Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 7: Who can climb the ladder of a chaotic conference?
Do we really have to pick a top team in the Pac-12?
Leland: If you’ve been following this series for the years it’s been running on WFC and back on CGB, then you’re probably familiar with all of the beats and points and motifs I have to make. In that case, you know that the phrase “Madness” is due to make its first appearance after several, several healthy scrolls from you. But today, it’s going to come up much sooner—due to the Madness of a certain news story last night, there just isn’t as much time to elaborate and this might be a bit of an abbreviated edition.
Our Power Rankings are set to rank the Pac-12 teams by their on-field results and team morale—it would be much less interesting if this were just a ranking like the Top 25. There’s also a bit of an added emphasis on the recent results.
Here’s the slate of games from Week 7:
#9 Oregon def. California, 24–17
Colorado def. Arizona, 34–0
Washington State def. Stanfurd, 34–31
UCLA def. Washington, 24–17
Utah def. #18 Arizona State, 35–21
Bye: Oregon State, USC
To be explicit, these rankings were finalized before yesterday’s WSU–Rolovich news broke.
Christopher_h: It's so hard to rank teams this year. I'm of the opinion that pretty much everyone is bad—some teams are just a bit worse than others.
Last week: 4
Nick Kranz (1): Probably an overreaction, but on the other hand they have three double-digit wins over conference foes when every other game between Pac-12 teams feels like a coin flip. How they are managing to put teams away somewhat mystifies me, but they get credit for actually winning comprehensively when nobody else is able to do it.
Berkelium97 (2): I wrote them off after losses to BYU and SDSU, but Utah has bounced back tremendously. The Utah defense and Cam Rising were stellar in that second-half destruction of ASU. They’re the last undefeated team in conference play and the team with the most momentum. I suspect they’ll suffer a couple more losses in their daunting remaining schedule, but I’ve been wrong about them before…
Leland (1): Probably not the best team in the conference on the field, but they’re the only Pac-12 team with an undefeated in-conference record and picked up a big win over a conference frontrunner.
Christopher_h (1): Those close losses to BYU and SDSU aren't looking so bad now, and those were with Charlie Brewer at the helm anyway. Cam Rising has been good, but not great—but he's clearly a leader and the team has rallied behind him. Tavion Thomas cleaned up his fumbling issues and ran the ball well and Utah's defensive line was getting sacks on Jayden Daniels late in the game, which is a feat in and of itself.
Last week: 1
Nick Kranz (2): I’m going to avoid going harsh on ASU since losing a tough road game is low on the list of crimes committed by the rest of the conference, but last week ASU looked like maybe the only competent Pac-12 team and this week the evidence suggests that they’re just a part of the group of very flawed teams that make up this conference.
Berkelium97 (3): Given how solid ASU has been in second halves this year, I thought they were going to cruise to victory over Utah after taking a 21–7 lead into halftime. But the second half was a mess of penalties, dropped passes, and an inability to pressure Utah QB Cameron Rising. Despite the loss, ASU still has a reasonable shot at the division title thanks to a very manageable quintet of games remaining on the schedule.
Christopher_h (2): ASU was hot and cold in this one, but repeated penalties in a hostile environment proved too much to overcome on offense and their defense gave way late in the game.
Last week: 3
Nick Kranz (3): Took care of UW on the road in reasonably impressive circumstances and the next two games will decide if they have a shot in the South—home vs. Oregon and on the road vs. Utah. Win those two and the last three games of the season look very manageable.
Berkelium97 (1): It must be such a luxury knowing that the run game is going to put up 200+ yards every game. After surviving a bit of a scare from the hapless Huskies, the Bruins’ title hopes will be cemented in the two upcoming games against Oregon and at Utah.
Christopher_h (3): I think the gameplan at this point is to just ask DTR not to make any boneheaded turnovers. With a stout run game and solid defensive line, that's been enough to beat most teams so far this season.
Last week: 2
Nick Kranz (4): There’s exactly one piece of evidence supporting the idea that the Ducks are a top 10 team with playoff aspirations: a road win over Ohio State. To be fair, that’s a pretty big, compelling piece of evidence! But at some point, the way Oregon has looked in their other five games outweighs that. I think Oregon drops two of their final six games—maybe even three.
Berkelium97 (4): In every conference game so far, the Ducks have let a much less talented team hang around for far too long. If they can’t fix the offensive inconsistency and tackling woes, they’re going to have a tough time in Pasadena next week.
Christopher_h (4): I've been saying it every week, they're a good QB away from really competing for the top of the Pac-12. They can definitely beat anyone in the Pac-12, but losing to some mid-tier teams like Stanford again wouldn't be all that shocking either.
Last week: 6
Nick Kranz (5): That narrow road loss to Purdue doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
Berkelium97 (5): They dropped a spot in my ballot this week because Utah’s improbable ascension is now outpacing their improbable ascension. Great timing for the two teams to face off this week!
Christopher_h (7): I'm hoping Utah softens them up enough for us to beat them. I'm always nervous for the OSU matchup, but this is the first time in a while that I'm nervous because they're probably the better team.
Last week: 8
Leland (6): Kudos to head coach Nick Rolovich for being so unlikable that I teetered on the unfathomable and almost wanted to see Stanfurd win a game.
Nick Kranz (6): Rolovich getting fired right after beating Stanford would be a pretty great outcome for certain petty Cal fans like me.
Berkelium97 (6): If that was Rolovich’s last game, it was a doozy: rallying from a double-digit deficit, blowing a double-digit lead, and scoring the game winning TD in the final two minutes. It’s just a shame that someone had to win that game…
Christopher_h (6): Unlike Leland, I had no qualms about pulling for Stanford in this game. Wazzu successfully used tempo to tire out the Stanford defense—the defensive line looked winded and could not stop the run any time Wazzu got a drive going and the secondary blew a number of coverages (but this might just be because the Stanford secondary outside of CB Kyu Blu Kelly is just plain bad). That was enough to hang around Stanford—and they also successfully dialed up pressure late in the game (like they did against us) to force a fumble on QB Tanner McKee to clinch the game.
Last week: 5
Nick Kranz (7): David Shaw’s ability to call offensive plays his players can execute almost always trumps his inability to manage a game intelligently, but he loses games due to horrible game management juuuuust often enough that I get to laugh at him. Which is precisely what I did when he blew it against Washington State.
Christopher_h (8): Stanford is really struggling with absolutely no run game whatsoever and a number of wide receiver injuries have crimped the passing game. Tight end Benjamin Yurosek was the only receiver with more than two receptions prior to the Wazzup game. I feel good about our chances if their receivers are still injured by the time we play them—and not so great otherwise.
Last week: 7
Nick Kranz (8): It would be hilarious (and oddly unsurprising somehow) if USC beat Notre Dame next week and gave the Pac-12 its second-best non-conference win in the process.
Berkelium97 (8): This team is the complete opposite of Cal. Instead of keeping every game close, no matter the quality of the opponent, USC always manages to have its games end in a blowout no matter the quality of opponent.
Christopher_h (9): USC has looked like hot garbage for most of the year, but QB Jaxson Dart (if he comes back) and WR Drake London are nearly impossible to stop. You need to best them in some other facet of the game to win—like having a strong passing game or a strong running game. Not sure which category we fit into here.
Last week: 9
Nick Kranz (9): That Washington’s offense has been mediocre isn’t surprising, but if UW still had their usual shutdown defense, they would be OK. Unfortunately for them, the Huskies are only fifth in the conference in yards per play allowed and teams that they used to hold in the teens are now scoring in the 20s.
Berkelium97 (9): I don’t know how they managed to keep that game so close despite having such a terrible offense. They can’t possibly lose at Arizona on Friday, right…?
Christopher_h (5): I'm probably ranking them higher than most, but like Oregon, I think they're just one good QB away from competing at the top of the Pac-12. They just got ZTF back on defense, which is a big boost as well. If I were a UW fan, I would want to see what the five-star freshman can do. The UW–Oregon match-up could feature five-star freshman QBs on both teams and be an excellent preview for the future.
Last week: 10
Nick Kranz (10): Playing up to good opponents on the road and losing narrowly while also playing down to bad opponents at home and losing narrowly is a miserable way to go through life.
Berkelium97 (10): Same story every week (except the Wazzu game): Cal takes a lead or two, but ultimately falls short in a one-score game. The Bears are probably the best of the bottom-three in the conference, but they need to find a way to win these coin-flip games. Next weekend presents a nice opportunity to get a win…
Leland (11): In any other week, I’d give them some credit for taking Oregon to the limit, but that loss was agonizing for the fans, whereas Colorado’s rout was invigorating for theirs.
Christopher_h (10): Oh look, another close loss—who could have guessed? Cal is obviously better than the record indicates and there's probably a parallel universe somewhere in which a couple plays went our way each game and we're sitting at 5–1. Unfortunately, that's not this universe. Cal has some of its most winnable games coming up, so if there was ever a time to turn it around, it's now.
Last week: 11
Nick Kranz (11): Actually got some explosive passing plays, though you have to assume that it’s a function of opponent rather than some sort of offensive solution they figured out.
Berkelium97 (11): The Buffs showed up to a pillowfight with a pillowcase full of rocks. After that blowout win, Colorado should be feeling optimistic heading into next week’s winnable game against Cal. After that—well, it’s best not to think about how unlikely it is that they’ll get another win this season.
Leland (10): A win over Arizona isn’t much, but a win by that margin for a struggling team like Colorado is.
Christopher_h (11): This game was a confidence booster for Colorado, but they looked similarly inept for at least a half. A couple of defensive plays (or Arizona screw-ups, depending on your point of view) like a scoop and score, a pick-six, and Arizona jumping offsides for a free play to take a shot at the endzone quickly shifted the momentum of the game in the third quarter. Their defense looks solid, but again, this was Arizona they shutout.
Last week: 12
Nick Kranz (12): Worst Pac-12 team since at least the infamous UW–WSU Crapple Cup combo in 2008?
Berkelium97 (12): After looking feisty in their last couple games, the Wildcats came out and laid an egg. Unless they can upset Cal in a few weeks, a winless season seems inevitable now.
Leland (12): Hard not to argue they’re undisputedly the worst team in the Pac-12. Let’s hope it remains without dispute after November 6th, too.
Christopher_h (12): This was their best chance at winning this season (well, at least it was after they lost to an FCS team) and they looked absolutely helpless on offense. Getting blown out by a bad team is one thing, but being shutout entirely is just embarrassing. I'm looking forward to sweating their match-up with us.
Maybe all of our writers are too beaten down by going 1–5. Maybe all of our writers were thrown off their schedule due to the Friday game. Maybe all of our writers are trying to ghost me. But one way or another, we have a new low in voter turnout for the year. But we’ve got what we need and Table 1 shows how the seven of us voted.
Our rankings for the entire year are shown in Figure 1. You can see Utah’s meteoric rise over the past two weeks—jumping three spots each week to climbing from the bottom half of the Pac-12 to the crown at the top of the conference. The bottom third of the conference, is holding steady since last week.
But despite that third of the conference staying idle, big moves by Stanfurd and Utah have made for a bit of a tumultuous week out West. As shown in Table 2, the conference had steadily been stabilizing—from the preseason rankings to the edition released after Week 6, the Pac-12 cumulative Madness has decreased each week. Until now. It was a crazy week of results, resulting in more movement up and down the rankings this week than last. With Stanfurd’s big fall, they also further their lead as the Maddest team of the Pac-12—which is only helped by the second-Maddest team not buding an inch (Figure 2.)
The precise scores (calculated by taking the average of scores for each team) is shown in Figure 3; the error bar represents one standard deviation. Washington has the largest standard deviation because they received the largest range in responses (several ninth-place votes and one fifth-place vote).
These precise rankings are graphed for the entire 2021 season (Figure 4). When taking a look at the precise rankings, we see the top third of the conference is well-defined—four teams with a signature win on the season. On the other end of the spectrum, the three teams at the bottom of the conference are also clear to see; these teams have combined to have one FBS win—which came at the hands of another team in this tragic trio.
California and Colorado are headed on a collision course—not just on the field, but also in our precise rankings. Let’s hope that the Bears take the opportunity to definitively state their claim that they are the better team.