Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 12: I know what Utah is thankful for

And we know what you're here for—how high can Cal ascend when you combine a big win with a rival's embarrassment with some homer votes?

Leland: Thanksgiving season is upon us! What a miserable time of year it is.

But some Pac-12 teams certainly have things to be thankful for. Public schools in California took down their snooty, rich-kid rivals and the Utes stuffed the Ducks as they were flying on a pilgrimage down south.

With so much for these teams to be thankful for—and so many teams feeling like they’re a few green benas short of a plate—this will be an interesting week for our Power Rankings. We have qualitatively defined our rankings to be evaluations of teams based on on-field results and team/fanbase morale; this applies for the entirety of the season, but with a bit of an emphasis on recent weeks.

In case you’ve missed out, here’s the full set of results for Week 12 in the Pac-12.

  • Washington State def. Arizona, 44–18

  • Colorado def. Washington, 20–17

  • UCLA def. USC, 62–33

  • California def. Stanfurd, 41–11

  • #23 Utah def. #3 Oregon, 38–7

  • Oregon State def. Arizona State, 24–10

Berkelium97:  Oregon’s loss to Utah sets up an intriguing scenario this weekend.  If Oregon State beats Oregon and Wazzu beats UW, there will be a three-way tie atop the North division.  The Pac-12’s first tie-breaking procedure for three or more teams is the head-to-head record among said tied teams.  Each is 1–1, which moves us to the next tie-breaker—record in division.  OSU is 3–2, Wazzu is 4–1, and Oregon is 3–2. Wazzu should be the division winner here, but the Pac-12 rulebook says the multi-team tie-breakers are used to eliminate all but two teams, at which point the head-to-head tie-breakers take place.  I’m not sure what the Pac-12 procedure is when the tiebreaker eliminates two teams.  The obvious solution would be to give the division title to the last team standing (Wazzu), but the Pac-12 may have some asinine policy for such a scenario.  Maybe they skip the whole thing and send the fourth-place team to the title game.  I’m sure the Bears wouldn’t mind that outcome.

Christopher_h: Regarding the above, my understanding is that after head-to-head record amongst common teams, the second tiebreaker is their division record. In the event that Wazzu and OSU both win their rivalry games, Wazzu holds the tiebreaker with a 4–1 division record to Oregon and OSU’s hypothetical 3–2 division record and thus Wazzu will be the champ. If Wazzu loses, the winner of Oregon–OSU is the Pac-12 North champ. Personally, I’m pulling for OSU to win the North, because then it will potentially mark the third time that Cal under Wilcox has beaten the Pac-12 champ (2018 UW in the Evan Weaver classic and 2020 Oregon).


The rankings

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (1):  I cannot fathom a scenario in which this team does not win the Pac-12 Championship Game.  There is no one on Utah’s level right now.

Christopher_h (1): I had been saying it for the past couple weeks, but I completely expected Utah to get their revenge on Oregon, spoiling Oregon's playoff hopes after Oregon did the same to Utah back in 2019. Utah's young offensive and defensive lines are already at or near the best in the conference and Utah ran all over Oregon while completely stifling the Oregon run game themselves. Other than an upset loss to Oregon State (whose run defense is apparently pretty darn good after also stopping ASU), Utah has looked unstoppable. I'm guessing they have time to overlook Colorado and start preparing for the Pac-12 championship game.

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (2):  The playoff facade has finally come to an end.  After two months of loafing about against mediocre teams, they finally played an excellent team and suffered a catastrophic beatdown in every phase of the game.

Leland (3): I’m not shocked they lost after a season’s worth of struggling, but that was a humiliation on a national stage—which merits a harsher grade. 

Christopher_h (2): I knew it was coming—it was only a matter of time. No team has been able to stay atop of the Pac-12 because almost every team in the conference is deeply flawed. Utah currently looks to be the most complete team, but Anthony Brown's improved passing in recent weeks was helping Oregon stay afloat. After falling behind early, Brown couldn't carry this one on his own.

Last week: 6

Berkelium97 (4):  After half a quarter of ineptitude, the Bruins went on an absolute tear.  They let up in the fourth quarter by only throwing one pass and yet they still managed to score a TD on every possession.  Hopefully this induces a big hangover this weekend because this offense looked nigh unstoppable.

Christopher_h (4): After some classic DTR turnovers, UCLA was nigh unstoppable on offense. A lot of that had to do with USC having no idea what they were doing on defense, but also RB Zach Charbonnet is an absolute beast and the best back in the Pac-12. USC couldn’t stop Charbonnet, they couldn’t cover UCLA receivers, and they had a number of busted coverages for big plays. After four years of “his guys,” Chip Kelly finally has a winning season at UCLA. 

Last week: 5

Berkelium97 (3):  The offense wasn’t particularly sharp by their usual standards, but the defense put together a surprisingly effective performance.  If they keep it up next week, they can win the Platypus Bowl.

Christopher_h (5): This was the only game that surprised me last week. OSU and ASU have pretty similar offenses, but I would have given the edge to ASU and their backs. OSU's defense came up big in the redzone and ASU's only touchdown came off a fumbled snap from the punter, giving them the ball inside the 5-yard line. Perhaps OSU's defense played so well because they see the same offense every day in practice. 

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (5):  Is it weird to be impressed that they beat a one-win team by 26 points?  Everyone has been struggling against Arizona lately, so this was an impressively comfortable win. Apropos of nothing, how did this team lose by 31 to USC earlier this year?

Christopher_h (3): They’re in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 North and they’ve looked pretty sharp late in the season, so I’m a little bit surprised at the lack of respect they’re getting after some early-season struggles. If Washington State wins, I believe they’re set up for a rematch with Utah in the Pac-12 title game. Utah won that one, 24–13, but they did so against a team missing QB Jayden de Laura, who leads the Pac-12 in passing yards per game and passing touchdowns. 

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (6): ASU has steadily fallen in my ballot for the last several weeks and they did more of the same things that have caused that decline: turnovers, loads of penalties, offensive inefficiency.  The only reason they managed a single TD was because OSU gifted them the ball at the 4-yard-line.  They should beat Arizona next week, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost.

Christopher_h (6): This was ASU's worst offensive output for the season. Without their strong run game to lean on, they struggled to move the ball at all. Conversely, OSU had no problem running all over ASU—I did not expect OSU's run defense to be that much better than ASU's. I think they'll still handle Arizona next week, but an upset looks far more plausible now than it did at the start of this season (given ASU's 70–7 beatdown last year).

Last week: 9

Leland (7): Midway through the third quarter, I thought to myself that the game was a blowout by Wilcox standards. Then the Bears kept pouring it on those Furdies.

Berkelium97 (7):  The Cal offense was relentless in a way that I’ve never seen under Wilcox.  If the Bears had started the season as well as they have played in the last month (covid game excepted), they’d be an 8- or 9-win team at this point.  Alas, they’re teetering on the edge of bowl eligibility with a tough match-up against a UCLA team coming off a similar rivalry game beatdown.

Christopher_h (7): If we could ever string together an entire season of games like this—with Cal playing at their peak potential—I have no doubt that Cal would be the Pac-12 champ. Saturday’s Cal team can beat anyone in the Pac-12,and I really thought this was the year they’d do so (especially given how flawed everyone else in the Pac-12 is). I absolutely loved the Big Game and how Cal just poured it on—when is the last time Cal blew someone out like that, let alone Stanford? The refs did everything they could to try and keep the game close with super weak calls against Cal—and it still didn’t matter because of how thoroughly Cal dominated Stanford.

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (8):  Eight of their 10 drives went for four or fewer plays and yet the Buffs still managed to build two separate 10-point leads.  Kudos to them for taking full advantage of UW’s turnovers to win such an ugly, ugly, uuuuugly game.

Christopher_h (8): Colorado really benefited from Washington’s complete late-season implosion here and I was more disappointed in UW’s failure than impressed by anything Colorado did here. Colorado was outgained by UW 426 to 183 yards overall. Colorado had 58 yards on their first drive (resulting in a FG), their next seven drives accumulated a combined total of 48 yards, and then an 80-yard drive near the end of the fourth quarter for the TD to make it 20–10 Colorado. The difference was that UW turned the ball over four times and Colorado didn’t turn it over at all.

Last week: 7

Leland (10): I don’t want my rankings to be too volatile, but they got absolutely beat down and embarrassed by their rivals the likes of which only Stanfurd would understand. The rival quarterback literally signed an autograph for a fan wearing your colors on your field in the middle of the game.

Berkelium97 (9): USC has been such an awful, awful team at home this season.  And that fanbase deserves to sit through every minute of it.

Christopher_h (9): Defense? What defense? Who needs a defense when you run an Air Raid offense? This game was probably a bit closer than the score indicated (a two possession game with about 4 minutes left), but USC is going to struggle to win any games with a defense this porous. QB Jaxson Dart did admirably for a true freshman, but USC probably should have known that UCLA was going to try to overwhelm him with pressure and game-planned better for that. I guess you can’t expect that much with a lame duck interim coach.

Last week: 8

Berkelium97 (10):  Wow.  Just, wow.  For the second week in a row, they blew a very winnable game.  This program is in a death spiral.

Christopher_h (10): In the past, I was glad that Cal would face Washington early, since Chris Petersen–led teams always improved as the season progressed. Well, this year is the opposite and UW is in the midst of a complete meltdown. They moved the ball at will against Colorado—and just kept turning the ball over instead of scoring. Dylan Morris has played worse and worse and they benched him at one point for Colorado State grad transfer QB Patrick O’Brien. (Five-star freshman QB Sam Huard has played three games already, so evidently they’re keeping the redshirt on him.) Well, O’Brien was even worse. Washington has a defense with future NFL players (mostly in the secondary) and plenty of talent all over the roster… but without a good quarterback to steer this ship, they’ve quickly run aground.

Last week: 11

Berkelium97 (11): After several weeks of competitive games, the Wildcats regressed to a blowout loss in a Friday night fogfest.  It’s been a rough season, but a win over ASU is possible this week thanks to the Devils’ recent struggles.

Christopher_h (12): There was snow, there was sleet, and in the second half, there was an absurd amount of fog. After a very clean mistake-free game against Utah, Arizona regressed towards the mean and made a number of mistakes to kill their own offensive drives. Wazzu found a weakness in Arizona’s defense and used Arizona’s defensive pressure against them, exploiting the defense all game on the same handful of plays—and Arizona never adjusted. Perhaps Don Brown is already looking ahead to his next coaching gig.

Last week: 12

Leland (12): They got blown out by their rivals to lock up their status as the worst team in the Pac-12 North and I can’t stop giggling at them.

Berkelium97 (12):  This has to mark the end of the David Shaw era, right?

Christopher_h (11): Did I not tell you that Cal could run all over Stanford? I think Stanford still has some Cal bootprints on their face. 


The data

So let’s gather round the metaphorical table to gaze upon we writers gathered round a physical table to conduct these rankings. Table 1 gathers our individual this ballots this week.

To reflect upon the season as a whole, Figure 1 shows the progression of the rankings over the season.

First things first—this week continues my new favorite obsession in these graphs, which is six consecutive weeks of a clear divide between the top and bottom halves of the conference (for which we thank USC and their pitiful performance against UCLA as a win by the former most certainly would have destroyed this balance). Beyond that, the changes this week make for some weird art—beautiful chaos, if you will. At both extremes of the conference, the two best and worst teams have some continuity from last week. But the next four teams (so #3–6 and 7–10) have unique and symmetrical inversions. If only the Ducks could have beaten the Utes and this picture would have been absolutely insane.

Those aforementioned inversions by the two sets of middle teams ensure this is going to be a Mad week—our in-house term that adds up how much the teams are moving up and down the rankings (Table 2). Indeed, this is the Maddest week we’ve seen since Week 4, when we were still struggling to evaluate the teams with minimal data and barely any head-to-head results.

Arizona has a stranglehold on the title of least Mad team as a function of their basement-dwelling this year (Fig. 2). The actual basement team at the very, very bottom of our rankings is on the other end of the Madness spectrum—the lowly (literally and figuratively) Stanfurd Cardinal have been our Maddest team for seven weeks now, but Oregon State is closing in.

Compiling our individual votes (Table 1) actually yields a more detailed breakdown. A high-res version of our rankings is shown in Figure 3. The precise ranking for each team (obtained by taking the mathematical average of every response that a team received) is graped in the vertical columns; the error bars show you the standard deviation of the responses. A large standard deviation means there was a lot of variability—the Beavs have a large standard deviation because their individual votes varied from second to sixth.

The precise ranks for the entire season are graphed in Figure 4.

Though no Northern team has booked their ticket to the conference championship, we’re fairly clear about the top two teams of the conference—one from the North and one from the South. We could not come to agreement on the teams from third to fifth place, so the Bruins, Beavs, and Cougs are coupling up and getting cozy this week. Though Arizona State has shored up bowl eligibility, we as voters were in agreement that they were in sixth or seventh place, which put them much further than the five other bowl-eligible teams above them. The Bears are creeping right up on the Sun Devils despite being in a much worse place in terms of win-loss record and the quest for bowl eligibility; the Big Game win was certainly good for morale, but I think they have Homer J. Simpson to thank for their high placement. Colorado, USC, and Washington are struggling, but nothing compared to Arizona and Stanfurd. The Lobsterbacks have been slowly putting more distance between themselves and the Wildcats down at the bottom over the past three weeks and you love to see it.

As we inch closer and closer to the grand finale, all I care about in these rankings is maintaining the half-and-half split in the conference. To do this, we have to avoid upsets in Pac-12 rivalries (the Apple-for-theSubstitute-Teachers Cup, the Territorial Cup, and Utah–Colorado) and hope that two of our in-state rivals lose in non-conference games against ranked teams.

But.

In real time as I write this, I just realized that an underdog Cal beating that inferior UC down south might possibly upend this divide (especially with those voters working at the power plant). So I am torn. Do I root for the illogical non-entropic organization we’ve stumbled upon? Or do I root for the Bears to keep on winning?

Duh. Of course we root for the Bears. Six weeks of random unrandomness was a good run. Let’s flip the bit—pool. Let’s flip that pool.