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Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 5: Robo-Shaw finally shows an emotion
The abominable combination of a deflating Cal loss and a happy Stanfurd.
Another week into 2021 and another week of just fun and exciting Pac-12 football, right? No need to shield your eyes from our recap of last week’s games because they were all just wondrous experiences for us all.
USC def. Colorado, 37–14
Stanfurd def. #3 Oregon, 31–24 OT
Washington State def. California, 21–6
Oregon State def. Washington, 27–24
Arizona State def. #20 UCLA, 42–23
Bye: Arizona, Utah
As awful as last week was for Cal, it’s quite possible that the worst part was Stanfurd upsetting Oregon because it bestowed upon the world… this:
Our job is to take this slate of just fantastic results and derive our Power Rankings, which assesses the Pac-12 schools’ abilities and morale for the season—and particularly for the more recent games.
Berkelium97: I hate this stupid conference.
Christopher_h: On Saturday morning, I discovered that the external hard drive I use to save all of the football games (including games to review for next year, e.g. Notre Dame, UC Davis, UNLV) and all of my highlight clips was corrupted. Just when I thought my Saturday couldn't get any worse, the Cal game happened.
Ruey Yen: There is so much parity in this conference that every team is capable of beating any other team… except Cal at Oregon next weekend, probably.
Last week: 3
Nick Kranz (1): ASU wasn’t quite as dominant as the final score indicated (three different stops on fourth down will do that), but they were the better team and had to play UCLA on the road. They’re now the team to beat in the Pac-12 South
Berkelium97 (1): The only way this team can lose is if they make a horrific number of dumb mistakes (see the BYU game). Despite a bunch of penalties and some dumb special teams mistakes that directly contributed to two UCLA field goals, ASU mostly handled the Bruins. The defense really stepped up in the 4th quarter to seal the victory while Jayden Daniels continues to make the case that he’s the best QB in the conference.
Leland (1): They have a bigger blemish on their record than Oregon, but the recency of their big win in the South coupled with Oregon’s upset loss gives them my top vote.
Christopher_h (1): I'm giving ASU the top spot for being the closest thing to a complete team that the Pac-12 has. They kept QB Jayden Daniels fairly clean against a tough defensive line (and he's tough to sack anyway); they have a strong running game; and any time you try to stop the run, they hit a receiver 50 yards downfield to make you rethink your defensive priorities. I'm sure they'll lose to some heavy underdog at some point (as is Pac-12 tradition), but ASU is probably the toughest team to match up against.
Last week: 5
Nick Kranz (5): I’m just . . . really exhausted with them not collapsing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’ll win the Pac-12 North or anything, but I really need them to have a 3–9 season or something. Throw me a goddamn bone.
Berkelium97 (5): This team looked like a bottom-half team at the start of the season and now they have wins over USC and Oregon. I don’t know how David Shaw manages to accomplish so much with such seemingly mediocre teams.
Christopher_h (3): I don't really care if Oregon or any non-Cal team goes to the playoffs, but is anyone surprised that it would be Stanford to ruin it for everyone else? QB Tanner McKee is (unfortunately) looking very good, and he has a fantastic receiver in Brycen Tremayne. It's very annoying how Stanford keeps managing to replace the talent they lose.
Last week: 1
Nick Kranz (4): I’m putting Oregon ahead of Stanford because the Ducks outplayed Stanford on the road and apparently got screwed over by the refs. But they’re also not head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the conference the way they should be and they’re going to drop another game or two unless they get vastly improved QB play.
Berkelium97 (4): Every time. Every time they look like they’re poised for a playoff run, they do something dumb like lose to Arizona or LSJU (or both). They looked shaky in their recent games against Stony Brook and Arizona that were pretty close for the first 40-ish minutes, so this upset isn’t a total surprise.
Leland (2): They’ve certainly had their flaws this year (see Bk97’s examples), but I don’t think they deserve to fall too far for an overtime loss to a Stanfurd team that’s unfortunately turning out to be not-terrible.
Christopher_h (4): Oregon is still a solid QB away from competing beyond the confines of the Pac-12. Unfortunately with the state of the transfer portal these days, a lot of teams don't have the time or patience to develop young QBs (like Tyler Shough). They obviously weren't the third-best team in the country (for beating a similarly overrated Ohio State), but they still have enough talent to overpower most teams in the Pac-12. But if your team has a glaring weakness, eventually someone will match up well with you and give you fits. Stanford doesn't make a lot of mistakes and Oregon wasn't good enough to overcome their own mistakes. On the bright side, this also means Kayvon Thibodeaux will miss the first half of the Cal game as a result of his targeting penalty.
Last week: 2
Nick Kranz (2): Leaning towards thinking that this is the second-best team in the conference even though they have two home defeats. I stand by this bad opinion.
Berkelium97 (2): Their DBs aren’t good enough to be left in single coverage over and over and over again during DC Jerry Azzinaro’s relentless blitzes. Fortunately, there aren’t many QBs in the conference who are good enough to take advantage, so they’ll be fine.
Christopher_h (2): I know Chip Kelly is still coasting on his offensive wizardry reputation, but it's the defense that has got this team to where it is. I still think they have the best defensive line in the conference, but when ASU went to max protect and they were no longer able to get pressure, a lot of their defensive gameplan fell apart.
Last week: 4
Nick Kranz (3): That Purdue loss looks worse with each passing week, but the Beavs look better with each game they play. This time around, they overcame the gut punch of giving up two TDs in less than a minute in the fourth quarter to score the final 10 points—and if they can beat a bunch of bad teams on the road, they really could keep their undefeated conference record going well into the season.
Berkelium97 (3): Well, well, well. Look who sits alone atop the Pac-12 North standings. I’m particularly impressed that they managed to win with only 48 passing yards. Instead, they relied on running the ball over and over and over—and UW could do nothing to stop it. With O-line play like that, they could be a dark horse Pac-12 North division contender.
Leland (5): They’re clearly on the rise and have a shiny little on-conference record, but I’m not ready to rank them higher until they earn it with a win over a good team.
Christopher_h (5): It blows my mind that not only was OSU the favorite over Washington, but that they managed to cover the spread too. Oregon State is the perfect example of a team with good coaching that results in a team that's much better than the sum of their parts. QB Chance Nolan has played absolutely lights-out this season and if he had started that Purdue game, OSU would probably be undefeated by now. I love OSU's play calling; you can see them running the same plays with the intent of being tendency-breaker plays later. Even though they lost the explosiveness of Jermar Jefferson, they have a solid run game and Nolan has picked apart secondaries that try to stack the box against the run. Don't let his stat sheet fool you, either—Nolan made a number of great adjustments at the line even for running plays (e.g. reversing the direction of a run or jet sweep, etc). Nolan is the engine running this train and OSU has been executing plays at a high level all season behind him.
Last week: 8
Nick Kranz (7): If USC keeps bouncing back and forth between blowout wins and blowout losses, I have an EXTREME degree of confidence knowing which one will happen when they play Cal.
Berkelium97 (7): Nothing this team does makes any sense.
Leland (6): Fortunate to play a bad team and have the talent differential to enable them to pick up a win.
Christopher_h (6): This is just the Drake London show at this point. I don't know why people were ever talking about QB Kedon Slovis being a top draft pick (maybe that says more about the weak NFL class next year than it does about Slovis), but it's hard for any QB to look bad when you're throwing at someone like London. Colorado tried so hard to stop him, but he just catches literally anything in his vicinity (including a ridiculous one-handed TD grab last game). At one point, Colorado had London triple-covered in the endzone, setting up an easy pitch and catch to WR Gary Bryant Jr. for a touchdown. Because of Colorado's huge focus on trying (unsuccessfully) to slow London, this was the game that USC finally had their run game moving. Drake London is single-handedly covering up a lot of deficiencies for this USC team.
Last week: 6
Leland (7): The bye came at a good time to try to retool and regroup before a game against a vulnerable USC.
Christopher_h (7): Next week is a tossup with USC. I don't think Utah has the corners required to stop Drake London, but I also don't think USC has the defense to stop Utah either. Wouldn't be surprised either way who won next week.
Last week: 7
Nick Kranz (6): Lucky win vs. Cal, unlucky win vs. OSU . . . really, the story here is that they’re just another team in the Pac-12 North, which is not a stirring endorsement of the current regime.
Berkelium97 (8): The road to bowl eligibility is now daunting. The UW fanbase is going to suffer through a long next couple months.
Christopher_h (8): UW had much better receivers than OSU's defensive backs, but QB Dylan Morris just wasn't able to hit the throws he needed to hit. OSU had some fantastic blocking to run the ball with ease against UW's relatively weak defensive line, but UW wasn't able to make the most of their advantage in the passing game. I expect the 5-star freshman QB to start getting some more serious looks soon.
Last week: 11
Nick Kranz (9): In four games prior to beating Cal, Washington State accumulated four sacks. They sacked Chase Garbers four times.
Berkelium97 (9): In the battle to avoid the Pac-12 North basement, they showed up ready to brawl. It was an ugly, ugly win, but a win nonetheless.
Christopher_h (10): On Saturday, still wearing my Cal jersey, I was stopped by someone who asked me the results of the game. I let him know Wazzu won and he celebrated, letting me know then that he was a Wazzu fan and he was originally from Pullman. I congratulated him and his team on only being the second-worst team in the Pac-12 North.
Last week: 9
Nick Kranz (10): The worst performance of the Wilcox era.
Berkelium97 (10): Welcome back to the Pac-12 North basement. At this point, this seems like a two- or three-win team.
Leland (10): The worst part about this game is that it interrupted my binge of Squid Game. It sounds like I’m trying to be snarky and dismissive, but I think that actually sums up how this game killed the spirit and confidence of the fans. That death of morale should plunge us to the bottom, but the only thing preventing that is our history of at least keeping games tight and likely having more on-field talent than those teams below us.
Christopher_h (12): Like many of you, I'm fed up. I'm willing to cut Cal so much slack—and would happily eat a 1–11 season as long as we showed some promise (like a freshman Jared Goff in 2013). But we're not in a rebuild—this is a team that was supposed to contend for the North. Cal will be even worse next year as a number of seniors and super-seniors leave the program and we struggle through breaking in a new quarterback. There's not a single reason I can find to draw hope for next year.
Last week: 10
Nick Kranz (11): Got doubled up in total yardage despite USC shutting it down for the final quarter. That’s three straight blowout losses to set up the battle for the basement in the Pac-12 South in two vs. Arizona.
Berkelium97 (11): At least during the first few games of the season, they could take comfort in having a strong defense. Now they’re inept on both sides of the ball. The main reason I have them behind Cal is that Colorado keeps suffering blowouts while Cal has kept most of its games competitive.
Christopher_h (9): Colorado has been spoiled in the past with some QBs who were able to contribute right away and turn into four-year starters (Sefo Liufau, Steven Montez). Unfortunately, Brendon Lewis isn't ready for prime time yet. Colorado has a strong defense (when they aren't spending the entire game on the field) and a strong run game—but until they can start threatening teams through the air, they're going to struggle. Lewis's internal clock is just a tick slow; he'll have an open receiver, but he'll hesitate to make the throw before the window closes. I think he can improve, but he's not there yet. Luckily for him, he's got a pair of "get right" games coming up next against bad defenses to help him earn his confidence and start pulling the trigger on his throws while the window is still there.
Last week: 12
Leland (12): Their bye meant they had a break from action, but that doesn’t mean they took a break from being the worst team in the conference. You know you’re in bad shape when you’re actively recruiting walk-ons in the middle of the season.
Berkelium97 (12): They didn’t lose! The only way they’re climbing out of this #12 spot is with a win over Cal or Colorado. I’m not even entertaining the notion that they’ll have a shot at beating anyone else.
Christopher_h (11): It's too bad Arizona wasn't around last weekend to completely embarrass themselves again—because perhaps I'd have felt a little better about the Cal game. They will be underdogs in every game for the rest of the season, but I can't be sure that they won't find a way to upset Cal somehow.
As Cal continues to careen towards catastrophic collapse, it becomes all the more admirable for those who find the guts to keep showing up and keep writing—y’know, as implied by the title “writer”. So here are the votes from your most esteemed of WFC staff.
If you’re interested in following the progression of the rankings this year, Figure 1 shows our six-week story. It’s a little surprising that in a winning effort and while standing alone atop the Pac-12 North, Oregon State managed to fall a spot since last week.
All of the little falls and rises are shown in Table 2. The conference has become less crazy and less chaotic with each passing week as the Madness scores have been steadily decreasing. I wouldn’t bet on that for long—knowing the Pac-12—and more chaos may be just what we need for a team to overtake Washington as the Maddest team in the west. As shown in Figure 2, they’ve had a stranglehole on that title since their 180 from North contender to FCS punching bag.
Hopefully you’ve been here before (and actually read this blabbering) so you’re familiar with the process and how the votes in Table 1 are converted to ranks to finding the average score for each team. These precise averaged scores actually tell us much more information about those teams (Fig. 3 for the post–Week 5 rankings and Fig. 4 for the entirety of 2021).
The Sun Devils are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference because we were in pretty strong agreement with ranking them at the top—which is pretty surprising to me as their placement wasn’t an easy decision for my individual ballot. Up next is a quartet cluster of contenders (Stanfurd, Oregon, UCLA, and Oregon State); there’s a chasm between these VIPs and the have-nots in the bottom half of the conference.
The bottom half of the conference is led by USC, Utah, and Washington—three teams that are at 0.500 or a nascent 1–0 in-conference, but lacking a big win. Our votes for Washington State were all pretty consistent around 9th, so they stand alone there. The basement is defined by California (who can only beat FCS opposition) and yet another near-tie, now featuring Colorado and Arizona (a team that has been embarrassed in some way in all of their FBS games to date and a team still searching for their first win). All of these clusters is a mathematical indication of the parity in the conference.
With California on a bye, there’s no reason for you to not enjoy your weekend and swing around here with a fresh set of happy eyes next week.