“I’m going going, back back, to Cali Cali” – The Notorious B.I.G.
I started this journey in the heart of the south with the SEC and made my way up the East Coast with the ACC. Made a pit stop in the midwest with the BIG10. Then headed to the wild west to take a look at the Big12. Now I’m going back out west to what some call, the “Best” coast to finish off the Power 5 preview with the Pac 12.
Though the Pac 12 isn’t just California, 85 of the Conference Championship resides within the Golden State. However, 5 of the last 9 have gone to out-of-state teams. Is this the year for another non-California team to claim champion or will one of the golden state 4 (my unofficial nickname) keep it within the family?
Washington – If the championship is going to find its way to one of the other teams, Washington has the best bet to do so. Coming into the season +110 to win the Conference and -165 to win the North Division, all eyes will be on Washington week 1 as many believe if they lose against Auburn the PAC 12’s chances to make the playoffs are all but over. I don’t believe its a must win for the conference but it might be for the Huskies. If the Huskies want a return trip to the College Football Playoff they’ll need extraordinary seasons from Seniors Jake Browning & Myles Gaskin as well as a strong season from a defense that returns 8 starters from a year ago. After going 92-12 at Boise State, Chris Petersen has done well to turn around the Washington program. As he enters his 5th season with the team, one wonders if he can sustain the height of the program after going 12-2 and 10-3 the last 2 seasons, or if he’ll take a step back. Notable Games: vs Auburn, @Utah, @UCLA, @Oregon, vs Stanford
USC – Much like Chris Petersen at Washington, Clay Helton has seen his best successes happen the past 2 seasons posting records of 10-3 and 11-3. With 3rd overall pick Sam Darnold not manning the QB position, the Trojans have decided to lean on True Freshmen J.T. Daniels. Daniels was a 5 star QB in high school and #2 ranked Pro-Style QB in the 2018 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. At least he’ll have 4 of the top 5 targets returning with a strong offensive line unit to help him transition to college, but with 2 high-profile games in the first 3 weeks, he won’t have long to adjust. Cameron Smith and John Houston Jr will have to lead a defense that lost over 25.5 sacks and 7 INTs, if they want to make a smooth transition. This year will not come easy for the Trojans and as the 2nd favorite to win the conference at +400, I would be worried placing a bet on them. Notable Games: @Stanford, @Texas, @Utah, @UCLA, vs Notre Dame
Stanford – Stanford returns 15 starters from last season and at +550 to win the conference and +375 to win the North Division, I’d feel better about making this bet over the other 2 favorites. Heisman candidate Bryce Love looks to improve on last year’s season of an incredible 2,118 rushing yards and 19 TDs. The Cardinal look to improve all around on the offensive side of the ball with QB K.J. Costello returning for another season under center as well as the top 4 leading pass catchers from last season. David Shaw has consistently put out strong defenses and with the other teams in the conference still in transition, the only thing looking to hold back the Cardinal is youth along the interior. Notable Games: vs USC, @Oregon, @Notre Dame, vs Utah, @Washington
Utah – The Utes always seem to be a sleeper and always seem to be ranked by seasons end. They might just be the Rodney Dangerfield of the PAC 12 and with a relatively easy out of conference schedule this season, they can solely focus on the PAC 12 opponents if they want to take the conference. At +1500 to win the conference, I wouldn’t mind throwing a few bones on that line as the PAC 12 South Division seems to be transitioning. Utah brings back 14 starters including QB Tyler Huntley and leading rusher RB Zack Moss (1,173 rushing yards, 10 TDs). Many people forget but Utah has had 2 undefeated seasons since 2004 with the most recent in 2008 finished off with a Sugar bowl victory over a Nick Saban Alabama team. A key component to foreseeing an outlook on the season is stability with the head coach. Kyle Wittingham is the most tenured coach in the Pac 12 (granted the first 6 seasons they were in the MWC) and has record of 111-56, including a bowl record of 10-1 and 5-0 since joining the Pac 12. How they always are slept on is beyond me. Notable Games: vs Wash, @Stanford, vs USC, @UCLA, vs Oregon
Other notable teams to watch for in the PAC 12 this season consist of EVERY TEAM WITH A NEW HEAD COACH.
Arizona hired Kevin Sumlin this offseason and brings back one of the most dynamic players in college football in potential Heisman contender Khalil Tate. As they transition from the Rich Rod era into the Sumlin era one wonders how Tate will adjust to the new, yet sort of familiar, system (and I mean having to throw the ball more than 179 times). If he can transition nicely then Arizona could be a pleasant surprise in the South this year. I look for a few upsets along the way but they still need to be able to play defense to be taken seriously, something Sumlin hasn’t been able to produce.
Staying within the state of Arizona, Arizona State brought in a high-profile name of themselves with Herm Edwards. As Herm looks to change the culture at ASU, the Sun Devils are pretty much a wild card team right now as he hasn’t coached in college since I was born in 1989. Though he did see some success in the NFL as a head coach with 4 winning seasons, it’ll be interesting to watch how this all plays out and if we’ll see some press conference quotes to use for years to come. I’ll be paying attention.
UCLA brought back the king of the PAC 12 in Chip Kelly. Ok maybe that’s an exaggeration but he did amass a 46-7 record and 4 consecutive 10-win seasons before being plucked away for the NFL while at Oregon. His return to the conference that made him famous should be one everybody should have their eyes on. The Bruins have lost a lot of players to the NFL including Josh Rosen but we all know Chip Kelly’s system can be extremely dangerous. UCLA might not win the division or conference this year but there will be some guys that explode on the screen this year and should be fun to watch at the very least.
Oregon is on their 3rd head coach in as many years and is looking to Mario Cristobal to get them back to the promise land. Coming from the Chris Petersen coaching tree, it’ll be interesting to see if he keeps the offense as high-powered as we’ve come to expect from the Ducks. Everyone is high on Justin Herbert returning to man the offense but they are going to need much more from the young guys if they want to compete against Washington and Stanford for the North Division. I don’t see it but watching a potential top 5 pick in next year’s NFL draft should at least be entertaining.
The PAC 12 finished the bowl season an abysmal 1-8. They’ve heard about it all offseason. Every team in the PAC 12 has heard how terrible they are and how Washington is the only hope for the conference to make the College Football Playoff this season. If there’s ever been a chance for a motivated dark horse to shock the country, it is this year, when mostly everyone has practically written every team off before a single snap this season.
My dad told me early in life that 90% of America is usually wrong when predicting sports. When the universe starts leaning heavily to one side, the opposite usually happens to counter-balance. Maybe that will happen this year while everyone is sleeping or partying while the West Coast plays their games. Maybe everyone is right. One thing I know is to never count out underappreciated, highly motivated 18-23 year old kids. Everyone is capable of improving and becoming better, maybe the PAC 12 can change the narrative.
May the best team win.
***Wikipedia was used for team history and coaches history
******Sports-reference.com was used for all player statistics
*******Odds were provided through Bovada.com