Leland Wong: The Power Rankings are here to declare the best and the worst teams in the conference by performance and fanbase enthusiasm and excitement, both over the year and especially for the most-recent week. It’s typically tough sledding early on in the year with so little data—and even less of it being direct comparisons. And even though the bulk of the conference is still in non-conference play, this week felt easier to rank.
Here’s how the final week of mostly-non-conference games went:
- #20 Washington State def. Houston, 31–24
- Air Force def. Colorado, 30–23 OT
- BYU def. #24 USC, 30–27
- #17 UCF def. Stanfurd, 45–27
- Arizona State def. #18 Michigan State, 10–7
- California def. North Texas, 23–17
- Oregon State def. Idaho State, 45–7
- #11 Utah def. Idaho State, 31–0
- #23 Washington def. Hawaii, 52–20
- #5 Oklahoma def. UC Los Angeles, 48–14
- Arizona def. Texas Tech, 28–14
- #15 Oregon def. Montana, 35–3
Berkelium97: The Pac-12 is becoming a meat–grinder this year. Except for Utah, every team has so far displayed weaknesses that can lead to an upset from any other Pac-12 team (even UCLA).
Alex G: Per usual, each of my posts will start with this week’s score, then 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 the rankings this week, it was a tough one to work out. Utah is highest–ranked in both polls, is one of four undefeated teams in the conference, and has a win against what’s looking like a strong BYU team. Oregon has demolished their recent opponents—albeit completely overmatched ones—and worked itself back into the national conversation. ASU should be proud of its bizarre win across the country, followed by Cal with the still–lingering thriller in Seattle. WSU is below Washington only because its opponents are underwhelming, followed by a mish–mash of teams with one, two, or three losses. Honestly, the bottom half was pretty easy to put together—but the top half could go one of many ways.
Christopher_h: The Pac-12 has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (Utah, Oregon, Washington State, Washington, Cal, ASU), and yet it feels like the Pac-12 is having a down year this year. Maybe it just feels that way because the Pac-12 riff–raff (Stanford, OSU, UCLA) keeps embarrassing the conference on a national stage.
ragnarok: I don’t foresee half the conference being ranked for much longer this season and certainly not in the final poll—too many teams that are going to beat up on each other and end up with 7–5 records. If I had to guess, the Pac-12 ends the season with three teams ranked and with the champion perhaps in the top ten as token representation, but nowhere near the top five.
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 (3–0, seven first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 1
Berkelium97 (1): The Utes held their opponent to barely more than 100 yards and did whatever they wanted on the ground or through the air. The only shortcoming was some sub–par punting.
Alex G (1): W 31–0 v Idaho State. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 19/3, FPI 22/3, Avg 20.5/3. Undefeated, strong national recognition, a Week 1 win over what’s looking like a decent-to-good BYU team, and bagel-ing an FCS team this week puts the Utes at the top of the list. Both computers also regard Utah as having a pretty darned balanced team between offense and defense, which bodes well for any college team. Next week: @ USC, 42.1% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (1): I wish they had a more interesting non-conference slate, Holy War fun aside. But USC is already 1–0 in the Pac-12 and they’re getting Utah at home this Friday. Tell me you wouldn’t be shocked if USC pulled off the mild upset and took control of the South?
Christopher_h (2): I feel like Utah is missing just one thing to make them a truly special team, but I don’t know what. So far, Tyler Huntley isn’t having the season I thought he’d be and I’ve never been very high on Zack Moss. They don’t need a great offense to win, but it’s still pretty good. Good, not great.
2. Oregon Ducks (2–1, five first-place votes) ↔
Last week: 2
Berkelium97 (4): After last week’s 77-point explosion, 35 points looked rather pedestrian. Still the Ducks took care of business as Herbert threw accurately, the ground game moved the ball efficiently, and the defense nearly posted a shutout.
Alex G (2): W 35–3 v Montana. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 17/2, FPI 8/1, Avg 12.5/1. Blowout wins in the past couple weeks are making up for the heartbreaker in Texas against Auburn. Oregon is back in the national conversation as a top team in the conference—and maybe even the playoff if cards fall in the right place. Unfortunately, there are few remaining out-of-conference games (Cal @Mississippi and Washington @BYU this week, plus Furd & USC’s later-season Notre Dame contests) for the Pac-12 to even get enough respect for a potential playoff berth; the Ducks are probably our best wish unless Utah goes undefeated (or the miracle of Cal, WSU, or ASU doing the same). Next week: @Furd, 82.1% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (2): I have to admit that I’m getting concerned about Oregon’s defense. 30 points allowed in three weeks and the underlying stats suggest that’s no fluke.
Christopher_h (1): Still the team to beat in the Pac-12. They’re still dealing with injuries to their top wide receivers (e.g. Juwan Johnson, Mycah Pittman) and I’m dreading the fact that they’ll likely be back in time for the Cal game. Despite being an FCS team, the Montana secondary wasn’t nearly as outclassed as Nevada’s was last week.
3. California Golden Bears (3–0, 1–0 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 3
Berkelium97 (3): A great opening quarter and then a horrifically inefficient performance by the offense. Allowing a bunch of sacks and struggling against a porous UNT run defense—the offensive line had a terrible day. Like ASU, this team seems capable of beating anyone, but also capable of losing to anyone.
Alex G (4): W 23–17 v North Texas. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 60/9, FPI 49/9, Avg 54.5/9. It’s incredibly puzzling to me how both computers still have the Bears ranked so low, despite the win against Washington (which climbed in both calculators even though Cal dropped). The Bears have arguably the single best win among all teams in the conference and are undefeated. Still, the underwhelming performance over three quarters—and major question marks on offense (including a yet-unknown injury to star RB Christopher Brown Jr.)—plus injury-based attrition in the front seven are reason for concern. Next week: @ Ole Miss, 37.9% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (4): I don’t feel good about ranking Cal fourth, but I’m ultimately a resume–ranker when I can. Cal still has the best single win in this conference, even if their other two games should be setting off alarm bells about the sustainability of the entire outfit.
Christopher_h (3): Until Cal has an offense that can conceivably score on any given drive, I will always be uneasy about Cal’s chances in any given game. Ultimately, I’m ranking them here because outside of Utah and Oregon, I believe Cal has a better than 50% chance of winning any given game. Washington State is worse this year—particularly on defense—and Cal has already shown they know how to kneecap the Air Raid. ASU will be a tough stylistic matchup for Cal and USC has history on their side, but I think Cal has a small edge in both of those match-ups.
4. Washington State Cougars (3–0) ↗
Last week: 5
thedozen (4): This was far from an overwhelming victory for the Cougars, but Brandon Arconado’s nine catches for 115 yards in Houston were instrumental.
Berkelium97 (6): The Cougs finally played a team with a pulse and looked pretty pedestrian. Anthony Gordon had a great day, but the run defense looks like it may need work. Can they break 500 passing yards against UCLA this weekend?
Alex G (6): W 31–24 @Houston. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 26/4, FPI 27/5, Avg 26.5/4. Wazzu won a close one at Houston—which should be concerning—although the other Cougars actually put up a pretty decent fight against Oklahoma in Week 1 (better than UCLOL). We probably won’t know what kind of a team WSU is until Week 5 at Utah—and that’ll give more clarity to their position in the Power Rankings. Next week: v UC L.A. 82.3% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (3): An oddly close game in that WSU won the yardage battle decisively and finished +1 in the turnover column, yet only won by 7. Still, for me what matters is that the Wazzu defense looked mostly reasonable, which is important since the offense pretty consistently does its thing.
Christopher_h (5): Defense is a real concern here. It looks like they have a bunch of players who know how to catch passes, but not many that know how to defend them. Jalen Thompson’s departure was a big blow to this team because I don’t think the other safeties were ready to take over yet. Houston is pretty good at running the ball, but I’m expecting Wazzu to get into a shootout the next time they play a similarly pass-heavy team.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (3–0) ↗
Last week: 9
Berkelium97 (2): I was going back and forth about whether ASU or Cal has a better resume, but ASU’s more recent quality win gives them the advantage. Following last year’s performances, ASU continues to play to the level of its opponents, whether it’s a road game against a tough Big Ten team or at home against a mediocre FCS team. I am not looking forward to hosting this team in Berkeley next weekend because ASU is capable of beating anyone on any given weekend (and capable of losing to anyone too).
Alex G (3): W 10–7 @Michigan State. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 45/6, FPI 39/6, Avg 42/6. Although it was a bizarre ending—and the Sun Devils easily could have lost in overtime without MSU’s 12-man penalty—the victory was a statement win for ASU. Even though Cal arguably had the bigger victory at Washington in Week 2—and both teams stumbled against FCS/Group of Five opponents—the more recent big-time win of ASU puts them higher on the Power Rankings. Next week: Colorado, 70.6% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (7): I’m probably going to be the lowest voter on ASU. This is in part because, quite frankly, they deserved to lose. Sparty nearly doubled up the Devils in total yardage, should’ve been given another chance at the game-tying field goal, and probably shouldn’t have even been in position to need it thanks to earlier special-teams snafus. And I don’t really think Michigan State is all that good.
Christopher_h (7): I’m with Nick—I think ranking ASU highly after surviving MSU is an overreaction. MSU has an abysmal offense and I don’t think ASU won the game any more than MSU lost it. I was torn between whom I should rank higher between USC and ASU, but I gave the edge to USC because I think they’d beat ASU if they were to play tomorrow. Cal is going to be favored by about a FG over ASU and I don’t think ASU is capable of knocking off the teams at the top of the Pac-12.
6. Washington Huskies (2–1, 0–1 Pac-12) ↔
Last week: 6
Alex G (5): W 52–20 v Hawaii. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 15/1, FPI 17/2, Avg 16/2. How in the world Washington is this high up on the computer rankings and Cal is near the basement, I have no idea, but it’s clear that the Huskies are at darned good team that will continue to make noise in the North. The Huskies also jump above Wazzu because of this week’s beatdown over Hawaii, compared to the Cougars’ close win at Houston—and WSU’s weak out-of-conference slate in general.
Nick Kranz (5): Washington has had this habit over the last few years of destroying inferior opponents, then losing all their close games. I’m glad Cal happens to be the biggest beneficiaries of that trend.
Christopher_h (4): I was a little annoyed at Hawaii and MWC fans getting uppity after they beat some Pac-12 cellar dwellers, but I knew that Hawaii was simply not built to beat a team like Washington. I mean, you were lucky OSU choked away the win like they always do, it’s not like you did something seriously impressive like, I don’t know, beat Washington or something.
7. USC Trojans (2–1, 1–0 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 4
Alex G (7): L 30–27 @BYU. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 32/5, FPI 23/4, Avg 27.5/5. Not only did this loss make USC lose its national mojo, it boosted Utah’s claim as the best team in the South (given the mutual opponent, both as away games). The Trojans could be facingthree3 consecutive upcoming losses, although FPI has USC as a slight favorite over Utah given the Coliseum’s home-field advantage. This coming week will be interesting to watch… Next week: v Utah, 57.9% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (6): I seriously considered putting USC higher than sixth, which is already higher than most of the other voters. I guess part of it is that USC has a brutal schedule and going 2–1 so far isn’t so bad. They probably win this game with JT Daniels. But BYU isn’t a world beater, Fresno State probably isn’t as good as they were last year, and Stanford definitely aren’t what they used to be.
Christopher_h (6): You know when USC is about to lose? It’s the game after they become convinced they’ve suddenly become a serious contender again. The more hyped up about their team, the more likely they are to drop a game. Thanks, Clay Helton!
8T. Arizona Wildcats (2–1) ↗
Last week: 10
Berkelium97 (9): After some horrific defensive performances during the last two weeks, this was an impressive bounce-back game. Khalil Tate looks like the old Khalil Tate we’re familiar with: explosive running, some good passing, and some questionable decision-making through the air.
Alex G (9): W 28–14 v Texas Tech. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 53/7, FPI 48/8, Avg 50.5/T–7. The Wildcats looked impressive against Texas Tech, seeming to find both their offense and defense in the same game. Granted, Texas Tech is supposed to be a medium-to-bad team this year, but it was still a respectable win. If Tate keeps playing like he did on Saturday night, the Wildcats could be dangerous. Still, the early-season loss at Hawaii, combined with the “unknown” factor of the team, keeps them low on the 2–1 record teams. Next week: Bye.
Nick Kranz (8): I’m not shocked that Arizona won this game, but holding Tech to 14 points certainly wasn’t how I thought they might do it. Could it possibly be that Northern Arizona has a more formidable offense than the Red Raiders?! Anyway, the most relevant aspect of this game was that Khalil Tate again flashed his game-changing rushing ability.
Christopher_h (9): Who could have guessed that Arizona could score on offense once they dropped the pretense of Khalil Tate being a pocket passer? Tate was the leading rusher for the team and had an excellent 84-yard touchdown on a QB counter. Additionally, CB Lorenzo Burns looked fantastic this game covering the rangy TTU WR TJ Vasher.
8T. Colorado Buffaloes (2–1) ↘
Last week: 7
thedozen (10): Overtime was unkind to the conference this week. In an intrastate battle, Air Force scored on its only offensive play during the extra session while Steven Montez came up empty and the Buffs were unable to answer.
Berkelium97 (8): The Air Force passing game was gashing the Buffs during the first half (and nearly had a third TD pass, but the TE couldn’t hold onto the ball and it ended up being intercepted). And their trademark ground game consistently picked up chunks of yardage. Colorado continues to look like an offense-first school under Tucker, but 5 yards per passing attempt and 3 yards per carry will not get the job done.
Alex G (8): L 30–23 v Air Force. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 65/10, FPI 62/11, Avg 63.5/10. Losing by a touchdown to a so-so Air Force team keeps the Buffaloes lower down the rankings. Colorado has shown, though, that they can put up a good performance (per their Week 1 & 2 victories), so the Buffs have some hope moving forward. Next week: @ ASU, 29.4% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (9): I did not think that my Buffalo skepticism would be borne out so quickly. I’m perplexed that Colorado’s offense didn’t do much more damage, but after turnover– and trick play–fueled wins to start the season, this feels somewhat like a fair regression.
Christopher_h (8): Wow, I definitely overreacted to the sudden defensive competence in the Nebraska game. I get that it’s tough to defend against the triple option if you’ve never seen it before (although the Dykes-era defense did it well-enough in 2015, cough cough), but Colorado didn’t seem to know how to defend even the most basic of Air Force’s plays. Air Force was something like 6/7 on third downs in the first half and basically had their way with the defense. (Colorado again made some good halftime adjustments and that would have been my storyline had Air Force not immediately scored in overtime.) The Air Force QB set a career-high in passing yards (which is notable because of how rarely they throw) because the Colorado safeties consistently lacked discipline and kept cheating up too much in run support. What was most surprising to me was how poorly Steven Montez threw the ball this week, though. Is he nursing some sort of injury? He was uncharacteristically off-target all day, although the O-line wasn’t doing him any favors.
10. Stanfurd Cardinal (1–2, 0–1 Pac-12) ↘
Last week: 8
thedozen (8): The UCF Knights are a strong team this season, but given their 1–2 record, some Stanford fans are already publicly worrying about potentially losing the Axe. Things don’t get much easier in the short term with Oregon on the horizon.
Berkelium97 (10): This was a horrific performance by the Lobsterbacks, as they were already getting blown out in the first quarter. Costello’s accuracy was way off, as he was repeatedly throwing too wide for his receivers to catch the ball. A week after letting USC freshman Kedon Slovis look like a Heisman candidate, the Lobsterback pass defense was torched by another freshman QB. Gabriel had an absurd 11.6 yards per pass attempt and was completing long bombs downfield all game.
Alex G (10): L 45–27 @UCF. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 57/8, FPI 44/7, Avg 50.5/T–7. If anyone in the Pac-12 is going to have an out-of-conference loss against a Group of Five team (and a beatdown loss, at that), I’d rather it be the Cardinal—and also against a team that will shake up the Playoff conversation. It’s also straight-up heartwarming to see Furd with a 1–2 record, and potentially facing a 2–4 start to the season (1–5 if things go right for the Beavers in Week 5). Next week: v Oregon, 17.9% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (10): A team that was exposed in every way. Costello and Adebo are NFL-quality players—and of course they have some impressive tight ends—but you have to really reach for any other particular strength on this roster right now. Weak defensive line, weak secondary, weak offensive line, mediocre wide receivers, no more explosive Bryce Love, problems on special teams . . . after years of almost imperceptible decline I think the bottom may have suddenly fallen out.
Christopher_h (10): Thanks for embarrassing the conference on a national stage, guys. I’m not sure how much QB KJ Costello was still struggling with injury, but this is a team that has lost its identity: run a couple yards at a time behind a stellar offensive line. Once the OL play started to deteriorate, they found out they still had a pretty good QB and WRs. Now those WRs are gone, and all they have left is the QB. I can’t wait until they go back to two- or three-win seasons and drop the pretense of pretending to care about football again.
11. Oregon State Beavers (1–2) ↔
Last week: 11
thedozen (11): The Beavers were missing Jermar Jefferson due to a foot injury, but Cal Poly threw the football just ten times and OSU ran wild.
Berkelium97 (11): When you’re coming off a two-win season, a blowout win over an FCS team is encouraging.
Alex G (11): W 45–7 v Cal Poly. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 96/12, FPI 79/12, Avg 87.5/12. They finally won a game(!) and were rewarded with a good solid bump in both computer rankings. FPI has even bumped their win chance against Furd—on Week 5, after a bye this coming week—up to a surprising 42.2%. That would be a glorious, glorious upset… Next week: Bye.
Nick Kranz (11): Putting up 45 points against a mediocre Big Sky team is about what you’d expect from OSU’s offense. But holding ANY team to 7 points? That’s progress!
Christopher_h (11): Haven’t watched this one yet, but I doubt I missed anything interesting. However, I did just watch the game against Hawaii from the week before and OSU had an alarming amount of dysfunction: DB Kaleb Hayes tried punching his own teammate (LB Avery Roberts) and star OL Gus Lavaka tried punching a Hawaii player (for which he received the stern punishment of being suspended for the first half of the Cal Poly game). Also, how stupid is it to punch someone in the helmet? Not a good look for my favorite non-Cal underdogs to root for.
12. UC Los Angeles Bruins (0–3) ↔
Last week: 12
Berkelium97 (12): How can a defense be this bad?
Alex G (12): L 48–14 v Oklahoma. Rankings (Nat’l/Pac12): SP+ 78/11, FPI 61/10, Avg 69.5/11. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Next week: @WSU, 17.7% per FPI.
Nick Kranz (12): To be fair, Oklahoma doesn’t have the best offense in the country for nothing. But they also made UCLA look like a physically overmatched FCS team.
Christopher_h (12): Wait, UCLA isn’t an FCS team? Wait, wait, I just had a great idea. When Chip Kelly is inevitably fired, I think it’d be a good idea if USC swooped in to hire him. I mean, he led Oregon to a national championship game after all. UCLA, suddenly cost-conscious over the price tag of a big name coach, should hire someone they can find at a bargain: say, Clay Helton, for instance. I think this is a great idea, and USC and UCLA would combine to win so many games. Like… three of them.
Here’s how we voted this week:
Table 1. How we voted as individuals after Week 3
|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.|
Our votes for each team get averaged; the team with the lowest score earns first place, then second, third, and so on all the way down to UC L.A. Those precisely averaged scored are graphed in Figure 1 along with the standard deviation, which is a measure of how varied our perceptions were for each team.
Our standard deviations have been getting smaller each of the past two weeks, indicating that we’re in better agreement for each team.
The precise ranks for the conference are charted across the season in Fig. 2. The precise rankings show us some information that gets lost in the process of rounding, such as how close Utah and Oregon are for the top spot. Below them, we have a cluster of four teams that won their games last weekend and don’t yet really have any bad losses; Washington is the only team with a loss, but it was a total quality loss. USC is in a league of their own with two wins over teams that were strong in 2018, but they definitely stumbled against BYU. Then, we have Arizona, Colorado, and Stanfurd; Arizona and Stanfurd have some bad losses on the schedule, but I’m not quite sure if it’s fair to fit Colorado into this group. At the very end, we’ve got the bottom-feeders in Oregon State and UC L.A.; at this rate, it’ll be a clash of the titans when they face off on October 5.
Figure 3 graphs time vs. the rounded rankings, rather than the averaged rankings. WSU and ASU both have the honor of bouncing up, down, and then up this season. For Wazzu, I think it’s because their resume is enough to give us reason to believe they’re good, but they don’t have any quality wins to prove it, so they’re more or less passively sitting as other teams move around them. ASU, on the other hand, has arguably had fluctuating performances. Entering the season with question marks, they instead kicked off the season in a resoundingly impressive fashion; then looked unimpressive against an FCS squad; then upset a ranked Michigan State team on the road (with some possible shenanigans). If this trend continues, then the Sun Devils will sink this week and then soar after their game against... the Golden Bears. Lovely.
Speaking of lovely weekly movement, how ‘bout Stanfurd? Flat after the preseason, then two weeks of precipitous drops. Witnessing this is something else—is this what happiness feels like? Utah and Oregon State have the exact same pattern on opposite ends of the spectrum—just one increase, then steadfast hold. As a result, if we were to add up all the movement up and down the rankings, the Utes and the Beavs would have the smallest such score. The Madness score is collected in Figure 4a (weekly and cumulative to date) and the cumulative Madness is graphed in Figure 4b.
Our last graph is a new feature and is an attempt to capture the whole season (to date). For each team, I take their precise rank from every week in the season—essentially, it takes every bullet point from Figure 2 from that team—and averages those ranks to tell you the average rank that team held for the season (Fig. 5). These ranks are much less volatile than any other measure we use in the Power Ranking series; the only significant move this week was Cal surpassing USC to be the fifth-highest team this season.
You wanna know the crazy thing? As I’ve been using this “season-long average” of Figure 5 more and more, I’m tempted to get deeper in this chart party by graphing these values over the season. Maybe in 2020...
But speaking of looking to the future, we’re finally heading into the bulk of Pac-12 play. Things will hopefully become clearer with more direct comparisons. Or maybe we’ll just have a rock-paper-scissors circle that’ll just make everything more confusing.