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Pac-12 Power Ratings: Game cancellations haul Pac-12 tiebreaker policy into the spotlight weeks earlier than expected

UPDATED: Wed., Nov. 18, 2020

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

In the middle of October, the Pac-12 unveiled its game cancellation policy and revised division tiebreaker process.

Because the former has been deployed five times in two weeks, we should make sure fans are clear on the latter:

How many games are required for a team to be eligible for the division title?

Here’s the policy:

“In order for teams to be considered in a divisional tiebreak scenario, teams must play no less than one fewer conference game than the average number of conference games played by all conference teams (rounded up/down at .50).

“For example, if the average number of conference games played in the 2020 season is 5.25 (value of 5 when rounded down), a team would be eligible to win their Division if that team played 4 conference games.”

Let’s use Utah as the example.

The Utes have canceled twice but are optimistic about playing USC this Saturday.

If they stay healthy – and their opponents are healthy – the Utes would play four games prior to the naming of the division winner on the weekend of Dec. 12.

Let’s say they finish 3-1.

If the “average number of conference games played by all conference teams” is six, the Utes would be ineligible for the South title.

If the average number is five – and that sure seems more likely – then they would be eligible.

But there’s a second step: In addition to clearing the minimum-games requirement, Utah’s record must be good enough to force the tiebreaker.

What constitutes a tie?

“In determining the divisional champions, the following will apply:

“If any team(s) has not played six (6) Conference games (due to not being able to reschedule a postponed Conference game) and any team(s) is within one Conference win from the team(s) with the highest conference winning percentage AND has an equal number of losses, those teams shall be declared tied.”

So if the Utes are 3-1, and USC, for example, is 4-1, they would be considered tied.

And if Utah happens to win the head-to-head this week, the Utes would be crowned the South champion. At 3-1.

To the power ratings …

1. USC (2-0)

Result: Won 34-30 at Arizona

Next up: at Utah

Comment: Coach Clay Helton is under fire for not putting quarterback Kedon Slovis under center on fourth-and-one. He says that’s not who the Trojans are; their former Heisman winner says that’s who they need to be: “Change … Adapt. Not difficult. Will cost them a game!” Matt Leinart wrote on Twitter.

2. Oregon (2-0)

Result: Won 43-29 at Washington State

Next up: vs. UCLA

Comment: Two impressive performances from the Ducks, but the (ever-so-slight) edge goes to USC because of the result against Arizona State – it’s a higher-quality win than either of Oregon’s victories.

3. Arizona State (0-1)

Result: DNP

Next up: at Colorado (canceled)

Comment: Based on our understanding of the outbreak in Tempe, the Sun Devils might have more difficulty reaching the minimum-games requirement than Utah.

4. Colorado (2-0)

Result: Won 35-32 at Stanford

Next up: vs. ASU (canceled)

Comment: As of this writing, Colorado is a division co-leader with nobody to play. If Utah can’t meet roster requirements this week against USC, look for the Buffaloes and Trojans to square off on Saturday, instead of Nov. 28 as scheduled.

5. Washington (1-0)

Result: Beat Oregon State 27-21

Next up: vs. Arizona

Comment: The Jimmy Lake era began with lunacy (botched punt), controversy (Oregon State’s fourth-down spot), vulnerability (run defense) and familiarity (dropped passes). But at least it began.

6. Washington State (1-1)

Result: Lost to Oregon

Next up: at Stanford

Comment: Having watched the Cougars twice and each of their remaining opponents at least once, we’d peg the likelihood of bowl-eligibility (three wins) at 40%. That’s about four times what we expected prior to the season.

7. UCLA (1-1)

Result: Beat Cal 34-10

Next up: at Oregon

Comment: That was exactly the sharp, aggressive performance many had envisioned from Chip Kelly’s program, only two seasons later, with limited preparation, before lunch, and on a Sunday.

8. Cal (0-1)

Result: Lost at UCLA

Next up: at Oregon State

Comment: The issues on defense were entirely expected after the line was quarantined for two weeks. Quarterback Chase Garbers’ lack of rhythm and accuracy, on the other hand, was somewhat surprising. (And for Golden Bears fans, slightly alarming.)

9. Arizona (0-1)

Result: Lost to USC

Next up: at Washington

Comment: Nothing has gone as expected in 2020, so it would make perfect sense for Arizona to produce a defensive line that can actually hold its own. That was a solid performance up front.

10. Stanford (0-2)

Result: Lost to Colorado

Next up: vs. Washington State

Comment: Best we can tell, Stanford is the team most likely to be impacted by elevated health-and-safety restrictions at the local level: Its home county, Santa Clara, has gone to the highest risk tier. The Cardinal might have to leave campus for practice, again.

11. Oregon State (0-2)

Result: Lost at Washington

Next up: vs. Cal

Comment: Lose this week, and 0-6 – or oh-and-whatever – becomes a distinct possibility. The defense appears to have regressed.

12. Utah (0-0)

Result: vs. UCLA (canceled)

Next up: vs. USC

Comment: We mulled slotting the Utes into the middle of the Pac, based on how we envision them performing. But at some point, the benefit of the doubt evaporates. That point was Saturday.

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