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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 4: USC struggled just a tad against Oregon State...
The first week of conference play—and direct comparisons between teams.
At long last—Pac-12 play is upon us.
That gives us direct head-to-head comparisons, which usually makes our jobs easier—until we get the crazy and illogical cannibalism that the Pac-12 is known for.
But dearly beloved and other assorted ne’er-do-wells, we are gathered here today to rank the Pac-12 teams by their strength/performance and morale—over the course of the 2021 season, but in a world where recency bias is welcomed.
Here’s the latest slate of results in the wacky West Coast world:
Utah def. Washington State, 24–13
#24 UCLA def. Stanfurd, 35–24
Washington def. California, 31–24 OT
Arizona State def. Colorado, 35–13
#3 Oregon def. Arizona, 41–19
Oregon State def. USC, 45–27
How exactly did the Beavers wallop the Trojans so badly? With great USC coverage like this:
Berkelium97: Oregon, ASU, and UCLA will probably spend the rest of the year near the top of the ballot while Arizona, Colorado, and Wazzu will fill out the bottom of the ballot. The rest of the teams may as well be decided by a random number generator.
Last week: 1
Nick Kranz (1): Warning bells for Ducks fans, as Oregon put on a level of performance that was probably only good enough to beat one or two teams in the conference. Luckily for them, they were facing one of those teams. The offense was explosive, but inefficient—and there will be a game or two when the offense won’t get those explosive plays and the Ducks will be on upset alert.
Berkelium97 (1): Should the Ducks be concerned that it was still a one-score game despite a +3 turnover margin at the start of the fourth? Maybe, maybe not.
Last week: 3
Nick Kranz (2): Two pretty comprehensive wins against competent P5 opposition and a crazy home loss against (probably) a very good G5 team is indeed good enough for second place in this disaster of a conference. Next week’s game at home vs. ASU is almost certainly the single most important game in the Pac-12 South this year.
Berkelium97 (2): The Bruins enjoyed a mostly comfortable road win ahead of a division-defining game this week. The running game was back to its productive self and DTR avoided some highlight-worthy turnovers, but the D-line was not particularly disruptive against a LSJU O-line that has struggled at times this season.
Last week: 5
Nick Kranz (3): Crushed an overmatched team and you know what? Nobody else in this conference has done a good job of taking care of business, so full credit to the Sun Devils for a change.
Berkelium97 (3): Jayden Daniels was his usual, lethally efficient self as ASU easily dispatched Colorado. Next up, the biggest game of the year in the Pac-12 South: a visit to Pasadena.
Last week: 8
Nick Kranz (4): Probably an overreaction, but also somebody has to be in the #4 slot, so why not the team that ended 61 years of pain on the road vs. USC in spectacular blowout fashion? 532 yards of offense vs. anybody is impressive—particularly when the majority comes on the ground. And a home game vs. UW next week is a pretty good litmus test for OSU’s legitimacy as a dark horse contender.
Berkelium97 (4): Is this the year the Beavs finally break out under Jonathan Smith? A blowout win over USC despite a couple turnovers and an obscene 150+ penalty yards certainly should give OSU fans some optimism.
Last week: 2
Nick Kranz (5): I should probably be punishing Stanford more for what was ultimately a pretty uncompetitive loss at home, but UCLA is one of the few legitimately solid teams in the conference and everybody else has been crummy too. Again, somebody has to go in the #5 slot. Stanford got shredded by UCLA’s offense, had zero running game, and only vaguely stayed in the game due to long pass plays—but hey, that’s better than getting blown out by Kansas State, so congrats?
Berkelium97 (5): No matter where I’ve put this team in the rankings over the last two weeks, no position feels right. They may be worse than fifth—and they’re definitely worse than their second-place ranking from last week—but this conference is just so wacky.
Last week: 6
Nick Kranz (6): I have a feeling Utah will just sit at #6/7 in this poll all season long, being generally solid but never spectacular, present but never interesting, beating bad teams and losing to good teams in equal measure. There are worse lots in life.
Berkelium97 (6): A sloppy performance on offense prevented this from being a blowout victory. The Utah defense deserved better after feasting on Wazzu all afternoon.
Last week: 9
Nick Kranz (7): Well, they technically beat Cal in overtime in a game they completely didn’t deserve to win, so congrats here’s seventh place, enjoy it.
Berkelium97 (8): It’s increasingly clear that this team simply isn’t very good.
Last week: 4
Nick Kranz (8): Two seemingly out-of-nowhere humiliating home blowout defeats in the span of a few weeks—both featuring a defense that just gets shredded. Clay Helton was the fall guy, but Todd Orlando appears to be the biggest problem in South Central.
Berkelium97 (7): I feel like I’m overrating the Trojans this week, as they appear to be one loss short of a full-on death spiral. If they lose to Colorado this week, they might as well pack it in and give up any hope for anything nice in 2021.
Last week: 7
Nick Kranz (9): Cal keeps playing a bit better with each passing week and also keeps losing, which is a fun puzzle to try to wrap your head around.
Berkelium97 (9): The offense and defense managed to play well at the same time, although it was only for one half. Once again, a special teams miscue played a big role in yet another Cal loss—that’s four of the last five losses. Bowl eligibility is now in serious doubt unless Cal can find a way to win these close games. Or *gasp* find a way to win comfortably.
Last week: T10
Nick Kranz (10): I suppose 250 total yards and 13 points counts as an offensive explosion relative to the Buff’s recent standards. They really need to win some of their three games at home vs. USC and Arizona and @Cal before the schedule gets really ugly.
Berkelium97 (11): The streak is over! No, not the losing streak. Their streak of eight consecutive scoreless quarters and a Pac-12 record 24 consecutive drives without a score. The hapless Buffs now have the 127th-ranked scoring offense in the nation.
Last week: T10
Nick Kranz (11): Just sitting around, waiting until they have enough legal documentation to fire their disastrous head coach for cause to save a bit on his buyout.
Berkelium97 (10): Just like last week, the Wazzu offense was a sloppy, turnover-prone mess. They ran 75 plays and surrendered THIRTEEN TACKLES FOR LOSS. They look like the worst team in the North by a large margin.
Last week: 12
Nick Kranz (12): Ultimately losing by 22 to Oregon isn’t anywhere near enough to consider moving Arizona out of the basement, but it’s worth noting that they outgained the Ducks and maaaaybe could’ve had a shot at pulling the upset if they weren’t negative five(!) in the turnover column.
Berkelium97 (12): The Wildcats kept the game shockingly close by running the clock and slowly but steadily trudging up and down the field. At least, that was the plan when they weren’t slinging passes to everyone on the Oregon defense. Then, Oregon blew the game open in the first half of the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, this was an encouraging performance for Arizona.
In classic Cal Football fashion, as the team’s performance drops, so too drops our writer engagement. We only had eight writers willing to submit justifications for their votes, but here are the full ballots (Table 1) from the eight voters who scrounged up the will to even follow football.
These votes are aggregated to make our official ranks for the week. The official ranks over the course of the season are collected in Figure 1. For instance, we can see that California has dropped to our lowest rank of the year—breaching the final third of the conference. On the other end of the spectrum, Oregon continues their stranglehold on the top of the Pac-12 with the exception of an arguable overreaction to their season-opening struggle.
The Ducks and the Sun Devils are the only two teams to stay in the top half of the Pac-12 all season; is this a possible foreshadowing of the Pac-12 Championship Game? With the Beavers’ surge this week, the only two teams to stay in the bottom half of the conference are the Wildcats and the Cougars; will their Friday face-off on November 19 be a battle for the basement?
We collect the rises and falls of the Pac-12 teams and call it Madness—by reader suggestion (Table 2). After an insane Madness score of 31 to open the season, each week has been progressively less and less Mad. Figure 2 graphs how the cumulative Madness for each team has grown weekly; USC and Stanfurd both made big moves in their attempts to capture the coveted title of Maddest team, but Washington’s “big” win over the “threatening” and “totally competent at football” Cal helped them increase their Madness score to help pad their lead.
But if we return for a second to our individual ballots (Table 1), we can take a closer look at how those votes get converted into a consensus, WFC opinion. The mathematical average for each team is calculated based on the votes they received. This precise, averaged score is shown as the bars in Figure 3; the error bars in that graph represent how much we disagreed for that team. Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona have no error bars because we had no disagreement on their positions.
These precise scores for the course of the season are graphed in Figure 4. If you bust out your magnifying glass, you can see that this is the first week of 2021 with a unanimous champion atop the conference. (Previous holdouts include my lone vote for Oregon after Week 1 and Gustav’s lone vote for USC last week.)
I’m a fan of the precise scores because they tell us a little more information about our perceptions of the team than when teams are just crudely rounded to first or second place. For instance, we can see that we’re all confident in the placement of Oregon and UC L.A. Then there’s a sizable gap before we get to Arizona State and Oregon State—two teams that each have a quality loss, but lack a real statement win. The next cluster is another near tie, now between Stanfurd and Utah; these are each two-loss teams, but have long-tenured coaches with histories of success. Then we come to Washington, USC, and Cal—three teams in disarray after high hopes to start the season. Just above the basement is the duo of Colorado and Wazzu—teams whose sole win was against an FCS school, while getting shellacked and embarrassed in another game this year. And then at the very bottom is poor ole Arizona.
Next week, we’ll be recapping games at the top and bottom of the conference. At the enviable end of things will be a meeting of 3–1 teams between Arizona State and UCLA—one school led by a Cal alumnus and one school that wishes it could be and can’t stop copying Cal.
But in the basement will be a game featuring Cal itself as 1–3 Cal plays 1–3 Washington State. Life sure is nice on this end of the spectrum, isn’t it?