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PAC 12 Roundup and Power Rankings - Championship Game Edition

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Our last installment of regular season power rankings. I'm sure you'll love them.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

That's a wrap, my friends.  The PAC 12 regular season is over.  All that is left are some conference championship games, a bunch of bowl games, a national title game and the turn of the annual coaching carousel.

Not too much, am I right?

On with the PAC 12 roundup.

The Playoff Calculus

Stanford kept their playoff hopes alive with a remarkable come from behind win just as Notre Dame looked like it had completed its own come from behind victory.  At the time of writing, it wasn't clear exactly where Stanford sat in the playoff rankings.  However, the path to the playoffs are kind of clear for Stanford.  All scenarios involve them needing considerable help.

First, we have to acknowledge that two of the four spots are locked up.  Oklahoma is for certain in as will be the winner of the Big Ten championship.  I don't think any of that is debatable.  In addition, it would take a MAJOR upset for Alabama to not make it, even if they lose the SEC championship.  I suppose there is a scenario where they could get pushed out, but even if Alabama lost to Florida, they could STILL end up ahead of Stanford in the playoff calculus.

So, what we are really talking about here is Stanford trying to fit into one spot.  How does it happen?

There really isn't much to it.  Clemson has to lose to North Carolina to begin with.  Florida absolutely destroying Alabama ... and I'm talking an epic beat down here ... wouldn't hurt.  And, of course, Stanford has to beat USC in a game that is even more convincing than their first win (which was a come back).

If all of that happens, Stanford will be competing against Ohio State, Alabama, North Carolina and Notre Dame for the final two playoff spots.  Ohio State has just one loss and that is to Michigan State.  That said, they would have just one win over a ranked team.  Notre Dame has wins over 5 ranked teams and lost two two top 15 type teams by less than 10 points total.  Alabama would also have two losses against two highly ranked teams, but would have lost their conference championship - a factor that we know the selection committee values.  North Carolina would hold a W over the #1 team in the nation and a conference championship, but would have a resume boosted by two wins over FCS competition.

There is a chance, but that's about as far as we can take the analysis.

The Wilting Violet ... errr ... Crimson

The collapse of the Cougars in the Apple Cup was shocking to WSU fans everywhere.  Very few were prepared to see UW physically manhandle the Cougars even considering the presence of backup QB Peyton Bender.  But, as the game unfolded, it didn't take long to see who the more physical team was.  Cougar receivers were short-arming balls, running backs were tentative in the holes, defensive backs were playing with big cushions and linebackers were falling backwards on tackles.  In short, it looked like the Cougs were intimidated by the more physical team in all aspects of the game.

Maybe more people should have seen this coming.

Vegas certainly did.  The line climbed as high as 8.5 points in UW's favor just before the game - a spread that far exceeded the expected impact of a single QB in an Air Raid style offense.  In addition, most advanced analytics sites had projected a UW victory, some by margins of victory exceeding the Vegas line.  By most considerations, UW was the better team by all measurements EXCEPT for overall record achieved against different schedules.

Mike Leach made a comment after the game that WSU had beaten teams "considerably better" than UW.  Under scrutiny, that comment also fails to hold up.  In fact, looking at S&P, there are no teams beaten by WSU ranked higher than UW.  In FEI and Sagarin, only Oregon shows up as a team ahead of UW - one spot higher in FEI and five spots higher in Sagarin.  I'm not sure that beating Oregon without Vernon Adams qualifies as "considerably better" by even a generous definition of the term, but that's Mike Leach for you.

Not a Chip Off the Trojan Block

Finally, a tip of the cap to new USC head coach Clay Helton.  He had the interim title retired following USC's big win over UCLA.  I know many USC fans who were hoping for a bigger name - such as former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.  But Helton has done a fantastic job of remaking the USC identity - midseason no less - to feature the imposing athletic stature of his athletes in a more physical style of play.  Sexier isn't always better.  In this case, USC had the right guy there all along and I believe they made the right decision.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Power Rankings

Rank Prev Team Record Next Game
1 1
Stanford Helmet
Stanford 10-2 (8-1) vs USC
Last Week WIN Notre Dame 36 vs Stanford 38
The Stanford / Notre Dame game was simply mesmerizing. I continue to be disheartened by what I see as an unreliable Stanford defense. But the offense has a unique ability to impose its will on just about everybody it plays. Even more amazing is the fact that when they need to go outside the boundaries of their normal offense to get chunk plays, they seem to be able to get them. Ergo their final drive in which they setup a game-winning field goal down two with less than a minute to play. Stanford can still get into the playoffs which, if you'd asked me a few weeks ago, I'd have not thought possible.
Player of the Game RB Christian McCaffrey (288 APY) While he found rushing lanes to be a big tighter, McCaffrey still found ways to contribute. In doing so, he became just the third player in NCAA history to top 3000 all purpose yards in a season. He also broke Reggie Bush's PAC record in the same category. It was an amazing year for McCaffrey and one that elevated Stanford from "pretty good" to "champion" level.
2 3
USC Helmet
USC 8-4 (6-3) vs Stanford
Last Week WIN UCLA 21 vs USC 40
Clay Helton was rewarded with a full-time contract after USC broke their three game losing streak against UCLA to advance to the PAC 12 Championship Game. This is actually the second P12CG that USC has qualified for - they were passed over a few seasons ago due to their post-season ban. USC demonstrated toughness on both sides of the line of scrimmage against the Bruins. What was more impressive to me is how well USC has avoided mistakes under Helton's watch. I expect a completely different game this weekend than what we saw the first time USC and Stanford wrangled this year.
Player of the Game USC Offensive Line (59 rushes, 249 yds, 3 TDs, 1 sack) I wrote at the beginning of the year that I thought this O-Line was "1b" to Stanford's "1a". They certainly played like that against UCLA. The UCLA D-Line was stone-walled most of the game, even if the USC RBs didn't do much to break tackles in the second level. Watching USC put up 59 rushes against a defense that simply couldn't resist was impressive.
3 4
Oregon Helmet
Oregon 9-3 (7-2) ---
Last Week WIN Oregon State 42 at Oregon 52
It took all the discipline I could summon to not drop Oregon below Utah after what can be charitably described as a "lackluster" win over the Beavers in the Civil War. You can make all the statements you want about "rivalry games" and all that, but the reality is that Oregon gave up more points to Oregon State than any other team in the PAC by a lot and join only WSU in even allowing OSU to score 30 or more. This is simply not a very balanced team whose success hinges completely on Royce Freeman's ability to break tackles and Vernon Adams' remarkable ability to make something out of nothing.
Player of the Game QB Vernon Adams (74%, 366 yds, 3 TDs, 44 yds rush) Adams has been sensational since his healthy return to the starting lineup. He gives Oregon a big play passing dimension that doesn't rely on the QB getting single-safety looks from the opponent. Sure, most of those big plays happen once the play has broken down, but Adams is spectacular in keeping the plays alive. Without him, Oregon would have gotten beaten by OSU. Think about that for a second.
4 6
utah helmet
Utah 9-3 (6-3) ---
Last Week WIN Colorado 14 vs Utah 20
The Utes limp to the finish line with an offense that is really not clicking. It would be easy to blame it on the absence of star RB Devontae Booker, but backup Joe Williams has been a revelation over the past two games. Utah's problems start and end where they have all along - with Travis Wilson at QB and a shoddy receiving corps. The Utah defense, though not as stout as they were a year ago, are still a strength. I like that they can keep Utah in just about any game against any opponent. That fact will play well for Bowl committees looking to get a team in their bowl who will maximize the chances of a good game.
Player of the Game RB Joe Williams (34 carries, 192 yards, 1 TD) For the second straight week, Joe Williams was the story of the game. He's now rushed for 60 carries and 320 yards in two games. Without him, I'm not sure if Utah would have scored at all, period.
5 2
ucla helmet
UCLA 8-4 (5-4) ---
Last Week LOSS UCLA 21 vs USC 40
The injuries and the conservative nature of the offense finally caught up with UCLA. They were simply out-physicalled by USC and, when they needed to loosen the reigns to try to keep it close, QB Josh Rosen turned the ball over. The Bruins are loaded with talent and they'll rebound from this injury-plagued season to really make noise in the South next year. But they also graduate a lot of players this year.
Player of the Game LB Aaron Wallace (11 tckls, 2 TFL, 1 sack) The senior reserve LB has gotten the chance to start due to injuries. He made his last game count as he was provided many chances to make plays and delivered just about every time. It might have been nice if UCLA's ends had held up a little better, but Wallace produced.
6 8
Cal Helmet
Cal 7-5 (4-5) ---
Last Week WIN Arizona State 46 vs Cal 48
The readers here have been ripping on Cal relentlessly all year. However, I've been steadfast in keeping Cal near the middle of the rankings because of one thing: Jared Goff. When you have a QB that is better than any other QB in the conference, you will always have a tie-breaker in your pocket. Goff was absolutely masterful in picking apart ASU's high-pressure defense and winning the game on the last drive. Compare and contrast that to how Jake Browning looked against the same D. Even more impressive was how Cal worked in the run all night. In fact, on the game winning drive with clock winding down, Cal still worked in three rushes for 20 critical yards to Tre Watson.
Player of the Game QB Jared Goff (542 yds, 5 TDs, 0 sacks) Goff was exquisite in this one. Despite the fact that his O-Line failed him on many occasions, he kept sidestepping pressure and making dime throws under duress. He put on a clinic against ASU and certainly boosted his NFL stock as a result. It was a true thing of beauty to watch him work.
7 9
UW Helmet
Washington 6-6 (4-5) ---
Last Week WIN WSU 10 vs Washington 45
Let's not get too excited about the dominating Apple Cup victory. After all, WSU isn't really that good of a team. In fact, UW has beaten considerably better teams this year - not to mention this same WSU team six of the past seven years. Ok, I'm being snarky ... but, hey, I'm just talking about my team. So that's ok. WSU is a questionable top 25 team with Luke Falk and definitely not close to one without him. UW will take the win with pride, but it's hard to bump the Dawgs too much in spite of the dominating fashion of victory.
Player of the Game CB Sidney Jones (6 tckls, 3 PBUs, 1 INT, 1 TD) I almost went with Kevin King here, but Jones was playing out of his mind both as a lock-down corner and as a defensive playmaker. To the former, you could see how Jones was in the heads of both Marks and Williams as they short-armed passes and gave up on routes as the night wore on. To the latter, his pick 6 pretty much ended the game in the third. Going into bowls, Jones is second in the conference in picks and first in INT return yards. Just a great year for a guy who clearly is the best all around CB in the PAC.
8 7
ASU Helmet
ASU 6-6 (4-5) ---
Last Week LOSS Arizona State 46 vs Cal 48
ASU put up one helluva fight in their season finale against Cal. The thing is, however, that this team is a one trick pony. Their aggressive defense was burned by a veteran QB on play after play, yet they kept rushing six or seven guys per snap. It is just what they do. Credit ASU's offense for doing what it had to do to keep up. Mike Bercovici played pretty well overall just as ASU's rushing attack found its stride. Still, ASU goes into bowl season looking for answers to a season that didn't go as planned.
Player of the Game WR Devin Lucien (8 recs, 200 yds, 3 TDs) The UCLA transfer came on strong in the second half of the season. His last game was his best yet. It was a thrilling effort from a WR that I'm betting Bruins fans had wished would have stuck around.
9 5
WSU Helmet
WSU 8-4 (6-3) ---
Last Week LOSS WSU 10 vs Washington 45
It may not feel fair to drop a 6 conference win team so far in the rankings, but this is a bit of an unusual case. WSU is a beat up team that, when challenged by a physical foe, really cowered on both sides of the line. Beyond that, the divisive comments that Mike Leach made after the game by noting that starting QB Luke Falk "chose not to play" - and implying as a result that the loss was his fault - puts a damper on the locker room environment. The Cougars enter the break unsure of how good they really are and who on the team is really committed to success. That's a bad mix.
Player of the Game QB Luke Falk
He made a good decision to not make himself available for this game. I mean, why risk the head injury?
10 10
Arizona Helmet
Arizona 6-6 (3-6) ---
Last Week BYE ---
No change for an idle Arizona team. Interesting that Memphis coach Justin Fuente has been named the new head coach at Virginia Tech. This is significant for Arizona because it was thought that RichRod was a strong candidate for that job.
Player of the Game n/a
11 11
Colorado Helmet
Colorado 4-9 (1-8) ---
Last Week LOSS Colorado 14 vs Utah 20
At some point, you have to wonder when Colorado reaches its breaking point. There are only so many games that you can go into, fight your heart out and still come out on the losing end before you lose hope. Once again, the Buffs put up a fight, even as they were forced to go with their third string QB. And, once again, they lost a close one. Colorado's season ends with what was once a young team transitioning now to "veteran" in its make up. They will be handicapped without the extra 15 bowl practices, to be sure. However, one has to think that if there is going to be a "breakout" for Colorado, next year is that year.
Player of the Game WR Nelson Spruce (5 recs, 111 yds, 1 TD) Spruce finishes a distinguished career after two seasons of littering my POG boxes with his name and gaudy stats. He's a tough guy receiver who, I think, can translate to the NFL. I hope he gets a shot.
12 12
OSU Helmet
Oregon State 2-10 (0-9) ---
Last Week LOSS Oregon State 42 at Oregon 52
The Beavers got Seth Collins back - and played him at WR - just in time for the Civil War. But for a few defensive breakdowns, it might have been enough as the Beavers did the unthinkable and stood toe to toe with the Mighty Oregon Ducks in Eugene. Though it ended in defeat, the fight shown by the Beavers - from starting QB Marcus McMaryion to WR Victor Bolden to H-Back Ryan Nall - was impressive. It is exactly the kind of spark that feeds a team going into the offseason. These Beavs have a long way to go, but it is hard to not be optimistic about where Gary Andersen is leading them.
Player of the Game TE/RB Ryan Nall (174 yds rush, 44 yds rec, 1 TD) Watching Nall outrun the entire Oregon secondary on a 66 yard pitch and catch play in the fourth quarter was a pure revelation. This kid is a pure football player in every sense of the word. That particular display of athleticism was a reminder that he may also be the best all around talent on the roster.