The off season has been full of talk that the PAC-12 could be challenging the SEC as the nations best football conference top to bottom. I'll pass on that debate. Teams play games not conferences.But there are plenty of good teams in the PAC-12 and some that won't fare that well too.
Here's a look at my take on all the teams in the PAC-12 and how they will fare against Vegas' win totals
Here's a look at my take on all the teams in the PAC-12 and how they will fare against Vegas' win totals
Arizona has never played in the Rose Bowl. They got close during the Desert Swarm days in the late 90's but couldn't quite make it to Pasadena. Now expectations are high again.
After failing miserably at Michigan, HC Rich Rodriquez has finally found a home in Tuscon. He led the Wildcats to a Pac-12 South title and will be one of only five teams to be coached by the same 10 full-time coaches this season.
QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson return to lead the attack after outstanding freshman seasons. Soloman is the first returning starting QB since Nick Foles in 2011. Wilson was third in the nation behind Indiana’s Tevin Coleman and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, averaging 8.3 yards per touch last season. WR Cayleb Jones also returns after caching 73 balls for over 1,00 yards to further stretch opposing defenses. But typical of DickRod's spread offense, it struggled in the red zone finishing 83rd overall. Another concern is that the OL will be replacing three starters from last year.
The defense also was typical of Rodriquez. In a word, it struggled, finishing 103rd overall. The good news is that all everything LB Scooby Wright returns. The bad news is they lose three of their four DBs and Rodriquez is still in charge.
The Wildcats have enough weapons to challenge in the Pac-12. Can they get to 8 wins? The schedule has some pluses and minuses. Plus - they don't play Oregon. Minus is they play 12 weeks straight without a breather. The slate starts with UT San Antonio, @ Nevada and Northern Arizona which should get you three wins. Other games where they should be favorites are Oregon State, @ Colorado, Washington and @ Washington State which gets you to seven. A split with Utah and @ Arizona State gets you to eight. That leaves losses at UCLA, @ Stanford and @ USC. Sounds about right. The Sheriff agrees with me here - I'll take the OVER
The Sheriff like that pick too saying "For the PAC-12, the one number that really sticks out to me is Arizona at 7.5; I would take the over on that one in a heartbeat. Anu Soloman and most of his receivers (including Colby Jones) are coming back along with Scooby Wright and most of the defense. Remember that team was 10-2 at one point last year and won the PAC-12 South. RichRod has got that program on the upswing and I like them to win at least 8 games."
Like him or not - the numbers don’t lie: back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since Frank Kush notched double-digit victories with the Sun Devils from 1970-73. Todd Graham now has a school-record 28 wins in his first three seasons at ASU, one more than HOF coach Dan Devine (1955-57). In fact, only Nick Saban, Bob Stoops and Chris Petersen own more 10-win seasons than Graham since 2007.
And here’s a scary thought: last year’s big effort was accomplished with the second-youngest team in the nation – only 11 seniors were on the roster– as the final two-deep depth chart featured 25 freshmen and sophomores. In fact, 23 players made their first Division-1 career starts in 2014, second most in the land.
The Sun Devils won 10 games while rebuilding their defense from scratch last season. But it's a work in progress. The Forks ended up 81st overall on D (76th in points allowed). This season they return 10 starters from that unit, including almost the entire defensive two-deep.
The offense was a bright spot last year finishing 17th in points scored (34th overall) but there are some worries. For the past two seasons, ASU has kept its offensive line intact. In 2013, the Sun Devils started the same five all 14 games. Last season, they did so for all but one contest. This year, however,they lose both tackles. Also, they lose star WR Jaelen Strong (Rd 3 Houston) and start a new QB Sr. Mike Bercovici. Bercovici has experience, besting two ranked teams in three games he started last year.
Can they get to eight wins this year? ASU is not afraid to schedule tough teams. They start with a dandy, playing Texas A&M in Houston. They have USC, @ UCLA and Oregon. Add in a rivalry game with Arizona - there are five teams that could beat the Sun Devils. @ Utah is not a given either. I'll take the UNDER
Is there a more Jekyll and Hyde team than Cal? Last year, the Bears were fantastic on offense, finishing 13th overall and 11th in points scored. But no sooner than they would score the defense would give it right back as they ended the season 121st overall and 123rd in points allowed. On average, Cal scored 38.2 points per game but let up 39.8. Any one for the over?
The Bear Raid returns QB Jared Goff who broke 15 school records in 2014 while ranking in the nation’s Top 10 in six individual categories. They also return four of their top five WRs who combined for 176 receptions and over 2,300 yards. The offense will be ready.
The key will there be any defense next year. The D returns nine starters as well as DC Art Kaufman. Will it help? Who knows. If they can get just get a few more stops Cal could be dangerous.
In 2013, Cal won one game. In 2014 they upped it to five. Can the Bears match last years win 5 game win total and make it to a bowl? The schedule starts out easy enough with Grambling, San Diego State, @ Texas @ Washington and Washington State. There may be four wins in there. But it finishes with a bang @Utah, @ UCLA, USC @ Oregon, Oregon State @ Stanford and Arizona State. Beat OSU and you get to 5 and a push. I just dont know. The offense is good enough to beat anyone and the defense is porous enough to lose them all too. I'll PASS and take the overs
Colorado HC Mike McIntyre finds himself on the hot seat entering his third year in Boulder. He took a one win team to four wins but then regressed to a two win campaign in 2014. It was the first time Colorado was winless in conference play since 1898! He ended the year on an eight game losing streak.
Is there any improvement buried underneath all that rubble? The stats were better in 2014 than 2015 but basically Colorado is Cal without the offense. The Buffs finished 111th in defense and 37th in offense. JR QB Sefo Liufau is one of 16 returning starters, along with star SR WR Nelson Spruce who spurned the NFL to stay.The passing game will be OK but there is nothing special about the running game coming back.
The defense was a sieve in 2014 but most of the two-deep are back, along with stud DE Samson Kafovalu who missed 2014. The key addition on the defense in new DC Jim Leavitt. Leavitt was the founder of South Florida football and was brought off the beach to try and make something out of a pile of crap. He can start by trying to force more turnovers. Colorado finished 122nd in turnovers gained last year.
Can the Buffs win 5 games? There is 3-4 wins with @ Hawaii, UMass, Colorado State and Nicholls State to start. But then its on to conference play where they should be dogs in every game. @ Washington State is probably thier best bet. Still, I don't see five wins. I'll go UNDER
Meet the winningest FBS program this decade with 60 wins, two more than Alabama and Florida State.
Now, the Marcus Mariota era is in the history books, forcing HC Mark Helfrich to turn to either Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams or Jr Jeff Lockie. Adams will be late to fall camp while he finishes up classes at EWU. He was 28-6 with the Eagles, passing for over 10,000 yards and 110 TDs while guiding his team to three FCS playoff appearances. He also torched Oregon State for 475 yards and 7 TDs in a 59-52 win last season. He'll battle Lockie who is in his third year in the system. Neither will be as good as Mariota though.
The offense also loses three starters on the OL including standout OT Jake Fisher. Oregon struggled a bit without Fisher in the line up and now he is off the the NFL (Rd 2 Cincinnati). Expect a decline in the Quack Attack.
The defense could also take a step back too. The secondary loses three starters to the NFL. Also lost to the NFL was star DT Arik Armstead (Rd 1 49ers). They did get some good news when disruptive DE DeForest Buckner spurned the NFL to return to Eugene. The secondary will be young with two sophomores and two freshman competing for the corner spots.
Look, it's Oregon, they will reload. But can they win 10 games (or lose 3). @ MSU is a loss in a revenge game for the Spartans. They also play @ Stanford, @ Arizona State and USC. There could be two more losses in there. I'll take the UNDER
One of my favorite hires this season was Gary Andersen, who comes to OSU by way of Utah State and Wisconsin. After working 14 years with Mike Riley, the Beavers hand the keys over to Andersen with major holes to replace in 2015. Gone is QB Sean Mannion (Rd 3 St Louis), the conference’s all-time leading passer. The Beavers will likely turn to raw rookie Seth Collins to lead the offense.
In charge of the offense is former MSU OC Dave Baldwin which means the spread is coming to Corvallis. He will have the benefit of returing all five OL from past year as well as RB Isaac Seumalo who missed 2014 with two foot surgeries.
The defense is switching to the 3-4 which gives Damato Peko's cousin Kyle the shot at taking over as NT. Six of the remaining back nine will be starting their first games. It’s a good thing Andersen is a defense-first coach. There's a lot of coaching to be done.
Can the Beavers exceed four wins? The season starts with Weber State, @ Michigan and San Jose State - that's at least two - possibly three. They also get two more in Colorado and @ Washington State. I have faith in Anderson. He'll find five wins. I'll take the OVER
For the first time under HC David Shaw, the Cardinal finished with less than 11 wins. Stanford ended up 8-5 with three of the losses by a FG.
Stanford is known for the pounding running game and stout defense. The defense held up last year as if finished third overall - allowing just 282 YPG. They have now held 14 teams to season lows or 2nd lows in yardage over the last two years. But the Cardinal will struggle to replicate that success as only 3 starters return.
The offense is light years away from the 40 PPG units manned by Andrew Luck in 2010 and 2011. Making matters worse, the ground attack is a shell of the one that existed when Toby Gerhart and Tyler Gaffney carried the rock. The run game failed to feature a 1,000 yard runner for the first time since 2007. This put the pressure on QB Kevin Hogan. He responded with the best season of his career and now returns with 32 starts under his belt.
How the team fares this year will come down how far the defense regresses but more importantly - how Hogan does. When he is on, Stanford can play with anyone but when he is off losses mount. In the five losses last year Hogan threw for only two TDs.
Can Stanford get to 9-3 or better? They start with @ Northwestern and then host Central Florida. Those are not gimmies. Then they travel to USC. They have four more tough games on the schedule but fortunately they are all on the Farm - Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame. The defense will need to reload. Not sure they will. I'll take the UNDER
Off back-to-back 10-win campaigns for the first time since 1997-98, the Bruins continue to flourish under Jim Mora and his outstanding recruiting classes. The Bruins only have to replace four players from last year’s powerhouse squad, The 18 returning starters combined for 239 returning starts from 2014 - the most in the Pac-12.
With all five starters back on the OL, RB Paul Perkins, last years leading PAC 12 rusher, is set to become the Bruins’ next superstar. He will need to take keys to the offense because one player not returning this year is QB Brett Hundley. Hundley decided to leave early for the NFL (Rd 5 Green Bay) They’ll almost certainly replace him with the nation’s top quarterback recruit, Josh "Chosen" Rosen.
The defense will need to reload a bit too as LB Erick Kendricks (Rd 2 Minnesota) and DE Owa Odighizuwa (Rd 3 NY Giants) will now be playing on Sundays. The returning players will have a new leader as Mora hired long time Penn State assistant Tom Bradley to be his DC.
UCLA is loaded. Can they win 10 games with a rookie QB? They skip Oregon this year leaving the four toughest games being @ Arizona, Arizona State, @ Stanford and USC. Split those four and you get 10 wins. Sounds about right. I'll take the OVER
Is USC ready to be USC again? Expectations are sky rocketing as the Trojans return 14 starters from the 9-4 team last year. The sanctions-free Trojans will finally have the luxury of a full complement of players, with at least 76 scholarship performers, including a 24-member recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 by most scouts.
A key returner is Heisman Trophy candidate QB Cody Kessler who was one of only three FBS QBs to throw 30 or more TD passes than interceptions in 2014 (39/5). Lining up at WR is Freshman All Americann. Another frosh All American, CB Adoree Jackson is also expectd to see some time in the slot. Oh, and one of the best best offensive line brings back all five starters back from last season. The offense is going to be loaded.
The defense needs to finish better. Last year’s squad did not allow an opponent to put up points on any opening drive, while outscoring foes 284-149 in the first half. But they failed to close out some key games. A Hail Maty loss to Arizona State and a TD with eight seconds left to Utah kept USC from the Pac 12 championship game. The defensive line was ordinary last year and must replace DE and captain Leonard Williams (Rd 1 NY Jets)
Can USC get to nine wins? The key games are Stanford, @ Arizona State, @ Notre Dame, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. If they go 3-3 in those game the get to nine. This one could come down to the final game. The Trojans have lost three in a row to the Bruins. I like their chances. I'll take the OVER
Utah comes into 2015 feeling pretty good. They finished with 9 wins, after back to back 5 win seasons, and they had a winning record in the Pac-12 for the first time since coming over from the Mountain West.
But, despite owning 84 wins in 10 seasons, it’s time the Utes address a serious situation. Not only have the Utes been outgained each of the last four years, they have managed to out-yard only 15 of 50 opponents in the process. And trouble could be brewing in by the Great Salt Lake. Both DC Kalani Sitake (Oregon State) and OC Dave Christensen (Texas A&M) left in arguably lateral moves.
The offense will rely heavily on 6’7” SR QB Travis Wilson and SR RB Devontae Booker to shoulder the burden .Booker is a load, and just missed setting the all time Utah rushing record at 1,566 yards But, Wilson has been marginal having lost the starting position to back up Kendal Thompson twice last year before Thompson went down with a knee injury. . And the OL took a hit when OG Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL (Rd 3 Tennessee)
New DC John Pease has been collecting retirement checks for the last four years and now returns to Utah with some holes to fill. Nate Orchard (Rd 2 Cleveland) took his NCAA second best 18.5 sacks to the Mistake by the Lake - putting pressure on a secondary that replaces 3 starters.
Lots of moving pieces for the Utes. Can they win eight games? The non conference slate features Michigan, always dangerous Utah State and @ Fresno State, That could be good for a loss or two. Conference play includes @ Oregon, @ USC and @ Arizona while the home games include UCLA and Cal. Utah is going to regress. I'll take the UNDER
An 8-win season under a new head coach is never one to scoff at. Chris Petersen’s first order of business in the Pac-12 was to change the culture at Washington. Reworking a locker room’s mentality doesn’t happen over night and that led to six losses despite a glut of top flight NFL Draft picks a year ago.
Looking inside the numbers, red flags are everywhere. U-dub saw its offense regress 110 YPG and its defense decline 22 YPG. It’s what happens when you’re outgained 22 net yards a contest. And don’t forget the three stud players from last year’s team that were plucked in the first round of this year’s NFL draft
On offense, the first priority is to find a starting QB. Petersen will have to chose between mediocre Jr Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman KJ Carter-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning. The running game was nothing special and is unlikely to make progress with only one OL starter returning.
The prospect for the defense is even bleaker with four stars leaving for the NFL (NT Danny Shelton Rd 1 Cleveland; CB Marcus Peters Rd 1 Kansas City; LB Shaw Thompson Rd 1 Carolina and LB Hau'oli Kikaha Rd 2 New Orleans). The DL was particularly hard hit as it loses all four starters from last year. Petersen has responded by changing the scheme to a 3-4.
It was all about the schedule last year. Washington went 7-0 against Div 1A teams with a losing record and 0-6 against winning teams. Vegas is predicting a huge let down for Husky fans setting the win mark at 4. Can they win 4? Sacramento State, Utah State, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State are the most likely candidates. Washington is rebuilding for next year but the bar is too low. I'll PASS
Could change be in the air in Pullman. Mike Leach's offenses have always been pass first, pass second and rarely run. The Cougars led the nation in passing last season (479.7 YPG), setting or tying 42 school, conference or NCAA records - including QB Connor Halliday’s single-game record 734 yards against Cal. Walk-on redshirt sophomore QB Luke Falk took over when Halliday suffered a school career-ending broken leg in the USC game and immediately lit up the airways, averaging 444 passing yards per game thereafter.
But with the Cougar's top two rushers returning and all five of the OL, Leach is hinting that Falk may take 25% of his snaps from under center. Unheard of for a Leach offense.
DC Alex Grinch came over from Mizzou where he was safeties coach to the graveyard of DC's - handling defenses for Mike Leach. Leach treats defense as an after thought both in recruiting and assistant salaries. The one good player from last year LB Xavier Cooper is now playing in the NFL (Rd 3 Cleveland. New year, same results, Wazzou's defense will be a sieve.
It's been 11 years since the Cougars had a winning season. Can they get there this year or even to five as Vegas projects? Portland State, @ Rutgers, @ Cal, Oregon State, Colorado and Washington are the most promising. The defense will let Cougar fans down yet again. I'll take the UNDER