Leland Wong: Buckle your seatbelts because today we bid adieu to the Pac-12 regular season. Nearly half of the conference won’t be going bowling, so their stories are mostly done (although there will be some crazy offseason news).
We’re here to grade the Pac-12 teams in our power rankings, which grades based on wins and losses, performance, and fanbase sentiment over the course of the season, but recent weeks particularly.
Here’s the set of games from the second rivalry weekend:
- Washington def. Washington State, 31–13
- #14 Oregon def. Oregon State, 24–10
- #16 Notre Dame def. Stanfurd, 45–24
- #6 Utah def. Colorado, 45–15
- Arizona State def. Arizona, 24–14
- California def. UC Los Angeles, 28–18
- Bye: USC
Berkelium97: This was a wacky and entertaining year in the Pac-12 and I’m a little sad that it’s coming to a close. The incredible amount of parity in the conference helped make this an enjoyable year—eight teams finished with 4–5 or 3–6 records in-conference! Sorting through the wreckage and trying to make sense of this mess has been particularly enjoyable this year.
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. As for main talking points, this conference showed unpredictability and a surprising amount of parity over the course of the season, with loads of teams sitting just below 0.5 in conference play. It’s made for an entertaining set of storylines and entertaining games in general, with several classics and last-minute game-deciding drives. Now, onto the conference championship and seeing who makes what bowl game…
Piotr T Le: We’re the #2 team in the division (by the grace that is the Latin alphabet that arbitrarily put C as the third letter in the order of precedence)! The whole Pac-12 is Utah/Oregon/USC in one group and the rest in a pack of cannibalistic madness with Arizona lagging behind tripping over the Kevin Sumlin contract.
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 (11–1, 8–1 Pac-12; eleven first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 1
Berkelium97 (1): It was a slow start, but the Utes ended up beating the Buffs in every phase of the game: offense, defense, special teams. The Ducks will have their hands full on Friday.
Alex G (1): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 7/1, FPI 12/2, Avg 9.5/1. Utah finally had the opportunity to showcase their talents on a national stage in prime time. Unfortunately, they ran into a motivated and well-prepared Colorado team that wouldn’t let them fully show off in the first half, but Utah managed to regroup at halftime and clobber the Buffs 45–15. I just hope that East Coast football fans stayed awake until the second half and that the national recognition will help get a 12–1 Utah squad into the playoffs (I’m leaning Utah over Oregon in the conference championship). Next week: v. Oregon, 49% per FPI.
Piotr T Le (1): I think I saw one pundit arguing that Utah’s slow start against Colorado is grounds for keeping them out of CFP. Apparently the Utes heard that and put the pedal to the metal against the Buffs. With a convincing win against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, they will most likely snag the #4 CFP spot and an invite to dance with LSU or Ohio State (whichever comes out stronger in their respective conference championship games).
Christopher_h (1): Don’t get me wrong—I’ll be pulling for the Utes in the title game as the Pac-12 makes more money as a conference if it sends a team to the playoffs. The problem is that the Utes have showed some signs of weakness and Oregon definitely has the talent to capitalize on those weaknesses (Utah’s offensive line, particular spots of the secondary, etc). I said before the season started that Utah probably had one of the best defensive lines in the country and this time, they’ll be matched up against a line that’s also filled with NFL-caliber players. I’ve also been concerned by Utah’s inability to really rip a bad Arizona team to shreds and Colorado gave Utah a run for their money in the first half (before blowing them out in the second). Utah won’t have that margin for error against Oregon.
2. Oregon Ducks (10–2, 8–1 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 2
Berkelium97 (2): That kind of performance isn’t going to get it done in the Pac-12 title game.
Alex G (2): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 19/3, FPI 10/1, Avg 14.5/2. Oregon’s offense was awful and had trouble scoring against one of the conference’s worst defenses, one week after falling asleep in Tempe. Luckily for the Ducks, their defense bailed them out (albeit against OSU’s backup QB). Honestly, I think USC looks like the better team right now, but Oregon has the better record and won the head-to-head contest, so Oregon gets #2 behind Utah. Next week: v. Utah, 51% per FPI.
Christopher_h (2): There would be nothing to better complete the Pac-12 cannibalization than having Oregon ruin the Pac-12’s playoff chances with a win. I’m surprised to see that Oregon is a touchdown underdog. Oregon’s chances rest entirely on how well Justin Herbert plays; if he’s playing like an NFL first rounder, I don’t think Utah’s secondary can stop him and I think that the Oregon defensive line will do just enough to slow the Utah run game. If Herbert has another off-game, they’re in trouble.
3. USC Trojans (8–4, 7–2 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 3
Alex G (3): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 22/4, FPI 22/4, Avg 22/4. U$C ended the regular season with the third-best record in the conference, with a win over #1 Utah early on and recent blowout wins to close things out. I despise that the Trojans can pull this off with a back-up QB and drama around the coaching staff, but the world just isn’t fair sometimes.
thedozen (3): The Trojans haven’t played in over a week, but that hasn’t stopped them from staying in the news thanks to the Clay Helton craziness.
Christopher_h (3): USC has a lot of young talent that’s only going to get better. Let’s hope they find a way to screw that up.
4. California Golden Bears (7–5, 4–5 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 5
Berkelium97 (5): This team isn’t built to win with offense, but it’s amazing how much more competent this offense is when mostly healthy. Without the string of injuries on the offensive line and at QB, this team may have beaten ASU, OSU, and maybe even Oregon. Still, a 7–5 season with a Big Game win is a perfectly cromulent season in Berkeley.
Alex G (5): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 77/10, FPI 51/7, Avg 64/8. Cal is tied with ASU and Washington with records of 7–5/4–5, deserving of #4–6. ASU beat Cal and Cal beat Washington, so that’s my order (thus Cal #5). Cal deserves to be up here, too, because the offense is actually serviceable with Chase Garbers healthy (and the RBs coming into their own), leading to some optimism going into the Bowl Game and off-season. Extra fun note—the Bears actually got a few votes in the AP poll! Go team!
thedozen (5): This had to be one of the colder games played at the Rose Bowl in recent memory. In any case, it was nice to see Christopher Brown Jr. have a strong performance heading into bowl season.
Piotr T Le (4): Places between fourth and seventh are roughly interchangeable. Each match-up mostly depending on a wrong/right roll of the ball on a random fumble. However, since I am applying Pac-12 rules for the tie-breakers, Cal gets the top spot in the tier.
Christopher_h (4): No team beat Cal this year when Chase Garbers played the entire game and Cal lost close games to ASU, OSU, and Oregon when playing with the back-ups. If Cal could develop more depth on offense, I think Cal could be a dark horse for the Pac-12 North. That’s a pretty big “if”, though.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (7–5, 4–5 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 4
Berkelium97 (6): They got the memo that Arizona has terrible run defense, as they ran the ball 55 times (34 carries for Eno Benjamin!). They weren’t particularly efficient, but they dominated the time of possession and kept the ball away from a self-destructing Arizona offense.
Alex G (4): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 42/6, FPI 44/6, Avg 43/6. Three teams ended up with records of 7–5/4–5 (ASU, Cal and WSU) and are my #4–6. ASU gets the nod for #4 because they beat Cal in Berkeley (the Huskies and Sun Devils didn’t compete this year) and have a recent statement win over then-sixth-ranked Oregon.
Christopher_h (6): Jayden Daniels has a lot of potential. Everyone knows he can run the ball, but he’s only shown flashes of what he can do with his arm. If ASU can continue to develop him as a quarterback (and I suspect they can, in contrast to their state rivals), ASU will be a dangerous team in the years to come.
6. Washington Huskies (7–5, 4–5 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 7
Berkelium97 (4): Washington has enjoyed enormous success in the Apple Cup in recent years. This was no different, as the Huskies’ recent struggles all disappeared in a dominant victory.
Alex G (6): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 16/2, FPI 18/3, Avg 18/3. The Huskies rediscovered some offensive mojo against one of the conference’s worst defenses and rediscovered enough defensive mojo to hold a top-ten national offense in check. Washington has the same record as ASU and Cal (7–5/4–5), but didn’t play ASU and lost to Cal, so they’re #6 in the rankings.
Christopher_h (5): Not at all surprised by their win over Washington State. They have the talent to beat Wazzu, and Chris Petersen has coached circles around Mike Leach (6–0 in the Apple Cup). This one wasn’t even close.
T7. Oregon State Beavers (5–7, 4–5 Pac-12) ↗
Last week: 8
Berkelium97 (7): It’s a shame that Jake Luton was unable to play because this was a winnable game for the Beavs. They certainly deserved a bowl game, but a second-place finish in the North is a great consolation prize.
Alex G (7): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 66/7, FPI 61/10, Avg 63.5/7. The Beavers were reasonably competitive against Oregon, with the defense putting up an admirable performance beyond their recent trends. Unfortunately, OSU had to rely on a back-up QB against one of the nation’s best defenses, which is a shame considering their offense had been quite productive of late. The progress and beating expectations this year should make Beavers fans pretty excited for the future—before the season, SP+ projected the Beavers to be #105 in the country and FPI predicted #86, where both were last in the conference; now SP+ has the Beavers at #66 national (7th in the Pac-12) and FPI has them #61 (10th in the Pac-12).
Leland Wong (7): They managed to exceed expectations and rise to the middle of the pack. They fell short of a bowl, but they deserve to be recognized for their growth.
Christopher_h (7): I was really hoping they’d make a bowl, but with Jake Luton out, I’m not sure they had much of a chance. Their defense played pretty well this game, particularly considering the special teams blunders (kick return TD, big punt return that led to another TD), but Tristan Gebbia is a big step down from Luton. Also, I have to throw up this addendum to Berkelium97’s comment—OSU was in a threeway tie for second place in the North (tied with Cal and Washington). Certainly better than anyone expected, but I just have to point out that Cal holds the tiebreakers over the other two (which, strangely, doesn’t include head-to-head results). Cal had a better overall record than OSU and they edge out UW because… Cal is first in alphabetical order. Good luck next year, AAAAAAOregon State University.
Leland Wong: AAAAAAArgh I have to addendum the addendum! The Pac-12 isn’t breaking ties with the alphabet. That’s just how they’ll visually order tied teams and is the exact same method that we use here. I’m guessing the Pac-12 doesn’t break ties with head-to-head because it can get too confusing in Circle of Suck scenarios and because the standings aren’t truly impactful in any way other than determining who goes to the Conference Championship Game (for which they do have extensive tie-breaking methodology). This alphabetical nonsense is the worst thing CGB has ever done and I declare it Sanchez.
T7. Washington State Cougars (6–6, 3–6 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 6
Berkelium97 (8): Woof.
Alex G (8): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 25/5, FPI 27/5, Avg 26/5. WSU barely made the cut for bowl eligibility and got blown out in their rivalry game for the seventh-straight year. Their conference record is 3–6, which is tied for second-to-last with Colorado (5–7 overall) and Furd (4–8) and one game ahead of Arizona (4–8/2–7), and WSU actually has a worse conference record than a couple other teams with losing overall records (5–7/4–5 OSU and 4–8/4–5 UC L.A.), with a very weak out-of-conference slate providing the boost to their record. I put WSU ahead of Arizona, Colorado, and Furd because the record deserves it; for the teams with better conference records but worse overall records (OSU & UC L.A.), OSU gets the nod over WSU for several reasons (upward trajectory, a seemingly-decent coach) while UC L.A.’s few redeeming qualities aren’t enough to get over the 4–8 record. But more than anything, I’m just sick of Mike Leach and his post-game interviews and press conferences. Get this guy out of the Pac-12.
Leland Wong (8): Sure, they get to go bowling, but this season has to be seen as a disappointment coming off of an 11-win season and they just lost to their archrival again.
Piotr T Le (8): Mike Leach for all his military history savvy fails to understand the basic principles of the “Art of War”:
Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.
He knows that DC (soon-to-be HC) Jimmy Lake (and Wilcox for the matter) knows how to defend the Leach Air Raid and yet he refuses to adapt and find weaknesses in the UW defense. The refusal to innovate will lead the WSU to ruin in the Apple Cup and without an NFL starting–caliber QB against Wilcox’s Cal and other teams with competent defenses.
Christopher_h (8): After the way he whined at a reporter after the loss, I have trouble feeling sorry for Leach and the Cougs.
9. Colorado Buffaloes (5–7, 3–6 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 9
Alex G (10): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 73/8, FPI 68/11, Avg 70.5/11. Colorado had some good recent wins, including a HUGE upset over Washington, and held up well against Utah through one half or so (before getting blown out as most other Utes’ opponents do). The Buffs didn’t do enough to secure bowl eligibility, but they can head into the off-season knowing that they can be competitive, with 2019’s upset wins and close losses against good competition. Colorado may just make some noise in the Pac-12 next year…
thedozen (9): Colorado fans have to be frustrated by how things played out in the final season for QB Steven Montez. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. and DL Mustafa Johnson could be fairly high NFL selections as well.
Christopher_h (9): Colorado kept it surprisingly close with Utah in the first half, getting a number of stops on the Utah offense and scoring the first non–garbage time touchdown on Utah since the Huskies did it almost a month ago. It shows what could have been with Colorado—a talented offense (with a future NFL stud in Laviska Shenault) with a defensive-minded coach to help shore up that side of the ball. Alas, they made it until halftime before the wheels fell off. Colorado will be losing a ton of talent and unless they bring in a big recruiting class, they’ll be struggling again next year as well.
10. UC Los Angeles Bruins (4–8, 4–5 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 10
Berkelium97 (9): The offense, particularly the running game, does great against middling defenses, but this team struggled mightily against the Cal and Utah defenses.
Alex G (9): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 79/11, FPI 58/8, Avg 68.5/10. I can’t remember seeing the stands that empty at pretty much any college football game between two conference enemies, especially with a long rivalry like Cal/UC L.A. It’s just a sign of how far the ship has sunk under Chip Kelly and it will be interesting to see what happens with the administration in the off-season.
Christopher_h (10): I spent every week trashing UCLA in the weekly power rankings and that trashing finally paid off. UCLA is not a good team and Chip Kelly is completely mismanaging them. After the defense imploded against USC, he said that the coaches have “done a good job considering what we have right now.” Clearly personal responsibility isn’t in the Chip Kelly playbook. Anyway, keep it up, UCLA!
11. Stanfurd Cardinal (4–8, 3–6 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 11
Berkelium97 (11): Last place in the Pac-12 North. Let’s all savor that for a moment (or until the start of next year’s conference slate, whichever you prefer).
Alex G (11): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 76/9, FPI 60/9, Avg 68/9. Furd looked like they had a chance around halftime to make things interesting against Notre Dame, then the Irish ran away to a three-score win. The win-loss columns are enough to keep the Cardinal at #11, while the program’s unexpected decline this season makes things worse on the Farm.
Leland Wong (12): Of all the four-win teams, their fall is the only one that represents a potential paradigm shift and turning point in the program for the worse—that earns my bottom vote.
thedozen (11): It’s easy to point and laugh, but I’m not exactly relishing the Bears having to visit South Bend in 2022.
Christopher_h (12): I dropped Stanford from #11 to #12 for the ridiculous backdoor cover to blow up my 8-team parlay. With 41 seconds remaining in the game (right as I’m preparing to switch over to the Colorado-Utah game), down by 14 (as 17-point underdogs), Davis Mills was strip-sacked in the endzone and Notre Dame recovered the fumble for a touchdown. Mills could have been sacked for a safety and I would have been fine, but he decided to also give the ball up to Notre Dame. This is exactly why you should never count on Stanford for anything in any way, shape, or form.
12. Arizona Wildcats (4–8, 2–7 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 12
Berkelium97 (12): After surrendering almost 500 yards per game heading into the Territorial Cup, the defense had a respectable outing against ASU. That helped keep the Wildcats in the game until they ended three consecutive drives with interceptions. It feels like ages ago that this team was 4–1.
Alex G (12): (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 96/12, FPI 72/12, Avg 84/12. Arizona looked somewhat competitive in the Territorial Cup, but being competitive isn’t enough to win competitions—and Arizona’s failure to win leaves it sitting with the worst conference record and tied with a couple other teams for worst overall record. Seems like a twelfth-ranked resume to me.
Piotr T Le (12): Arizona will run this all back due to the sheer weight of the Sumlin contract. What will they be able to do with it and the complete mismanagement that was the Khalil Tate development arc.
Christopher_h (11): The “Khalil Tate as a pocket passer” experiment ends as a failure as Tate threw three interceptions, two of which were simply awful passes. Kevin Sumlin has been bailed out by NFL talent at QB again and again (Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel, Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray… and you can look these last two up: Drew Bledsoe as a Wazzu GA and Drew Brees at his alma mater, Purdue) and he has once again squandered NFL-caliber talent (although maybe not at QB) in Khalil Tate. Tate is an electrifying player that set quarterback rushing records, so let’s have him sit in the pocket all game. Talk about square peg in a round hole. The pocket passer thing might work better with Grant Gunnell, but if I were an Arizona fan, I wouldn’t be overly optimistic.
First of all, let’s recap the season’s rankings in Figure 1. There’s a nice divide between the top eight teams—the seven bowl-eligible teams and overachieving Oregon State—and the bottom four teams.
The rankings are birthed from the hivemind of eleven voters; we individually wrote our own ballots to rank all twelve teams (Table 1). The scores that each team received are compiled and we find the arithmetic mean to determine how we collectively evaluate them. These mean scores are collected as columns in Figure 2, where the error bars represent the standard deviation—a measure of how inconsistent our perceptions were for each team.
Table 1. Individual votes at the close of the regular season.
|9||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||Colorado||OSU||OSU||Colorado|
|10||Colorado||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||UC L.A.||Colorado||UC L.A.||Stanfurd||UC L.A.||UC L.A.||UC L.A.|
The season’s worth mean ranks are tracked in Figure 3. As opposed to the rounded ranks in Figure 1, here we actually see the biggest divide split the conference in perfect halves—the top six and the bottom six, which consists of bowl-ineligible teams and a Cougar squad that fell flat after a big 2018.
Another aspect that we measure is how much the teams move up and down this volatile Conference of Cannibals—the Madness score. Figure 4a collects how much the teams have moved up and down every week as well as the total quantified number of spots that each team has traversed across the season. Now that we’re at the very end of the season, it seems like we’ve settled into some degree of normalcy with the least-Mad week of the season. Figure 4b collects the total Madness of each team as it has grown weekly.Cal has all but guaranteed the title of the Maddest team as we’re eight spots Madder than second-place Stanfurd. On the flip side, Oregon seems like a lock for the Least-Mad team with a four-spot edge over Utah; the Ducks are the only team with a single-digit Madness score after staying in the top four for the whole season—and the top two since the Week 2 rankings.
Lastly, we try to provide a tl;dr for people who can’t be bothered to read the near 4k words we’ve packed in here. We take the entire season’s worth of rankings for each team (from Fig. 3) and calculated the average rank for each team; these season-average scores are graphed in Figure 5a. Figure 5b collects this season-average as it progresses weekly. At this point, the season-averages move much more slowly as there’s a season worth of data to drown out weekly changes. Nonetheless, this week marks UC Los Angeles crossing into the season-average basement as OSU surges above them.
That’s all you’ll see from us for awhile... We’ll be taking a bit of a break and ignoring the conference championship as it only really affects two teams. We’ll be back at the end of bowl season to finalize our 2019 Power Rankings for ever and for always.
Where would you rank Cal this week?
This poll is closed
1 or 2 because I’m insane
3, but I swear I have a good reason