal should start looking more like the 4–0 Cal sooner than the 0–4 Cal. Wooo—Go Bears!
Piotr T Le (12): I am a fatalist at heart. Or jaded? Either way, unless Mike Saffell returns in full strength to his natural C spot, we see Garbers out of his sling, and more WRs are available to play than on the injury report, I doubt the offense will be able to score no matter how well the defense plays. On the defensive side the recipe is clear—run, run, and exploit match-ups against the LBs in space.
Rob Hwang (10): The fact that we can still win out and get to 8–4 should salvage the season. At this point though, we’re not even sure we can win one more. Expectations, man. Expectations.
11. Arizona Wildcats (4–5, 2–4 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 8
Berkelium97 (10): Unsurprisingly, firing the defensive coordinator seemed to have little effect.
Alex G (10): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 69/9, FPI 69/11, Avg 69/11. It’s tough to decide where to put the Wildcats in the Power Rankings, just looking at the record (4–5, 2–4). Arizona is just above Colorado for last place in the South, while both teams got demolished against teams with losing records. The Wildcats are one of three teams with an overall losing record and one of three teams with only two wins in-conference (the trio of Colorado, Cal and WSU have one conference win apiece). I put the Wildcats above Cal (4–4, 1–4) because of Cal’s record and recent performance, but below WSU (4–4, 1–4) because WSU has looked much more competitive recently. Plus, the Wildcats seem to have a QB controversy on their hands, which will be fun to follow. Extra bad news: FPI has Arizona with the third-hardest remaining schedule IN THE COUNTRY—the toughest in the conference—with win chances as 3.5% at Oregon, 11.4% v. Utah and 24.6% at ASU. Next week: bye.
Christopher_h (11): Arizona is bad. They fired their defensive coordinator, but there’s no indication that anyone has actually assumed the role in his place. Arizona’s defensive line was pushed around all day by OSU and their secondary had frequent miscommunications for a number of blown coverages in the secondary. QB Khalil Tate’s talent is continually wasted, although he didn’t look particularly mobile in the pocket against OSU. I know Cal fans aren’t happy with the offensive play-calling we have, but Arizona is proof that it could always be worse.
Piotr T Le (10): Two years ago, Khalil Tate looked like the second coming of Lamar Jackso,n who was tearing up the Pats on SNF. Now… he looks like a shadow of himself. Maybe he was always this player, however, I think it was the swing and a miss hiring of Kevin Sumlin who hasn’t been able to find a way out of the hole and might be on his way out. Who knew that ASU had the better hire?
12. Colorado Buffaloes (3–6, 1–5 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 11
Berkelium97 (12): Early in the season, they had a decent offense that made up for an inept defense. Now the offense is broken, so it’s ineptitude all around.
Alex G (12): Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 79/12, FPI 75/12, Avg 77/12. Ouch. The Buffs sit with the worst overall record in the conference after getting blown out by the team that previously shared the worst-record honor. I put them in last place—behind Cal and WSU (the other remaining teams with 1–4 conference records)—because of their worse overall record and the heartache of enduring another loss this past weekend. FPI isn’t liking the Buffs’ chances going forward, ranking their schedule as the eigth-hardest in the country (#2 in the Pac-12) with the next four weeks as 39.5% chance v. Furd, bye, 15.9% v. Wash, then 5.2% at Utah. Next week: v. Furd 39.5% per FPI.
Christopher_h (12): In the preseason, I knew that Colorado wasn’t going to have a good defense, but I figured they could still rely on their offense, which returned many of its key players (QB Steven Montez, WR Laviska Shenault Jr., WR KD Nixon, WR Tony Brown, etc). Unfortunately for Colorado, it seems even their offense has regressed. It’s anyone’s guess which version of Montez will show up—the one that looked sharp in games against Nebraska and ASU or the one who was completely ineffectual in games against Oregon and Wazzu. WR Laviska Shenault is still battling through injuries, but I half-expect him to just sit out this losing season and save his body for the NFL. Colorado does have talent at the skill positions though, which is why it’s frustrating to watch them struggle as much as they do on offense. Sounds like a different team we all know.
Let’s take a jaunty little walk down memory lane to recap the power rankings for each week in 2019 (Fig. 1).
One random finding in the data is two pairs of alphabetically-ordered teams: Utah–Washington and Oregon State–Stanfurd. The Bruins and the Buffaloes hit season-high rankings while the Buffaloes experienced the flipside by reaching the bottom spot for the first time this season. Meanwhile, the schools from the state of Washington has held steady since Week 8 just like the state has steadily held the title of the worst state in the nation for the past few years now.
Table 1 collects how the writers individually voted this week.
Table 1. Our ballots after the games of Week 10
|6||ASU||WSU||WSU||UC L.A.||WSU||USC||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||WSU||WSU||WSU|
|7||OSU||OSU||OSU||OSU||Stanfurd||Wash||Stanfurd||USC||OSU||UC L.A.||UC L.A.|
|8||Stanfurd||UC L.A.||Cal||WSU||OSU||ASU||USC||Stanfurd||UC L.A.||Stanfurd||Stanfurd|
|9||WSU||Stanfurd||UC L.A.||Stanfurd||UC L.A.||Stanfurd||OSU||OSU||Cal||OSU||OSU|
For each team, we collect all of the votes from how we ranked them individually and find the mathematical average; these average rankings determine the rounded, overall rankings given way up above. Another mathematical observation that we make is the standard deviation; a large standard deviation means plenty of disagreement in how we perceived that team (such as Wazzu earning scores as high as third and as low as ninth this week) while a small standard deviation means highly similar responses (such as Oregon only receiving votes for first or second). Figure 2 is a graphical representation of this data; the precise, average rankings are shown as the columns and the error bars represent one standard deviation.
If we want a little more information out of these precise rankings, we can similarly chart them out week-by-week (Fig. 3). This week, our confidence/agreement in rankings has resulted in three perceivable tiers of talent. Looking at our two poles, we have Oregon and Utah up top and Cal, Arizona, and Colorado at the bottom. Washington is in a class of their own as we were collectively confident to place them at third (with NikJam being the sole, massive dissenter) despite having an identical win–loss record as Arizona State. The final tier is a massive clump of half of the conference.
On rare, rare occasion, we do find a gem from the comment section—and a few years ago, that gem was the Madness. This is a score that quantifies how much each team moves up and down the official rankings (Fig. 1) and is collected in Figure 4. Despite massive shuffles in the bottom half of the conference and switcheroos for spots 1 & 2 and 4 & 5, the Madness score this week is not particularly notable—an indication of just how wacky this season has been on the West Coast. Lucky Oregon gets to be the standard-bearer for consistency—and doing it all near the top of the conference.
Lastly, I try to capture the season as a whole in one CliffNotes image—a fool’s errand given how volatile the conference is. Figure 5 captures the average score that each team has held over the course of the 2019 season. after such a brilliant start to the season, Cal’s collapse (i.e., how much time we’ve now spent at such extremely low positions) means we’re plummeting down this list with Wazzu nigh-guaranteed to surpass us next week if they should beat us. For more bad news, Stanfurd jumped two spots this past week, swapping spots with Colorado.
This next week will be a big one for Cal—both for bowl eligibility and for holding onto an average 2019 ranking in the top half of the conference. And with the two top dogs on bye, this will actually be a fascinating week as a bunch of teams with four or five wins (and three-win Colorado) battle to help distinguish the middle of the Pac.