Pac-12 power ratings: Arizona rises as the top tier forms and tiebreaker scenarios gather at the gates

UW and Oregon are the frontrunners, but the race could turn chaotic

With three weeks remaining, six teams are vying for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.

Washington leads the league with an undefeated record (6-0), followed by Oregon (5-1). Utah, Oregon State, USC, and Arizona all have 4-2 records.

If the Huskies win at least two of their final three games, they will be guaranteed a spot in Las Vegas. And if the Ducks continue to win, they will qualify as well.

However, the conference is just one or two unexpected results away from tiebreaker chaos. Only four of the six teams play each other this season, and the two non-scheduled games, USC-Oregon State and Arizona-Oregon, could complicate matters even more.

As a result, now is a good time to remind fans about the tiebreaker process.

Two-team tie

All other factors are secondary. If the tied teams do not play each other, the conference follows the following procedure:

— Win percentage against the next highest placed common opponent in the standings (based on record in all conference games played), moving up the standings.

When comparing records to arrive at another group of tied teams, use each team’s win percentage against the collective tied teams as a group (prior to that group’s own tiebreaking procedure) rather than performance against individual tied teams.

— Percentage of victories over all common conference opponents.

— Conference opponents’ combined win percentage in conference games (i.e., conference schedule strength).

— The total number of victories in a 12-game season.

Three-team (or more) tie

Head-to-head is the first step as long as all of the tied teams have played each other. If two teams in a tied group have never played each other, the conference will proceed as follows:

— Win percentage against all common conference opponents (must be shared by all tied teams).

— Move up the standings by having a winning record against the next highest placed common opponent (based on all conference games played).

Use each team’s win percentage against the collective tied teams as a group (prior to that group’s own tiebreaking procedure) rather than performance against individual tied teams when comparing records to arrive at another group of tied teams.

— The combined win percentage of conference opponents in conference games (i.e., conference schedule strength).

Given Washington’s lead in the standings and Oregon’s dominance in recent weeks, the championship game pairing is most likely to be a rematch of UW’s 36-33 victory.

But, in the final weeks of the season, clarity will fade and chaos will erupt.

To the power ratings …

(All times Pacific)

1. Oregon (8-1/5-1)

Last week: 1 Result: beat Cal 63-19 Next up: vs. USC (7:30 p.m. on Fox) Comment: Only three teams are ranked in the top 15 nationally in terms of yards-per-play gained and yards-per-play allowed, which are the best indicators of efficiency and dominance. The first is the defending national champion. One is embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal that appears to have resulted in a competitive advantage. Oregon is the other.

2. Washington (9-0/6-0)

Last week: 2 Result: won at USC 52-42 Next up: vs. Utah (12:30 p.m. on Fox) Comment: UW coach Kalen DeBoer and play-caller Ryan Grubb delivered a master class in strategy on Saturday, relying heavily on a running game that had been largely absent from their game plan for the previous eight weeks. When the Trojans expected a zig, that zag produced a career game for tailback Dillon Johnson and kept the Trojans undefeated.

3. Oregon State (7-2/4-2)

Last week: 3 Result: won at Colorado 26-19 Next up: vs. Stanford (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: If the Beavers take care of business this week, they’ll get their long-awaited wish: season-ending games against Washington (at home) and Oregon (on the road), with a spot in the championship game potentially on the line.

4. Arizona (6-3/4-2)

Last week: 7 Result: beat UCLA 27-10 Next up: at Colorado (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: Arizona’s national ranking in points allowed per game the previous five seasons (excluding 2020), chronologically: 109th, 98th, 118th, 100th and 126th. Arizona’s national ranking in points allowed per game this season: 28th.

5. Utah (7-2/4-2)

Last week: 5 Result: beat Arizona State 55-3 Next up: at Washington (12:30 p.m. on Fox) Comment: When assessing the Utes’ chances this week, avoid drawing any conclusions from their previous two games (the blowout loss to Oregon or the annihilation of ASU). The most relevant result is likely the Huskies’ narrow late-October win at USC, which has a high-octane offense but a vulnerable defense. In other words, expect a nail-biter in Seattle.

6. UCLA (6-3/3-3)

Last week: 4 Result: lost at Arizona 27-10 Next up: vs. Arizona State (6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: Seasons change, but the Bruins’ place in the Pac-12’s middle tier does not: they remain anchored to the Pac-12’s middle tier. It’s difficult to see that relative position changing in the Big Ten, and it’s easier to see it deteriorating.

7. USC (7-3/5-2)

Last week: 6 Result: lost to Washington 52-42 Next up: at Oregon (7:30 p.m. on Fox) Comment: Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch this week, after Washington scored 52 points and gained 572 yards, rather than last week, after Cal scored 49 points and gained 527 yards. Because USC’s performance against Cal was significantly worse given the level of competition.

8. Colorado (4-5/1-5)

Last week: 8 Result: lost to Oregon State 26-19 Next up: vs. Arizona (11 a.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: The possession at the end of the first half was an obvious abomination, and we honestly disagreed (in real time) with the decision to kick away with 1:42 remaining in the game, trailing by a touchdown. What made the CU coaching staff believe the defense could prevent Oregon State from gaining the crucial first down? (The Beavers had scored on their previous four possessions.) At that point, an onside kick was clearly the best option.

9. Cal (3-6/1-5)

Last week: 9 Result: lost at Oregon 63-19 Next up: vs. Washington State (1 p.m. on ESPN2) Comment:The Bears have now lost eight straight games against ranked opponents. (Their most recent victory came against Oregon at the end of the COVID season.) You’d think that just once, enough bounces would go their way to produce a game-changing win. But… nope. The struggle continues.

10. Stanford (3-6/2-5)

Last week: 12 Result: won at WSU 10-7 Next up: at Oregon State (2:30 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: It’s difficult to imagine a win this week or against Notre Dame. However, Stanford could easily defeat Cal on Nov. 18 to give Troy Taylor a four-win first season. That, my friends, would be quite impressive.

11. Arizona State (2-7/1-5)

Last week: 10 Result: lost at Utah 55-3 Next up: at UCLA (6 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks) Comment: Kenny Dillingham’s one-year contract extension was the least the school could do to compensate for the postseason ban. Given the circumstances in Tempe, there was nothing else the rookie coach could have done except field a team of completely indestructible players.

12. Washington State (4-5/1-5)

Last week: 11 Result: lost to Stanford 10-7 Next up: at Cal (1 p.m. on ESPN2) Comment: After back-to-back losses to teams that had previously occupied the cellar, the Cougars were an easy call for the cellar. No other Power Five school has fallen harder or faster.

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