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(Almost) Season-Ending Pac-12 Power Rankings

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Well, the Pac-12 regular season is over (sad face). That means this is the final power rankings of 2012, as the only change will be the loser of the Pac-12 championship game slipping behind Oregon (unless Oregon State loses to Nicholls State. But the chances of that are less than the world ending today, so I'm pretty confident).

I know, I know. You'll feel lost without the Rule of Tree power rankings. But don't think about the loss; think about all the great times you had together. The times you laughed, the times you cried, that one time you read them on your phone in the bathroom. Ah the memories.

Without further ado, here are the just-about-end-of-season rankings (with special just-about-end-of-season categories!):


1. Stanford (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cardinal cruises in first of two meetings with Bruins
Why they're not lower: Pretty simple here. Stanford did what it needed to do in UCLA-Stanford Round 1, jumping out to a comfortable lead and cruising at the end to win the Pac-12 North. Now the Cardinal needs only to duplicate that feat six days later, at home, and a trip to the Rose Bowl will await. Not too shabby for a team that lost the top pick in the draft and a whole lot of other talent to graduation.
First thing on fans' minds: Same thing again? Playing a team twice in a week is weird. In fact, it's unprecedented. No one has ever had to play a team in a championship game just a week after playing that same team to end the regular season. But now Stanford has that task, and the only question seems to be "Why should this Friday be any different from last Saturday?" Cardinal fans hope the answer is simply "It isn't."
Last week: 35-17 win over UCLA
Up next: vs. UCLA on Friday at 5 p.m.

2. UCLA (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Bruins a win from the Rose Bowl
Why they're not higher/lower: Playing in the Rose Bowl is nothing new for UCLA - the Bruins do it several times a year. But playing in the Rose Bowl Game? That's a lot rarer. And for every team in the Pac-12 (and Big Ten), that's the goal. Win the conference, play in the Rose Bowl. Sure, some teams may be in the national title hunt, but every team sets out to win the conference. And, as poorly as UCLA may have played on Saturday, the Bruins are 60 minutes away from winning the conference and playing in the Rose Bowl. In January. Can't drop them below No. 2 (yet).
First thing on fans' minds: Same thing again? No one has ever been in UCLA's situation either, and UCLA fans have to wonder if their team will be able to flip the script on Stanford. Different gameplan? Different execution? Different effort? The Bruins have to find something to avoid a repeat performance.
Last week: 35-17 loss to Stanford
Up next: at Stanford on Friday at 5 p.m.

3. Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Ducks settle for at-large BCS berth
Why they're not higher/lower: For almost any team in the country, a spot in a BCS bowl game would be deemed a successful season. Heck, even Oregon fans might have taken that in the preseason when everyone expected USC to contend for a national title. It does feel somewhat disappointing for a team that may still be the best in the country, but the fact is that another 11-win regular season and another BCS bowl are pretty damn good. And capping things off with a dominant win in Corvallis against a very good Oregon State team doesn't hurt either.
First thing on fans' minds: Keep Chip Kelly! When the regular season ends, there's a bit of a mini-offseason. Yes, there will still be one more game for the Ducks to play - likely the Fiesta Bowl - but with no real chance at a Heisman (sorry, Kenjon), it's time to look ahead. And the biggest issue for Oregon fans is keeping their head coach in Eugene, which many people think will be tough to do thanks to the interest he is receiving from many NFL teams.
Last week: 48-24 win over Oregon State
Up next: Bowl game


4. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Beavers about to wrap up best regular season since 2000
Why they're not higher/lower: It wasn't a pretty end to the Pac-12 season, but not many performances against Oregon are pretty. Looking back on the season, though, (yeah, they still have to play Nicholls State, but come on. It's Nicholls State, a team whose only win is over Evangel. And no, I've never heard of Evangel either.) I think any Oregon State fan would have to consider it a success. No, the Beavers won't get to a BCS bowl game, but going from 3-9 to 9-3 is a pretty crazy turnaround, particularly in a conference as strong as the Pac-12.
First thing on fans' minds: Bowl destination. Assuming a win over Nicholls State (which any rational person would), Oregon State has a pretty simple scenario ahead. The Beavers are likely looking at either the Alamo Bowl or the Holiday Bowl, two options that are much more appealing than anything OSU fans would have predicted before the season. Oregon State's bowl picture will clear up after the Stanford-UCLA game on Friday.
Last week: 48-24 loss to Oregon
Up next: vs. Nicholls State on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.


5. Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Sun Devils win Territorial Cup
Why they're not higher/lower: Remember that four-game losing streak? Seems long ago now as Arizona State ended its regular season with an impressive and momentum-building win over rival Arizona. That win assured the Sun Devils of their first winning season in five years, and it also vaults ASU into the four-team mix at 7-5 in the Pac-12. Not a bad debut for first-year head coach Todd Graham.
First thing on fans' minds: Beating Arizona. It's the end of the season, so there's some time to savor a late win. And there aren't many sweeter victories than beating your biggest rival. It helps that it was a thrilling game in your opponent's building when you come back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Last week: 41-34 win over Arizona
Up next: Bowl game

6. Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Wildcats finish successful season with tough rivalry loss
Why they're not higher/lower: Arizona ended its season in the worst way, by losing at home to its biggest rival. Still, a seven-win season following last year's 4-8 debacle is a pretty good way to start off the Rich Rodriguez era. Also, the Wildcats' five losses come to the first five teams in these power rankings, so they're all understandable.
First thing on fans' minds: Bowl destination. Of the Pac-12's eight bowl teams, Arizona has the worst conference record at 4-5, so many people expect the Wildcats to play in the New Mexico Bowl. Arizona fans are still holding out hope for the Las Vegas Bowl because, well, it's Las Vegas.
Last week: 41-34 loss to Arizona State
Up next: Bowl game

7. Washington (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Huskies' winning streak ends at Wazzu
Why they're not higher/lower: For the third straight season, Washington has seven wins. However, the way the Huskies settled for seven wins, and broke a four-game winning streak, is what will stick with Washington fans. It's never easy to lose to a rival, but it's much worse when a) that rival is much, much worse than you and b) you lead by three scores in the fourth quarter. But both those happened on Saturday as Washington State came back from an 18-point deficit to take the Apple Cup back from the Huskies.
First thing on fans' minds: That fourth quarter. When you lead a truly bad team by 18 points in the fourth quarter, you should win. Plain and simple. But the combination of bad offense (a fumble by Keith Price), bad defense (giving up three scoring drives), and bad special teams (a missed field goal that would have won the game) were enough to blow the Apple Cup and end the regular season on a sour note.
Last week: 31-28 loss to Washington State
Up next: Bowl game


8. USC (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Trojans finally end miserable regular season
Why they're not higher/lower: Yes, USC is also 7-5, so the Trojans could be in the 7-5 Logjam. But USC belongs even more in the Major Disappointments category, because I don't think there has been a bigger disappointment in college football in several years. The preseason No. 1 team ended with a total of eight votes in the two major polls. The Trojans lost four of their last five and lost every important game on their schedule (Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame).
First thing on fans' minds: Lane Kiffin. Football fans have been complaining about Kiffin for years and wondering why he keeps getting high-profile jobs. He seems to do just enough to get by (a 10-win season last year) before tanking (this year). There is blame to go around, but Kiffin's questionable (read: bad) play-calling, his team's underachievement, and his players' problems with fundamentals (penalties, turnovers, clock-management issues, etc.) put him on thin ice. USC has committed to keeping Kiffin for now, but his future is definitely far from secure.
Last week: 22-13 loss to Notre Dame
Up next: Bowl game

9. Utah (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Utes avoid terrible upset but still finish below .500
Why they're not higher/lower: This has been a disappointing season for Utah, there's no way around it. A 3-6 Pac-12 record and no bowl game speak for themselves. But it almost got much worse for the Utes, as they barely hung on for a seven-point win against dreadful Colorado. A loss would have raised serious questions about Kyle Whittingham and company; as it is, there is just moderate unrest.
First thing on fans' minds: Get to next year. 2012 saw a total of one decent win: a three-point victory over BYU. Otherwise the Utes went 4-0 against terrible teams and 0-7 against good (or at least mediocre) teams. About the only bright spot was Reggie Dunn, whose record-setting run of kick-return touchdowns brought Utah some small amount of positive publicity.
Last week: 42-35 win over Colorado
Up next: See you next season

10. Washington State (3-9, 1-8 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Cougars end bad season with huge comeback
Why they're not higher/lower: Who saw that coming? Mike Leach's first year in Pullman was an epic failure through 11 games, but the Cougars gained some positive momentum by finally winning a conference game in their last try. The fact that it came in the Apple Cup in crazy comeback fashion is particularly encouraging for Leach, whose team had just lost eight straight games, including losses to the other three non-bowl-eligible Pac-12 teams. Still, a 3-9 record and the 106th-ranked scoring offense are not what Washington State had in mind when it brought in Leach.
First thing on fans' minds: Something to build on? Last week I lamented the fact that the Cougars had nothing to build on for next year, and then they turned around and upset Washington in overtime. Ending the season with a win like that could do wonders for a team that has some talented pieces but has not been relevant for several years.
Last week: 31-28 win over Colorado
Up next: See you next season

11. Cal (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Golden Bears' flop of a season is over
Why they're not higher/lower: If there's one good thing to say about Cal's season, it was that it mercifully ended a week before everyone else's. Otherwise, the team's 3-9 debacle was bad enough to get the winningest coach in school history canned. That pretty much says it all for Cal.
First thing on fans' minds: Jeff Tedford's replacement. Tedford has been fired, so the search is officially on. Names like Chris Petersen have been thrown around, as have those of a couple WAC coaches, Mike MacIntyre of San Jose State and Gary Andersen of Utah State. Whether it is one of these or an assistant, Cal is in desperate need of major change.
Last week: Didn't play
Up next: See you next season

12. Colorado (1-11, 1-8 Pac-12)
Why they're here: Buffaloes finally end miserable season
Why they're not higher: On the plus side, Colorado played Utah close. On the downside... everything else. Colorado was flat-out terrible all season, and the Buffaloes stunk enough that the university fired Jon Embree after only two seasons, which has led to questions about the opportunities given to minorities in coaching. As if Colorado needed more to worry about.
First thing on fans' minds: How to rebuild this? Colorado has no identity at this point and no real strengths to build from. The Buffs are in need of a complete overhaul, starting with a new head coach. Of course, Colorado would need to lure someone to Boulder, which cannot be the most appealing place at the moment thanks to the team's woes. However, it is still a Pac-12 school in a good area, so Colorado should be able to find strong coaching candidates. Unfortunately, that is only the first of many steps this program needs to take.
Last week: 42-35 loss to Utah
Up next: See you next season