Here are the final Pac-12 power rankings for the 2015 season. This takes into account the entire season -- conference record, head-to-head results, final standings and other elements. If you don’t like where you’re ranked, play better next season.
1. Stanford Cardinal: The Cardinal were the North Division champs, Pac-12 champs and Rose Bowl champs, finishing the season with a 12-2 record and a blowout win over Iowa. Supporters of an expanded playoff will point to this Cardinal team as a rallying cry. Naysayers will cite the two losses as a perfectly valid reason for their exclusion. Wherever you come down on the argument (and we're still years away from it resulting in anything), there’s no debate that 2015 will go down as a highly successful season in Palo Alto.
2. Oregon Ducks: When we’re talking about the Oregon team that’s led by Vernon Adams Jr., the Ducks are clearly No. 2. Sans Adams, they are a completely different team, as we saw in the second half of the Alamo Bowl. They are a bottom-half-of-the-league-team. It wouldn’t have hurt for the defense to make the occasional stop, either. There are so many “what could have beens” with this team that it’s maddening to think about. But you can’t argue with the 7-2 mark in conference play, second only to Stanford.
3. USC Trojans: The Trojans are here as a reluctant third. The worst-case scenario has so far played out following Clay Helton’s elevation. They got smoked by Stanford and then lost their bowl game (said scenario was laid out on Dec. 1, by the way, in this Take 2), but they were the league’s Pac-12 South representative and finished conference play with a 6-3 mark, with five of those wins coming under Helton's watch. That counts for something.
4. Utah Utes: Utah finished with a better overall record than the Trojans and shared the South title with them. But USC won the head-to-head matchup, thus went to the Pac-12 title game. The Utes closed the regular season by losing two of three and almost coughed up their bowl game against BYU. Still, they posted several quality wins, made a statement in the South and had their best season since joining the conference.
5. Washington State Cougars: Not only did the Cougars make big strides in the win department, posting a 6-3 mark in league play, they showed tremendous poise, maturity and growth as a program with several fourth-quarter victories. The Apple Cup loss stings -- as it should -- but that shouldn’t derail what was an outstanding season. It's time to take the Cougars seriously as a contender for the North.
6. UCLA Bruins: Another team chock-full of “what could have beens,” the Bruins lost three of their last four -- including their bowl game -- and saw the South Division slip away on the final weekend for the second straight season. Yes, injuries are an excuse: When you lose three NFL-caliber players at all three levels of the defense, you’re going to take a hit. That said, they still finished with a 5-4 record in league play. Every other team below them on this list is sub-.500. That probably isn’t much consolation for a team that was thinking playoffs in August, though.
7. California Golden Bears: Is it safe to say Cal had the season most of us thought it would? The Bears won the games they were supposed to win and lost the games we expected them to lose. The postseason appearance and bowl win were a nice bow on Jared Goff’s outstanding career, but a 4-5 mark in conference play is what has them in the second half of the rankings.
8. Washington Huskies: They played with the inconsistency of a team with a lot of young players. The defense, however, was dominant, and the offense was good enough at times. It really started to come together down the stretch in the form of a three-game winning streak, while posting point totals of 52, 45 and 44 points -- even if some of those points came from defensive touchdowns. There is much optimism for this group next year, and rightly so.
9. Arizona State Sun Devils: Too many turnovers. Too many big plays allowed. Too many blown leads. This was a frustrating team to watch, because when it was consistent, it was explosive. But it wasn't consistent enough. The Sun Devils finish 6-7 but can take some consolation in the fact that they beat Arizona and finished with a better conference record than their rival.
10. Arizona Wildcats: There’s getting bitten by the injury bug, and then there’s getting mauled by the injury rhinoceros. The Wildcats lost one of the best defensive players in the country in Week 1 (plus four of his backups) and were sporadically without their quarterback and running back. Combine that with 12 straight games and no bye week and you have the perfect storm for a bummer of a season. For what it's worth, the bowl win against New Mexico -- at New Mexico -- was a tougher chore than folks probably give them credit for.
11. Colorado Buffaloes: The Buffs were forced to start nine different groupings on the offensive line due to injury. (If you haven’t noticed, that’s a conference-wide theme this season.) That’s partially why there was an offensive drop off from last season. Defensively, however, they made huge strides, shaving more than 11 points per game off their points-allowed average. The process is working. It’s painstakingly slow, but it’s working.
12. Oregon State Beavers: Tough season; not much more to say. The Beavers were last in the league in scoring (19 points per game), second to last in scoring defense (37 points per game) and at or near the bottom of almost every other major category. A new head coach and new systems coupled with zero experience at quarterback can make for a long year. Give Gary Andersen a little bit of time. With his track record, here’s guessing the Beavers will be more competitive in 2016.