Final Pac-12 Power Rankings: Thank God the nonsense is over

The exercise in futility has come to a close.

Leland: At last, this stupid season is over. Appropriately, it ended in the stupidest whimper instead of a bang with most bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams opting out and the conference getting embarrassed in our two bowls.

  • #20 Texas def. Colorado, 55–23

  • #10 Iowa State def. #25 Oregon, 34–17

  • Opt-out: Stanfurd, USC, Utah, Washington

  • No bowl: Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon State, UC Los Angeles, Washington State

There’s always a variety of ways to judge teams in our Power Rankings, but there’s usually more agreement at the end of the season, when it seems like we look at things a little more holistically and more focused on on-field results (thus throwing out the very welcome variables of recency bias and analyzing fanbase morale).

Nick Kranz: For those who care, I moved Washington up to third and Colorado down to fourth on my ballot to reflect the thrilling excitement of bowl season. Maybe I should’ve punished Oregon, but at the same time, 🤷‍♂️ who cares?

Christopher_h: I kept my rankings pretty much the same, but knocked Colorado down slightly after seeing how much they struggled on defense without linebacker Nate Landman. Otherwise, the bowl season was a wash—I think in a longer season, Colorado would have ended up in the Redbox Bowl or something and Oregon may not have “won” the Pac-12, so who knows if they were really the best team for a NY6 Bowl.

Berkelium97:  After spending a season ranking teams based on their resumes and seemingly learning very little about these teams, I’m completely changing my ranking approach for these final rankings. With so many discrepancies in schedules due to COVID cancellations and wildly divergent performances within the same team depending on who’s healthy, it’s hard to use teams’ resumes as measurements for how good they are. So I’m going to rank these teams based on who I think would win on a neutral field with a fully healthy squad. While we saw wildly inconsistent performances from each team, we were able to see what each team looked like with a mostly intact roster at least once over the course of the season.

Ruey Yen: I copied and pasted my previous rankings because I didn’t think that Oregon and Colorado should be punished for their losses just because they were willing to play in bowl games, unlike USC. Nonetheless, this was obviously not a great bowl season for the Pac-12, but they do get a pass from me due to the pandemic. With that said, I do think the pandemic will still affect greatly this upcoming offseason with regards to how much the teams can train, although it should be much much better than last year’s nonexistent spring football. If there is ever a time for the tech innovation within the Pac-12 conference to manifest in helping its teams in football preparation—some VR type of thing for reading the defense?—that would be much appreciated this upcoming offseason.

Erik Johannessen: And so ends the extended scrimmage of a season for the Conference of Champions, so named for its proclivity at producing many, many Champions (A North Champion! A South Champion! A Conference Champion! You get a championship, you get a championship, etc. etc.). Did we learn anything this year? Not really, no. Did we have a good time, at least? I guess a little—but mostly, no. Should this season have even happened? Definitely not.


Rankings:

Last week: 1

Nick Kranz (1): Yeah, they got decisively beaten by Iowa State. Does anybody think that the same thing wouldn’t have happened to any other Pac-12 team? Oregon is first in my book because I respect the rules of competition and the decision-making of Larry Scott and the Conference of Champions.

Christopher_h (1): I’m leaving them at the top because I can’t justify any other team above them. They played uncharacteristically bad on special teams (a muffed kickoff return and a muffed punt return both resulting in turnovers) in addition to the fumbles somewhat forced by Iowa State and it’s hard for anyone to win given a four-turnover deficit. They scored fairly easily against Iowa State, but they were unable to stop Iowa State from dominating time of possession and slowly and reliably picking up small chunks of yards. Oregon may have an elite pass rush next year, but they really need to improve their run stops. I’m sure they’ve already found some highly-rated recruits to fill those gaps at linebacker on either side of Noah Sewell.

Berkelium97 (3): It’s kinda funny how once their star-studded defense finally started playing reasonably well their formerly productive offense ground to a halt. Pre-Cal Tyler Shough and post-Cal Tyler Shough were two completely different QBs.

Erik Johannessen (1): If USC (or even UW) had played and won a bowl game in convincing fashion, I might have moved them to the top spot instead; but as it is, I didn’t have quite enough evidence to justify that they’re better than Oregon, so much as none of the Pac-12 teams were that great this year.

Last week: 2

Nick Kranz (2): Still probably the best team in the conference this year—but they blew it against Oregon, which means I have justification to spitefully put them second. I don’t like that Clay Helton is back recruiting like a normal USC coach.

Christopher_h (3): USC is losing a ton of talent to the NFL this year (WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR Tyler Vaughns, DL Marlon Tuipulotu DL Jay Tufele, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, S Talanoa Hufanga, and CB Olaijah Griffin—may he rest in Cal infamy) and it once again doesn’t matter because they’re recruiting better than ever. They’ve added the top-ranked recruit of the 2021 class—DE Korey Foreman—to current or future stars like WR Drake London, WR Bru McCoy, one of their many running backs (although my favorite RB Markese Stepp entered the transfer portal), etc. They’ll have great receivers, a solid RB, an elite defensive line, and a suspect secondary. They’ll also need QB Kedon Slovis to play a lot sharper because it was likely his errant play that held USC back this year on offense. I hope they give Clay Helton many more years to try and figure it out.

Berkelium97 (1): If not for Kedon Slovis’s mind-bogglingly bad start to the Pac-12 Championship game, this could have been a stellar season for the Trojans. It certainly bought Helton another year or two at the helm—and for that, we should all be grateful.

Last week: 3

Nick Kranz (3): Any UW fan who doesn’t own this shirt isn’t a real Husky.

Christopher_h (2): They’ll be contending for the top of the Pac-12 next year—and probably every year after that for the foreseeable future. They were in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 even with a freshman quarterback and a young defense—and they’ll come back better next year. I won’t exactly be happy if Cal faces them at the end of the season next year as it usually takes UW a couple of games to get their act together. Oh well, that’ll make the showdown to see who wins the Pac-12 North that much more exciting, right? Right? Because we’ll still be in contention for the title… right?

Berkelium97 (2):  Would they have beaten USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game if they were fully healthy? Maybe. Would they have beaten Oregon? Maybe.  They looked pretty good at times (the start of that Arizona game was possibly UW’s best half of the year), but I don’t feel like I learned a whole lot about UW this year.

Last week: 4

Nick Kranz (4): Losing to Utah and Texas back-to-back reveals the not-totally-shocking reality that Colorado was almost certainly a paper tiger. Don’t get me wrong—I’d trade plenty for actual wins over UCLA and Stanford, but neither to beating those teams a legit Pac-12 contender make.

Christopher_h (7): You know, I watched a bunch of Texas games before their bowl game and I really didn’t think they were that great of a team. I think if Sam Noyer were completely healthy (he was inaccurate all game and has been ever since his injury in the fourth quarter of their previous game against Utah) and Nate Landman were still around, they’d have been able to keep it competitive with Texas—or at least slowed the run game. Colorado was in big trouble once Texas subbed in Brendon Lewis in for Sam Ehlinger at quarterback because he was actually a legitimate passing threat and Colorado could no longer stop the run nor the pass. Colorado still has a very talented running back in Jarek Broussard and Sam Noyer can play better than he did in the bowl game, but I am not so optimistic about their defense next year.

Berkelium97 (9): Perhaps I’m biased because most of what I saw from Colorado came in the second half of the Utah game and their blowout loss to Texas (neither of which had Nate Landman), but I’m seeing a bottom-half team here. Noyer’s inaccuracy and decision-making killed the Buffs offense while the defense was generally stout except for its periodic tendency to surrender huge yardage plays, often in rapid succession.

Leland (4): The Buffaloes are probably being overrated a smidge—all of their wins were fairly close—but they were at least able to win and in Karl Dorrell’s first year, no less.

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (9): RIP Ty Jordan

Christopher_h (5): Man, I don’t even know what to say here. Ty Jordan is a huge loss to Utah football, although it pales in comparison to the loss suffered by the Jordan family. He was a true freshman running back with a star as bright as anyone’s, emerging as one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 even at the very beginning of his career. Roughly half of my Utah highlights this season were Ty Jordan highlights —the other half consisted mainly of QB Jake Bentley misfires, just in case I had to preview the Utah offense—and he was destined for big things. I wish the Jordan and Utah family the best in their time of healing.

Berkelium97 (4):  Slow starts plagued the Utes—both within games and across the whole season—but this team was dangerous once they got going.  Jordan was a superstar in the making and an explosive element in an otherwise pedestrian offense. College football will certainly miss out on the opportunity to watch him blossom over the next few years.

Last week: 5

Nick Kranz (6): Busy waving a happy early goodbye to Simi Fehoko, Drew Dalman, and Davis Mills—may your replacements be unprepared and overwhelmed.

Christopher_h (8): Farewell to Paulson Adebo as well—I’m glad we won’t be seeing him again. Davis Mills may have the tools, but I really don’t think he is ready for the NFL just yet. I wouldn’t celebrate too much though, because both Jack West and Tanner McKee looked pretty decent at quarterback. Worse yet, Stanford started to find success with their offensive line late in the season—dominating the line of scrimmage and enabling the return of classic (boring) Stanford football. At least they don’t have Christian McCaffrey behind that offensive line any more. 

Berkelium97 (5):  They won their four games by a combined six points, so I’m going to ignore all reason and logic and instead assume that they just got really lucky. Yep, that David Shaw downfall is coming any day now...

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (5): ASU is high up the list of teams that maybe could’ve achieved something interesting in a normal 2020, but a complete humiliation of their rival is a nice consolation prize.

Christopher_h (4): They regressed to the mean a little this year, dropping a couple close games this year after winning every close game last year. ASU has done really well in recruiting and already has some young stars at running back and wide receiver; although they don’t have the best passer at quarterback, the team has a very strong run game that is tough to stop.

Berkelium97 (6): I wish we could have seen more of this offense this season. QB Jayden Daniels’s accuracy wasn’t great, but he did a great job of limiting turnovers and burning defenses with his legs.  I think the real ASU is closer to the team that destroyed Arizona and OSU than the one that narrowly lost to the LA schools.  We’ll find out next year...

Last week: 8

Nick Kranz (7): While I do enjoy laughing at UCLA/Chip Kelly for finishing below .500 again, UCLA’s four losses came by an average of 4 points per game and their three wins were all pretty comfortable. In short, I’m worried that with a senior DTR at QB, UCLA might be—ugh—good.

Christopher_h (9): Well, I guess credit to UCLA for avoiding the pitfalls of the pandemic this year, while most other teams struggled with losing players due to contact tracing, reduced practices, etc. They also deserve credit for their gameplan against USC, which can be succinctly described as “limit DTR’s opportunities to turn over the ball.” They are still playing well below their talent level—and for that, I am thankful. 

Berkelium97 (7): An impressively productive ground game coupled with DTR’s newfound ball security helped the Bruins take a step forward this year.  Alas, I miss the old days when DTR would scramble 15 yards backwards to avoid a LB, get sacked, fumble, and watch another defender scoop up the ball en route to a TD.

Last week: 9

Nick Kranz (10): I. LEARNED. NOTHING.

Christopher_h (6): I wrote this season off as a mulligan. I expected a lot better from this team and maybe we’ll get back to where we should be with enough returning starters on defense—if they don’t opt for the NFL—and more time to adjust to the new offensive scheme. I wasn’t super happy with what I saw on offense, so I’m being a little cautiously optimistic here.

Berkelium97 (8):  The defense showed that it could still play at a very high level when healthy (see: Oregon), but the offense spent most of the season sputtering even when it was mostly intact.  While another year of integrating the Musgrave offense could help the Bears eke out a few more points per game, this team desperately needs to develop or recruit an explosive playmaker or two.  One meaningless stat where the Bears were remarkably consistent was game duration—all four games were between 3 hours, 12 minutes and 3 hours, 18 minutes.

Erik Johannessen (10): Hard to rank the Bears much higher after going 1–3, even if they did beat eventual conference champ Oregon. “Fun” fact—given that Cal only played four games, the 81 points they scored this year were the third-fewest in FBS, ahead of only the 0–5 Bowling Green Falcons (outscored 57–225) and the 0–4 UMass Minutemen (outscored 12–161!).

Leland (10): I think we’ve got some homers in the votes. At least the Bears stayed close in most of our losses.

Last week: 10

Erik Johannessen (9): The Beavers led the league in actually playing their original schedule, but were relatively middling otherwise. Still, I feel like this is a program that is close to breaking through.

Nick Kranz (8): After a couple of seasons of progress in a long rebuild, can anybody tell me why OSU’s recruiting is an order of magnitude worse than anybody else in the conference?

Christopher_h (10): Well, they may be recruiting poorly, but they’re not doing too shabby in the transfer portal. Wide receiver (and Florida State transfer) Tre’Shaun Harrison looks to be a top receiver next year and I was really impressed with how well QB Chance Nolan did at quarterback down the stretch. Nolan had probably the best highlight reel passes of any QB in the Pac-12—and he only had three games to do it. They are losing their best talent to the NFL this year, though—RB Jermar Jefferson, LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr., and CB Nashon Wright—so Nick does have a valid point about the state of their recruiting. I suspect some of their three-star recruits will do surprisingly well, if history is any indication.

Berkelium97 (10):  Jermar Jefferson’s explosive year could not make up for the regression back to abysmal run defense.

Leland (7): I ranked the Beavs the highest out of the WFC writers. Their losses were each by 10 points or less other than their season finale and that includes having to play musical chairs at quarterback. Most importantly, they were able to beat their ranked, conference-winning archrivals in dramatic fashion.

Last week: 11

Nick Kranz (11): Of all the teams that had games cancelled, compromised, or impacted, I think WSU is the team I learned the least about this season. 

Christopher_h (11): I don’t have a very optimistic outlook about Wazzu, but Wazzu fans probably do, since they’re a very young team and typically young teams do better with time. They have some serious issues on defense that they will need to shore up, and they’ll also need to see QB Jayden de Laura step up. I’m sad that we didn’t get a chance to see if Coach Wilcox would continue his dominance over Wazzu and their spread offenses. 

Berkelium97 (11):  The offense had its moments, but that defense was baaaaad.

Last week: 12

Nick Kranz (12): I want Jedd Fisch to do badly in Arizona in part because I want Cal to beat Arizona, but mostly so I can call him Fedd Jisch in a dismissive manner.

Christopher_h (12): I have no idea what to expect from them next season with a new coach, but they can only go up from here.

Berkelium97 (12): Started off respectably (a wildly improbable catch saved USC on their final, game-winning drive) before falling off a cliff at the end of the season. I don’t think this team is reliably capable of beating anyone in the conference.

Leland (12): You can’t reliably project a coach’s success, but they didn’t even have a flashy or exciting hire to earn some hype.


Data

You can tell that the absolute shitshow of the world is starting to wear on us with engagement and activity dropping among the WFC as each week passes. For the final week, we could only scrounge up eight voters with the ballots shown in Table 1.

We compile all of these opinions to come to the main rankings that were laid out above. To take a look at how the rankings evolved over the season, we graph out the season’s worth of rankings in Figure 1.

With 10 teams inactive since our last ranking, we see a lot of stability compared to the Week 7 rankings—nine teams have held steady since then. Surprisingly, the two teams that did play—and suffered big losses—are included in those ranks with the shuffle happening in the middle of the conference rather inexplicably.

Figure 2 captures various facets of how the teams have been moving up and down our rankings all season. When considering Madness, the Pac-12 is bookended by Los Angeles; the Maddest team of 2020 were the Bruins and the Least Mad team were the Trojans, who were quietly and uncharacteristically quiet at the top of the conference.

Figure 2c shows how much each team shifted compared to our preseason rankings. We were spot-on for three teams—Arizona, Oregon, and USC, suggesting it was pretty easy to predict the extremes of the Pac-12. The biggest riser was Colorado, with Dorrell exceeding expectations by seven spots—the biggest difference this year. The owner of the biggest faceplant would be us… starting the season with astounding hype and first-place votes only to come crashing down six spots to the bottom-third of the conference.

But combining eight disparate voices doesn’t actually result in the clean results listed in the main rankings or in Figure 1—the real numbers show a lot more detail into how we perceive the teams. The actual, precise rankings are shown as the blue columns in Figure 3. The error bars represent the standard deviation, which measures how varied our responses were; there are no error bars for Wazzu or Arizona because we reached unanimous decision, but there are large error bars for basically the entire middle of the conference.

Looking at the precise rankings (Fig. 3 or 4), we see there’s clear confidence in the top of the conference—Oregon, USC, and Washington—but we aren’t totally decided on the order of the teams as they’re packed together fairly tightly. Despite becoming the media darlings of the Pac-12, we’re surprisingly mild on the Buffaloes—mainly the votes of Bk97 and Chris H. coming through. Colorado leads the pack that is the middle of the conference, which is comprised of teams that were at or just below 0.500—Utah, Stanfurd, ASU, and UC L.A. Below them, California and Oregon State make a unique pairing—they’re numerically closer to this middle pack than they are to the bottom, but they’re both so far from 0.500. Wazzu and Arizona were both definitive placements at eleventh and twelfth, respectively; it’s slightly curious that the Bears are so far ahead of the Cougs when we superficially both finished with the same win-loss record. Is there some homerism brewing among our ranks? This would normally be a great time to include a poll asking for your opinion, so I’m instead going to do a hokey call to action and ask for your input if we’ve ranked the Bears too high (which is—of course—also biased for the potential of homerism).

It was a trying year and a trying football season for all of us, so I thank you all for reading and helping us keep this new venture afloat. The main reason why we birthed WFC from our loins was to maintain the Golden Bear community, so thank you for your readership and comments and clicks. I appreciate almost every one of you.