2016-08-22 12:57

The next conference is at the moment in some sort of crisis, since no real national contender is available, which did translate last season into a 2-loss Conference champ left out of the College Football Playoffs.
This season a similar situation might happen.
No team does get ‘dominant’ status, only a few are contenders, and with their 9-games-conferences schedule it's likely that some contenders might win or lose against other contenders and a 1-loss or even 2-loss (or even higher) division champ will reach the PAC12-Conference final and win it, again, but is left out of the playoffs, again.

Pacific 12 Conference

Since 11 seasons no national champion came from the PAC12.
The playoffs did open up the race a bit more, but even under such conditions was no team from the PAC12 able to win a national title.
Some coach changes in the past might come to effect this season, like Washington or UCLA, eventually also Washington State.
Personally I would love to see a close PAC12, with a lot of upsets and a close race in both divisions until end of November, but I fear this will hurt the PAC12 playoff chances significantly.

The 12 teams are:

North Division:
University of California, Berkeley (Cal) Golden Bears
University of Oregon Ducks
Oregon State University Beavers
Stanford University Cardinal
University of Washington Huskies
Washington State University Cougars

South Division:
University of Arizona Wildcats
Arizona State University Sun Devils
University of Colorado Buffaloes
University of California, Los Angeles Bruins
University of Southern California Trojans
University of Utah Utes

North and South divisions do look quite open.

My way-too-early-TIP for the PAC12 is

North Division:
Washington Huskies
Stanford Cardinal
Oregon Ducks
Washington State Cougars
California Golden Bears
Oregon State Beavers

South Division:
UCLA Bruins
USC Trojans
Utah Utes
Arizona Wildcats
Arizona State Sun Devils
Colorado Buffaloes

With that standing I do expect Washington to win against UCLA for the conference title.

Here is a short explanation why:

North Division

Oregon State Beavers
Gary Andersen is in his 2nd season with the Beavers.
Will we see some progress on top of the 2 wins of last season and 0 wins in total inside the conference?
I hope so, only my gut does not agree with my hopes.
He needed 4 seasons to make Utah State a winner in the past, so I don't expect an explosion of wins from the Beavers this season.
They play as non-conference games Minnesota, a FCS team and Boise State.
If that Minnesota game would have been at home I might have picked the Beavers as winner, but on the road? 60% in favor of Minnesota.
That Boise State game could become a fun game, having the history of Andersens Aggies in mind and the Broncos quick offense against that.
I see the Broncos winning this, we might enjoy a shoot out here.
That might leave the Beavers with 1 win.
The South teams do not include Arizona State and USC, a mid-level team and a contender, which give the Beavers a chance to win against a low level team (Colorado is played on the road ...) or other mid-level teams (Cal, Washington State, Arizona, all at home).
I think Andersen will find ways to win at least one of those games, but I doubt a lot of wins.
My pick is, the Beavers will eventually get 2 to 4 wins and will finish 6th inside the division.

California Golden Bears
The Bears did start promising last season 5-0 but lost 5 of the next 6 games and did finish 8-5 at the end of the season, including a bowl win.
This season they might take a step back.
The pervert logic of league play is, if some team wins, another team loses and I (and many other people) do expect other North teams to win more games and Cal is likely the team which will have to lose a few more to make that happen.
Sonny Dykes is in his 4th season and will of cause have a word on the losing part.
Traditionally does the PAC12 play 9 games inside the conference, which means only 3 non-conference games are schedule.
Playing Hawai'i will be a likely win, but it's on neutral site in Australia! (this is played a week before the regular first gameday, so if you are interested, I think it’s in US-time on the 26th of August, Fr., at 4 am ET)
After that they play San Diego State on the road, which could become a close win (or even a loss) followed by Texas at home.
The Longhorns could become a contender, so the Bears might fall here, too.
Off the PAC12 South they avoid Arizona and Colorado, not expected to be the toughest teams from the South this season.
That means Cal will face basically every tough team available.
On top of that do they play some likely mid-level-teams on the road (Arizona State, Washington State).
I'm expecting a rough step back this season and they might even miss a bowl game.
I see them finishing 5th inside the division.

Washington State Cougars
I would love to see Wazzu winning it all, really.
This team went through dark time before Mike Leach was hired and so far the results do look promising.
Last season was their best since ages with 9 wins, including a bowl win.
Of cause expectation will rise based on this, especially with a returning QB.
Chances are good they can make another step forward, whether this will be enough to win the division, I'm not sure, since the other teams are also good and some are also primed to win more games this season.
They play a good FCS team at season opener, at Boise State and against Idaho as non-conference games.
That smurf-Turf game is likely one of the highlights on the second gameday and I would love to see a shootout.
Washington State can win all 3 games, might drop the Boise game.
Missing USC and Utah, 2 of the better teams from the South will help to boost the win amount.
Most crucial games will be against UCLA (home), Oregon (home), Stanford (road) and rival game against Washington (home) on season final.
With so many tough games played at home, the chances are better than ever to get into a top position inside the conference, IF they made another step of progress compared to last season.
My take on this is, they will win some game and they will lose some games, with the result that they will fall behind a bit.
I pick them 4th, with the feeling that they might end higher.

Oregon Ducks
The Ducks had with a 9-4 season a bad season in 2015.
They lost the race for the division title, they lost in the bowl at season end and they lost in total as many games as in 2013 and 2014 combined.
Will the Ducks in Mark Helfrich 4th season as HC get back to the top?
I have doubts.
They decided to have a graduated transfer as likely starting QB which normally is boom or bust and I fear this season it's likely more bust than boom.
That might not be the QBs fault, but more the rise of the other contending teams in the North.
The non-conference games do see a FCS team, Virginia at home and Nebraska on the road.
They could win those games, all of them. The Nebraska game will be most interesting.
I pick the Ducks as winner, with some doubts about the margin.
Of all South teams they did miss Arizona and UCLA, a mid-level team and a contender.
By that they will cash in some wins over South teams and will boost their win total.
Toughest South game will be likely Utah, on the road after a road game against USC and a home game against Stanford the 2 weeks before the Utes game.
Hottest game in the North will be exactly that Stanford game and the Washington game, both at home.
If Oregon gets their offense going and their defense is good enough to prevent a bit more scoring than last season they could made it to the conference final with such a schedule.
My take on this is, that Washington, thanks to their building process by their HC, and Stanford, thanks to their great RB, will at least win 1 of those games, maybe both.
A very plausible result could be a 3-way-tie for the division crown, with Oregon losing the direct compare exactly to the winner of the mentioned games.
I see them 3rd inside the division.

Stanford Cardinal
The reigning PAC12 Champ might eventually repeat, just not as dominant as they did last season.
Well, fine they DID lose against Oregon and DID lose their season opener against Northwestern, but they DID win all other games, including the conference championship game against USC and the Rose Bowl against Iowa.
Final record was 12-2.
This season they will have to bring in a lot of new starters, but can still relay on Christian McCaffrey, their I-can-do-it-all-Tailback, Heisman-Trophy runner-up last season (which I still think was wrong, that man was THE best player, not second best, period), and the Cardinals will heavily lean on him.
Whether this will be enough is the big question right now.
I like David Shaw and what he was able to do with the team in the last 5 seasons, he for sure will get the best out of them for this season.
The Cardinals will start the season against Kansas State at home, which could be a great test.
I expect them to win this, but I also expected them to win against Northwestern last season, so ...
Second non-conference game is against Notre Dame, on the road, in mid-season.
That rivalry game will be a very tough one, both teams could win this, I pick Notre Dame here.
Last non-conference game is against Rice at season final, which is an odd decision regarding scheduling.
Could hurt their playoff standings, but should be won.
Stanford will not play Arizona State and Utah, both mid-level teams, so the big fishes are on the list, as are the low level teams.
Toughest games against South teams will be against UCLA on the road and a week before that against USC at home.
Those 2 games will be a good indication.
Inside the division we will wait for the big clashes, named Washington on the road, Washington State at home a week later and in November at Oregon.
At the moment I see the team in the front row of contenders for the division, but those road trips to UCLA and Washington might destroy the dreams of repeating early.
I pick them to finish 2nd in the division.

Washington Huskies
Chris Petersen is now in his 3rd season and had so far 8-6 in 2014 and 7-6 in 2015, both season they had 4-5 in conference games.
I don't think the Huskies fans were expecting such results, they wanted more.
Good thing is, this season they might have a breakout season to win the division and eventually the conference.
How so?
Well, Stanford and Oregon are likely on a down year, all other teams inside the division are expected to be not on the same level.
The South Conference looks wide open and whoever will win it is at least beatable, maybe even a sure loser.
The 3 non-conference games do look more like warmup this season, facing Rutgers, Idaho and a FCS team.
If they lose THIS season 1 of those games, then they can rethink their contender plan.
As spared South teams they will not face UCLA and Colorado, so a contender and the likely last placed team from the South.
That will make the schedule against the South a bit harder, but they will play USC at home as the hardest opponent, which might make the Utah game on the road the most dangerous one.
Inside the division they face contender Stanford at home, but Oregon and State-rival Washington State on the road.
I have confidence in Washington to get this done, the tripping stone do look manageable and a 3 season Petersen team should be able to win crucial games.
Most likely will they drop one of the games, but as long as they win enough to hold off the next in line, they will win the division.
I see them at 1st for the division.

South Division

Colorado Buffaloes
This season I'm a bit confused about the Buffalos.
Many previews do see them improving, but do put them at the end of the texts at 6th place, with no improvements in wins or the final spot (they were 6th since a few seasons).
Fact is, the team does return many starters.
But fact is also that the team is still not a great spot for recruiting, so the players they get are not top level.
Mike MacIntyre is in his 4th season and he had so far 10 wins in 3 seasons including 2 PAC12 wins in total.
I'm sure he is on a hot seat and the team HAS to improve a bit, maybe becoming bowl eligible, to get the program going again.
Chances are ... slim.
They play Colorado State for the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown (which they won last season) as season opener and I think they will lose this.
CSU should play better than last season and honestly I don't buy that "team improvement" story of Colorado.
Sure they won last season but for sure will the Rams come better prepared to Mile High Stadium this year, than last season under a new HC.
Everything possible, but I pick a Buffalo loss here.
The FCS team next should be a win, but then they play Michigan on the road.
Another loss pick here.
Fine let's go into the conference.
They miss Cal and Washington, which might give them a win against Oregon State at home and maybe they can keep Washington State in check at home (I doubt that).
So maybe the South games might give us a win or two.
They play Arizona at home, Arizona State on the road and Utah at home on season final.
If they want to improve they must win those games.
I don't want to repeat myself, but I will believe in Colorado, when they start winning, so for now I can see them winning one of those games, but not all of them.
My pick is, no real improvement, more likely less wins than last season, and 6th place in the division, again.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Graham is in his 5th season and will try to have the team on a better spot than last seasons 4th place and a 6-7 record, including a bowl loss.
They did win most games at home and lost therefore almost every road game.
Will that change this season?
Honestly I don't know.
They have some new faces on offense but also a fine backfield, so we might see some more runs and everything will be fine.
The defense will have to keep them in the game, which could be possible, looking at the returning players.
Their non-conference schedule is more or less a walk in the park, playing a FCS team, then Texas Tech at home and then UTSA on the road.
That Red Raiders game will be the toughest one.
If they drop that one, the season looks grim already, if the win all of them, hope is there they will win enough games to secure a bowl spot.
They miss Oregon State from the North, as Stanford, so a contender and the likely worst team in the North.
I don't think they will battle for the top spot of the conference, so they better win against Colorado (road), Washington State (home), Utah (home) and/or Arizona (road).
It's not likely they will win all of those, but to get a bowl spot they better win a few.
My pick is, they will play spoiler for some teams, will test them, eventually upset them, but won't win enough games to get into a bowl.
I see them 5th inside the division.

Arizona Wildcats
This team is heartbroken right now, one of their team members died in his sleep a few days ago at age of 22.
I think nobody does expect something like this happening, but it did and it will for sure have an impact on the season.
Arizona had a down season last year, finishing 7-6 including a bowl win and there were rumors that Rich Rodriguez is seeking a new team, but either no interesting team was … well … interested or the rumor was a false one.
Rich Rod is back in his 5th season, even when the season did start in such a tragic way.
I don't see that team winning a lot of football games, part based on the circumstances, part based on the rise of the old powers inside the conference and improving teams all over the place.
Arizona is no football college, the better recruits do go to USC or other schools, so Rodriguez has to work with what he can get and let them play the best they can.
Starting the season against BYU will be a nice test.
It's played on a neutral site in Arizona, so not 100% neutral.
I think they will have their hand full, but can get this done.
Next is a FCS team and Hawai'i, which should both be wins.
And then the fun starts.
If you read through the next games, you ask yourself when they should take a breath.
Washington, UCLA, Utah, USC, Stanford, Washington State, Colorado (deep breath here, maybe), Oregon State and Arizona State as rivalry game at season final.
Translation: They might start 3-0 with non-conference games and might then lose 6 in a row, only to maybe winning the last 3 with only Oregon State a road game.
That Duel in the Desert against the Sun Devils will be likely the deciding factor for 4th or 5th spot.
I pick the Wildcats as winner here and see them 4th, by an inch.

Utah Utes
Last season was a breakthrough for the Utes since joining the PAC12 in 2011.
A 10-3 record, a shared division title and a bowl win, are good results compared to seasons before.
This season the expectations are high, the Utes are expected to compete.
Kyle Whittingham is in his 12th season and knows how to win.
Utahs primary concern should be the progress the other teams made.
Lucky them they have only one tougher game, against BYU, but it's a home game.
That FCS team prior to that and San Jose State after that game shouldn't be problems.
The conference games will be more interesting.
Contention, right?
Great, they miss Stanford and Washington State of the North, making those matchups some of the easiest for all South teams.
Contention, right?
They play USC at home and UCLA on the road, both until mid-season.
Good or bad?
Likely bad, since I expect the team to become better during the season, and those early games will likely be tougher.
They play also Washington at home and also Oregon at home.
So IF this team clicks, they won't find a better schedule than that.
If only there were doubts regarding their strength overall, especially on offense, where a complete new backfilled has to be setup.
I expect them to drop some of the top games and fall a game or two behind the other contenders, finishing 3rd in the division.

USC Trojans
The 2015 Trojans season was a mess in terms of publicity, on the field it went from chaos to glory to defeat.
Steve Sarkisian was in his 2nd season as HC last year and started the season 3-2, with crucial losses against Stanford and Washington.
He did attend a meeting after that Washington game obviously drunk and was fired mid-October.
Sarkisian later sued for wrongly termination, the case is not closed yet.
However, Clay Helton, the OC in 2015 was promoted to become the interims HC and he started with a loss to Notre Dame, but kept the team together after this, won 4 games in a row, lost to Oregon, won against UCLA and send that way the team to the conference title game.
They lost that one against Stanford and lost also against Wisconsin in a bowl.
For whatever reason, the results were promising enough for the school to keep him as the HC at USC, instead of getting a high profile coach, so he is back for 2016.
The big question now is, whether the teams did react last season and did play better than expected and we will see a decline this season or whether Helton really did turn the team around and will improve it further?
USC has a lot of talent, no doubt, but you need more to win it all.
With UCLA having a very good QB this season, will USC finish 2nd or worse?
Well, USCs QB situation is not that good as UCLAs, so they will have to compensate with on other positions.
The biggest concern for me are not the players, but the schedule.
How about a season start against the National Champion Alabama?
How about playing a hungry Utah State afterword?
How about playing PAC12 Champ Stanford after THAT?
They play the toughest North teams available, missing Cal and Oregon State, they have to play UCLA on the road, as Stanford and as Utah.
On top of that they also play as 3rd non-conference game against Notre Dame (at least at home) AFTER the "The Battle of L.A." as the UCLA game is sometimes called.
I can't believe that the team will go unscratched though that season.
Not THIS season.
We might see a winner next season out of Southern California, but I pick them only 2nd this season.

UCLA Bruins
Jim L. Mora is in his 5th season and I think some UCLA fans are getting a bit nervous regarding his results so far.
He was meant to win the division, the conference, the Rose Bowl or even more, why else should you hire a former NFL coach?
So far they have won 1 division title, in his 1st season with the team and since then ... nothing.
Last season was even the worst of all, winning only 8 games.
The good news is, on paper the team might click this season.
Their QB should be much better than last season in his Freshman season and the rest of the team should also fight back.
The schedule might spoil the fun a bit, but lucky them the non-conference games are only relevant for bowls and playoffs, but not for the PAC12 Championship.
They start against Texas A&M on the road, which will be likely one of the top games that weekend.
I'm undecided, the Aggies had some trouble in the last few seasons and their HC has to deliver something THIS season, but whether he is able to do that, I'm not sure.
UCLA has good chances to win this, but I see a big chance they can lose this one, too.
UNLV a week later should be a win, but then comes another road trip, this time to Provo, Utah and they play BYU.
Now this can ALSO be won, as it can be lost.
BYU at home is a good one, even under a new coach.
So UCLA might start 1-2, they might start 3-0 or something between.
Then does start the conference play, with Stanford at home and a long period against mid-level or even low-level teams.
If they want to win the division, they better win all of them.
Most interesting game will be the home game against USC.
THAT is the only reason I see the Bruins winning the division.
They might lose a game on the way to that game, but at the end I expect them to win that crucial game.
I pick them 1st in the division.

Summed up the PAC12 looks quite open and fun to watch. The level of power inside the conference is not really set, we might see surprising teams rise and fall and we might even see coaching changes during or after the season.
Enjoy the PAc12 season, if everything goes as planned they will eventually send a team to the playoffs and will send also a player to the Heisman, maybe winning it.

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