Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 5: Nothing pretty for AZ this week

No clue how the state of Arizona manages to have such views because you can't spell "view" without a "W"—and there are certainly no Ws between those teams.

Leland: Usually, as we get deeper in the season and gain more information on the Pac-12 teams, it can become easier to evaluate, rank, and compare them. In the crazy COVID season, it seems like each passing week results in more confusion as underdogs pull off upsets and teams turn in mindboggling performances. Here’s the latest slate of games:

  • Stanfurd def. #22 Washington, 31–26

  • California def. #23 Oregon, 21–17

  • Colorado def. Arizona, 24–13

  • UC Los Angeles def. Arizona State, 25–18

  • Utah def. Oregon State, 30–24

  • #20 USC def. Washington State, 38–13

We’ll be ranking the Pac-12 teams by our own personal metrics, typically focused on on-field performance and fanbase morale. To add a little dash of spice, we tend to skew our assessments towards recent developments—rather than a more traditional, pure “who’s better” ranking.

Berkelium97:  We’re one week away from deciding who goes to the Pac-12 Championship game and things could get wacky next week.  USC and Colorado may end up tied as undefeated teams, although Colorado would only have a 4–0 conference record to USC’s 5–0.  I guess USC would get the nod, but should Colorado really be punished because their opponents were unable to play (especially when one of those opponents was USC)?  The Pac-12 North will come down to the winner of UW–Oregon.  Even if Oregon wins and WSU manages to finish 2–1 (same winning percentage as the Ducks), Oregon would have the tiebreaking win over WSU.  And Oregon would have won more games than UW and LSJU (plus tiebreaker wins over them).

Ruey Yen: Even in a season where the Pac-12 teams did not have a realistic path to the College Football Playoff before they played their first game, the Conference of Champions continued to hurt itself in the national conversations through parity. Cal beating Oregon (hooray!) and Stanford beating Washington (boo!) just mean that whoever wins the Pac-12 North will have an uglier record. While USC and Colorado are both undefeated right now, I don’t necessarily think the Pac-12 South winner will win the Pac. We are also a week away from finding out the matchups for Pac-12 Roulette week since every school (that can field a team) will be in action during Championship week.

Nick Kranz: I’m going to be honest, I didn’t put a ton of effort into my rankings this week. As much as I get a giggle from trying to compare an ASU team with two games played to an Oregon State team with five (common opponents: nobody), this season is so over-the-top absurd that pretending to make sense of it is clearly farce.

Christopher_h: It seems that with the exception of Arizona, pretty much anyone can beat anyone—which makes ranking teams very difficult. I decided to ignore recent results and rank teams according to which team I thought would be favored in any particular matchup minus any Covid-craziness.

Ohio Bear: Just one week left before Pac-12 championship and crossover game week.  Perhaps unfortunately for the league, the COVID-canceled USC-Colorado game becomes huge, potentially depriving the Buffs of a chance at the league title game.  It doesn’t look like the Pac-12 is going to scrap the North vs. South championship game matchup.

Piotr T Le: I honestly don’t know how to rank the Pac-12 North—none of the schools have shown to have any desire to separate themselves from the aggregate mediocrity of the division. I might as well depend on random number generators when determining the scores of any Pac-12N match-up. Despite the fact that WSU looks the weakest of the bunch, there is so much variance that Cal could lose in Pullman due to a botched punt return–turned fumble–turned lateral in the snow.


Rankings:

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (1):  It’s Sunday morning as I put these rankings together and I’m going to be really annoyed in about 12 hours when they end up somehow losing to Washington State.

Nick Kranz (1): I watched roughly 5 minutes of USC’s game, but they looked alarmingly dominant in those 5 minutes—more dominant than any one team has looked over anybody else in the entirety of Pac-12 play thus far.

Ohio Bear (1):  Dominant first half performance against the Cougars.  I didn’t expect WSU to win that game, but I didn’t expect USC to do that to them either.  

Christopher_h (1): Why is it that every game USC plays looks like a game between hated rivals? Like when the USC safety stepped on Wazzu’s QB when he was on the ground or the obnoxious celebratory dances after every play? It doesn’t matter whom USC plays, it always looks like a fight might break out on the field at any time. Anyway, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown basically made swiss cheese out of a weak Wazzu secondary, basically scoring at will against anyone who dared to try and cover him (with an absurd four receiving TDs in the first quarter). Don’t let the final score fool you too much—USC didn’t let off the gas. They were trying to run up the score for style points, but were taken out of rhythm in the second half by a Wazzu team that figured out that the best way to slow the Air Raid is to keep the ball away from them entirely.

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (2):  Jarek Broussard did a pretty good Best vs. ‘08 UW impression with THREE HUNDRED ONE rushing yards.  I’m still bitter that we didn’t get the USC–Colorado matchup to decide the South—especially because I think Colorado would have a decent chance of torching USC’s lousy run defense.

Ruey Yen (2): The Buffaloes really stampeded the Wildcats this week. I still think that they are more lucky than good, but one has to give them credit for being 4–0.

Nick Kranz (2): It’s a real bummer that of all the games to get cancelled, Colorado/USC was one of them.

Ohio Bear (2): The Buffs took care of business against a lesser team.  Like Nick, I’m bummed that we won’t see Colorado vs. USC (unless the Pac-12 decides to change the week 7 rules on us!).  

Christopher_h (5): RB Jarek Broussard is an absolute stud and I love that Colorado is a threat to win the Pac-12 South over USC, but let’s not forget that they’ve had a pretty soft schedule so far. They were two-touchdown underdogs to USC before the game was cancelled and they’re currently very slight favorites over Utah at home (though the line has been moving in Utah’s direction), so I ranked them as the third-best team in the Pac-12 South.

Erik Johannessen (2): They won’t do this, but it’s pretty obvious that if both USC and Colorado win this weekend, they should push back the title game a week to allow those teams to make up their head-to-head game, with the winner getting the title game berth.

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (3):  Slow starts are killing the Huskies.  They could have wrapped up the Pac-12 North title on Saturday, but they had their second week in a row where they fell behind by 21 while failing to score a TD in the first half.

Ruey Yen (4): I am not sure what to expect for that final week of regular season. Might the Pac-12 rescheduled the previously canceled Cal–UW game?

Nick Kranz (5): The only thing I thought I knew about 2020 Pac-12 football was that UW would have a legit defense with a great secondary, so of course they get bullied by Stanford.

Christopher_h (2): Apparently, forgetting to show up in the first half is a bad idea. Who knew? UW again completely floundered about in the first half, but outscored Stanford 23–7 in the second (which was not enough to overcome a 21-point halftime deficit for the second week in a row). UW was without their top wide receivers—Terrell Bynum and Puka Nacua—and there’s still no word on why RB Richard Newton disappeared. I put the blame for this loss squarely on UW and their baffling game plan—using the undersized RB Sean McGrew as a power back and not even trying to target their top receiver TE Cade Otton. It’ll take another week to see if Stanford’s offensive line was really that much better this week or if Washington should be concerned about their defensive line.

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (4):  DTR is back and he didn’t turn the ball over!  Again!

Nick Kranz (3): It would really crush me if Chip truly turned around UCLA. I so rarely nail a prediction and I thought I finally had one.

Ohio Bear (4): For the first time in the Chip Kelly era, the Bruins have a winning record.  And they look like a good football team right now.  

Christopher_h (6): I still don’t think UCLA is any good—they’ve just held fairly constant while turmoil rips through everyone else. This was also the first game I can remember where DTR didn’t turn the ball over a bunch of times. Playing DTR over Chase Griffin is very reminiscent of the Brandon McIlwain experiment. Yes, he’s an explosive athlete, but at what cost?

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (5):  After watching the Bears lose two games in a row on ridiculous mistakes, it was nice to see our opponent shoot itself in the foot over and over and over.  Twelve men on the field during a punt, PI in the end zone on fourth down (suck a lemon, Rod Gilmore—that was totally PI), a couple critical fumbles in the fourth quarter. The Ducks shouldn’t feel too bad, though, as they’re still one win away from winning the Pac-12 North.

Ruey Yen (5): As expected, the Ducks are a good—but flawed—team in 2020.

Nick Kranz (4): On one hand, they’re on a two-game losing streak. On the other hand, they’re one of the few teams with multiple convincing wins and they pretty clearly outplayed Cal and OSU despite losing both games. They’re fine.

Ohio Bear (5): It felt funny to drop them one spot below a team that they beat (U.C. LA), but the Bruins are playing better than the Ducks right now.  

Christopher_h (3): Agreed with Berkelium97—it’s pretty clear which alma mater Rod Gilmore identifies with and it’s so annoying watching games where the announcers are practically rooting for the opponents. (Not to mention ESPN’s weird habit of shoehorning in players’ personal lives into the broadcast for drama every game where it doesn’t belong. Did you know Tyler Shough’s mother had cancer? This would only have been the fifth time you’ve heard this if you watched all of Oregon’s games this year.) I do enjoy that Cal’s defense frustrated Oregon to the point that fans are demanding they bench their talented, but young, QB. Oregon’s a young team filled with five-stars and will be fine; if there were ever a season they could write off as a mulligan, I’m sure they’re happy it’s this abbreviated crazy season. 

Piotr T Le (6): They are talented and very unlucky with a QB who needs more playing time to find his groove. As much as Cal’s win was due to Oregon’s miscues causing penalties, the meaningful Oregon offensive output was limited to two broken-coverage plays rather than consistent execution.

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (6):  That blocked PAT in the third quarter...too soon, man, too soon.

Ruey Yen (7): I only saw Stanford’s last, long drive to ice the game. They definitely looked better than they showed in the Big Game.

Nick Kranz (7): Not really sure how Stanford managed to run as successfully as they did on UW. Also not thrilled that Davis Mills is rounding into form with tons of eligibility left. Sigh.

Ohio Bear (6):  Have to tip my hat to our rivals. Displaced from home, they picked up a win in Seattle that I didn’t really expect them to get. 

Christopher_h (7): I had Stanford and the Over for +850, so I was pretty happy with this win, but I put this one squarely on Washington again shooting themselves in the foot for the entire first half again (falling behind by 21 at halftime, one week after they did the same against Utah). Stanford had the worst rushing offense and worst rushing defense in the Pac-12, yet they looked like a vintage Shaw team with the way Stanford’s offensive line dominated.

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (7):  Like the WSU game, they fell behind big early on and rallied in the fourth to make it interesting.  Since they were without their entire offense due to contract tracing (and by entire offense, I mean Jermar Jefferson), I won’t penalize them too much for the loss.

Nick Kranz (6): I was too busy celebrating to pay attention to their game vs. Utah—they had a bunch of dudes out? See, this is why I put next to zero effort into this. 

Ohio Bear (7):  The OSU team that played Utah bore no resemblance to the one that beat Oregon and Cal in the two weeks prior.  Tough break for the Beavs to be without QB Tristan Gebbia and Jefferson, yet they still managed to hang tough and make a fourth-quarter rally.  It will be interesting to see how the Stanfurd game plays out—a scheduled road game that has turned into a home game against the vagabond Cardinal. 

Christopher_h (9): OSU lost their entire offense (by which I mean RB Jermar Jefferson) as well as their starting QB Tristan Gebbia, and they still almost pulled the upset over Utah. Coach Jonathan Smith clearly has OSU on the right track.

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (9):  Utah looks like it’s back in typical form—a steady diet of running the ball, scoring on a bunch of field goals, shutting down the opponent’s passing game, and scoring a special teams TD for good measure.

Nick Kranz (8): Going 1–1 in two coin-flip games and getting trounced by USC mostly indicates to me that USC is clearly the best team in the conference.

Christopher_h (4): Utah is basically the opposite of Washington—show up in the first half and then hope you can hang onto that lead. QB Jake Bentley is probably not the answer, but freshman RB Ty Jordan may very well be. Ty Jordan is another stellar first-year running back in the Pac-12 (along with e.g. Colorado’s Jarek Borussard and ASU’s DeaMonte Trayanum and maybe even Cal’s Damien Moore), which leads me to believe we will be seeing a lot of run-heavy offenses in the Pac-12 in the next few years. Like Oregon, Utah is a really young team and I think they’re still finding their footing, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Utah at the top of the Pac-12 South again in two years.

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (8):  The Bears played even better than the scoreboard showed.  Oregon took full advantage of two busted coverages to score TDs, but were otherwise stifled. Kuony Deng redeemed himself from giving up that huge completion to Travis Dye by forcing two critical fourth-quarter fumbles.  The defense had a vintage 2018 rockfight and the offense looks like it’s finally starting to come together (although 102 rushing yards against that run defense is still concerning).

Ruey Yen (8): For the second consecutive week, the Bears played a better overall game than their opponents. This time, the Bears made enough plays to also get the W.

Nick Kranz (9): Due credit for the win of course, but getting outgained by 2.7 yards/play doesn’t make me radically reevaluate my priors.

Ohio Bear (8):  After falling victim to their own mistakes in their previous two games, it was nice to see the Bears take advantage of the other team’s mistakes.  Oregon didn’t help itself with penalties at key moments—and the Bears made them pay.  Credit to Kuony Deng for forcing two crucial fourth-quarter fumbles and to the defense as a whole for a huge fourth-down stop in the red zone.  Maybe Justin Wilcox is on to something—Cal has held Oregon to 17 points two years in a row; the Ducks haven’t scored fewer than 21 in any other game since the beginning of the 2019 season and hadn’t scored fewer than 35 this season.

Christopher_h (8): My preseason optimism for this matchup was not unfounded. Cal finally gets back to about full strength and we see what can happen in a classic game of Wilcox-era Cal football. After such a high standard on defense the past few years, I was disproportionately upset about the busted coverages (which QB Tyler Shough eventually capitalized on), as it seems like a harbinger for the future—Gerald Alexander is sorely missed. Wilcox has now beaten every team in the Pac-12 North (plus the LA schools), showing that we can contend with the top of the conference. Hopefully Cal can start stringing those big wins together in the same year.

Piotr T Le (9): We return to the tried and true offense by penalties and Chase Garbers’s scrambles. Remove two broken coverages and the defense basically pitched a shutout against the on-paper best offense in the Pac-12 North. Offense needs to continue improving in order to take advantage of these types of defensive performances.

Erik Johannessen (9): A small detail that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere is that this was Cal’s first game this year with a full week of prep time. We’ll see if they can follow that up, though I’m not sure how you prepare for the expected weather at WSU this weekend.

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (10): There has to be some sort of COVID explanation for that performance, right? USC just toyed with the Cougs—and this was a team that easily cleared a baseline competence level in each previous game.

Berkelium97 (10): That first quarter was brutal.  Can they please do it again this weekend?

Ohio  Bear (10): They looked nothing like the team that beat OSU soundly in Week 1.  

Christopher_h (11): They looked awful, but I’d put the blame squarely on Covid-19 for this one. I mean, heck, their QB Jayden de Laura was the one who caught it and he looked like he hadn’t practiced in weeks—his accuracy was off, his timing routes with his receivers were all off (and they’re a big part of Wazzu’s offense), etc. Again, no team has looked good after Covid-related game cancellations—Cal was embarrassed by UCLA, Washington needed a poor ball spot to prevent the upset by OSU, Utah looked helpless against USC, Colorado probably should have lost to a banged-up SDSU squad, ASU struggled the entire first half against UCLA, and Wazzu was basically pantsed by USC in pretty much just the first quarter. Losing players and practice time to Covid-19 has been the great equalizer across the Pac-12 and I wouldn’t read too much into this season to predict future performance. That’s why I still think UCLA sucks no matter how many games Chip Kelly wins this year—they’ve had the least amount of adversity to deal with. Wazzu will come back stronger next week—just in time to face Cal.

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (11):  After falling behind 17, the Devils rallied to score the next 24 points in the game.  Except 6 of those points came when they seemed to push UCLA RB Demetric Felton into the endzone intentionally while he was trying to run down the clock with a minute remaining.  I understand that they wanted the ball back with enough time to score, but I hate seeing teams give up so easily like that.  ASU had an 18–17 lead prior to that TD.  Trust the defense and try to force a turnover or force a potentially game-winning field goal.  After all, last-second goal-line field goals are never a sure thing, right Washington State?

Ruey Yen (11): ASU managed to play a college football game for the first time in almost a month. They lost another heartbreaker to an LA school again.

Nick Kranz (11): I might be punishing them for only having played two games more than anything else, as close losses to UCLA and USC aren’t exactly shameful. But you kinda have to actually play games to accomplish football success, right?

Ohio Bear (11):  ASU has only played two games, but they’ve managed to lose both despite leading with 1:30 to play in both of them.  I don’t know what to make of them, as they haven’t played much football and have lost close games to two good teams. But until they win a game, I didn’t feel right putting them any higher than 11th.  

Christopher_h (10): It’s hard to fault ASU for losing here after the pandemic-related layoff. It’s been a pretty constant theme with every team that they look terrible in their first game back. See also: Washington State.

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12):  I was shocked to see them jump out to a 13–0 lead—and less shocked to see them punt on their next five consecutive drives.  I almost feel bad for them, turning the ball over at the goal line later in the third quarter and turning the ball over on downs at the goal line two possessions later.  

Ruey Yen (12): Colorado ran all over this Arizona defense like a hot knife through butter. Depending on how next weekend plays out, there may be a chance for the Cal running game to do the same in two weeks.

Nick Kranz (12): 0–4—and only one of those games was close. To the extent that anything about the Pac-12 this year can be said with confidence, I am confident that Arizona is quite bad.

Christopher_h (12): This team is doomed without QB Grant Gunnell—and without many other bright spots on the roster. It’s hard to justify another year for coach Kevin Sumlin. I’m also repeatedly baffled by Noel Mazzone’s offensive play-calling, whose offensive philosophy can best be described as “trying to force a square peg into a round hole.”

Ohio Bear (12):  So far, the highlight of Arizona’s season has been the close game it played against USC in the Wildcats’ opener.  But it’s Territorial Cup week and one of the Arizona schools is going to get its first win.  Arizona can make its season by winning that. Also, assuming this Pac-12 crossover weekend plan holds for the December 19 games, could Cal be looking at either Arizona or ASU as its Week 7 opponent?


Data:

Below are our individual votes for this week—but warning to all Trojan haters, as you won’t like what you’ll see.

By combining all of our individual votes (Table 1), we come to the main first-through-twelfth ranking shown above. The 2020 history of these rankings is collected in Figure 1. We see Oregon continue to fall from grace along with Arizona State. On the other end of the spectrum, Colorado and UC L.A. have seen large increases compared to where they started the season. Washington State took the scenic route to settle exactly where we projected them.

For all of the movement up and down the rankings, Figure 2A shows these gains and losses as the Madness score for each team. The biggest riser and faller match with their on-field results from this weekend—the Cardinal’s big upset win and the Cougars’ humiliation. There’s no clear frontrunner for the Maddest team of the year, but USC continued to build on their lead as the least Mad team—will they be able to hold onto that title for the rest of the season?

Taking a step back, our individual votes (Table 1) are converted into one unified ranking by taking all of the scores that we gave a team and finding the average, which actually reveals a little more information about how much agreement we—as a group—had in our evaluations. The averages are collected as columns in Figure 3; the error bars represent one standard deviation. A small standard deviation means we were in high agreement—the Trojans have no error bar because they were our unanimous top team. The Utes have a huge standard deviation because they received votes all across the board—as high as fourth and as low as ninth.

This week, we don’t really see clusters of teams (compared to Week 3 in Figure 4). This is likely indicative of parity between the teams—the teams have so little separating them that our individual votes did not reflect clear agreement.

Looking forward to next week, there are some rivalry games coming up that are significant for reasons beyond the strife between the teams.

The schools from Arizona will face off. Though Utah’s win killed my dream of two winless Pac-12 teams, it’s still possible for a team to end the season winless for the first time since 2008 and the Territorial Cup will ensure the victor will end the season with at least one win (not unlike the 2008 Apple Cup).

Another rivalry game with wide-reaching implications is the Oregon–Washington game, where the stakes include bragging rights and the Pac-12 North title.

Lastly, the Battle for L.A. is coming up—if USC wins, then they block also-undefeated Colorado out of the Pac-12 Championship game (as Bk97 described in the intro). On the flip side (stealing a joke from elsewhere on the internets) Karl Dorrell is probably hoping for a UC L.A. win in this game more than any UC L.A. game in history—including his tenures there as a wide reciever and a mustachioed quarterback.