Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re well aware the Pac-12 football conference has been struggling to live up to expectations and create a strong national profile. The league finished its 13th year without a National Championship and coming off a bowl season that saw the conference fall flat on its face with a 1-8 overall record.
Here’s to a new season!
Summary of Last Year
USC (#12, 11-3) had one of its quietest league titles in recent memory sneaking past a worn out Stanford (#20, 9-5) in the championship game. Washington (#16, 10-3) were in the title mix until a wacky loss at Arizona State with a defeat in Palo Alto ultimately costing them the North division later in the season.
No one else finished ranked, although Washington State (9-4) felt like they had another really good season despite losing 4 out of their final 7 games after a 6-0 start.
Five of the head coaching jobs turned over during the off-season. Herm Edwards (Arizona State), Kevin Sumlin (Arizona), Mario Cristobal (Oregon), Jonathan Smith (Oregon State), and Chip Kelly (UCLA) have all joined the fun.
In the recruiting game USC (#4) came in their usual top 5 position while Oregon (#13) and Washington (#14) were able to sneak inside the Top 15 with very good classes. UCLA (#19) did quite solid in a transition year then there was a big drop until Utah (#34), Arizona State (#36), and Stanford (#39) in the middle of the pack.
No. 11 overall Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, USC) is the top recruit in the conference with the next 4 highest ranked players also hauled in by the Trojans. The highest-rated non-USC player went to UCLA in No. 36 overall and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Top Out of Conference Game: Washington at Auburn [Atlanta]
Straight out of the gate we have this barn burner which could vault the Huskies directly into the playoff conversation. Washington arguably has a 4-game schedule (should be 10+ point favorites in all other games) with a really weak finish (Bye, Oregon State, at Washington State) so hoping for a major victory on opening week has to be the most important non-league game for the Pac-12 conference.
Most Important League Game: Stanford at Washington
Both of these teams finished 7-2 in conference last year and even though Washington was +95 in point differential over Stanford the Huskies missed out on the title game when they fell on the Farm.
If you’re a pessimist the Pac-12 only has 3 true contenders in these two teams plus USC. If so, this is the only league game that should decide the league champion matchups.
Sell 2018: Washington State
The Cougars have been no worse than 3rd in the North division for the past 3 seasons, winning 26 games overall. That’s likely to change with a rebuilding year. A new quarterback in Leach’s offense, 7 new starters overall on offense, plus a trip to USC in the other division. Bowl eligibility could be a struggle.
Buy 2018: UCLA
This is based primarily off the prognosticators expectations with some predicting as bad as a last place finish in the South division. To be fair, things are not looking sunny at the moment for the Bruins. In addition to fitting in many new pieces on offense (Michigan transfer Wilton Speight is in the quarterback competition as in incredibly horrible fit which is hilarious) in Chip Kelly’s system with no clear signal-caller they face maybe the toughest schedule in the entire country. A start of Cincinnati, at Oklahoma, Fresno State isn’t friendly plus they have to play Washington and Stanford in the other division.
I’m just saying, I expect Kelly to rebuild fairly quickly and get a little bit of a surprise from this team. Maybe not much, looking over the schedule it’s real tough finding 4 wins!
Offensive Player of the Year: RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
The easy pick here is Bryce Love but he was so banged up last year and Stanford’s offense should be more well-rounded to preserve their star tailback. Gaskin is heading into his senior season with three-straight 1,300+ yard rushing seasons and should push towards 30 overall touchdowns in 2018.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB Bobby Okereke , Stanford
I really like Okereke’s style of play and he came on really strong to end last season. Stanford’s defense likely won’t be awesome, at least during this pre-season doesn’t appear to be stacked with many difference makers, which either makes Okereke’s life quite difficult or he’s let loose and packs the stat sheet. I’m picking the latter.
League Title Game: Washington vs. USC
As mentioned above, this kind of feels like a 3-team league right now with Washington, Stanford, and USC. If you’re willing to be frisky you could throw Oregon and Utah in the mix, too. The Ducks are interesting I’m just worried about a pivot to Mario Cristobal as head coach. The consistency of Utah is more appealing, plus no one else in the South division appears to be strong enough to come close to a challenge, except maybe Arizona’s Tate/Sumlin combo destroying defenses and their defense holding up just enough to get it done.
If they make it this would be Washington’s 2nd Pac-12 title game appearance in 3 years while it would be USC’s 3rd appearance in the past 4 years. These teams have yet to meet in the league title game.