Pac-12 Football Power Rankings, Week 1: UC L.A. faceplants

Quit embarrassing the University of California name.

At long last, we have some actual data on some of the Pac-12. Based on these on-field results and fanbase morale, your beautiful and beloved WFC writers are ranking the teams of the Conference of Champions. Here are the results from Week One:

  • #20 USC def. Arizona State, 28–27

  • Colorado def. UC Los Angeles, 48–42

  • #12 Oregon def. Stanfurd, 35–14

  • Washington State def. Oregon State, 38–28

  • Positive COVID result: California, Utah

  • COVID cancellation: Washington, Arizona

Personally, I try not to let any one given week’s results weigh too heavily such that everything’s shifted each week. That means some teams that were inactive will still be ranked above teams that won.

Ohio Bear: At long last, we have Pac-12 football.  And a long day of it, too—from #Pac12BeforeBrunch to #Pac12AfterDark. There was a lot of offense in the four games that were played and quite a few teams seemed to have trouble stopping the run.  Query whether this will be a trend as this abbreviated season goes on.

Berkelium97: Four teams had unscheduled bye weeks, another team lost its starting QB to covid, and two teams played at 9 a.m.  The Pac-12 is off to a magnificent start.

A quick note on my ranking methodology: I aim to use a purely resume-based ranking system. Wins against stronger teams obviously earn more credit than wins against weaker teams.  But close losses to strong teams (ASU) can be better than close losses to lousy teams (UCLA)  Obviously, this creates some unusual rankings early on as stronger teams (Oregon) haven’t yet had a chance to build a strong resume.  But I suppose that’s part of the fun of this exercise.

Nick Kranz: If you win a game, you’re ahead of the teams that haven’t played yet. Man’s gotta have a code.

Christopher_h: Finally, most football is back! It’s so much easier to rank teams after (most teams) put a product on the field to judge and evaluate. Some teams looked like they’ve been playing all fall and some teams looked like they woke up after a long coronavirus hangover. Teams that were well-prepared to play: ASU, Stanford, Washington State, and Colorado. Teams that were probably hoping for a few more months off: USC and UCLA. I’m hoping that USC and UCLA looked terribly prepared because they are terribly coached teams, as opposed to any sort of California-related restrictions on football practices. 

Ruey Yen: I try to not overreact to just a few results in the official Pac-12 week 1 of (partial) conference action, so I essentially copied and pasted my rankings from the preseason and reshuffled some teams considering the limited results, although they were all pre-ranked rather lowly.


Rankings:

Last week: 1

Ohio Bear (1): Slow start against a Stanfurd team that was dealt a tough COVID blow before the game. But they took control and rushed for 269 yards in the process. They won by 21 and will only get better; they look like the #1 team in the conference to me.

Berkelium97 (2): They had a worryingly slow start against a depleted LSJU team. I was expecting Oregon to have one of the best defenses in the conference, but giving up that many rushing yards to the Lobsterbacks was surprising.

Nick Kranz (1): I didn’t see anything to make me doubt my preseason expectations that Oregon would win the North... but I also didn’t really see anything to confirm my expectations either. Such was the limited resistance Stanford provided on the night.

Christopher_h (1): QB Tyler Shough is young, inexperienced, and missed a couple reads. However, I think he’ll get better over time. More concerning, however, is their brand new and completely inexperienced offensive line—a line last year that amassed 222 collective starts, now boasts just 6 between them. I think Oregon is still the team to beat in the Pac-12, but they are far more beatable than years prior. Just a shame we don’t get to play them this year in an empty Autzen Stadium. The biggest improvement from last season—wide receivers actually catching balls. Mycah Pittman is a star in the making and WR Johnny Johnson III made a number of impressive catches to help bail out the first-year QB.

Last week: 2

Ohio Bear (2):  There is no good reason why they should have won that game.  But they did.  

Berkelium97 (1):  I was genuinely shocked to see that they ended up winning this one.  The defense was mostly solid with an occasional brain fart (dumb penalties, blown coverage), but why did they refuse to respond to Daniels’ running ability?  I didn’t see the final four minutes, but I guess something finally went right on offense.

Nick Kranz (2): I’m not sure what to make of this game. On one hand, if USC installed a QB sneak in this game, they probably would have been comfortably ahead in the game. And those last two TD drives were impressive. On the other hand, they piled up a whole ton of yards for very little actual impact on the scoreboard. I suppose I’m inclined to credit a disciplined ASU defense that kept USC from making big plays.

Piotr T Le (2): Defying 99.9% odds is no mean feat. Kedon Slovis put up odd Air-Raid numbers with 55 attempts and only 381 yards (6.92 YPA). Drake London showed up on the field despite being a second-year player behind a duo of older hyper-athletic WRs. 

Christopher_h (3): USC shows that once again their biggest liability was head coach. If you ever want to yell at your TV and feel smarter than the coach, watch a USC game. USC frequently failed to account for QB Jayden Daniels’ running ability. ASU obviously noticed this, lined up in something like a five-receiver set to make it really obvious that no defender was accounting for the QB, and then Daniels ran the ball. Oh look, another first down. USC did not look prepared to play this game at all—they committed two turnovers in the red zone, failed to convert on 4th and 1 multiple times in the red zone, and scored 0 points off turnovers that ASU committed inside their own 20. If a team was simply the sum of its parts, USC would win every game—but in reality, they frequently fail to execute and lose games they shouldn’t. This was a game they should have lost, but didn’t—thanks to a final three minutes that looked like this: down 27–14, QB Kedon Slovis threw it into double coverage, the ball luckily bounced off the hands of the intended WR Amon-Ra St. Brown straight to the hands of WR Bru McCoy for a touchdown, ASU WR Ricky Pearsall completely muffed the onside kick reception and USC recovered, and finally a beautiful play where Slovis looked off the safety, threw a beautiful ball into a tiny window with his receiver again double-covered, and an incredibly strong catch by WR Drake London in the endzone to win the game. I’ll give USC credit for that last play, but not the series of blunders before it.

Last week: T4

Ohio Bear (5): Is it wrong to say that the Sun Devils Coug’d it?  Next week’s opponent (hopefully!) for Cal will need to abide by the 24-hour rule and put this one behind them as soon as possible.

Berkelium97 (3):  Thanks to the 12 p.m. EST kickoff, I was able to check in on this game pretty regularly during the afternoon.  ASU looked pretty strong—the D-line was very impressive and Jayden Daniels repeatedly abused a defense that didn’t respect his running abilities—and I was fully ready to have them at #1 in my rankings when I turned the game off and left the house with about four minutes to go. Then, uh, whatever happened in those final three minutes happened.

Nick Kranz (3): I’m not going to kill them for losing by 1 point to USC on the road, even though the precise nature of the loss might deserve it. Their passing game looked iffy (their revamped WR corps looked iffy), but they have talent on both lines that will likely make them a tough team to beat for everybody else in the conference.

Christopher_h (2): Yes, they lost to USC, but I’m moving them above USC anyway. If you watched this game without knowing which team was which, you’d have thought that USC was the scrappy underdog that needed a ton of luck just to escape with a win. ASU looked very well-coached—especially on defense (credit to their new defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, former Bengals head coach, and Super Bowl-winning DC with the Ravens) as they frustrated Graham Harrell’s Air Raid (nearly) all game. I think QB Jayden Daniels’ passing ability is their biggest liability on offense, but he can still run and score on his legs. I was also surprised to see how seamlessly ASU replaced RB Eno Benjamin, as freshman RB DeaMonte “Chip” Trayanum (his nickname “Chip” refers to his blue-chip recruit status) looked positively fearsome.

Last week: 3 

Ohio Bear (6): Because I like to rank based on what teams have done on the field, I wasn’t sure how to rank the four teams who didn’t play. So I ended up putting the COVID Bye group at 6 through 9, with Cal at 6 because Go Bears!

Nick Kranz (7): From my POV, the main developments on Saturday was seeing evidence that Wazzu and ASU are likely to be legitimate opposition. If the games actually get played they’ll be tough.

Piotr T Le (3): There isn’t a reason to rank down our Bears in my humble opinion. ASU’s Jayden Daniels hasn’t shown signs of being the outright star QB (his rushing was really good, but passing leaves much to be desired) while Rolovich’s Cougs won despite having 32 players unavailable (could spell a larger breakout later on hampering the team’s ability to practice and field competitive teams).

Christopher_h (4): I just realized that I have no idea how the division tiebreakers will play out this year. I believe it goes by winning percentage first, so it’s technically better to cancel tough games than to lose them. I obviously think we would have won our rock fight with a younger UW team this year, but who’s to say that, say, a 4–0 UW team with cancellations against Cal and Oregon deserves to win the Pac-12 North over a 5–1 Oregon team (that lost to Cal) or a 4–1 Cal team (that beat Oregon, but inexplicably lost to someone else, like OSU?).

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (4): I’m not sure how much credit goes to the new Run and Shoot offense or how much is due to the fact that OSU has had some of the worst run defense in the nation over the last three years.

Nick Kranz (4): Yeah, I too am hesitant to get carried away about winning a game against an OSU team that might be running up against the limits of their rebuild without better recruiting, but they apparently have found a QB and shown some run-and-shoot proof of concept already—and that’s concerning.

Christopher_h (8): Freshman QB Jayden de Laura is in the mold of QB Jayden Daniels—an athletic running QB—but I’m not sure the arm talent is quite there yet. This was a pretty strange Wazzu game to watch after so many Mike Leach games as this was probably the first time in—what, 10 years?—that Wazzu had more rushing yards than passing yards. RB Deon McIntosh looked impressive (they didn’t even have Max Borghi!), plus the wheels on the QB all add up to a team that will probably run the ball a ton.

Last week: T4

Nick Kranz (6): I wonder how many positive cases UW has? Since Cal cancelled, they didn’t have to say or reveal anything while the rest of the conference had to actually announce their inactives.

Christopher_h (6): Still no word on the starting QB.

Last week: 11

Ohio Bear (4): I came into the weekend thinking that Arizona or Colorado was the worst team in the Pac-12 South. But then here they are, racking up a balanced attack of 264 yards rushing and 261 passing against Ucla.  Maybe they’re not so bad.  Or perhaps Ucla is?

Berkelium97 (5):  The offense looked okay—not great, but not terrible.  But that defense looked pretty miserable against the run.  Other than DTR’s long TD run, they didn’t give up many long plays, but it was clearly death by a thousand cuts.  It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. 

Nick Kranz (5): I don’t think barely winning a home game over UCLA when winning the turnover battle 4–0 is actually all that impressive, but it’s still a win. Thanks to UCLA’s early game ineptitude, Colorado could sit on a lead and run the ball twice as often as they passed. 

Christopher_h (9): I figured some quarterbacks stepping into starting roles would improve from last year and I wouldn’t see it coming (thanks to the lack of availability of practices or spring games to watch)—and QB Sam Noyer is one of them. Noyer showed a lot of mobility we hadn’t seen before, similar to the molds of Sefo Liufau and Steven Montez before him. Similarly, UCLA had absolutely no answer to RB Jarek Broussard (187 yards, 6+ yards/carry), who missed last season with an injury. And while yes, UCLA QB Dorrian Thompson-Robinson is incredibly turnover-prone, Colorado forced at least two of those turnovers (forcing a fumble on WR Kyle Philips’ kick return and stripping RB Demetric Felton on a run inside their own 10), while not coughing the ball up themselves. It’s only one game, but Colorado looked like a well-coached team under new coach Karl Dorrell (although playing UCLA probably doesn’t hurt with this either by comparison). Their WR corps are likely a weakness this season, but KD Nixon’s return should at least give Noyer a clear #1 target.

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (8): There’s something super fishy about Utah’s COVID situation. After zero warning, Utah announces a game cancellation on Friday citing COVID throughout the roster, then two days later all the COVID is gone? These teams are falling far short of anything approaching transparency.

Christopher_h (5): I technically kept Utah static and moved the other teams up or down around them, but I think Utah will be on the “more prepared” side of things when their games resume.

Last week: 12

Nick Kranz (9): By far the biggest winner among the teams that had a game cancelled. *points at forehead* You can’t turn up the hot seat if every game gets cancelled!

Christopher_h (11): The jury’s still out, but I am going to keep assuming they’re bad until proven otherwise.

Last week: 8

Ohio Bear (10): Tough to lose starting QB Davis Mills before the game (COVID). But the Furds put up a fight, only to be done in by the Oregon offense—10 penalties for 100 yards and four (FOUR!) missed FGs by Jet Toner.  Giving the Furds my highest ranking of the teams who lost.  

(As I wrote this, Jet Toner missed another field goal.) 

Berkelium97 (10):  They put up a pretty good fight given the circumstances.  But they were let down by their special teams, which put up a vintage Alamar Special.

Nick Kranz (10): For all of a quarter they looked like a vintage Shaw team—and then Oregon realized that they just needed to stop the run and their offense wilted. I guess they get a COVID mulligan? This season is so dumb.

Christopher_h (7): I hate to admit it, but they looked surprisingly competent even without their starting QB Davis Mills (who I should mention is not a cereal brand, but if he were, he’d be one of those boring bland tasteless ones). QB Jack West looked much improved from last season and freshman QB Tanner McKee looked pretty good too. Stanford had a surprisingly competent running game (against what should be one of the best defensive lines in the conference), so it looks like boring ol’ Stanford Ball is back. Ohio Bear is right, though—Jet Toner ran out of ink. That was very David Shaw–esque to go for a FG in the fourth quarter on the Oregon 9-yard line while down 28–7. If Shaw gets any more conservative, they’ll run him for Congress in GA-14.

Last week: 7

Ohio Bear (11): I sensed hope in Corvallis going into this season.  Not sure what to think now. And I’m still trying to figure out why Jonathan Smith went for two with the score 31–20.

Berkelium97 (11):  It’s a rebuilding year for the Beavs, but I expected more from them than falling behind 28–7 at home to a rebuilding Cougs team.

Nick Kranz (11): The offense finally woke up in the fourth quarter when it was too late, but struggling that badly against a Wazzu defense that was quite bad last year isn’t a good sign for a Beaver team that lost some key guys on that side of the ball.

Christopher_h (10): Oh OSU, you’ve made a fool of me already. Unlike Stanford QB Jack West and Colorado QB Sam Noyer, former Nebraska QB Tristan Gebbia is not among the QBs who’ve made big strides since last season. RB Jermar Jefferson is still an NFL-bound running back, but without a significant passing threat (or receiving target like Buffalo Bills WR Isaiah Hodgins), they will struggle against better defenses. I had thought they had made some significant improvements in defense over the course of last season and maybe they weren’t prepared for the rushing attack of Washington State, but Wazzu ran all over them.

Last week: 9

Ohio Bear (12):  That was shocking. Signs of life on offense after they got behind big, but is there no defense in Westwood this year?

Berkelium97 (12):  DTR remains a turnover machine who possesses enough skill and athleticism to make up for it.  On the other side of the ball, they got torched by a bunch of new faces on a rebuilding team—not a good look.

Nick Kranz (12): Scoring 42 points when you turn the ball over four times (six times if you count missed fourth downs) is really rather impressive. BTW, UCLA’s last five recruiting classes have averaged a rank of fourth in the Pac-12, while Colorado’s have averaged ninth—do you think UCLA looked meaningfully more talented on the field?

Piotr T Le (12): The discrepancy between recruitment talent and field capability was stunning. Adding the fact that Buffs have a first-year not-first-option at HC during a pandemic-shortened offseason/season just emphasizes how poorly the team developed over the years.

Christopher_h (12): I was hoping to put Stanford in this spot after they were annihilated by Oregon, but instead, it’s UCLA that boxed out the rest of the Pac-12 to cement their place in the cellar. Sorry (not sorry), but Chip Kelly’s glory days are behind him and Dorian Thompson-Robinson has no business still starting at QB. DTR did make some marginal improvements on his accuracy, but he’s still a turnover-machine that can’t read a defense. UCLA was down 35–7 to Colorado at one point in the first half—they couldn’t do anything right. If not for a couple blown coverages by Colorado, UCLA would never have scored enough to get back in the game. Also, their defense is atrocious. Sam Noyer wasn’t exactly testing their corners, but a good QB is going to pick them apart—which is terrible news for them, given that they couldn’t stop the run either.


Data:

Here are the individual votes from Week One. Was the homer who put Cal at #1 the person you expected?

All of these responses are thrown into a pot to calculate the primary rankings listed above; for each team, the ranks from all of the voters were averaged to determine our consensus rank for that team. Figure 1 shows how these ranks have changed compared to the preseason. Arizona State moved up a spot in a losing effort and quite possibly has set the record for highest-ranked team with a losing record. Overall, you see big moves for the four teams involved in the WSU–OSU and Colorado–UC L.A. games as both contests could be considered upsets per our preseason ranks. Meanwhile, Arizona managed to get a big bump while doing nothing at all.

Based on a reader suggestion, all of those movements up and down the rankings are collected over the season as the Madness score (Fig. 2). Perhaps it’s only fitting that a maddening year like 2020 would have such big Madness scores right away with five teams moving three or more spots.

The main rankings are nice, there’s some more insight that gets lost in the rounding process. Let’s also take a look at the precise scores from the averaging math, collected as columns in Figure 3. The error bars on top of each column represent the standard deviation; a large standard deviation means a wide range of responses from voters while a small standard deviation means signficant agreement. The key learning here is that instead of just a two-team tie between Arizona and Stanfurd, it’s more accurately to describe those teams as locked in with Oregon State, which is just a smidge below them. Furthermore, these three teams are quite a bit further down from the next highest team in Utah.

These precise values are charted over the course of the season in Figure 4. Despite narrowly escaping ASU, we do see that USC is fairly confidently ahead of the teams ranked below them—including ASU. We also continue to see a sharp divide between the basement and the rest of the conference—only this week, Wazzu and Colorado burst out from the basement into the field of respectable teams. You could even argue there’s a pretty clear split in the basement, with UC L.A. off on an island below the rest.

Now, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that next week brings us data on all the Pac-12 teams—and maybe hope and pray extra hard for one team in particular…