- Washington State
- Oregon State
- Arizona State
Pac 12 Championship: Oregon over Arizona
Pac 12 North
1. Oregon Ducks
Projected Record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac 12)
My biggest surprise candidate for the 2018 College Football season. Oregon has all the makings of a surprise team- a great quarterback, talented roster, and alot of returning starters. Last year with Justin Herbert at quarterback, Oregon had a 6-1 record and averaged 52.1 PPG. New head coach Mario Cristobal has had success before, turning around Florida International. He then served as a great recruiter and offensive line coach under Nick Saban.
On defense, the Ducks specialize in stopping the run with a front seven that includes DE Jalen Jelks and ILB Troy Dye. The defense will just have to slow down the opponent and let the offense put up points. The schedule sets up really well for Oregon as they play Stanford and Washington at home, and they do not have to face USC from the South. Oregon could shock the country and be a playoff contender.
2. Washington Huskies
Projected Record: 10-2 (8-1 Pac 12)
Washington will be a contender for the playoff again, but face a tough opponent in the season opener against Auburn. Jake Browning continues to be one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the nation, but the offense will be led by RB Myles Gaskin and the offensive line. The defense is solid up front even after losing first round pick Vita Vea. The secondary stays loaded as well led my Preseason All-American Safety Taylor Rapp. Washington does get a break as they do not have a matchup against Pac-12 South opponents USC or Arizona.
3. Stanford Cardinal
Projected Record: 9-3 (6-3 Pac 12)
Stanford actually has a better offense this year than defense. K.J. Costello showed promise as a freshman and heisman-hopeful RB Bryce Love is back for his senior year. Defensively, the Cardinals lost CB Quenton Meeks and safety Justin Reid to the NFL. The defensive line also does not have much experience. The Stanford schedule is tough with games against USC, Oregon, Notre Dame, Utah and Washington. That includes a road back-to-back against Oregon and Notre Dame.
4. California Golden Bears
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Pac 12)
Cal’s offense wasn’t great last year, but they return ten starters and QB Ross Bowers should make improvements in his junior year. The offense also has RB Patrick Laird to rely on as he is coming of a 1200 yard season. The defense should also be improved as they have a really good cornerback in Cam Bynum. Cal was young last year and should make major improvements from a 5-7 season.
5. Washington State Cougars
Projected Record: 5-7 (2-7 Pac 12)
Mike Leach will hope that he found a quarterback in ECU transfer Gardner Minshew. The offense will also have three new starters on an offensive line that was not that great in 2017. It may sound crazy, but I am starting to doubt how great of an offense Mike Leach will be able to have this season. On defense the Cougars have seven returning starters, but star, undersized DT Hercules Mata’afa left for the NFL. The strength of this team remains in the secondary. A tough schedule will make it tough for Washington State to make a bowl game.
6. Oregon State Beavers
Projected Record: 3-9 (0-8 Pac 12)
Oregon State absolutely stunk on both sides of the ball last year and now are without their best player from last year RB Ryan Nall. New coach Jonathan Smith has his hands full for this turnaround as there isn’t much talent on the roster that would even show a bowl game next season.
Pac 12 South
1. Arizona Wildcats
Projected Record: 10-3 (7-2 Pac 12)
Arizona is another Pac-12 team that I think will have a surprising year to many. QB Khalil Tate is one of the most dynamic players in all of college football. The offense also returns eight starters to an offense that averaged 41.3 ppg. The defense was not great last year, but with nine returning starters expect a better performance. Kevin Sumlin has a good squad that may finish better than his former Texas A&M team. The schedule is also not so bad as the Wildcats do not have to play Stanford or Washington.
2. USC Trojans
Projected Record: 9-3 (7-2 Pac 12)
USC lost one of the best quarterbacks in college football when Sam Darnold went to the NFL. He will most likely be replaced by true freshman QB JT Daniels. A veteran offensive line should help the transition along with quality skill players like RB Stephen Carr, WR Tyler Vaughns, and WR Michael Pittman Jr. The defense should be solid as well with MLB Cameron Smith leading the way. The secondary had their issues last year, but they return both starting corners, Iman Marshall and Jack Jones. The schedule is USC’s biggest obstacle with non-conference matchups against Texas and Notre Dame.
3. Utah Utes
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4 Pac 12)
Utah is just a solid overall football team. The offense should be similar to last year with a returning offensive line and Tyler Huntley at quarterback. The Utes was led by their defense last year, but will have to replace a good amount of starters. Bradlee Anae will look to lead the unit coming off a 7 sack season. The non-conference schedule isn’t too bad, but they do have Pac 12 North opponents Washington, Stanford and Oregon.
4. UCLA Bruins
Projected Record: 5-7 (3-6 Pac 12)
UCLA made a splash hire when they signed new Head Coach Chip Kelly. It will be tough for UCLA to make a big splash in the first year without an established quarterback. The quarterback competition is wide open between Michigan transfer Wilton Speight, Devon Modster, and true freshman Dorian Thomas-Robinson. On defense there are some young talented players including sophomore OLB Jaelan Phillips. The non-conference schedule does not do UCLA any favors with a tough road game in Norman against Oklahoma. I think it will be a tough rebuilding year for Chip Kelly at UCLA.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils
Projected Record: 5-7 (3-6 Pac 12)
Arizona State is pretty good on offense especially with one of the most talented receiver duo in N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams. Combine that with talented senior QB Manny Wilkins and the offense should do just fine. The defense is where major questions start popping up. There are only 4 returning starters to the defense and a first year defensive coordinator. Herm Edwards hasn’t coached a football game in ten years and hasn’t coached in college since 1989 as a defensive backs coach for San Jose State. The week two test at home against Michigan State will be the big test.
6. Colorado Buffaloes
Projected Record: 4-8 (2-7 Pac 12)
Colorado has taken a major step back since their 10-4 season a few years ago. This Buffaloes team may struggle to make a bowl game. The offense was decent last year, but they return just three starters. Add in a defense that finished 110th and that does not make a good combination. LB Drew Lewis is the unquestioned leader and will need to have a big year.