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Pac-12 Season Predictions: The Road to a Pac-12 Title Game Rematch

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The Pac-12 North enjoys a banner year while the Pac-12 South self-immolates.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Pac-12 Championship Game - Washington v Utah
“See you again in 2019”
Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pac-12 conference play kicks off this weekend! To celebrate the occasion, today we will look at how the entire, 54-game schedule will unfold (at least, according to our incredibly insightful readers). And if these results are accurate, it will be a great year for the Pac-12 North (except for Oregon State) and an utterly abysmal year for everyone in the Pac-12 South not named Utah. And I mean abysmal: other than Utah, no one in the Pac-12 South beats any North team besides OSU. The North is poised to post a 17–7 record against the South. Take out bottom-feeding OSU and Colorado and the North wallops the South 13–3. Let’s see how it all unfolds

Week 2

Cal (0-0) at Washington (0-0): Washington (65.2%) def. Cal (34.8%)

Leland Stanford Junior University (0-0) at USC (0-0): LSJU (52.5%) def. USC (47.5%)

Note: During last week’s Cal season predictions, we judged Cal’s chances of winning each game. In today’s predictions, we simply picked winners and losers. So instead of reading the above as Washington having a 65.2% chance of beating Cal, we instead have 65.2% of people picking Washington to win. It’s a slightly different interpretation, but for the most part we can treat them as equal. It’s only for extreme cases where there might be a difference. For example, in Week 4 over 90% of us picked ASU to beat Colorado, but Colorado certainly has better than a 10% chance of winning. Keep that in mind when interpreting the results. Anyway, back to the actual results...

The season starts off particularly poorly for Cal fans, as they open the conference slate with a loss while the Lobsterbacks get a win in Los Angeles. These picks were made before JT Daniels’ season-ending ACL and meniscus tears, so USC would likely be a much bigger underdog if we were to pick the outcome of that game today.

Week 4

USC (0-1) at Utah (0-0): Utah (84.2%) def. USC (15.8%)

UCLA (0-0) at Washington State (0-0): WSU (86.1%) def. UCLA (13.9%)

Colorado (0-0) at Arizona State (0-0): ASU (91.8%) def. Colorado (8.2%)

Oregon (0-0) at Leland Stanford Junior University (1-0): Oregon (83.5%) def. LSJU (16.5%)

After a week off, Pac-12 play resumes with several games featuring heavily favored teams. I’m surprised so many picked Oregon to win in Palo Alto after the Ducks’ embarrassing loss to the Lobsterbacks at home last year.

Week 5

Arizona State (1-0) at Cal (0-1): Cal (81.6%) def. ASU (18.4%)

Leland Stanford Junior University (1-1) at Oregon State (0-0): LSJU (87.3%) def. OSU (12.7%)

USC (0-2) at Washington (1-0): UW (91.8%) def. USC (8.2%)

UCLA(0-1) at Arizona (0-0): UCLA (50.0%) TIES Arizona (50.0%)

Washington State (1-0) at Utah (1-0): Utah (86.1%) def. WSU (13.9%)

Week 5 features four heavy favorites and one oddity we have never seen in all our years of doing these Pac-12 predictions: a tie! The Bruins and Wildcats had equal numbers of votes, but someone has to win. I ended up giving the win to Arizona because they’re the home team and they’re coming off a bye week.

Week 6

Cal (1-1) at Oregon (1-0): Oregon (80.4%) def. Cal (19.6%)

Washington (2-0) at Leland Stanford Junior University (2-1): Washington (81.0%) def. LSJU (19.0%)

Arizona (1-0) at Colorado (0-1): Arizona (53.8%) def. Colorado (46.2%)

Oregon State (0-1) at UCLA (0-2): UCLA (95.6%) def. Oregon State (4.4%)

The Ducks and Huskies cement their status as Pac-12 North contenders by dispatching the Bay Area teams. Meanwhile Arizona keeps the Tucker regime winless in Pac-12 play. Oregon State loses because, well, Oregon State always loses.

Week 7

Colorado (0-2) at Oregon (2-0): Oregon (97.5%) def. Colorado (2.5%)

Utah (2-0) at Oregon State (0-2): Utah (98.1%) def. Oregon State (1.9%)

Washington (3-0) at Arizona (2-0): UW (83.5%) def. Arizona (16.5%)

Washington State (1-1) at Arizona State (1-1): WSU (58.9%) def. ASU (41.1%)

Oregon State and Colorado remain winless while the Washingtons takes care of business against the Arizonas.

Week 8

UCLA (1-2) at Leland Stanford Junior University (2-2): LSJU (77.8%) def UCLA (22.2%)

Oregon (3-0) at Washington (4-0): Washington (62.7%) def. Oregon (37.3%)

Colorado (0-3) at Washington State (2-1): Washington State (90.5%) def. Colorado (9.5%)

Oregon State (0-3) at Cal (1-2): Cal (94.9%) def. Oregon State (5.1%)

Arizona State (1-2) at Utah (3-0): Utah (91.8%) def. ASU (8.2%)

Arizona (2-1) at USC (0-3): USC (85.4%) def. Arizona (14.6%)

Week 8 features our first, full, six-game slate of Pac-12 games. The biggest match of the week decides the Pac-12 North, as Washington defeats the visiting Ducks. At this point, Utah and Washington remain the only undefeated teams in the conference. If USC hasn’t fired Helton following an 0-3 start, he’ll earn his first conference win of the season this week. That leaves only Oregon State and Colorado as the conference’s winless teams.

Week 9

USC (1-3) at Colorado (0-4): USC (81.6%) def. Colorado (18.4%)

Washington State (3-1) at Oregon (3-1): Oregon (82.3%) def. WSU (17.7%)

Arizona (2-2) at Leland Stanford Junior University (3-2): LSJU (86.1%) def. Arizona (13.9%)

Cal (2-2) at Utah (4-0): Utah (69.6%) def. Cal (30.4%)

Arizona State (1-3) at UCLA (1-3): UCLA (71.5%) def. Arizona State (28.5%)

USC earns its second win in a row and avoids falling back into a tie for last place in the division. Our Bears fall to 2-3 in conference with a loss to Utah.

Week 10

Utah (5-0) at Washington (5-0): Washington (68.4%) def. Utah (31.6%)

Oregon State (0-4) at Arizona (2-3): Arizona (88.0%) def. Oregon State (12.0%)

Colorado (0-5) at UCLA (2-3): UCLA (82.9%) def. Colorado (17.1%)

Oregon (4-1) at USC (2-3): Oregon (77.2%) def. USC (22.8%)

In a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game, Washington defeats Utah to become the Pac-12’s only undefeated team. Assuming both are undefeated at this point (which requires Utah to defeat non-conference foes Northern Illinois and Idaho State while Washington needs to defeat Hawaii and BYU), this will likely be a matchup of top-10 teams with playoff hopes. Elsewhere, Oregon State and Colorado remain winless and Oregon halts USC’s two-game winning streak.

Week 11

Washington (6-0) at Oregon State (0-5): Washington (95.6%) def. Oregon State (4.4%)

Washington State (3-2) at Cal (2-3): Cal (79.1%) def. WSU (20.9%)

USC (2-4) at ASU (1-4): ASU (55.7%) def. USC (44.3%)

Leland Stanford Junior University (4-2) at Colorado (0-6): LSJU (81.6%) def. Colorado (18.4%)

After the big win over Utah, Washington has no chance of a let down game against the woeful Beavers. Cal climbs back to .500 in conference, USC falls to the brink of bowl ineligibility (or cements it, if they lose to BYU earlier in the year), and Colorado remains winless.

Week 12

Arizona (3-3) at Oregon (5-1): Oregon (97.5%) def. Arizona (2.5%)

Arizona State (2-4) at Oregon State (0-6): ASU (80.4%) def. Oregon State (19.6%)

Leland Stanford Junior University (5-2) at Washington State (3-3): WSU (72.8%) def. LSJU (27.2%)

USC (2-5) at Cal (3-3): Cal (71.5%) def. USC (28.5%)

UCLA (3-3) at Utah (5-1): Utah (94.9%) def. UCLA (5.1%)

Cal wins its second in a row against USC! Even better, this should eliminate USC from bowl contention. Elsewhere, some heavily favored teams win and the Cougs upset the Lobsterbacks. Thanks to a woeful cast of division mates, Utah wraps up the Pac-12 South title with two weeks remaining in the schedule.

Week 13

Oregon State (0-7) at Washington State (4-3): WSU (96.2%) def. Oregon State (3.8%)

Utah (6-1) at Arizona (3-4): Utah (82.3%) def. Arizona (17.7%)

Cal (4-3) at Leland Stanford Junior University (5-3): Cal (68.4%) def. LSJU (31.6%)

Oregon (6-1) at Arizona State (3-4): Oregon (79.1%) def. ASU (20.9%)

Washington (7-0) at Colorado (0-7): Washington (94.3%) def. Colorado (5.7%)

UCLA (3-4) at USC (2-6): USC (67.1%) def. UCLA (32.9%)

Cal breaks the losing streak against the Lobsterbacks and guarantees a winning season in conference play for the first time in a decade. USC’s win ensures that neither LA team goes bowling. And somehow Oregon State and Colorado remain winless.

Week 14

Washington (8-0) at Washington State (5-3): Washington (83.5%) def. WSU (16.5%)

Oregon State (0-8) at Oregon (7-1): Oregon (98.1%) def. OSU (1.9%)

Cal (5-3) at UCLA (3-5): Cal (70.3%) def. UCLA (29.7%)

Arizona (3-5) at Arizona State (3-5): ASU (73.4%) def. Arizona (26.6%)

Colorado (0-8) at Utah (7-1): Utah (96.8%) def. Colorado (3.2%)

In the last week of the schedule, the Huskies solidify a perfect season while Colorado and Oregon State solidify perfectly awful seasons. Cal finishes the season on a four-game winning streak and Arizona State climbs into second in the Pac-12 south.

Final Standings

After all 54 games we get the following standings. An asterisk denotes the winner of a head-to-head tiebreaker in the standings and, in USC’s case, the head-to-head-to-head winner of the three-team tie at third in the South.

Pac-12 North Pac-12 South
1. Washington (9-0) 1. Utah (8-1)
2. Oregon (8-1) 2. ASU (4-5)
3. Cal (6-3) 3. USC** (3-6)
4. Washington St.* (5-4) 3. Arizona* (3-6)
4. LSJU (5-4) 3. UCLA (3-6)
6. Oregon St. (0-9) 6. Colorado (0-9)

Under these results the Pac-12 clearly splits into three tiers: the great teams (UW, Oregon, Utah), the abysmal teams (Colorado, Oregon State), and everyone else stuck in the middle. Interestingly, five out of six Pac-12 North teams have winning records while five out of six South teams have losing records. Clearly the Pac-12 North is a much, much stronger division this season. Utah is the only team in the South to defeat a non-OSU team in the North—that’s some domination by the North.

While the above standings are based on wins and losses, some of those games were decided by small margins. About 70% of us picked Cal to win each of its final 3 games, so about one-in-three thinks we’ll lose one of those. Over the course of three games, those one-in-three folks have a good chance of being right. So even though we’re favored to win each game, it’s more likely we’ll go 2-1. To account for this we can add up the percentages of votes each team received in each game to get an expected number of wins. In the table below we compare the projected number of wins and the expected number of wins. When the expected number of wins is lower than the projected number, a team is likely to suffer an upset at some point in the season (for example, a team favored 51%-49% to win all its games would be projected to win 9 games, but expected to win only 4.59 games because some of those coin flips will not work in its favor).

Pac-12 North Pac-12 South
Team Projected Wins Expected Wins Difference Team Projected Wins Expected Wins Difference
Washington 9 7.53 -1.47 Utah 8 7.35 -0.65
Oregon 8 7.26 -0.74 ASU 4 3.38 -0.62
Cal 6 5.51 -0.49 USC 3 4.01 +1.01
Washington State 5 4.80 -0.20 Arizona 3 3.64 +0.64
LSJU 5 4.73 -0.27 UCLA 3 4.04 +1.04
Oregon State 0 0.46 +0.46 Colorado 0 1.29 +1.29

When using the expected number of wins, the order does not change much in the North. Although UW is projected to win 9, the expected number of wins is only 7.53. This suggests that UW is likely to be upset at some point over the course of the season. Oregon (8 wins vs. 7.26 wins) may also be upset at some point, but it’s less likely that Cal, Wazzu, and LSJU will suffer an upset during the season. Poor Oregon State barely even underachieves to earn that 0-win record. That’s a big contrast to Colorado, who goes winless but is also expected to earn 1.29 wins. This suggests that Colorado is likely to upset someone over the course of the season. Interestingly, the middle of the Pac-12 South gets reordered with the expected wins: UCLA jumps from 5th to 2nd and ASU falls from 2nd to 5th. This happens because ASU earns its second-place finish in the South largely based on some coin-flip games. We can’t expect them to win all of those coin-flips, so it’s possible that they will fall down to 3rd, 4th, or even 5th.

Who wins the Pac-12?

In addition to picking the winners of each game, we skipped ahead to picking the division winners directly.

Pac-12 North Winner Pac-12 South Winner
1. Oregon (39.8%) 1. Utah (81.6%)
2. Washington (30.4%) 2. USC (7.0%)
3. Cal (20.9%) 3. ASU (5.1%)
4. Washington St. (5.7%) 3. UCLA (5.1%)
5. LSJU (3.2%) 5. Arizona (0.1%)
6. Oregon St. (0.0%) 6. Colorado (0.1%)

Despite losing the head-to-head match with Washington, Oregon earned the most votes to win the North. However, when going through the schedules game-by-game we can see why UW earned the most wins: their two toughest games (Oregon, Utah) are both at home and three of their four road games are against some of the worst teams in the conference (Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona). Oregon benefits from five home games, although they draw tough road games against LSJU and Washington (the latter of which will likely decide the Pac-12 North). Despite a favorable schedule, UW finished with the second-most votes and a bunch of homers picked Cal to win the North. The order of votes for the North matches the final standings based on our results. In the South, Utah is the clear favorite, which mirrors our final standings. USC earned a handful of votes (they would probably fewer now that Daniels is out for the year), as did ASU and UCLA. For some reason, Colorado received a vote to win the South.

And finally, we voted for the Pac-12 Champion.

Pac-12 Champion
1. Oregon (25.9%)
2. Utah (25.3%)
3. Cal (20.3%)
4. Washington (17.1%)
5. ASU (3.8%)
6. Washington St. (3.2%)
7. USC (1.9%)
8. UCLA (1.3%)
9. LSJU (0.6%)
9. Arizona (0.6%)
12. Colorado (0.0%)
12. Oregon St. (0.0%)

Oregon barely earned more votes than Utah. Nearly all of the 20.9% of homers who picked Cal to win the North went on to predict that the Bears will win the conference. UW earned 17.1% of votes, and the rest of the conference received a smattering of votes.

The Pac-12 looks to be a very competitive conference this season: Utah, Oregon, and Washington will clearly be the top teams in the conference. The middle of the North is clearly better than the middle of the South, as evidenced by the fact that the North defeats the South in every matchup except ones featuring Oregon State or Utah. But the middle of the Pac-12 South may be the most competitive segment of the conference as a bunch of teams fight to be slightly less mediocre than their division mates.

It all kicks off this weekend as the Lobsterbacks visit USC and our Sturdy Golden Bears visit Washington. Thanks for participating and enjoy watching the madness that is our Conference of Champions.