Pac-12 Power Rankings, Week 11: Could COVID chaos cause a Cal collapse?

Might unrest among the community trump inactivity on the gridiron?

Leland: So… anything interesting been happening in the world of college football and Bear Territory this past week?

And how exactly do you factor COVID nonsense into our power rankings—which evaluates the Pac-12 teams by their on-field performance and fanbase morale particularly in recent games, but also over the season in its entirety?

  • #24 Utah def. Arizona, 38–29

  • Oregon State def. Stanfurd, 35–14

  • Arizona State def. Washington, 35–30

  • UCLA def. Colorado, 44–20

  • #3 Oregon def. Washington State, 38–24

  • Surprise bye: USC

  • COVID-positive: California

Berkelium97:  Several weeks ago, we had several contenders for Pac-12 division titles and now we’ve converged on Utah and Oregon—both of whom are one win away from the Pac-12 title game.  OSU and WSU have slight chances to win the North if Oregon loses to Utah and then loses the Platypus Bowl (whether OSU or WSU gets the division depends on a number of tiebreaking conditions that will not be finalized until the end of the year).  Meanwhile, ASU’s only hopes are a pair of Utah losses and a sweep over OSU and Arizona.  I preferred the conference back when there was so much potential for insanity at the top of the divisions...

Note that some of the votes were submitted prior to the announcement that Jimmy Lake had been liberated from the garbage University of Washington and that trash town.

The rankings

Last week: 1

Berkelium97 (1): I’m just going to copy and paste my blurb from last week since I say the same thing every week: “the Ducks let some sub-par, overmatched team hang around for most of the game before finally managing to secure a win.”

Nick Kranz (1): That was quietly a pretty dominant performance from the Ducks—it took a really iffy/unlucky goalline fumble call from the refs to keep the game looking kinda sorta not like a blowout. I still don’t think Oregon gets through the rest of the Pac-12 season unscatched, but the running game is picking up steam, the defense is healthy, and quarterback Anthony Brown is making fewer mistakes as the season goes along.

Christopher_h (2): I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. QB Anthony Brown has used his legs effectively—and he's been passing much better since the Cal game—just enough to keep defenses off-balance. Wazzu had been carving defenses up with their passing game, but Kayvon Thibodeaux is a singular force capable of disrupting nearly every play. The constant pressure by the Oregon defense definitely took Wazzu off-rhythm, disrupting timing throws, forcing passes before receivers expected them, and so on. Utah is looming next—and they'll likely get two cracks at Oregon soon.

Last week: 2

Berkelium97 (2):  Every team who plays Arizona drops at least one spot in my ballot.  This week is no different as the Utes’ momentum ground to a halt in the desert.  

Nick Kranz (2): It took some special teams weirdness to keep Arizona close (DORP FOR HEISMAN) so I’m not going to read too much into Utah’s relative struggles. 

Christopher_h (1): Utah played a sloppy game and had enough things go against them to allow Arizona to hang around longer than they should have (drive-killing penalties on third down, poor calls by the refs, special teams, etc), but I am going to assume they were overlooking Arizona for Oregon. I'm voting Utah for the top spot until proven otherwise.

Last week: 4

Berkelium97 (3):  Jayden Daniels continues to be shockingly ineffective—especially in comparison to his 2020 and 2019 seasons.  Thankfully Rachaad White continues to bail out the ASU offense.  

Nick Kranz (3): Herm is going to wonder what in the world happened to his defense against Utah all off-season, but hopefully a trip to the Alamo Bowl will make him feel better.

Christopher_h (4): Like UCLA, this is a team that relies heavily on their talented run game—because the QB can't get it done through the air. One of the big positives about QB Jayden Daniels was that even if he wasn't testing secondaries through the air, at least he wasn't turning the ball over either. This season, Daniels is now up to 8 passing touchdowns with 8 interceptions, a marked decline from his 17 TD/2 INT freshman season. RB Rachaad White had been solid all year, but he's really been breaking out these past few games.

Last week: 3

Berkelium97 (5): With an improbable division title on the line, they put up a fight against the Ducks.  But QB Jayden de Laura’s turnovers killed them—the first took a TD off the board as de Laura got Ezeffed at the goal line, the second set up a 40-yard TD drive for Oregon, and the third set up a 32-yard TD drive.  That’s a huge 21-point swing in a game decided by 14.  They’ve been decent under interim head coach Jake Dickert; it will be interesting to see what the Cougs do with him at the end of the season.

Nick Kranz (4): Karma is not real, but if it was, Wazzu would’ve won this game. Alas, de Laura was under siege all game long and Wazzu never really looked likely to pull the upset.

Christopher_h (3): Washington State is tough, but they were simply outplayed by the Ducks. This is one of the few games this season that Oregon didn't keep needlessly close.

Last week: 6

Nick Kranz (5): 50 rushes for 218 yards against Stanford’s broken defense? Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad you Beavers did what was necessary and handed Stanford their seventh loss, but I wanted 300+ rushing yards of road paving, not a measly 4.2 yards/carry light afternoon of work. 

Christopher_h (6): Stanford actually did surprisingly well stopping the powerful OSU run game, but Chance Nolan bounced back from rough outings against Cal and Colorado to pick the Stanford defense apart. The Beavs are bowl-eligible for the first time since the last time they were good… in 2013?

Last week: 5

Leland (4): It’s always tough to grade teams with bipolar performances. They trailed the Buffs for the entire first half, which they closed with a field goal—and then dominated with 34 unanswered points.

Berkelium97 (4):  After a very slow start, UCLA looked like that team I had near the top of my rankings early in the year. 

Nick Kranz (6): The main thing was that DTR looked competent both as a runner and as a passer—because UCLA kinda needs him to be both to keep that offense going to outpace their crummy defense.

Christopher_h (5): Once Zach Charbonnet gets going, it's over. He's so good at creating his own yards that he needs special attention from the defense, which just opens up everything else on offense for UCLA. Any team that stops the run against UCLA will win (see: Fresno State, Oregon, Utah, etc). The only team that didn't stop the UCLA run game and managed to win anyway was ASU, who has the exact same gameplan as UCLA—but just executes it better.

Last week: 7

Nick Kranz (9): Anybody know why they had a bye week so late in the season? Weird.

Christopher_h (7): With the weekend free, USC was finally free to pursue their real passion: dropkicking puppies into a lake.

Leland (7): Arguably the best of the Pac-12 teams currently suffering through a losing overall record.

Last week: 8

Leland (8): The Huskies actually punched way above their weight while free of their embattled head coach, Jimmy Lake—they led for the entirety of the game and were up by ten with just over five minutes left in the game. It took an offensive flurry by Arizona State to give them their first lead in the final minutes of the game. Struggling quarterback Dylan Morris responded by throwing two touchdowns—too bad one of them was for the Sun Devils.

Berkelium97 (8):  The Huskies held a double-digit lead for most of the game and blew it in the 4th quarter as the defense surrendered several backbreaking 3rd and 4th down conversions and the offense threw a pick six.  Jimmy Lake is not long for this world…

Nick Kranz (8): What do you get if you have an elite secondary and that’s actually the only strength on the team? Evidently the answer is an administration looking for every excuse to fire a head coach.

Christopher_h (9): Dylan Morris is looking worse each game. That was enough to give some snaps to the 5-star freshman, Sam Huard—but he didn't look very good either. Let that serve as a reminder for anyone cheering for the young backup quarterback—no matter how talented, they can't be expected to come in and immediately dominate. There's nothing better than in-game experience and although UW should obviously be looking to the future, it's not happening because Lake doesn't have one here.

Last week: 10

Berkelium97 (9):  An unscheduled bye week was a blessing for a Cal team in desperate need of the return of some key players.  Now that the Bears are getting healthy again, they have a good chance to climb in my ballot over the next few weeks.

Nick Kranz (7): I’m ranking this team as if they’re coming off a three-game winning streak, I can live in denial with the best of ‘em.

Christopher_h (8): If it weren't for Covid, I am fairly confident Cal would have won against USC.

Leland (12): The discord, ire, and finger-pointing among the fanbase and the team is at an all time high due to the COVID testing and the baseless accusations being thrown at the City of Berkeley by a certain “journalist”.

Last week: 9

Leland (9): One of many bottom teams that had strong performances to start the game before ultimately losing. They were up 20–7 with one second left in the first half.

Berkelium97 (10): After encouraging performances by the offense over the last couple weeks, the Buffs must have been feeling great with a 20–10 lead over UCLA at halftime.  Then they were outscored 34–0 in the second half.  Brutal.

Nick Kranz (10): 20 points?! In this economy?! Honestly though, how big is Karl Dorrell buyout?

Christopher_h (10): RB Jarek Broussard finally started getting the blocks needed to break off some big runs… but unfortunately for Colorado, those runs were limited to the first half, as UCLA eventually wore Colorado down and ground their lines to dust. QB Brendon Lewis took a beating in the second half, ultimately having to come out of the game. With a better offensive line, they could be a UCLA or ASU type of team, but they'll need to see some better passing if they want teams to stop stacking the box against them.

Last week: T11

Berkelium97 (11):  They kept it shockingly close against a Utah team that had been throttling its opponents in recent weeks.  Thanks to last week’s win, this loss doesn’t sting nearly as much as it could have.

Nick Kranz (11): Really kind of hard to imagine how Arizona scored any points at all against Utah’s defense—but if nothing else, it really underlines what a performance Cal’s beleaguered defense managed the week prior.

Christopher_h (11): Arizona played great and this was an admirable performance from the 24.5-point underdogs to hang tough with the Utes. Arizona was within two points until Utah capped off a clock-killing drive to score with just 2:16 remaining in the game. QB Will Plummer took a beating but kept getting back up and freshman Dorian Singer found himself open again and again against the Utah secondary. This is a team that has lost a lot, but they're not giving up.

Last week: T11

Berkelium97 (12):  Arizona has a worse record, but at least they have been competitive in nearly all their games this season.  LSJU has been outscored 87–21 in the last two weeks.  A loss to Cal next week will officially mark the fall of David Shaw’s empire.

Nick Kranz (12): I can’t believe it took a full eight years for David Shaw to finally ruin what Jim Harbaugh built. My god, I’ve been waiting so damned long.

Christopher_h (12): In the past few years, the Stanford run game would struggle as they dealt with injuries. Well, the Stanford offensive line is healthy and they're just… bad. After the Stanford run game would die, they'd rely on a top-flight quarterback like KJ Costello or Davis Mills or Tanner McKee. This year, Stanford's QB situation now mirrors Arizona's: Tanner McKee is out, Jack West is out, and true freshman Ari Patu was hurt during the OSU game, leaving their designated running QB Isaiah Sanders to alternate snaps with a walk-on QB, Dylan Plautz. (Just like when Arizona’s Will Plummer went down and Jamarye Joiner alternated snaps with walk-on QB Luke Ashworth in the Cal game.) As you can imagine, it didn't go well. I expect McKee will be back for the Cal game, though.

The data

Alas—the upheaval among the Cal football program and fans was not enough to tank the Bears completely to twelfth place. But there was a number of voters who felt as such and voted accordingly. The full list of votes is collected in Table 1.

The record of our 2021 ranks are graphed weekly in Figure 1. For the fifth week in a row, we continue our trend of an undeniable distinction between the top six and the bottom six teams of the conference. As much as I love chaos in the Pac-12, at this point I’m rooting for the thermodynamic miracle and choosing order—no major upsets to maintain this class system for the rest of 2021, please!

Another observation we can make from Figure 1 is that it was a relatively quiet week. Five teams held steady onto their position from last week—nearly half the conference—and the other seven teams moved no more than one spot. Table 2 sums up how much the teams have moved up and down our rankings; when you compare this wee'k’s stability to past weeks, we see this past week had the least collective movement by a fairly wide margin.

The cumulative Madness for each team is shown in Table 2 and also graphed in Figure 2. Arizona has been the most consistent team of the year, as exemplified by their low Madness score—they have half the Madness as the next team (Wazzu). Stanfurd continues to extend their lead (3 points) as the Maddest team; since they literally can’t go any lower in the rankings, the only way for them to continue building on this lead is by winning games and moving up. Gulp.

Our most accurate of rankings—the precise value that was obtained when calculating the averages of our votes—is shown in Figure 3. The error bars represent standard deviation, where a large standard deviation means we were rife with disagreement. California’s error bar is as long as Twist’s chest hair—three of us ranked the team at the bottom for low morale despite technically still being in the hunt for bowl eligibility while the team received homer votes as high as sixth that ranked us above teams that have already booked their ticket for postseason action.

The precise ranks for the year are graphed in Figure 4. I find the most interesting takeaway from this week’s precise ranks is the trio of near ties—ASU & WSU, OSU & UCLA, and Arizona & Stanfurd. Though the Power Rankings are not a simple ranking of which team is better on-field, it’s worth noting that only one of these doublets has faced off this year—a big Cougs win over the Sun Devils, 34–21.

We’re heading into the final stretch of our Power Rankings with the California schools entering rivalry week. This will be a special rivalry week as the Battle of Los Angeles features the worst of the best (UCLA) vs. the best of the worst (USC)—should USC pull off the upset, then that would upset the balance of the top teams being separate from the bottom teams and leave me quite upset. Sorry to Soups, but it’ll be hard for me to root for USC under these circumstances; it would be best for me and my Papi for UCLA to win—as sickening as it is for me to root for either of these teams.