The Pac-12 was the odd league out last season in the NCAA Playoffs, as league champion Stanford saw their chances to earn a bid end before they started last year. An opening week loss at Northwestern in which the Cardinal could not run the ball and could not average even 4.5 yards per pass attempt. After that game, Stanford averaged more than 40 points per game the rest of the season and almost 10 yards per pass attempt. It culminated with a blowout win over Iowa in the Rose Bowl.
This season, Stanford begins the year as our choice to be the fourth seed in the 2017 FBS Playoffs, but their path to the conference championship is cluttered by nine additional teams fully capable of beating anybody else in this league. The Pac-12 will be as competitive as it has ever been, and the PiRate believe that 10 teams will earn bowl elibility this season, including the entire South Division. Yes, even Colorado is improved enough to go 6-6 and earn its first bowl bid in nine years.
The North Division has the two bottom-feeding teams to begin the 2016 season. California must start over with a major rebuild after losing top draft selection Jared Goff and the top six pass receivers on offense and their top three defensive stars. The Golden Bears and Oregon State, which has returned to their familiar position of the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, will fight it out in Corvallis in early October to see which team will avoid a possible 0-9 conference record.
The other four teams in the North Division will make for an excellent race this year. Stanford is the favorite to begin the season, but the Cardinal are not a shoo-in to win their division, much less the overall league championship. A new quarterback must be found to replace Kevin Hogan, but Coach David Shaw has a happy decision to make in replacing him. Both Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns are highly talented and able to put up better overall stats than Hogan.
Of course, whoever wins the starting job, or even if it becomes a platoon, the number one job for the QBs will be handing the ball off to Christian McCaffrey 25 times a game and getting out of the way. McCaffrey begins the season as one of two top candidates for the Heisman Trophy (Clemson’s DeShaun Watson being the other). McCaffrey led the Cardinal with more than 2,000 rushing yards in 2015, and he also led the team in receptions and receiving yards. A reloaded offensive line should allow SU to stay consistently strong all year, and hopefully for fans on The Farm, the team will not lay an egg in September, when most of the difficult games will be played.
Washington is the sexy pick of many pundits to win the North this year, as the Huskies return a lot of talent from a 7-6 team, including two capable quarterbacks and a running back that scored 14 rushing touchdowns and who will be running behind an experienced and talented offensive line.
The Huskies have a chance to be 4-0 when they face Stanford on Friday night, September 30, but they could also be 0-1 in the league and looking at elimination with a loss to SU.
Oregon missed Marcus Mariota enough to lose four games for the first time since 2007. The Ducks look to be in the same boat again this year, lacking enough offensive consistency to win games 52-42 every week, while having a defense that could give up 40 points per game in conference play. Adding a road game in Lincoln against Nebraska plus facing USC and Utah on the road from the other division means the Ducks are likely to lose four games again this year.
The Pirate worked his magic again last year. Coach Mike Leach guided Washington State to its first nine-win season in a dozen years. The Cougars shaved 11 points per game off their 2014 defensive average, while continuing to pass the ball better than any other team in the land. Luke Falk completed nearly 70% of his passes in his first year as a starter in Pullman with a TD/INT ratio of 38 to 8. Most of Falk’s receivers are back, and the pass blockers are talented enough to allow Falk time to find them. The WSU offense should be even better this year, and after averaging around 31 points per game for three years running, this team should top 35 per game this season. Keep an eye on this team: they could be the dark horse to challenge Stanford.
There is no clear-cut favorite in the South Division, and it would not be at all surprising if multiple teams finished tied for first at 6-3 or even 5-4. Home field advantages in Boulder, Salt Lake City, Tempe, Tucson, and Los Angeles are enough to turn underdogs into favorites, and no team in this division has the talent to be a prohibitive favorite over another team.
Somebody has to win a trip to the Conference Championship Game, and our choice from among the six fairly equal teams is USC. The Trojans must replace Cody Kessler at QB, but their offense is deep and talented, albeit not dominating everywhere else. Max Browne is the new starting quarterback. He has played sparingly in two seasons, but the former top QB in the 2012 class has a rifle arm and can throw the ball 50-60 yards with ease.
The Trojan defense will be suspect at the start of the season, especially up front where there will be an entirely new starting defensive line and two new linebackers. If any type of pass rush can be generated, the secondary could lead the league in interceptions, as the Trojans are loaded in the back of the defense.
UCLA has the missing the experienced quarterback in Josh Rosen, but the Bruins have a lot of holes to plug everywhere else on the offense. The Bruins lost their star running back and top two receivers, as well as three star offensive linemen. Rosen might be running for his life a bit too much for the Bruin offense to excel this year.
Defensively, The Sons of Westwood could lead the division in fewest points and yard allowed. 15 of the top 17 tacklers from 2015 are back including the entire front four and six of the front seven.
Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado could play each other 100 times each and all win 50 times. There is very little separating these four teams, as each has its own strengths and exploitable weaknesses. Home field advantage should allow the quartet to pick up key conference wins in their paths to bowl eligibility. Other than Colorado’s September 17 game at Michigan, these teams should win all their remaining non-conference games this year. Hosting Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State, and Utah should give the Buffaloes a 50-50 chance at finding four additional wins after securing two against Colorado State and Idaho, so CU has a fighting chance to give 4th year coach Mike MacIntyre his first bowl team in Boulder.
Here is how the Pac-12 Media predicted the standings.
|Pac-12 North Division|
|Pac-12 South Division|
Here is how the PiRate Ratings show the league at the start of the season.
The PiRate Ratings are meant to be used only to predict the outcomes of the next week of games, and are not best used to predict beyond that point. Because we use algorithms that include automatic adjustments by each team based on depth and experience, two different teams can win by the exact score we predict, and their new ratings might change differently.
Thus, using our ratings to predict won-loss records and bowl projections is a bit comical, but then we all need some laughs every now and then. So, laugh away at our projected standings and bowls.
|Pac-12 Conference Projected Standings|
|Washington St.||5-4||8-4||Foster Farms|
|Arizona St.||4-5||7-5||Las Vegas|
|Colorado||4-5||6-6||[St. Petersburg] *|
|Arizona||3-6||6-6||[Armed Forces] *|
|* Colorado’s and Arizona’s bowl bids are at-large invitations|
Coming Tomorrow: The Atlantic Coast Conference was once the weakest of the Power 5 leagues and arguably only on par with the old Big East Conference. Now, the ACC is number two for the first time ever.