Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 6: How often does USC play Tribute to Troy in a blowout?

Win, lose, or draw—you'll need to bring your earplugs.

The Bears may be on bye this past week, but the conference still had a quartet of games for us to analyze.

By analyzing these latest games—and the course of the season overall—we’re here to evaluate, judge, and critique the Pac-12 teams and rank them by performance and morale.

Here’s the list of games from this past week—and a list of the third of the conference that was lazy and sat at home.

  • #22 Arizona State def. Stanfurd, 28–10

  • Washington State def. Oregon State, 31–24

  • Utah def. USC, 42–26

  • UCLA def. Arizona, 34–16

  • Bye: California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington

Christopher_h: If you’re unhappy with any of the game results this week, I take full responsibility. Without Cal to root for, my bad juju luck was directed at other innocent bystander teams. I was pulling for OSU over Wazzu—they lost. Right when I thought Arizona had a chance to pull the upset and got invested in the game, UCLA started pulling away. Stanford and USC lost (which is good), but that probably happened because I was pulling for them to at least beat the spread after I bet on them this week (spoiler: they didn’t). Clearly the solution here is to start betting against Cal, but I just never have the heart to do it. 

Berkelium97:  The conference is starting to separate into some clear tiers.  We have to solid but not infallible teams (ASU, Oregon, UCLA), the decent teams prone to occasional poor outings (Utah, OSU, LSJU), the lousy teams that are still capable of an occasional solid performance (USC, WSU, UW), and the bottom-feeders who can’t seem to put it together (Arizona, Cal, Colorado).

Rankings

Last week: 1

Christopher_h (1): A week after Stanford upset previous Pac-12 darling Oregon, ASU dispatched them pretty handily. ASU doesn’t really pass the ball well, but they have the best run blocking in the conference. Fullback Case Hatch is criminally underrated; watch any big run from ASU and then find where Case Hatch is on the play—9 times out of 10 he’s the one setting the key block on the play. Jayden Daniels throws it deep down the field just enough to keep defenses honest—they’re the slightly better version of UCLA. 

Berkelium97 (1):  This might be the most complete team in the conference.  Oregon has more talent, but ASU seems like a better coached team.  The passing game is explosive, the run game is nigh unstoppable, and the defense is absurdly proficient at forcing turnovers and harassing QBs. I guess there might be some concern about the pass defense after LSJU completed 20-yard lobs to TEs over and over, but they don’t face many proficient passers over the remainder of the schedule.

Last week: T3

Christopher_h (2): Usually it’s tough to rate the middle or bottom of the Pac-12, but this is the first time I’ve had trouble ranking the top of it. Stanford beat Oregon, but UCLA beat Stanford. Oregon and UCLA can run the ball, but not really throw it, Stanford can throw the ball, but not really run it. Hard to pick a winner when they’re all flawed and as a result, we have already seen that (almost) anybody can beat anybody else in the Pac-12.

Leland (2): Tempted to drop them further because they spent their bye week learning that they’ll be losing two starters—RB CJ Verdell and safety Bennett Williams—to season-ending injuries, but the Pac-12 is so bad that you just can’t justify any lower team taking this spot.

Last week: T3

Christopher_h (3): Supposedly QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson is banged up, but he looked awful throwing the ball against Arizona. UCLA was playing fairly vanilla and keeping DTR out of trouble, but with a one-point halftime lead, they realized they were going to need DTR to start running the ball himself and putting himself in harm’s way if they were going to be able to move the ball. I feel like Chip Kelly’s UCLA is at their peak—and this is all they have to offer. 

Berkelium97 (2): DTR had one of those classic what-is-he-doing DTR games.  Thankfully the run game, including DTR, ran wild and bailed out the non-existent passing game.  They still seem to be on track for eight or nine wins, so the future remains bright in Westwood/Pasadena.

Last week: 7

Christopher_h (5): I think QB Cam Rising is good, but nowhere near as good as the USC defense made him look. Utah is a very young team (multiple freshmen in the offensive line and secondary) and I am not looking forward to how good this group will be by the time Cal plays them again in a couple years. 

Berkelium97 (5):  Despite being outgained by USC, this was an easy victory for the Utes.  They spent most of the second half sitting on a 99%+ win probability according to ESPN’s predictions.  The Utes were slightly disappointing during the first half of the year—can this win propel them to a stronger second half of the year?  The schedule gets much tougher from now on with home games against ASU, UCLA, and Oregon and road games against OSU and LSJU.

Leland (5): How can one of just two teams currently undefeated in the conference be so low? Because they’ve only played the soft underbelly of the Pac-12 and lost games to BYU and San Diego State (honorary Pac-12 teams for 2021 with 3–0 and 2–0 records against the conference, respectively). If they want to move up, they have to win against real competition.

Last week: 2

Christopher_h (4): Tanner McKee has looked like the best quarterback in the Pac-12 this season, but he was a little off this game and threw his first three interceptions of the season (although to be fair, his receivers were doing him no favors by constantly tipping the ball upwards to let ASU defenders catch the tips). However, Stanford’s problem was that they absolutely could not run the ball—and later abandoned the run entirely. Stanford’s offensive line was getting handled by ASU. However, they’ll still win games on the back of Tanner McKee, the only quarterback in the Pac-12 who can make NFL-level throws with any regularity (although OSU’s QB Chance Nolan has thrown some dimes too). 

Berkelium97 (6):  The normally productive Lobsterback offense seemed to hit a road block when they crossed midfield.  Out of 11 possessions, ten crossed the 50-yard line, but only one turned into a TD.  Except for a field goal, all those failed drives ended in punts, turnovers on downs, or interceptions.  As long as they have an endless supply of giant white guys to throw impossible passes to, they’ll be fine on offense.  A top-half finish in conference seems likely.

Last week: 5

Christopher_h (6): I like Oregon State’s offense—and I especially love their play-calling on offense. On defense, however, it seems like their safety play is lacking. OSU had a great redzone defense against Wazzu in the first half, but fell apart by the end of the third quarter with the two teams trading touchdowns back and forth in the fourth quarter. OSU seemingly bet it all on their final drive down by a touchdown (maybe they assumed Wazzu would score right back?), taking their sweet time with about five and a half minutes left in the game. However, by the time they got closer to the endzone, their play-calling was impacted by how little time they had left in the game—they were forced to keep throwing the ball after running the ball at will against Wazzu earlier. Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out and the bad guys won. It’s the kind of coaching decision we usually debate on here after a Cal game. OSU will cry tears from the top of the Pac-12 North standings. 

Berkelium97 (5): Like Christopher_h said, the OSU red zone defense did a great job by forcing a field goal, a turnover on downs, and an interception in the first half. Then every WSU possession in the second half was a TD.  OSU had a chance to tie the game, but fell a heartbreaking one yard short on 4th and 19.  The Beavs are still in sole possession of first place in the North, but this loss is going to come back to haunt them at the end of the year.

Last week: 6

Christopher_h (7): This game was nowhere nearly as close as the final score indicated. USC was just trying to rack up garbage-time points (and two-point conversions and onsides kicks) just to feel good about themselves, in some sort of misguided attempt at a moral victory—it was 35–10 Utah at the end of the third quarter when Utah started to let off the gas. USC has an unguardable wide receiver in Drake London—and that’s about it. USC’s secondary has problems and their talented defensive line barely makes an impact in games. If you’re a USC fan, you’re hoping for a new coach to come in and recruit some new blue-chip talent and actually develop it this time—led by a young QB Jaxson Dart and a whole new roster of characters who won’t commit unsportsmanlike conduct penalties every few plays. 

Berkelium97 (7):  In conference play, the Trojans have averaged 27-point victories on the road and 16-point losses at home.  If the pattern continues with Arizona’s visit to the Coliseum at the end of the month, the Trojans will plummet in my rankings.  Otherwise, their random string of head-scratching wins and losses will keep them somewhere in the middle of my ballot.

Last week: 9

Christopher_h (9): I still don’t have many positive things to say about Wazzu. OSU’s defense fell apart late and Wazzu receivers suddenly had no problem finding themselves wide open late in the game. They also finally started getting pressure on OSU’s last drive with the game on the line, which was just enough to squeak out the win against a similarly-talented team. Why do good things happen to bad people?

Berkelium97 (8): Two weeks ago, they were on life support after a 1–3 start to the year. Now they’re in the top half of the division.  The remaining schedule is brutal, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wazzu go 1–5 against the next six opponents: LSJU, BYU, @ASU, @Oregon, Arizona, @UW.

Last week: 8

Christopher_h (8): Losses to an FCS team and Oregon State while squeaking out an overtime win against Cal? The Jimmy Lake era has not been off to a great start. Ranking them eighth seems fair.

Leland (9): Two recent wins over bad teams don’t help them enough to lift them out of this rut. To make matters worse, they might be heading into a rough patch with four of the next five games against teams that are contenders for their division.

Last week: 10

Christopher_h (10): I was pretty upbeat watching the games this weekend—and then I realized it was because Cal wasn’t around to disappoint me again. I was thinking about how the stars aligned for Cal this year: a down Pac-12 North, drawing Colorado/Arizona in conference play this year instead of ASU/Utah, and so on. Still, we’re at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with only Arizona around to make us feel better about ourselves.

Berkelium97 (10):  The Bears neither lost nor botched a PAT/FG, so that’s a moral victory.

Last week: 11

Christopher_h (11): If only they had upset Texas A&M a few weeks ago, they could have had a transitive victory over Alabama. Colorado has had a rough couple of weeks, but they have a winnable game next week at home against Arizona.  

Leland (10): Good point by Chris, but their near tie over a Bama-beating Texas A&M is enough to get a minor bump during their bye week from me.

Last week: 12

Christopher_h (12): Arizona looked surprisingly competent this week against UCLA, hanging within a point or a possession for most of the game. They knew they didn’t have the horses to compete with UCLA and game-planned accordingly, dominating time of possession to minimize offensive possessions for UCLA. Unfortunately, their offensive efforts died after starting QB (their third starting QB this season) Jordan McCloud was injured, who was doing a good job of running the offense to that point. For most of the game, I thought they were one disastrous DTR play away from an upset in a day full of them.

Berkelium97 (12):  A deflating loss for Arizona.  Several red zone trips fell short and a flurry of fourth-quarter turnovers turned an upset bid into an 18-point loss. Worse yet, Jordan McCloud’s encouraging day ended with a knee injury.

Leland (12): Almost had them pass up an idle Colorado because they had so much fight against UCLA, but the loss of McCloud—one of their few bright spots—has got to be deflating for the team.


Data

Just call me Scotch tape because we’re gonna be nice and transparent by showing you how all of the WFCers voted this week (Table 1). Goodness gracious, but is this was agreement starts to look like?

But while all of this Week 6 information is cool and all, who’s interested in learning a little more about the season overall? Our weekly rankings are collected in Figure 1 to give you an idea of how the teams have been performing all year.

This is the first week of the year in which more than two teams held steady at their position—five, to be exact. Three of them are at the bottom of the conference because they’ve clearly earned their spots based on their performance. By pure coincidence, four of them happen to be the first four teams of the conference alphabetically. This is shown in Table 2, which sums how much the teams have moved up and down the ladder—a metric that we call the Madness. Table 2 also shows that each passing week has become less and less Mad (although I would certainly not expect this pattern to hold in the crazy world of the Pac-12).

But we do have a new head of the pack for the title of the Maddest team out west! Congrats to the Cardinal (Fig. 2), who have spent the past three weeks alternating from loss to win to loss against Top-25 competition and have consequently yo-yo’d their way past Washington.

But for a little bonus layer of information, we can take a look at the precise scores that each team earned in our rankings. The precise averaged ranks are shown in the bars of Figure 3. The error bars represent the standard deviation for the team—or how disparate our votes were. With the exception of the ASU agreement, the standard deviations for the teams are fairly consistent, so we didn’t have any massive disagreement.

The precise ranks for the entire 2021 season are graphed in Figure 4. This week is… decidedly boring. There’s pretty uniform spacing between each team and no gaps or clustering. This is possibly another indication of some consistency in our votes this week.

Let’s hope for a topsy-turvy turn next week with something crazy happening… like one of the basement teams upsetting one of the top teams… on a Friday or something.

We’ll also have a battle of the bottom-feeders between the Wildcats and the Buffaloes and a skirmish of superiors in the South when the Utes spar with the Sun Devils. If Arizona State is victorious against Utah, then they will beat BYU to earn the best record against Pac-12 opposition.