Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7: Congrats to the three champions?

North vs. South vs. Pac-12...

Leland: It is well-known that Tuesdays have been renamed as Woo!-sdays because y’all are so excited to read your beloved Power Rankings. And I know—by extension—how much heartbreak I caused by delaying yesterday’s post to today.

But soldier on we must, so let’s look to the Pac-12, which has champions for the North, the South, and the conference overall. For more nonsensical Pac-12 rankings, we turn to our Power Rankings—where we will rank the conference by our fully subjective assessments of their status over the season as a whole, but particularly biasing towards recent results.

Here are the games from the last week of the regular season (and the last week period for ten of the twelve teams):

  • Oregon def. #13 USC, 31–24

  • Utah def. Washington State, 45–28

  • Stanfurd def. UC Los Angeles, 48–47 2OT

  • Arizona State def. Oregon State, 46–33

  • COVID positive: Arizona, California, Washington

  • COVID cancellation: Colorado

Christopher_h: So Oregon is the Pac-12 champion, Washington is the Pac-12 North winner, USC is the Pac-12 South winner, and Colorado is the Pac-12’s highest ranked team? Only in 2020.

Berkelium97:  It was a cold, snowy Saturday so I found myself watching plenty of college football.  While the Pac-12 rightfully held its conference championship in an empty stadium, it’s discouraging to see that so many conferences still invited fans to attend their championship games.  Our seven-day average exceeds 200,000 cases per day and 2,500 deaths per day—and we’re on track to hit 400,000 deaths in January.  It would be nice to see more of the country taking this pandemic seriously.

Ruey Yen: We shall always have the fact that “Cal was undefeated against all of the Pac-12 champs in 2020”. Cal beat the Pac-12 conference champ in Oregon and went 0–0 against Pac-12 North champ Washington (canceled by COVID) and Pac-12 South champ USC (never on the schedule).

Ohio Bear: So the “champion” didn’t win either division and has two losses, while three other teams have just one loss.  Got it.  


Rankings

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (1):  The Anthony Brown goal line packages were a nice wrinkle to the offense.  Otherwise, the offense continued to struggle to move the ball for the second game in a row.  I’m starting to think UW may have had a decent chance of beating the Ducks…

Christopher_h (1): I’m obligated to rank them #1 after they won the Pac-12, but I think Cal may have broken Tyler Shough. He went from a gunslinger to being scared-to-throw. The game ball definitely belongs to Oregon’s defensive line—led by defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux—as their elite pass rush was able to disrupt USC QB Kedon Slovis despite rushing so few. Thibodeaux had a highlight reel play where he slammed future NFL offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker into the ground. An honorable mention goes to safety Jamal Hill, playing mainly due to opt-outs and injuries on the depth chart ahead of him. Hill did a great job covering USC WR Drake London and had two interceptions, including a clutch top-tapping one late in the game to end USC’s hopes.

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (3):  I don’t know if the pressure of the Pac-12 Championship Game was getting into Kedon Slovis’s head, but those first few drives were painful to watch.  Badly missing receivers, throwing the ball to invisible receivers, and generally making terrible decisions.  If not for Slovis’ atrocious start, USC probably would have won that game.  Their defense did a decent job containing the Ducks, but the margin for error is slim when Oregon seemed to start every first-half drive on USC’s side of the field.

Christopher_h (3): I said last week that I thought Kedon Slovis’s physical limitations were holding USC back. Well, despite great protection and great receivers, he made a lot of poor decisions and underthrows—resulting in three interceptions (and was lucky there weren’t more). USC also played like their usual selves—lots of self-inflicted wounds, stupid penalties, etc.—but there was far less margin for error against Oregon than against a team like Arizona. With that said, USC should definitely extend Clay Helton. 

Last week: 2

Christopher_h (2): Don’t really have much to add here—just wish they could have decided the Pac-12 North/Pac-12 title on the field.

Last week: 3

Christopher_h (6): Probably not the way they wanted to end their season, but at least they have a lot of hope for the future. I think they did better than expected due to being one of the teams least affected by Covid-19 and I think their tendency to only show up for a half would have come back to bite them a lot more over the course of a longer season.

Leland (2): They didn’t have the best of wins—by relatively close margin against some struggling teams—but there’s some excitement around the program under Coach Karl Dorrell and they can play with a chip (teehee—get it) on their shoulder by focusing on how they were screwed out of a game by the conference.

Last week: 6

Christopher_h (8): With the number of times Beth Mowins brought up QB Davis Mills’s passing streak without an interception, it was only right that he’d make numerous bone-headed interceptions this game (three, to be exact). Of course, I couldn’t help but think of how that’s a streak that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, as we all know Cal picked off Mills first. Mills is a talented passer, but he really needs to stop staring down his receivers each time. Stanford (and in most years, Utah, but not this year’s young team) is the polar opposite of USC and UCLA, where they don’t necessarily have the best talent, but they play mistake-free football and eventually let their opponent beat themselves. In most Stanford games, you can say, “we would have won if it weren’t for that one turnover” or that one dropped pass or that one mistake—but that’s every game for Stanford. All four of Stanford’s wins this season came down to the wire—the blocked PAT against Cal, converting fourth and inches to burn the rest of the clock against Washington, a fourth-quarter FG and forced fumble to clinch the win over OSU, and finally a missed two-point conversion by UCLA in OT. There’s something to be said about a team that can do that… but I’m not going to say it.

Berkelium97 (7):  Our hopes for LSJU’s long, steady decline into mediocrity have been dashed.

Last week: 9

Berkelium97 (4):  Another explosive offensive performance that makes one wonder what could have been if ASU had stayed healthy...

Christopher_h (4): ASU can run the ball—better than anyone in the Pac-12. And during a very rainy game, that’s probably to your advantage. Oregon State, on the other hand, is not so great at stopping the run. ASU averaged 8.9 yards per carry.

Last week: 7

Berkelium97 (5):  I was really impressed with the Utes’ resilience.  After floundering for most of the first half, they finally scored a TD on a 91-yard reception to cut the deficit to 7. And Wazzu gained 49 yards on the next play (side note: watching these teams put up 150 yards over two consecutive plays may have been the highlight of this absurdly wacky game) and then the Cougs scored two plays later.  And scored again three plays later thanks to a Utah turnover.  Instead of wilting after surrendering a couple backbreaking TDs immediately after Utah finally found the end zone, the Utes went out and DESTROYED the Cougs in the second half 38–0.  Like ASU, this team would have been much, much better in a normal season.

Unrelatedly, it’s really weird to see Whittingham with long, shaggy hair.

Christopher_h (5): Big thanks to freshman corner Clark Phillips III. I was feeling like a moron for betting on Utah -10.5 (especially as Wazzu dominated the first half 28-7) and with about two minutes left, Utah was up by 10 and all I could hope for was a pick-6 (since a team up by 10 usually gets the ball and runs out the clock) and boom—Phillips delivered. I was never a big fan of QB Jake Bentley and I’d like to think there’s a good reason for his poor passing (my best guess is the South Carolina native isn’t good at passing in the cold?), but he also made some poor reads against some pretty basic coverages. Utah’s young secondary struggled against Wazzu in the first half, but once the defensive line started getting into the backfield, they disrupted the entire Wazzu offense and made some clever adjustments to open up their run game. Second-half Utah is a very scary team.

Last week: 5

Christopher_h (9): “Oh no, Dorian Thompson-Robinson is hurt, what is UCLA going to do now that he’s gone and they’re stuck with their backup QB!?” Well gee, Beth Mowins, maybe reel off 31 straight points to climb out of their 20–3 halftime deficit? Big shout-out to Chip Kelly, whose overaggressiveness again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I had Stanford +6.5, so I was on the edge of my seat most of the game thinking UCLA would win by a touchdown (especially when it went to overtime). Despite dominating the second half, Kelly decided to bet the entire game on a two-point conversion—and UCLA predictably blew it. They actually blew it twice—they were fortunate to get a pretty questionable “holding” penalty called against Stanford for a receiver who pretty much tripped himself. UCLA has some great athletes and like USC, if they could simply minimize mistakes (unforced turnovers, questionable play calls, poor coaching decisions, etc), they would be so much better than they are. 

Berkelium97 (8):  Plenty of boneheaded decision-making out there on the sidelines.  LSJU keeps throwing to the same TE for big gains over and over and over? No need to double-cover him! Badly botch the first two-point conversion? (And let’s not even get into the odd decision not to play for another OT when UCLA had been scoring TDs left and right in the second half.) Line ‘em up and botch it again!

Last week: 10

Christopher_h (7): Oregon won the Pac-12 and Cal beat Oregon, so Cal is basically #1, right? Obviously a disappointing season and lots of areas for Cal to improve. Cal had the last-place ranked offense in the Pac-12—even lower than Arizona. We can’t rely on having an elite defense forever.

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (10):  Once again, that run defense was atrocious.  Without a competent passing attack, they had no hope of keeping up with the ASU offense.

Christopher_h (10): I don’t fault OSU for all the dropped passes in the heavy rain and I think Chance Nolan is their quarterback of the future—Nolan has quite an arm. I do fault them for their poor run defense, though—OSU has some of the best linebackers in the conference, but one of the worst run defenses in the conference. Some of this has to do with tackling by their secondary, but I think there are some schematic issues here they need to fix.

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (11):  That was a Cougin’ It for the ages.  After blowing a 21-point lead, the Cougs’ next four drives ended as follows—fumble, fumble, pick six, fumble. And two of those fumbles and the pick six all occurred within a six-play stretch! Until their final, meaningless drive, the Cougs had 30-something yards in the second half—after putting up nearly 300 in the first half! That entire second half was like watching a car crash unfolding over 30 minutes—and I was savoring every moment of it.

Christopher_h (11): #11 feels harsh, but they’re a lot closer to #6 than they are to #12. RB Max Borghi, WR Travell Harris, and WR Renard Bell are all very talented skill position players, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can recruit and develop talent to replace them. More concerning is the defense—without some improvements here, they’re going to be another Leach-like team that just hopes to outscore opponents, but without the same firepower to do so.

Last week: 12

Christopher_h (12): No difficult ranking decisions here. While ASU has a surplus of talented coaches—they have an NFL head coach splitting defensive coordinator duties—Arizona has none. Word is that they’re looking to hire Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator—Alex Grinch—who has led a surprisingly resurgent Oklahoma defense.


Data

Here are the ballots from the ten voters. We’ve got some consistency for the bottom two teams, but there’s a whole lot of disagreement for the other spots—even at the top spot.

By averaging out each of those responses, we come to the average ranking shown above. Figure 1 charts how the teams have been moving this season. As Pac-12 champions, Oregon has reclaimed the top spot for the first time since Week 3. In fact, the Ducks actually have a perfectly symmetrical journey in that span.

Figure 1. With everyone gearing up for all this “year in review” jazz, I can’t think of a more important “2020 in review” for the lives of you and your loved ones than this.

The number of spots that the teams rise or fall is collected in Figure 2 as the Madness. With the Ducks’ reclamation of the conference crown, the poor Trojans doubled their Madness score—from one to two. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins’ spectacular comeback-turned-double-overtime-collapse caused them to fall down the rankings severely, only adding to their conference-leading total Madness for the year.

But just like there’s some truth behind the Christmas magic that parents have to work for every year to present a pretty little packaged holiday, there’s some truth behind the pretty little packaged rankings. The math that aggregates and averages the votes tend to not give those user-friendly, discrete ranks like first or seventh. There’s some more detail in the numbers that reveal quite a bit more about our assessments of the teams (Fig. 3). The columns represent the actual score for each team and the error bars capture one standard deviation, which is a measure of how consistent our votes were for that team. The tumultuous season of the Sun Devils—a close loss to USC, COVID ravaging the roster, another loss, and then a two-game win streak—resulted in a range of rankings as high as fourth and as low as ninth. The Golden Bears are the owners of the second-highest standard deviation—most of our votes were ninth and tenth, but we had one vote at seventh and a total homer vote at fifth.

The entirety of our 2020 precise rankings are graphed in Figure 4. These precise rankings tell a much deeper story. We’re in pretty strong agreement that Oregon is the top team, followed by a close pair of the North and South champions. There’s also a clear gap between the top four teams and the next clustered quartet (Stanfurd, ASU, Utah, and UC L.A.) that is comprised of teams that had fairly strong performances this season. There’s then another gap that separates the basement four, which are all teams with pretty one-sided losing records. (UC L.A. is the only team with a losing record that isn’t in the basement, but they’re just a smidge below 0.500 at 3–4 with narrow losses to Top-25 teams.)

With this crazy season, there are only two teams scheduled (not even guaranteed) to play a bowl game. The Back the Pac part of me wants to see Oregon win the Fiesta Bowl, but the pro-chaos degenerate in me wants them to lose just so there’s some beautiful season-ending nonsense at the top of the conference. Especially should Colorado have a win in the Alamo Bowl.

To break your heart for a second week in a row, we won’t be coming at you with a fresh set of Rankings next week. We’ll wait for the Pac-12 bowl games to wrap up and then unveil our final Power Rankings. Please wait with bated breath.