Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 4: Are the Bears at the bottom of the barrel?

A heart-wrenching loss to our then-equally-winless archrivals just might be enough to earn the bottom spot for Cal. And if so, did the Beavers do enough to surpass the best-in-class Ducks?

Leland: Welcome to the Power Rankings! The feature where we break down the Pac-12 teams week by week. Which means our hearts break more week by week with how this season’s been going.

We’re here to rank the Pac-12 teams by academic prestige, uniqueness of school mascot, and proximity to Top Dog. So, Cal’s number one!

We’re also here to rank the Pac-12 teams by performance, fanbase sentiment, and outlook. So, Cal’s not doing too hot.

  • Stanfurd def. California, 24–23

  • Oregon State def. #15 Oregon, 41–38

  • Colorado def. San Diego State, 20–10

  • Washington def. Utah, 24–21

  • UC Los Angeles def. Arizona, 27–10

  • COVID positive: Arizona State, USC, Washington State

Berkelium97:  Winning the Pac-12 may come down to whichever contender can find a consistent run defense.  Nearly every team in the conference has boasted a 200+ yard ground game and several had games where they averaged 6 or 7 yards per carry. 

Ohio Bear:  Well, that was an interesting Thanksgiving weekend of games. After the Oregon State upset of Oregon and seeing Utah take a 21–0 halftime lead over Washington, I wondered who in the heck was going to win the North.  But after Washington’s comeback victory, some semblance of order in the North was restored.  

Christopher_h: This has been by far the most difficult season to predict. This season has seen a ton of freshmen shoved into playing time—and a number of freshmen (offensive linemen, cornerbacks, etc) have been on the wrong end of big plays. It’s definitely increased the chaos factor in games.

Piotr T Le: Why do I let this get me mad…?


Rankings

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (1):  The luckiest team in the conference retains its title by fortuitously skipping its match-up with the only other undefeated team in the Pac-12 South.

Nick Kranz (1): I have no desire to root for USC, but if USC and Colorado both finished undefeated without playing each other, that would be pretty pretty great imo.

Ohio Bear (2): I was ready to mechanically elevate USC to my top spot after Oregon’s loss and Utah jumping out to a 21–0 lead at Washington. But then the Huskies came back to win and I was forced to confront USC’s Covid bye.  Call it recency bias, but UW’s second half comeback nudged them ahead of the Trojans in my rankings this week. 

Christopher_h (2): They probably would have handled Colorado had they played this weekend (although you should never underestimate USC’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory), but at least now the Pac-12 South race will be more interesting. If all else is tied, though, the conference tiebreaker comes down to CFP rankings—which would mean Colorado is probably in trouble because USC will always have the higher rankings whether deserved or not.

Piotr T Le (1): Oh wow, USC best team in the conference, what a surprise…

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (2):  That was a huge comeback win for them, as that sets up the season finale against Oregon as the deciding match for the Pac-12 North division title. 

Nick Kranz (2): I only half paid attention, but Jimmy Lake’s in-game decision making hasn’t really convinced me that he’s the guy to take UW to the next level.

Christopher_h (1): I’m giving Washington the top spot because they’re the only complete team in the conference. Freshman QB Dylan Morris came back down to earth a bit this game (although he shouldn’t feel too bad about the interceptions against Utah… I know of one star QB who once threw even more picks than Morris did against those disguised coverages) and he struggled a bit with his deep ball accuracy, but he has the arm to make the throws and so I expect he’ll get better at them (and his wide receivers have so much separation on opposing DBs that he should be able to hit them already). Their running game has been a bit lackluster and top RB Richard Newton seemingly disappeared, but Washington’s defense is playing at a very high level. LB Zion Tupuola-Fetui was again living in the backfield with multiple TFLs and multiple sacks (including a strip sack/forced fumble), while LB Edefuan Ulofoshio was all over the field to stop the Utah run game. Washington’s defense is what I expected Cal’s to be.

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (3): Am I the only one who didn’t even know they played this weekend? It looks like they had to grind their way to a victory by controlling the clock and methodically marching across the field. They also did a decent job of shutting down a productive SDSU ground game.

Ohio Bear (3): The SDSU game had all the makings of a 2020 Covid-induced trap game after the Buffs had their momentum stopped by the canceled game last week. But credit CU for winning this one against a physical opponent. The Buffs have shown they can win high scoring games and now this one.

Nick Kranz (3): I also didn’t even realize Colorado played. Damn them for making me try to figure out whether or not SDSU is good. Beating the Aztecs by one less point than San Jose St. seems rather blah, but I guess any wins in this stupid season shouldn’t be discounted.

Christopher_h (6): I did watch this game (had a heck of a time trying to record it, because it didn’t show up in my TV guide) and while Colorado initially looked dominant over SDSU, they eventually won this game because of SDSU repeatedly shooting themselves in the foot (roughing the punter to give Colorado another set of downs, multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, etc—things you typically expect USC to do, for comparison’s sake).SDSU was playing with their second- or third-string QB Carson Baker (who was not particularly good at throwing the ball) and they were missing their star RB Greg Bell, so I think that Colorado was ultimately lucky to escape this matchup with a win. However, I do give them credit for beating SDSU, who has an unfortunately strong record against the Pac-12 in recent years.

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (4): I’ve been complaining about the Oregon defense all season and once again they were gashed on the ground. Does that give us some hope going into Saturday’s game?

Nick Kranz (4): I suspect that Oregon will bounce back, as they lost this game largely because they lost the turnover battle 3–0, but it’s also true that Oregon shouldn’t have been gashed that badly by Oregon State’s run game. Yikes!

Christopher_h (3): Oregon has been a flawed team all season long and it finally came back to bite them. I was really hoping that Cal would be the team to upset them, but I gave up on that dream after—I don’t know—the first quarter of our first game. Oregon has a defense filled with top talent, but they’re not playing up to that 5-star potential. I expected them to have one of the best defensive lines in the conference—and so far they’ve looked pedestrian at best. I do think the Cal offense will be able to score on them the way OSU did, but I’m just not so sure our defense can slow them down enough to win. Wilcox is still looking for his first win against his alma mater.

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (5): It looks like their rebuilding effort only took two games. QB Tristan Gebbia was competent enough to let the give-the-ball-to-Jermar-Jefferson offense shine.

Nik Jam (4): Must be bittersweet to end that losing streak without fans—but hey, it’s a problem I wish we had!

Nick Kranz (5): Boy does that season-opening loss to WSU look like an anomaly now.

Ohio Bear (5): I don’t know what to make of that WSU game in week 1. And rightly or wrongly, OSU’s performance against Oregon gives me hope for Cal’s game against the Ducks next week.

Christopher_h (7): I rated OSU highly in the preseason and felt immediately stupid for doing so after they lost to Washington State, but at least I’m comfortable putting them in the middle of the conference again. Jermar Jefferson gashed the Oregon defense all night long and the OSU offensive line opened plenty of holes for him to run through. I think their ceiling is at quarterback, but QB Tristan Gebbia was injured on the second-to-last play of the game, so it’ll be interesting to see if he recovers in time or see whom else they have at QB. If RB Jermar Jefferson can stay healthy, they can probably score on anyone.

Piotr T Le (4): We have a quality loss, so the CFP committee should consider us… sigh. Oregon State has a very simple offense, but it is an effective offense. Jermar Jefferson is going to the NFL and is probably going to be the Fantasy Football steal of the 2021 draft.

Last week: 5

Nick Kranz (7): Power to the protesters

Christopher_h (8): UCLA has the best defensive line in the conference and leads the conference in sacks. They also had given up the most turnovers and had the worst turnover margin in the conference led by QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson coming into this game. However, with freshman QB Chase Griffin (likely temporarily) taking over, they gave up no turnovers, picked off Arizona’s back-up QB twice, and effectively controlled the game. They should probably have beaten Arizona by a lot more, but Arizona made better halftime adjustments than they did. RB Demetric Felton is having a career year, though, and is definitely shooting up NFL Draft boards—he ran for 206 yards against Arizona and is second in the conference in rushing with 134 yards/game (behind only OSU RB Jermar Jefferson, who averages a ridiculous 169 yards/game). Also worth noting—this is the first time Chip Kelly has been at 0.500 at UCLA.

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (8): Not really sure what to do with the OSU > Oregon > Wazzu > OSU paradox. WSU goes eighth, I guess?

Christopher_h (9): Their new starting quarterback—Jayden de Laura—has been out the past two weeks with Covid-19. No idea if he’ll suit up against USC, but it seems doubtful the athletic running quarterback will look like himself after two weeks off…. with Covid-19. With the way USC struggled against containing ASU’s QB Jayden Daniels, I think he would have given them fits.

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (8): Compared to last week’s sloppy performance, they looked reasonably sharp in the first half. Then that second half happened...

Nick Kranz (9): A step forward for Utah after a pretty lame showing against USC. Considering the depth of the rebuild, Utah is probably the team that should be most happy to have 2020 consist of a series of gussied-up exhibitions.

Ohio Bear (10): The more I think about the Utes’ #Pac12AfterDark second half on Saturday night, the more I’m second-guessing my putting them ahead of Cal.

Christopher_h (4): Utah is turning the ball over way too much—and I can’t imagine that trend continuing forever (the stat they showed on TV was something like seven turnovers in their first 22 possessions). However, they looked more like the team I expected them to look like after shaking off the year-long rust. Utah’s secondary is very young and going to get beat in coverage by some tough receivers, but they did a good job disguising their coverages and fooling the opposing freshman QB Dylan Morris into making mistakes all night. Freshman RB Ty Jordan also showed a lot of promise, so I think I may have been too hard on their RB-committee. I’m still not a fan of QB Jake Bentley, but he put his body on the line and kept catching Washington off-guard with some gutsy QB runs.

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (9):  I thought they looked great in their first game of the year (at least, until they blew the lead in the final minutes).  After missing their third consecutive game, I doubt they’ll look nearly as good IF they even have another game this year.

Nick Kranz (7): ASU even continuing to play their season feels particularly dumb. What exactly is there to gain from playing UCLA this weekend? Anyway, I put ASU seventh because they basically played USC to a draw, but their ranking is the most meaningless of all.

Christopher_h (5): In normal times, I’d expect a team with time off to do better after a bye week with time to rest, strengthen up, and get in some extra film study. With Covid-19 “bye weeks”, I now expect a team to look awful and rusty, especially the longer they last. ASU is currently 4.5-point favorites over UCLA, but who knows if ASU will be able to bring their A-game after their hiatus.

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (10): I just want to point out that David Shaw’s team is giving up 6.6 yards per play this season and they still opted to punt twice from inside the 40.

Ohio Bear (9): I told you already. I can’t talk about it. I hate everything and everyone.

Nick Kranz (10): Losing to a demonstrably BAD Stanford team is a pain I haven’t felt since the 90s—can’t say I missed it.

Christopher_h (10): This was the only team I could confidently say last week that Cal was better than on both sides of the ball—and yet we lost to them anyway, thanks mainly to special teams. Why do bad things happen to good people?

Piotr T Le (10): On paper and spreadsheet, they are worse than us, but “you are what your record is” and they have a better record. Arizona is sandwiched in the shite-sandwich of Furd and Cal.

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (11): Whereas USC owes its 3–0 record to some good luck, Cal owes its 0–3 record to some terrible luck. Once again, special teams fiascoes ruined the Bears’ afternoon. A muffed punt, blocked field goal, and blocked PAT contributed to an 11-point swing—turning a potential 27–17 victory into a 23–24 loss.

Ohio Bear (11): I thought I could talk about it. I can’t.

Gustav (11): It could be Arizona and Cal going for Win #1 in the season finale.

Nick Kranz (12): Maybe I should reward Cal for playing well enough that they SHOULD have won, but when you lose a rivalry game matching up winless teams, anything but last place feels incorrect.

Christopher_h (11): Why must you hurt me like this?

Piotr T Le (12): I think as long as we keep punting for a net of 40 and having a different OL play every game (the only players to have started all three games are Michael Saffell [who didn’t play more than half the OSU game] and Sophomore McKade Mettauer), we’ll be on the bottom of the game. There is so much instability on the most important position group on offense that we’ll be a deficient offense until stability returns.

Last week: 12

Berkelium97 (12): Once again overmatched on both sides of the ball.  Thank Oski that someone is worse than us this season.

Ohio Bear (12):  If the Pac-12 week 7 thing happens with the crossover games, I think we are looking at Cal’s opponent on December 19. 

Nick Kranz (11): Having to play Arizona would be a truly cruel punishment for Cal’s 2020 transgressions.

Christopher_h (12): Arizona was pretty much doomed from the start after the one bright spot on their roster—QB Grant Gunnell—was injured on the first play of the game. If I were an Arizona fan, I’d be incensed at the refs who let UCLA tee off on their quarterback(s) all game long even long after they had gotten rid of the ball. NCAA rule 9-1-9-a-4 outlaws “Forcibly driving the passer to the ground and landing on him with action that punishes the player”, but that’s exactly how Grant Gunnell was injured. They showed some signs of competence by fixing up their run defense at halftime—after UCLA RB Demetric Felton had run for something like 160+ yards on them in the first half—but their freshman backup QB Will Plummer was not at all ready for center stage.


Data:

Here are the votes from this week. Check out all of these different opinions for the top-ranked team.

Figure 1 shows how the teams have performed this season. We’ve got some big shake-ups with Oregon losing! By dropping three spots, they left a huge vacuum that was filled by an idle/COVID-positive team and a team that beat a Group of Five opponent by 10. Coincidentally, the Platypus Trophy teams each moved three spots as a result of their showdown.

With Oregon’s fall from grace—and how that directly led to USC’s rise—we no longer have any teams holding the same position they started the season with. These movements up and down the conference are known here on WFC as the Madness and are shown in Figure 2A. Though this is tied as our least-Mad week of the season, it’s quite monumental for the aforementioned moves of the Trojans and Ducks. The cumulative Madness for each team is graphed for the season in Figure 2B. Despite typically being one of the Madder teams of the Pac-12, USC is uncharacteristically low on the Madness scale at this point—and now in sole possession of that title.

When we derive the rankings from the Table 1 votes, the math doesn’t give those rounded numbers like first or second or ninth. The math to find the average results in precise numbers that contain a little more information for us to wring out. These precise values are graphed in Figure 3 as columns; the error bars represent one standard deviation. Here, we see that California is but a hair above Arizona—and at great risk of becoming the basement team. Figure 4 graphs the precise rankings over the course of the season.

While some readers will undoubtedly question how we could have Oregon above Oregon State when the latter has the head-to-head victory, the precise ranks will hopefully in some small part relieve them—the Ducks are just barely above the Beavers. The bottom of the conference consists of the same trio as last week—Arizona and the Bay Area schools.

As Cal fans, at least we can assume that we’ve basically hit rock bottom this week. Even though we’re heading into a game against Oregon and will probably lose more games, it can’t get more painful than this past week was.