The 2018 season is just days away, so it is time for the Pac-12 Preseason Rankings. I think we can all agree that it is time for the “Conference of Champions” to finally see another championship in football. This year, the conference has at least three legitimate threats to hoist the national championship trophy. The conference has the best cast of coaches from top to bottom in the history of the conference. The question is which one of them will be the first to get to the promised land? The Pac-12 Champion will likely have to be undefeated to make the College Football Playoffs because we have learned the BCS and now the playoff rankings favor the SEC and ACC.
Per the usual, the South division is up for grabs. There has been a different winner every year since 2013 with only one team winning it twice. The media loves USC to win the South but I disagree. I believe the division will have one of it’s best races since 2014. The division has added Herm Edwards, Chip Kelly, and Kevin Sumlin as coaches so you know the next few years will be intense.
Potential Losses: USC, Utah, Oregon,
I know I am in the minority here, but the door is wide open for the Wildcats to win the Pac-12 South. They avoid Washington and Stanford on the schedule. USC is breaking in a new quarterback, top running back, and wide receiver. Every other game in the south is winnable when Khalil Tate is your quarterback. If Kevin Sumlin can muster something that even resembles a good defense the Wildcats will win the South.
2. USC (10-2)
Potential Losses: Texas, Stanford, Arizona, Notre Dame
USC is one of those rare places where a coach can go 21-6 in his first two full seasons and the jury still be out on him as a coach. Welp, that’s the reality when you get absolutely housed by Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ohio State in the process. The Trojans have a lot of turnover at key starter offensive positions (QB, RB, WR). Clay Helton will need to do his best coaching job yet to get all those 5* players to get him 10+ wins again.
3. Utah (7-5)
Potential Losses: Washington, Stanford, Arizona, USC, UCLA, ASU, Oregon
Do not be surprised if Utah either wins the South or finishes second. Since USC is vulnerable the Utes will have a “Why not us” mentality heading into every game. Last season Tyler Hunley showed he is a real difference-maker at the quarterback position. Utah is always one of the toughest teams in the Pac-12 and 2018 will be no different. Kyle Whittingham has been extremely close to getting his team “over the hump”. Could this be the year?
4. UCLA (6-6)
Potential Losses: Oklahoma, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, ASU, USC, Stanford
The Bruins are predicted by most to miss a bowl game and finish 4-5th in the division. I’d agree that Chip Kelly is short on the players to run his system, but he’s still Chip Kelly college football juggernaut. Do not be surprised by any “outlier” results from this team. All eyes will be on their week 2 matchup at Oklahoma. If UCLA wins that game… scary. I do believe that teams like Arizona, Utah, and Arizona State better seize the opportunity to get a Pac-12 championship this season. It will get a lot more difficult as UCLA gets this thing rolling.
5. Arizona State (6-6)
Potential Losses: Everyone except UTSA, Oregon State, Colorado
I have no idea how Herm Edwards will do record-wise as the head coach of the Sun Devils, but I do know they won’t be winning the South this season. He hasn’t coached in ten years and hasn’t been a college coach in three decades. I do know that he will develop his young men into high character men and his team will play hard. Arizona State is one of those rare places that is not a powerhouse but could be. Arizona is a state with a good amount of high school talent, and close enough to California and Texas to get some of their most talented players.
6. Colorado (4-8)
Potential Losses: Everyone except New Hampshire
With the exception of their 10-4 season in 2016, the Buffaloes have had little success since joining the Pac-12. The good news is that Colorado has Junior quarterback Steven Montez back under center. Their best chance to steal a couple of games are against Oregon State, Washington State, and Cal.
The Pac-12 North Division is one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. Whenever you have three teams that can win a division, you know it’s tough. The king of the castle for the last two years has been the Washington Huskies. There will be a dogfight this season between Washington, Stanford, and Oregon. The media showed a lot of confidence that Washington will win the conference in the preseason poll. However, I firmly disagree.Cal, Washington State, and Oregon State do not have a chance to win the division, but there will be no SEC November cupcakes when they are on the schedule.
1. Stanford (11-1)
Potential Losses: Oregon, Washington
Stanford is consistent and coached by the best coach in the Pac-12. The difference between last year’s Stanford team and this year is the quarterback position. If K. J. Costello can stay healthy, the combination of him throwing the ball and Bryce Love rushing could prove too much for the Pac-12 and may earn them a spot in the CFB Playoff top 4.
2. Oregon ( 10-2)
Potential Losses: Stanford, Washington, Arizona
There is no team that has a wider variance for the number of wins than the Oregon Ducks. They have a new head coach, a potential #1 NFL draft pick at QB, a much-improved defense, but are coming off back to back disappointing seasons. The Ducks entire season hinges on two things: keeping Justin Herbert healthy and beating Stanford week 4. If Oregon beats Stanford, Washington will be on upset alert.
3. Washington (10-2)
Potential Losses: Auburn, Stanford, Oregon
It is hard to pick against Washington because they are talented and well coached. I love Chris Peterson’s defense, but their Achilles heel this year will be the quarterback. Jake Browning is a quality college quarterback, but Stanford and Oregon field much better options at the position. If Jake Browning raises his level of play against top-tier opponents the Huskies can win the Pac-12 and National Championship. But, I have a little sneaky suspicion there will be chaos in the North.
4. Cal (7-5)
Potential Losses: Oregon, Arizona, Washington, USC, Stanford
I really like the improvement that Cal made last season. The Golden Bears will be even better in Justin Wilcox’s second season. However, their schedule is rough and they don’t quite have the horses to compete with the top 3 teams. I would not be surprised if Cal sneaks a win against one of their “losses”.
5. Washington State ( 5-7 )
Potential Losses: USC, Utah, Oregon, Stanford, Cal, Arizona, Washington
Washington State is in a tough position. Mike Leach runs the ‘Air-Raid’ offense, but they are without their expected starter Tyler Hilinski at quarterback. His suicide sent shockwaves through all of college football. We all have Cougar nation in our thoughts and prayers this season. If you ever need help or are considering suicide please call 800-273-Talk.
6. Oregon State (3-9)
Potential Losses: Everyone except Southern Utah
There is nowhere to go but up for the Beavers as they only managed a single win last year. New coach Jonathan Smith will have the team more competitive, but they still have a long way to go. Their only opportunities for conference wins this year are Cal and Colorado. The goal should be getting one of those.
Arizona vs Stanford