The Pac-12 may be, pound for pound, the deepest conference in college football. And that’s the problem.
A conference with nine good teams and zero great ones creates a thrilling week-to-week product, and a weak one when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff. As we saw last season.
With no generational quarterback around to run the conference, 2016 shapes up more like 2015 than 2014.
1. Washington (7-6, 4-5 Pac-12): Most often, the off-season hype is wrong, fodder for the sake of fodder to get us through the long night that is the off-season. I don’t think this is one of those times. The Huskies don’t have Christian McCaffrey, but they have the best defense in the league, the best quarterback in the division and a coaching staff good enough to win the whole damn league.
2. Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): It feels like a sign of disrespect to pick against the machine David Shaw helped build, and then maintain and elevate after Jim Harbaugh‘s departure. Especially when they have the game’s sharpest Swiss Army knife. Come to think of it, why are they No. 2 again?
3. Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12): The Ducks can score on anybody. The question: can they stop anyone? Not even new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is sure of that answer.
4. Washington State (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12): Last year was a grand success for Wazzu. The Cougars won nine games, claimed twice as many Pac-12 games as they lost and stayed in the divisional race deep into the season. Another season like 2015 would be an even grander one.
5. California (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12): As we saw Friday night, Davis Webb may be the only thing standing between this team and an empty December.
6. Oregon State (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Poor, poor Gary Andersen. He leaves one of college football’s most stable winners for one of its heftiest rebuilds. Check back in 2018.
1. UCLA (8-5, 5-4 Pac-12): Jim Mora is the only coach to recruit on the same level as USC in the Pac-12 South. And USC has the nation’s most difficult schedule. Add in that plus Josh Rosen and you get yet another Pac-12 title game loss for the Bruins.
2. Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12): Utah won more total games than any team in the Pac-12 South last season, they shared the division championship with USC and they have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. So, why aren’t I picking them? In the Pac-12, always side with quarterbacks.
3. USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12): The most talented overall roster in the conference, but the worst schedule in the nation. Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA on the road, plus Oregon and Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum? Yikes.
4. Arizona (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12): Arizona won’t win the Pac-12 South as they did in 2014. But they won’t be as snake bit as they were last season, either. Eight wins, with four of five coming in conference play, feels right.
5. Colorado (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12): If you want to wow your friends with your brave prognostications, make it this: Colorado will play in a bowl game this fall.
6. Arizona State (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12): Todd Graham had better hope this (entirely worthless) prediction doesn’t come true. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-14, falling to last place in the division would scratch the trigger finger of Sun Devils AD and former NFL executive Ray Anderson something fierce.