Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 2: USC faceplants, but at what cost?
The loss that resulted in the dismissal of Clay Helton back before we knew it resulted in the dismissal of Clay Helton.
It was a crazy week in the Pac-12 by all standards other than the insanity of last week. Here’s the full slate of games, featuring the Pac-12 testing and beating Top-Five teams and two upsets in rivalry games—including a faceplant for the ages by our friends down at USC.
#12 Oregon def. #3 Ohio State, 35–28
#5 Texas A&M def. Colorado, 10–7
TCU def. California, 34–32
Washington State def. Portland State, 44–24
Michigan def. Washington, 31–10
San Diego State def. Arizona, 38–14
BYU def. #21 Utah, 26–17
#23 Arizona State def. UNLV, 37–10
Stanfurd def. #14 USC, 42–28
Oregon State def. Hawaii, 45–27
Our mission for today is to rank the Pac-12 teams by their performance and morale, keeping a particularly keen eye on recent results. Note that the majority of these votes were submitted before the announcement that USC had fired Clay Helton.
Berkelium97: After an abysmal Week 1, the North bounced back nicely with some strong performances—except UW, who looked inept in front of 107k howling fans in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile the South had some setbacks with Colorado’s surrender of a late TD to miss out on a Top-5 upset, Utah’s loss to rival BYU, and USC’s annual reminder that all the talent in the world cannot overcome Clay Helton’s coaching. The Pac-12 looks wide open this year and any team seems capable of beating any other on any given weekend.
RollOnYouChairs: Well, once again we have a conference that will make any given weekend super topsy-turvy! This one was a total mess, but despite a couple national embarrassments (Washington looking pathetic, Utah dishonorably losing its ranking, USC face-planting against a team that lost by three scores to Kansas State), there was also Oregon beating tOSU plus Colorado and Cal taking OOC opponents to the wire (Colorado against #5 TA&M, Cal against a good TCU team). As for the rankings, I did my best to combine team quality, quality-of-opponents, and the level of pride/embarrassment any given week. The three winless teams are up top, ranked by the quality of their opponents. Arizona (objectively the worst team in the league) is #11 while Washington takes last place for its total fall from grace. Cal is the only winless team that finds itself in the middle, simply because we played two good teams close while a few of the 1–1 teams only have one win over a cupcake and either looked so-so or bad in their one loss.
Christopher_h: I attributed last week's Pac-12 flops to rust and this week I bet on the Pac-12 to bounce back (with the notable exception of Arizona, whose competent showing against BYU I regarded as an anomaly). For the most part, that was right, with two notable exceptions: Washington, whose offense still looks garbage, and Utah, who lost to a rivalry-powered BYU. This week was also the first time in a while that home-field advantage and noise were definitely factors. It was pretty cool to see sold-out crowds in solid colors making an impact on games: Ohio State (red), Michigan (yellow), and BYU (blue).
Last week: 3
Berkelium97 (1): The Ducks delivered a huge marquee win for the conference and generally looked pretty solid doing it. They embarrassed OSU by running the exact same outside zone read play for two easy red-zone TDs. The running game looked solid, but they don’t have much of a downfield passing game. Their secondary looked porous, which could be the key for anyone hoping to pull off the upset in conference play.
RollOnYouChairs (1): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 7/1. Next week: vs. Stony Brook (99.3%). Gotta say, I’m pretty scared of what this team will be like when DE Kayvon Thibodeaux comes back from injury.
Nick Kranz (1): The narrative that Oregon outplayed OSU seems a little overblown to me, as the game swung on three fourth-down stops from Oregon’s defense after long OSU drives. But playing OSU even and getting the W by nailing the swing plays is crazy impressive, so I strongly suspect Oregon’s gonna stick at #1 for a while. It’s really hard to see how Oregon gets challenged between now and an Oct. 23 date with UCLA in the Rose Bowl, but this conference does weird things like that multiple times a year.
Christopher_h (2): Honestly, I thought Ohio State looked vastly overrated. OSU played Oregon like a lesser-talented team, using the exact same defensive looks—man coverage on everyone—and hoped to just out-talent Oregon. As mentioned already, Oregon scored repeatedly on the same exact play—even after halftime when OSU should have already adjusted. Credit to Oregon to go into a hostile environment and beat a team loaded with talent, but I don't think either team is worthy of a top-four ranking in the country.
Ruey Yen (1): This was a much-needed win by the conference on the big, national stage. Sure, I do think that The Ohio State is once again overrated and it would appear that the Ducks are just a bad matchup for them. I also foresee the Pac-12 hurting itself when a team (why not Cal?) upsets the Ducks.
Last week: 1
Berkelium97 (2): It must have been a fun weekend to take off, pop some popcorn, and watch the Pac-12 South implode.
RollOnYouChairs (2): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 25/2. Next week: vs. Fresno State (72.4%). Both Oregon and UCLA have fantastic offenses, but while Oregon has a great defense (especially if Thibodeaux comes back from injury), UCLA is good-not-great on D. They have a better record than ASU does and will probably beat the Sun Devils in Week 5. Time will tell.
Christopher_h (1): I was really hoping UCLA would go the way of USC in squandering their talent for another year, but alas, I was wrong. UCLA has a ferocious defensive line—the best in the conference—and Michigan transfer RB Zach Charbonnet is the real deal. The fact that DTR likes to run the wrong way and occasionally sling it to no one hasn't slowed them down a bit. If the Pac-12 championship were tomorrow, my money would be on UCLA.
Last week: 4
Berkelium97 (3): Did what they were supposed to do: QB Jayden Daniels put up 300 yards, they outgained UNLV 3–1, and they dominated the time of possession. A good tune-up before a tough road game against the Stormin’ Mormons next week.
RollOnYouChairs (3): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 40/5. Next week: at BYU (46.7%). It took the Sun Devils a while to get rolling against UNLV, but it was a blowout when all was said and done. We’ll see what happens if/when they are able to put together a full 60 minutes of quality ball. This coming weekend at BYU will be an interesting test, including as a proxy for the quality of ASU compared to Utah.
Nick Kranz (3): Arizona State has demonstrated the depths of their academic reputation by being the only Pac-12 school smart enough to start the season with two-straight easy home games. Thus, while I think they’re actually the third-best team in the conference, they’re sticking around this high more or less by default.
Christopher_h (3): I'm moving them up by default here as there really isn't anything to learn about them yet. They didn't self-destruct against a horrible team yet—and that's more than you can say about a lot of the other teams in the conference.
Alex Khalifa (3): The Sun Devils nearly doubled UNLV’s total yards with their passing game alone.
Last week: 6
Berkelium97 (4): This would have been a huge upset even though I think aTm is highly overrated at #5. I was checking this game during commercial breaks in the second half of the Cal game and I did not see a single completed pass.
RollOnYouChairs (6): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 58/8. Next week: vs. Minnesota (60.7%). Out of all the one-loss teams without a great win, Colorado has the most impressive loss with its defensive-minded stand against #5 Texas A&M. The Buffs will be sneaky good this year and—honestly—one of the more intriguing teams in the conference. (I’m looking forward to/dreading our Week 8 match-up.)
Nick Kranz (4): This might be over-crediting Colorado for what was still a loss, but playing A&M to a virtual standstill is more impressive than anything else the rest of the conference has done outside of UCLA and Oregon.
Christopher_h (4): They played a Stanford-like game, slowing the game down and trying to win the field-position battle against A&M's back-up QB. It almost worked, but the defense buckled at the end. I don't really think they're the fourth-best team in the conference (they have a strong run game, but the lack of a passing attack will hurt them as the season goes on), but Colorado is showing what you can do with a quality coach.
Alex Khalifa (5): The Aggies’ Zach Calzada completed just 18 of 38 passing attempts against the Buffaloes and that was nearly enough to pull off an upset.
Last week: 9
Berkelium97 (5): After last week’s game I thought that this might be the worst offense in the conference. Last week they didn’t cross Kansas State’s 35-yard line until midway through the third quarter (yes, the same Kansas State that was losing 23–21 to FCS Southern Illinois at halftime this week). So naturally, their inept passing game bounces back by dropping long bombs on USC all night en route to a 42–13 lead before USC scored a couple garbage-time TDs. Nothing in the Pac-12 makes any sense to me.
RollOnYouChairs (4): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 52/6. Next week: at Vanderbilt (87.4%). Out of all the one-loss teams, the Cardinal has the most impressive win. Let’s just hope they rediscover their Kansas State groove when they get back to conference play.
Nick Kranz (6): I liked Stanford better when they were fruitlessly rotating in their second-best quarterback for various drives.
Christopher_h (7): I can't express just how awful Stanford's offense looked against Kansas State, only for them to pull another huge upset against USC. This game was not as close as the score appeared, but a lot of points could be attributed to USC-like behavior (unsportsmanlike conduct to keep drives alive, completely boneheaded plays, a complete and total lack of discipline), all of which are an obvious indictment on the head coach. But Stanford did what they always do and played relatively mistake-free football and allowed USC to beat itself.
Ruey Yen (6): Tremendous improvement by the Stanford offense between Week 1 and Week 2. Nonetheless, it is way too soon to anoint QB Tanner McKee to be the long-term answer for them.
Alex Khalifa (4): Cardinal RB Nathaniel Peat’s touchdown rush of 87 yards to open the scoring really set the tone at the Coliseum.
Last week: 2
Berkelium97 (6): It’s incredible that they’re still #27 in the rankings (clearly no one who voted for them actually watched that game) and I think we have just witnessed the most–Clay Helton performance of all time. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kicker get tossed for targeting—and I’ve certainly never seen it on the opening kickoff.
RollOnYouChairs (5): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 35/2. Next week: at WSU (71.4%). Out of the one-loss teams, USC has the best win (against SJSU)—excepting Furd’s win over the Trojans—and still has elite talent that poses a danger to the rest of the conference. It’s great to see them struggling, though, and that the hot seat under Clay Helton is set on high.
NIck Kranz (7): The final score felt a bit deceptive, as two huge plays (a tipped interception TD and a long Stanford run in which every USC LB and safety got completely lost) swung the game. But this was still a deserved Stanford win and USC has to be disturbed that their air raid passing attack was completely ineffective while Stanford threw for 10 yards a pop.
Christopher_h (5): I always struggle with how low to rate such an uber-talented team because in any given week, they should win. However, USC plays absolutely awful football and their complete lack of discipline frequently costs them games (keeping drives alive via unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, etc) and they're always easily correctable issues… if only they had a real coach to actually lead them.
Ruey Yen (7): USC certainly has the talent to win a lot of games again—and will likely improve within a month or so if/when they move away from Clay Helton. It’s too bad that they just might fix things before mid-November, when they visit Berkeley.
Alex Khalifa (7): The Los Angeles Times provided a lot of breathless updates and Kedon Slovis was booed by his own fans. Good thing there are never high expectations for the Trojans.
Last week: 5
Berkelium97 (6): BYU managed to out-Utah the Utes by dominating the time of possession, capitalizing on the turnover differential, and grinding out a couple hundred yards on the ground. If Utah had this much trouble containing a mobile QB and a strong ground game, they may be in trouble against Wazzu in two weeks (and later on against ASU and UCLA).
RollOnYouChairs (8): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 33/3. Next week: at SDSU (61.9%). Losing against your rival hurts, but it stings even more when you’re supposed to be a conference contender, the loss knocks you off the rankings AND brings your rival into the rankings, and the opposing fans storm the field because it’s the first time in TWELVE YEARS you’ve lost. And although the transitive property of football is imperfect at best… BYU beat Arizona by 8 points in Tempe and Utah lost in Provo by 9 points. Well, Arizona just lost to San Diego State by 24 at home, and Utah plays at SDSU this coming weekend. Danger ahoy!
Nick Kranz (5): I’m probably giving Utah more credit than they deserve here, but they literally averaged more yards/run AND more yards/pass attempt than BYU and lost thanks to wasted drives and turnovers. Utah’ll probably be fine.
Christopher_h (6): Well, credit to BYU for really showing up in their rivalry game. They debuted an entirely new defense and tons of exotic pressures to frustrate Utah's offense all night. The sold-out crowd was losing their collective minds during the game and I think the crowd was definitely a factor—in crucial moments, BYU QB Jaren Hall pulled off the clutch play while Utah wilted. They have a young secondary and QB Charlie Brewer wasn't nearly as sharp as he was last week, but I'm not writing off Utah yet.
Alex Khalifa (6): Utah was favored by a touchdown on the road, so this wasn’t a massive upset. Nevertheless, I will be expecting much better execution against San Diego State.
Last week: T7
Berkelium97 (10): The offense bounced back, but there were so many “what if”s that could have made a difference. What if they didn’t miss the first PAT? What if they stopped trying so many two-point conversions? What if they decided to run at the end of the first half once TCU looked content to let them run out the clock? Cal has shown that they can have a solid offense and defense; if both units perform well (and that’s a big if) they seem capable of beating anyone in the conference.
RollOnYouChairs (7): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 75/9. Next week: vs. Sacramento State (94.3%). The Bears have gone through a couple heartbreaking losses, with flashes on both offense and defense (at this point, the offense seems ahead). Depth at linebacker is going to be a problem, especially if there are any more season-ending injuries. I still have plenty of hope for this team and think the close-games-against-good-teams justify them being a step above some of the two-loss teams. It’s worth noting that TCU and Nevada both got votes in both national polls; in the AP poll, TCU is 27th and Nevada is 34th.
Nick Kranz (8): The constant random coin-flip games decided by one score or less will continue until morale improves.
Christopher_h (8): I really don't know what to think here; we're basically exactly who I thought we were (better on offense, worse on defense) and yet I'm still disappointed. I loved the totally uncharacteristic aggressiveness on offense, even if it didn't pan out this time. We have shown that we can have a competent defense and we can have a competent offense—we're just not allowed to have them at the same time. I knew that if Cal's offense played up to expectations that this one would be close and like most Cal games, it was. I'm guessing the heat may have been a factor as the defense looked worn down in the second half. I look forward to our upset victory against that more-talented team this year, but not looking forward to our upset loss against that less-talented team this year.
Ruey Yen (5): As the resident glass-half-full pundit, Cal has got to be one of the best 0–2 teams in the country. I also have Cal this high because the bulk of the Pac-12 is also flawed and beatable on any given Saturday.
Last week: T7
Berkelium97 (9): A strong offensive performance against an abysmal Hawaii defense. They gave up too many long pass plays, however.
RollOnYouChairs (9): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 80/10. Next week: vs. Idaho (92.1%). The Beavers have a loss against an okay team and a win against a bad team. As expected, the offense is good and the defense has a bunch of question marks.
Nick Kranz (9): Yeah, some low level concerns on defense, but Oregon State isn’t anywhere close to the point where they can start nitpicking easy wins—even against Hawaii.
Christopher_h (9): Haven't watched this one yet, but Hawaii is a middling MWC team that has usually got the better of them in the past, so a win here signifies some improvement from OSU.
Last week: 11
Berkelium97 (8): Is this offense actually good or have they benefited by playing an FCS team and a Utah State team with a questionable defense? We’ll find out after the bye week in their next outing against Utah. Maybe. I’m not even sure if Utah has a good defense this year.
RollOnYouChairs (10): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 88/11. Next week: at USC (28.6%). This team has a Sonny Dykes vibe—a strong offense paired with a Swiss-cheese defense. Washington State might have a good showing against some FBS opponents coming up, but I’m not expecting too much from the Cougars this year.
Nick Kranz (10): Portland State lost to Wazzu by about the same margin as they lost to Hawaii, so I’m not exactly chalking up this datapoint as evidence that the Cougars have figured anything out.
Christopher_h (10): Only saw part of this game so far, but Portland State looked surprisingly competent against them—which is not a good sign. Unless of course it happens next week to Cal, in which case I advise we disregard that data point entirely.
Last week: 10
Berkelium97 (11): I knew the run defense was going to struggle to contain SDSU, but I thought their offense might be able to keep the game competitive after last week’s encouraging performance. Nope. Other than a couple big receptions, the passing game struggled with both QBs while the running game couldn’t muster much of anything. Oh, and they gave up a punt return TD just for good measure.
RollOnYouChairs (11): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 106/12. Next week: vs. N. Arizona (94.2%). It’s a bad team that lost games against a now-ranked BYU team (where Arizona had the home-field advantage) and an SDSU team that was supposed to be pretty bad. The Wildcats are who we thought they would be.
Nick Kranz (12): San Diego State beat Arizona with more authority than they beat New Mexico State, so the Wildcats go back into the basement.
Christopher_h (12): Arizona was completely bullied on both sides of the ball—SDSU's offense ran the ball at will and their defense lived in the Arizona backfield. Arizona could not get a block to save their life and that pressure resulted in a number of erratic passes from the Arizona QBs. I think BYU took it easy on them last week and played a vanilla game to avoid putting anything on tape ahead of their Utah match-up.
Last week: 12
Berkelium97 (12): Wasn’t this team supposed to have one of the best defenses in the conference? It certainly didn’t look like it as they let Michigan run all over them. Also, it’s probably time for Huskies fans to start panicking about that offense.
RollOnYouChairs (12): FPI (Nat’l/Pac12): 56/7. Next week: vs. Arkansas State (81.5%). Holy collapse, Batman. Washington could probably beat Arizona on a neutral field more often than not… But the Huskies were supposed to be contenders in the North and now might be heading toward a losing season. The performance at Michigan, especially on offense, is not a good sign for the future. It’s going to be a tough year in Seattle.
Nick Kranz (11): In six relevant first-half possessions, Washington went three-and-out FOUR TIMES—and those other two drives weren’t worth celebrating either. Perhaps more disturbingly, UW’s defense was physically controlled by Michigan’s offensive line and running game.
Christopher_h (11): I can't believe I thought Washington could be a dark horse contender this year. They have some wide receiver injuries and a 5-star freshman QB not ready for prime time, but their offensive performance was putrid and showed that their offensive struggles against FCS Montana were no anomaly. Their defense is still good, but if your offense goes three-and-out every drive, they'll eventually be worn down. Michigan's lines dominated both sides of the ball and the fact that the UW offensive line can't get any blocks negates the talent they still have at running back. They still have talent everywhere, but they still look awful. The Jimmy Lake era is not off to a good start.
Ruey Yen (11): That Cal at UW game in two weeks appears more and more winnable. The way that Michigan ran all over them is precisely the same approach that Justin Wilcox would like to emulate.
Alex Khalifa (11): The Big House is no easy place to play, but the only other data point we have for the Huskies is their loss to Montana.
Hopefully you Californians took the time to vote in the recall election, meaning the second-most important votes in your life today are collected in Table 1.
With a pair of calculators and a cheat sheet full of calculus, these votes are converted into the average rank for each team—which is how we came to the main rankings listed above. Our Power Rankings for the season is shown in Figure 1.
The biggest riser and faller this week were the participants of the unholy collision between the Cardinal and the Trojans. We use the term Madness to tally up this movement; the Madness for the season is collected in Table 2 and graphed in Figure 2. This week is much less Mad than the last, but there’s still a good amount of chaos with all teams but one moving around. Washington got out ahead with a massive Madness score of 9, but then held steady as out bottom team; despite scoring 0, they still have a sizable lead as the Maddest team in this young season. Other contenders are California (probably because we’re all overly reactive to every game due to our fandom) and USC (due to the disparity between their raw talent and coaching & discipline, but having an interim coach may be the recipe for furhter Madness).
But let’s take a step back from the Madness and regroup on the averaging. Though we used that as a tool to come across the above, rounded rankings, we can also take a look at the details held by the precision of those averaged scores. This week’s averaged scores are shown by the columns in Figure 3, with the error bars representing one standard deviation (as a measure of the range of responses for that team). Figure 4 graphs the averaged rankings over the season.
The precise scores make it clear who’s at the head of the table—the Ducks, the Baby Bears, and the Sun Devils. And then there’s the rest of us, starting with a tight-knit quartet of 1–1 teams; Colorado has the best loss, Stanfurd has the biggest win and the most embarrassing loss, USC has the biggest faceplant, and Utah has a rivalry loss. Two-loss California seems to have two quality losses, but there still seems to be a smidge of homerism putting us so far above the remaining 1–1 teams, which are luxuriating with wins over FCS squads. Bringing up the rear are the Wildcats and the Huskies; the Wildcats seem to be the worse team, but Washington seems to be getting punished for having a worse loss and for starting the season with higher expectations.
Should Arizona win their FCS game next week, will that relegate Washington to having an iron grip on the twelfth spot? Will a win in Eugene over an unimpressive FCS team be enough to keep the Ducks flying high? Will we as a group of unabashed homers let California skyrocket by five spaces if we win our FCS contest? How else can I sell you on FCS games??
Overall, it was a good week for the conference. The Oregon win was huge in repairing the Pac-12's national reputation. Heck, even Cal put up a good fight when a lot of folks were predicting a blow-out. The trend of close down to the wire games continues, though in the past two seasons we've been unlucky in several of them, whereas in 2019 we had a rabbit's foot.
I know Helton had several bad losses, and has a lousy reputation on this board, but his overall percentage record in all games was just a shade behind Utah's Whittingham. He probably would have righted the ship if given the chance, given his team's talent. There really is no shame in losing to Stanford, as Stanford's Shaw always ends up putting a good to great product on the field every year.