Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 3: No one drops the ball quite like the Bruins—or DTR

What to even make of the nonsense that is the Pac-12...

At last, the final week of (mostly) non-conference games. When we enter Pac-12 play, it tends to be easier to evaluate and compare teams. At the very least, there are fewer games for us to pore over.

And that’s our very mission today—to rank the Pac-12 by their performance and morale over the course of the year, but particularly for recent weeks. Here’s slate of games from the recently ended Week 3.

  • Minnesota def. Colorado, 30–0

  • Oregon State def. Idaho, 42–0

  • USC def. Washington State, 45–14

  • California def. Sacramento State, 42–30

  • Washington def. Arkansas State, 52–3

  • San Diego State def. Utah, 33–31 3OT

  • #4 Oregon def. Stony Brook, 48–7

  • Stanfurd def. Vanderbilt, 41–23

  • Northern Arizona def. Arizona, 21–19

  • #23 BYU def. #19 Arizona State, 27–17

  • Fresno State def. #13 UC Loss Angeles, 40–37

Weeks like these are hard and easy at the same time. The insanity of the results makes grading teams especially difficult, but these weeks are also easy to find targets to write about because you get moments like this…

Gustav: The conference looks… bad, it felt wrong ranking Furd #3, but there’s really just two good Pac-12 teams, four decent ones, two meh ones (including Cal), and four yikes teams. So teams in the upper half of my rankings are only there because they can’t all be #8–12

Nick Kranz: Hell—having to put anybody in the second slot felt wrong, let alone third and fourth. Having one undefeated team left after three weeks of play is a staggering achievement for a power conference that didn’t really challenge itself with non-conference scheduling. 

Berkelium97: Other than Oregon, most of the Pac-12 fanbases are wallowing in misery and missed opportunities as the bulk of the OOC schedule concludes.  Heading into the meat of the Pac-12 schedule, Oregon is looking like the clear favorite in the North while BYU has made its case to win the Pac-12 South title.


Rankings

First and foremost, we have to recognize the two true teams at the top of the conference—the two teams with the best win-loss records against Pac-12 opposition:

Last week: 1

Nick Kranz (1): I just want to tell you good luck—we’re all counting on you

Berkelium97 (1):  As the rest of the Pac-12 collapses, our only hope for the conference is Oregon.  What’s that? Anthony Brown left the game with injury?  Welp. 

Christopher_h (1): I'm going to be honest—I didn't even know Stony Brook had a football team.

Alex Khalifa (1): I tweeted a clip of Donald Duck marching through a farm and it got 20 likes, which tells you something about how Saturday went for the rest of the conference.

Last week: T4

Nick Kranz (3): Sigh, I don’t think Stanford is good enough for third, but nobody else is either and that win vs. USC looks better and that loss vs. Kansas State looks better and I really hate it. I really need UCLA and Oregon to put them in their place over the next two weeks. 

Berkelium97 (2):  After looking atrocious against K-State, suddenly the Lobsterbacks have two blowout victories where the offense has looked surprisingly good.  Even though I have them at second, I’m not giving them too much credit for beating a Vandy team that suffered a TWENTY-POINT LOSS to FCS East Tennessee State a couple weeks ago.  But no one else in the Pac-12’s muddled middle seemed worthy of the #2 spot (UCLA lost and it seems deeply wrong to rank USC ahead of LSJU), so I guess it’s #2 for them.

Leland (2): Beneficiaries by default of a weak conference (classic Furdies just getting silver-spoonfed everything) because I still think they deserve to be penalized for that Kansas State humiliation.

Christopher_h (6): Ignore the SEC affiliation here—Vanderbilt sucks at football. Once they lost their star running back to an injury in the first quarter, they struggled to move the ball on the ground. More concerning to me is how sharp QB Tanner McKee looked. He has big receivers and he's taken advantage of those mismatches with some precision passing. I don't like it.

Alex Khalifa (2): I would expect a reasonably close Big Game match-up if it were to happen this week instead of November, but I have to admit that the casinos would favor Stanford—especially at their own stadium.

Last week: 2

Nick Kranz (2): I’m not going to crush UCLA for losing to Fresno St., who I think are pretty good. But Fresno State has shown that UCLA’s run offense can be slowed down—and when you do that and force UCLA to throw, they will still score but they will also have massive screw ups. 

Berkelium97 (3):  UCLA’s defense looked formidable in the first two games.  Then they gave up almost 600 yards and let Fresno State hold onto the ball for over 40 minutes.  Nothing in the Pac-12 makes sense.  Word of advice to the UCLA AD—after four losses in a row, maybe it’s time to stop scheduling Fresno State.  

Christopher_h (2): You know why I'm always hating on UCLA? Because the second I start believing in them, they immediately crash and burn. "Sure, they have a lot of talent, but they'll be done in by poor coaching decisions for the fouth year in a row," I thought. Then they went out and crushed their first two games—the defensive line manhandled an LSU offensive line filled with NFL talent and RB Zach Charbonnet looked unstoppable. So what did they do against Fresno State? They struggled to get pressure for most of the game and Charbonnet barely touched the ball. Their star tight end (Greg Dulcich) was also noticeably absent. UCLA also repeatedly killed their own momentum, e.g. following up an interception with a completely inexplicable DTR fumble the very next play. How UCLA of them.

Alex Khalifa (4): This game felt a little like the Bruins’ 43–38 loss to USC last December minus the cross-city rivalry. Ultimately, UCLA’s rushing game was ineffective aside from Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (4): I think what happened vs. WSU might have more to do with what’s going wrong in Pullman rather than what’s going right for USC, but a blowout win is a blowout win and that’s enough to bounce back up the rankings when everybody else was busy soiling their pants.

Gustav (1): Although they are not undefeated, the coaching change seems to have them on the right path and I’d still think they are the Pac-12 favorites, hence my ranking.

Berkelium97 (4):  This could have become ugly.  QB Kedon Slovis went down with injury a few minutes into the game and was replaced by true-freshman Jaxson Dart, who turned the ball over on two consecutive possessions to help put USC into a 0–14 hole.  No matter, the highly acclaimed QB then threw 400 yards and 4 TDs.  MUST BE NICE TO BE LOADED WITH TALENT LIKE THAT.

Christopher_h (3): Remember how Cal fell apart the moment Chase Garbers was injured? Not the case here, where the back-up QBs can transfer and start at a playoff contender school. True-freshman Jaxson Dart was a bit erratic to start, but he showcased a really nice arm once he got settled down and picked apart a relatively weak Wazzu secondary.

Last week: 3

Nick Kranz (5): Couldn’t get out of their own way despite generally paving BYU in the running game. Some of the turnovers were a little fluky, but they still happened and that’s the main reason that ASU is no longer undefeated. Needed a better performance from Jayden Daniels both as a thrower and a runner.

Berkelium97 (5):  I think ASU is a better team than BYU, but mistakes killed the Sun Devils on Saturday.  Fumbling the opening kickoff, fumbling after a 60-yard interception return, two uncharacteristic interceptions from Daniels, and about fifteen thousand penalties overshadowed ASU’s efficiency on offense and success on third downs.  With a conference schedule that avoids Oregon and includes five home games, they have a decent shot at the South—but this loss still stings.

Christopher_h (4): As Berkelium97 said, ASU has been playing sloppy—which is fine against Southern Utah and UNLV (where you're favored by 30+ points)—but it finally cost them here. This is the first time we've seen this under Herm Edwards, who made a habit of winning a number of coin-flip games by not making these kinds of mistakes.

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (6): Utah may have found a late answer at quarterback when back-up Cameron Rising came in to nearly engineer a miraculous comeback. But Utah should be very concerned about an offense that is built around running the ball but didn’t.

Berkelium97 (7): For the second week in a row, Utah gave up a kick-return TD and surrendered way too many rushing yards (that third quarter was ugly), both uncharacteristic elements of typical Utah teams.  Unless the O-line and the offense can find some success, this is looking like a down year for the Utes.

Leland (8): An extra-painful triple-overtime loss this week and all they have to show for the rest of the season is an FCS win and a loss to their rivals—this is more of a morale ranking than an ability ranking.

Christopher_h (5): I was a big fan of Cam Rising ever since I saw him in their Spring Game two years ago, but the more-experienced Charlie Brewer won the starting job. While Brewer looked sharp against a pretty good FCS team, he has struggled with inconsistency since. Had Rising played the entire game, Utah probably wins this one without OT. 

Alex Khalifa (7): This was a heartbreaker for Utah, but it was a memorable day for Jaylen Dixon who caught a touchdown pass during overtime. Intriguingly, Jaylen is the great nephew of baseball author and historian Phil S. Dixon.

Last week: 8

Gustav (8): Getting that sinking feeling about the defense that I had after Portland State in 2013. Ruh roh. At least the division schedule should be “easy” but no team will be easy if even the worst teams can score easily on us.

Nick Kranz (7): Playing better passing defense vs. Carson Strong and Nevada than vs. Sac State and a rotating cast of random quarterbacks is an interesting development. The way Cal has been cycling through rotation defenders is an indication that the coaching staff isn’t happy with on-field results, but isn’t sure how to change things.

Berkelium97 (8):  As the defense continues to struggle, Cal increasingly looks like a team that has to rely on its offense to win games.  For many Cal fans, that is a deeply uncomfortable prospect…

Christopher_h (8): I'm still not completely sold on the Cal offense and whether or not they can keep this up when the schedule gets tougher. I like that we're scoring, but our defense absolutely should not be struggling this early in the schedule. I'd probably feel a bit better about the FCS match-up had Cal stopped one or two of those Sac State touchdowns and it was the blowout it should have been, but I have a sinking feeling that the Cal defense isn't going to be able to get stops when they really need them in a future close game.

Alex Khalifa (8): This was far from a masterpiece for the Bears, but Nikko Remigio’s kick-return touchdown was the highlight of my Saturday.

Last week: 9

Nick Kranz (8): One understandable road loss and two easy home wins vs. bad teams—we might know less about Oregon State than anybody else in the conference. Also, Sam Noyer transferred from Colorado and destroyed the Buff offense just so that he can sit on the bench in Corvallis—brutal.

Berkelium97 (6):  Handily dispatched an FCS team, which apparently is a pretty big accomplishment in the Pac-12 this year…

Christopher_h (10): I think my ranking here is a bit low, but these lower rankings aren't too far apart. At least they're respectable these days, having firmly moved on from the cellar where Arizona currently sits.

Last week: 12

Gustav (7): Of course they get some momentum just before they face us. Then again, we also got some momentum and Sac State may even be better than Arkansas State. So… I will still hope for a fun trip to Seattle next weekend.

Nick Kranz (9): Ground a bad team into a fine powder, which may or may not indicate they’ve turned a corner, but QB Dylan Morris still threw a couple picks so I’m going to reserve judgement.

Berkelium97 (9):  They won a game! And the offense looked productive!  Was this an aberration or a sign that they’re improving?

Christopher_h (7): Haven't watched this one yet, but it looks like their offense may have worked out their issues. I think it'll be an interesting match-up next week and we'll see whose offense is for real.

Alex Khalifa (9): Despite a disastrous start to their season, the Huskies are still likely the favorites to win the Apple Cup.

Last week: T4

Gustav (11): Getting shutout at home is unacceptable. No excuses. At least it was to a good FBS team though.

Nick Kranz (11): 63 yards on 39 plays! SIXTY THREE YARDS ON THIRTY NINE PLAYS! 1.65 yards/play! Minnesota is competent, but even Miami of Ohio managed more than 5 yards/play. This year is going to represent a nadir of offensive play in the Pac-12.

Berkelium97 (11):  This team has scored 7 points in the last 120 minutes of football. They had 7 yards in the first half.  And Minnesota is no defensive stalwart.  This offense is deeply broken and neither QB seems to be the solution—although the O-line isn’t doing anyone any favors.  Can the Buffs recover from this level of ineptitude?

Leland (7): 82 passing yards and –19 rushing yards is the kind of stat I expect to see on the Xbox 360 (still) playing NCAA Football 14 and not in real life. I might have them entirely too high, but I’m still giving them credit for the Texas A&M game and because there’s a chance Minnesota will end up being a good team.

Christopher_h (9): Like UCLA, Colorado shows me why I'm so stubborn sometimes with my thoughts about a team. I gave them a too-high ranking last week and figured their passing offense would eventually cost them a game. Well, Minnesota's linemen completely bullied Colorado on both sides of the ball. Colorado's talented running backs couldn't get the run game started because of how often they were being met by tacklers in the backfield and freshmen QB Brendon Lewis couldn't punish them through the air for stacking the box. This was an offense that went backward as much as forward. Colorado's defense had been consistently tough so far this season, but Minnesota was opening enormous holes for the running backs all game. I expected the altitude to affect Minnesota, but it was the Colorado defense that ended up winded.

Last week: 10

Nick Kranz (10): Washington State should really hope that Coach Nick Rolovich sticks with the anti-vax thing so that they have a viable reason to fire him for cause and save even more money from a hire that is failing in every possible way.

Berkelium97 (10):  The run-and-shoot offense can’t run (failing three consecutive attempts to run the ball in from the 1 and not generating much else for the remainder of the game) but it can definitely shoot itself in the foot (four turnovers).

Christopher_h (11): There isn't much I can say about them that I haven't already. They have a great running back, a quarterback who can run, a pretty good right tackle, and not much else. Their defense is bad. 

Last week: 11

Nick Kranz (12): Truly an impressive accomplishment to blow a 13- point home lead to an FCS team that managed 92 passing yards on 20 attempts. We knew this season would be rough for Arizona, but this is so rough that you can’t help but wonder at what point it will impact Jedd Fisch’s early recruiting efforts.

Berkelium97 (12):  After an encouraging performance against BYU, a disappointing loss to SDSU, and now a loss to a formerly winless Northern Arizona, the Wildcats seem to be getting worse.  Mistakes and an inability to do anything on third down continue to plague the offense while the defense struggles with poor fundamentals.  A winless season is now a real possibility for the Wildcats...

Christopher_h (12): I wasn't happy with the way Cal's FCS match-up went, but thanks to Arizona for reminding me that it could always be worse.


Data

It’s a little tough with COVID protocols, but the first step in this process is for the ten of us to assemble in a socially distant manner and submit our ballots for the conference (Table 1).

For a brief history lesson, Figure 1 shows the 2021 season for our Power Rankings. We finally have some stability at the top of the conference, but a change-up at the bottom. But that sharp turn for the Buffaloes is hard to look at.

Is it fair for Colorado to fall so far after just one loss? Is it fair for Utah to rise after a loss? I’ve certainly got some thoughts about that, but how can you argue with the collective wisdom of an esteemed group like this?

Colorado’s collapse causes them to creep to the crown of the most volatile team of the conference—just one spot away from tying for that position (Table 2 or Fig. 2). Washington’s big win and three-spot rise helped them stave off this push by Colorado.

But if you’re new around here, it’s time for me to get back to my schtick about how we get from our ballots (Table 1) to the rankings.

For a little bit of math class, we take the responses and our TI-83 Pluses to calculate the average score for each team. In Figure 3, we graph those precise averaged values as columns to learn a little more about our perceptions of the teams; the error bars represent the standard deviation, where the magnitude of the standard deviation is related to how varied our responses were for that team.

Our last lecture today is biology as we discuss the evolution of these precise scores across 2021 (Fig. 4). When studying the precise scores, we can see just how strong the Ducks’ stranglehold on the conference is based on the massive expanse between them and the next team. In fact, that said next team is actually a three-team cluster is evidence of how inconclusive and tightly packed the rest of the conference is—every team looks flawed, but the non-Oregon teams look have made mistakes to an insane degree.

Join us next week when Pac-12 play begins in earnest—which should (hopefully) make comparisons easier for us. Maybe we’ll have some insanity when our #1 team plays our #12 team…