The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 17, 2018

2018 Pac-12 Preview

Note: The preseason ratings you see in the previews may not be the same as the ratings you see for the first game. We update every team’s rating based on player injuries, changes to the depth charts, and other factors that may change during preseason practice.
Our Power 5 Conference preseason ratings and won-loss predictions were figured before knowing the outcome of recent suspensions to Coaches Urban Meyer and D.J. Durkin at Ohio State and Maryland. Because our ratings set 100.0 as average, and the mean of all 130 teams must be 100.0, taking points away from Ohio State and Maryland require redistributing points to the other 128 teams. Expect these ratings to change prior to August 25.

The Washington Huskies are loaded with top talent at several positions, but they are inexperienced at a key position. On offense, Coach Chris Petersen welcomes back the league’s best passer in Jake Browning. Browning’s junior season was not as exceptional as his fabulous sophomore season, and he returns to move his draft stock up with a comeback year, if you can call a 19 TD/5 Int. 152.1 efficiency rating one to come back from.
Running back Myles Gaskin crossed the goalline 24 times last year, 21 of those while rushing for some of his 1,380 yards. Backup Salvon Ahmed provides a speedier second option to the more powerful Gaskin, and UW should rush for 200 yards per game this year behind one of the top offensive lines in the nation. Left tackle Trey Adams could be a first round draft pick next Spring. Right tackle Kaleb McGary should contend for first team All Pac-12.
It’s the receiver position that will determine if the Huskies will average better than 40 points per game or just 28-35 points per game this year. Dante Pettis may have been a little eccentric, but he was the best receiver at Husky Stadium the last two seasons.

Petersen is hoping that freshman phenom Marquis Spiker can step in immediately and be the go-to guy. Spiker has size and speed with soft hands, and he will get better and better every day going up in practice against the best college secondary in the nation and best in the Pac-12 since USC featured Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith four decades ago. If Chico McClatcher can return to form following an early 2017 injury, and Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones continue to show progress, this unit will be anything but a liability.

Now for the defense. Last year, UW gave up 16.1 points per game in a conference known for its wide open offenses. The Huskies easily led the Pac-12 in total defense, surrendering just 298 yards per game. With the offense being as strong as it is, if the defense were to be almost as good as last year, the Huskies could run the table in the regular season. The defense will be different this year, but to the disgust of the rest of the league, it will be better, maybe considerably better.

As mentioned before, UW has the nation’s top defensive backfield. All five starters from the 3-3-5 alignment return after 15 interceptions and 47 broken up passes. Four different cornerbacks could contend for all-league honors, if you count the nickel position as a third cornerback. Best of the group is Byron Murphy, who in just six games last year, intercepted three passes and recorded seven broken up passes. Murphy is more than an exceptional pass defender; he’s also an outstanding run stuffer and zone blitzer.

This secondary is multi-dimensional, and there is a leading contender for first team All-American at safety. Taylor Rapp is the best free safety not in the NFL. Rapp is like having Willie Mays in center field. He plays like there are two of him in the game, one to stop running plays for short gains or losses and to drop quarterbacks when on a blitz, and one to keep enemy receivers from getting any farther if they catch the ball.

The Huskies are not a one-trick pony on defense. It takes a strong pass rush to make the secondary shine, and UW has an incredible front six, making it the best pass rush in the Pac-12. Additionally, the Huskies led the league in rushing defense and finished fourth nationally. Nose tackle Greg Gaines does what a nose tackle is supposed to do. He takes up two gaps in the middle and stops most everything that comes his way. Unlike most NTs, he can get out of the block and rush the passer better than the average behemoth. Inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is undersized, but he led Washington in tackles last year and could repeat this year and approach 100 total tackles.

Washington will get a chance to show whether they belong in the 2018-19 Playoffs when they begin the season against Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Classic in Atlanta. After long delays, the automated retractable roof is now working at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Husky fans should do a rain dance that day in hopes that the roof will be closed. A hot and humid Saturday afternoon could give Auburn a 7-12 point advantage, and the Huskies need to win this game to make up for the fact that their strength of schedule will hurt them in the playoff discussion.

Washington will not just waltz to the Pac-12 North Division title. They will face some stiff competition from Stanford and Oregon, and California might be waiting in ambush.

Stanford returns enough talent from 2017 to be a serious contender for the division and overall conference championship. The offense is in the capable hands of quarterback K.J. Costello and the more than capable feet of running back Bryce Love. Costello is an excellent game-manager, and part of that stellar management is pivoting and handing the ball off to Love. The All-American back rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, averaging better than eight yards per attempt. He is the number one contender for the Heisman Trophy this year, but he will have to top 2,000 yards again to get it. It’s possible if he stays healthy.

The Cardinal return their top two receivers from 2017. Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside teamed up to catch 91 passes and score 11 touchdowns. Usually, Stanford has a fine stable of tight ends, and they have two fine ones returning in Colby Parkinson and Kaden Smith. Neither is afraid to run across the middle of the field and haul in an important pass with a rib-crushing safety aiming for a maiming.

The offensive line returns four starters plus some key backups that could wind up starting, so the offense should once again be consistent if not flashy. Stanford should top 200 rushing yards and approach 200 passing yards while scoring 30-35 points per game.
Defensively, the Cardinal do not have Washington’s talent, but the unit does a good job of bending and not breaking. The strongest unit is at linebacker, where Bobby Okereke made 88 tackles, including 8 1/2 for loss. Stanford also has one of the two best kicking games in the league. Placekicker Jet Toner was perfect on PATs and went 21 of 26 on field goal attempts with nine coming from beyond 40 yards. Punter Jake Bailey averaged 45.4 yards per punt with a net of 41.0. As a kickoff specialist, 70% of his kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

Oregon lost big to Washington, Washington State, and Stanford last year, so the Ducks are not yet back to where they were under Chip Kelly and the beginning of the Mark Helfrich era. The Ducks have a chance to take a leap forward with a lot of talented and experienced players returning, but at the start of 2018, they are behind their two divisional rivals and having to fight off a challenge from the Golden Bears to their south. An inconsistent offense should be a tad more consistent this year, while the somewhat porous defense should improve with the return of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt bringing his aggressive style back to Eugene.

Quarterback Justin Herbert didn’t officially qualify due to not meeting the minimum number of pass attempts, but had he qualified, he would have led the Pac-12 in passing efficiency last year. Herbert averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt with a 15/5 TD/Int ratio. His running ability is not on par with Marcus Mariota, but he’s the next best thing to hit Autzen Stadium since the former Heisman Trophy winner matriculated to the NFL.

Tony Brooks-James tries to replace Royce Freeman after Freeman rushed for 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Brooks-James has six career 100-yard rushing games, including two in the Pac-12 last year. A competent but not spectacular offensive line should allow Brooks-James to top 1,000 rushing yards if he stays healthy.

The one questionable unit on the attack side is the receiving corps. Dillon Mitchell is the closest thing to a star in this unit, and he led the Ducks with 42 receptions and 517 yards. Tight end Jacon Breeland is the go to receiver in the red zone. He led the Ducks with 5 TD receptions in 2017.

The defense should put up better numbers in 2018 than it did in 2017, when the Ducks surrendered 29 points and 369 yards per game. Up front, tackle Jordan Scott and end Jalen Jelks are excellent run-stuffers. Jelks can also introduce an enemy quarterback to the turf, as he led Oregon with 7 sacks. He can also drop off in pass coverage and defend the short flat and hook zones.

Linebacker Troy Dye is the top star on the stop side. Dye recorded 107 tackles with 14 for loss, but he may be more remembered for scooping up a Boise State Statue of Liberty Play fumble in the Las Vegas Bowl and returning it for a touchdown.

The Duck defensive backfield is a question mark, but safety Ugo Amadi returns after intercepting four passes last year. Oregon gave up 241 passing yards per game, and the pass rush must be better this year for this less experienced secondary to bring that number down.

Oregon’s non-conference schedule is quite weak, but it isn’t going to matter, because the Ducks are not going to be a playoff contender. The easy 3-0 start will allow the Ducks to enter conference play with confidence and momentum, and when Stanford invades Autzen Stadium in week four, Oregon should be primed for an upset bid. Oregon also hosts Washington, but road games with California, Washington State, Arizona, and Utah could be challenging.

California just missed bowl eligibility last year, with close losses to Stanford and UCLA at the end putting an end to a season that began on a bright note with a 3-0 start that included victories over North Carolina and Ole Miss. This year, the Bears could start 3-0 again, but with the experience returning to Berkeley, the students might be hugging them rather than the trees around the stadium. Cal is a dark horse contender in the North this year, and second year coach Justin Wilcox’s troops should return to a bowl game.

The Bear offense is poised to take a considerable leap forward with the return of 10 starters and many key backups. Quarterback Ross Bowers may not remind any Cal fans of Aaron Rodgers, but he has improved enough as a rising junior to have fought off a competition with former South Carolina starter Brandon McIlwain. Bowers has two very talented and experienced receivers; Vic Wharton and Kanawai Noa teamed up for 123 receptions and 1,659 yards last year. True freshman Nikko Remigio will get an opportunity to show off his afterburners and could find his way into the mix this year.

Defensively is where we expect Cal to make the most improvement. The Bears were almost like a skeleton defense giving token pressure against quarterbacks last year, but most of the pass defenders are back with more experience and improved skills. Last year’s numbers were actually an improvement over 2016, when they chopped two touchdowns off their averages. We’re not talking Washington’s defense, but Cal could trim three points and 30 yards off their 2017 numbers this year and pick up the extra wins they need to play again in December.

Some of our subscribers when they first joined the PiRate Ratings, believed that our name derived from our support of Mike Leach, the Pirate. If you notice, we are “PiRate Ratings” and not “Pirate Ratings,” as we used to actually be the “Pi-Rate Ratings” in a prior medium. It has nothing to do with Leach or East Carolina for that matter. When you think of Coach Leach, you think of a wide open passing attack and a lot of interesting midweek press conferences. It took him a couple years, but he has made Washington State football exciting and somewhat successful again.

This year, the Cougars will take a step backward and be hard-pressed to finish above .500 overall. WSU must rebuild on the attack side, as they must replace Quarterback Luke Falk (3,593 passing yards and 30 touchdowns), three key receivers, the top running back, and three offensive line starters. Fret not for the Cougars; they will move the ball and score points like always, but they won’t be as consistent as they have been the last two seasons.

Replacing the school’s all-time leading passer is the top priority, and Washington State will most likely turn to graduate transfer Gardner Minshew to run the offense. At East Carolina, a school that runs the same offense, Minshew completed 57% of his passes for 2,140 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. In November, Minshew got a chance to hum the ball all over the field, as in those four games, he averaged 34 completions and 372 passing yards.

There are still some fine receivers on the roster, including running back James Williams, who led the team with 71 catches and Tay Martin, the game-breaker who turned six of his 31 catches into scores as a freshman in 2017.

The running attack officially averaged just 68 yards per game and 2.9 yards per rush. However, these stats are misleading. Take out the quarterback sacks. These are not running plays. They are passing plays that failed. The rest of the running plays showed WSU averaged 4.6 yards per real running attempt. Thus, the loss of Jamal Morrow, and his 522 yard rushing and 506 yards receiving will be felt more than expected.

If WSU is to make their third consecutive bowl appearance, the defense will have to step up and continue to come up with outstanding performances. Last year, the stop troops held Oregon to 10 points, Stanford to 21, and Utah to 25. Overall, the Cougars gave up 25.8 points and 323 yards per game. Most of the back eight players return, but the defensive front needs remodeling. Strong safety Jalen Thompson led the team in tackles and in interceptions, and he could vie for first team All Pac-12 honors this year.

Washington State may have some issues in their kicking game. A steady kicker has yet to be uncovered, and the punting game will not be as strong as last year either.

Oregon State has a long way to go to become a contender again in the Pac-12 North. The Beavers went 1-11 last year with the lone win coming over Portland State; they trailed in that game with just over a minute remaining and were out-gained by 126 yards.

The Beavers welcome back native son Jonathan Smith as head coach (see new coaches section), and Smith hopes to install a lot of the Washington philosophy, where he served as offensive coordinator. Oregon State’s offense finished last in the league in scoring and total yards, so it is a long road to respectability. Smith will move away from the spread to the pro-style offense, and it will take two or three years to get enough players recruited to that offense to have a chance at contending in the division. Quarterback Jake Luton is coming back from a spine fracture, and it could take some time to get his timing back while trying to learn a new offense. The Beavers may actually regress from their 21 points and 334 yard averages of last year.

Oregon State gave up a league worst 43 points per game last year, with only two other teams nationally performing worse. At least the defense was balanced; the Beavers gave up 236 yards per game rushing and 237 yards per game passing. Many of the few Pac-12 caliber players graduated. The two best returning players are safeties Jalen Moore and David Morris, but it is never a great thing when your two safeties finish with the most tackles every week.

The South Division should be an interesting race, and because no team is considerably better than the others, it would not be surprising if the division champion had a 6-3 conference record. The PiRate Ratings work differently than most every other system, because in the preseason, we actually factor into each team’s ratings a unique adjustment constant based on the quality of their depth and other intangibles like having to adjust to something new. We bring this up, because the team with the fifth best preseason PiRate Rating could be the team with the best PiRate Rating in late November due to the learning curve and forward improvement expected. Read on, and you will see what we mean.

USC begins the season ranked at the top of this division’s PiRate Ratings. The Trojans won a lot of close games with arguably the best quarterback in the nation last year in Sam Darnold. It is a strong possibility that the starting quarterback when USC takes the field against UNLV will be someone that in his last real game, passed for 233 yards playing for Mater Dei High School against De Lasalle in the CIF State Championship Game. J.T. Daniels may be the next great quarterback in USC history, but as a true freshman, he will be quite a drop off from the next Joe Namath in New York Jets’ history. Expect the Trojans to take some lumps against strong defensive teams, but expect Daniels to make some eye-popping plays with his arm and legs, because USC’s offense is strongest in its offensive line.

Defensively, the Trojans should be about on par with last year if not a little better, when they gave up 26 points and 396 yards per game. The Trojans are one of a handful of teams that use the new 2-4-5 defense, a variation of the popular 4-2-5 but with more agile outside linebackers playing on the edges. USC can excel with this package, because they have a stable full of talented linebackers. Cameron Smith finished second in the league with 112 total tackles, 11 of which went for lost yardage. Fellow inside linebacker John Houston added 84 tackles and broke up four passes.

The key to whether the pass defense will thrive is the pass rush, and the Trojans have to replace their two sackmeisters from last year. Rasheem Green was a third round pick of the Seahawks, and Uchenna Nwosu was a second round pick of the Chargers. All hopes rest on another great year from end Christian Rector, who made 7 1/2 sacks as a part-time starter.

The back line of defense returns four of five starters from last year plus the top reserve, and the Trojans should have their share of interceptions and deflected passes like last year. Cornerback Iman Marshall had 10 passes broken up, and his opposite side partner Jalen Jones had four interceptions and seven passes broken up. Safety Marvell Tell intercepted three passes to go along with 85 tackles.

USC’s schedule presents numerous roadblocks, especially in the first month when Daniels will be trying to gain experience and confidence. Back-to-back road games against Stanford and Texas will be tough. The Trojans begin the season as the light favorite to win the South, but by October, they could be an also-ran if the offense doesn’t gel.

Utah was off to a 4-0 start last year when the wheels came off due to injuries and tougher opposition. At 4-4, a bowl bid was in serious jeopardy, but the Utes recovered to beat UCLA and Colorado to earn a trip to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, where they topped West Virginia to clinch a winning record. Coach Kyle Whittingham has a fabulous freshman quarterback too, but his isn’t expected to start like at USC. Tyler Huntley returns as the starter after showing some decent dual-threat skills. Huntley missed some games with injuries last year, so true freshman Jack Tuttle could see serious action during the season. Tuttle was offered scholarships by SEC powers Alabama and LSU, so it figures that he will eventually be a force in the Pac-12.

To run the spread option, your running back has to be strong and agile, as he will receive a lot of punishment. The Utes have a fine bruiser in Zak Moss, who finished 2017 with 1,173 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Moss is powerful with a low center of gravity, and he can quickly make a cut for an extra five yards.

The offensive line is good but not great, while the receiving corps has room for improvement. Utah’s offense is not excellent like others in this league, because they have questions at wideout and at tight end. Siaosi Mariner is the lone player with significant starting experience, and he caught just 20 passes a year ago. He made the most of those 20 catches, averaging close to 20 yards per reception.

The reason why Utah is not expected to win the division is a defense that must reload up front and in the secondary. A lot of quality talent returns to the defensive side of the ball, but maybe not enough to sustain the excellent results produced last year. Up front, Bradely Anae led the Utes with 7 QB sacks from his end position. He’s the lone starter returning to the line of the 4-2-5 defense. Linebacker Chase Hansen is the lone returning starting linebacker. He made 51 tackles last year and was all over the field. Cornerback Julian Blackmon led the Utes with four interceptions, and opponents will likely pass away from his side of the field more and more this year.

Utah may have the nation’s top kicking tandem. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky has one Ray Guy Award trophy from 2016 and is a leading contender to get a second. Kicker Matt Gay won the Lou Groza Award trophy as the top kicker in the nation. Gay was a perfect 40 of 40 on extra points and made an incredible 30 of 34 field goals. Gay didn’t put up those gaudy numbers kicking chip shot field goals. He made eight from 50 yards or more, including two 56-yarders.

Arizona has the best overall quarterback in the Pac-12 in Khalil Tate. If you remove quarterback sacks, the junior phenom topped 1,500 yards rushing and passing last year. He did this despite missing two full games and parts of another. Tate won’t be running Rich Rodriguez’s zone read offense this year, as Rich Rod is not there any more. New coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense is more of a passing offense, and Tate will most likely fail to rush for 1,000 yards but could approach 3,000 passing yards. It is a gamble to deviate from an offense that led the league with 41.3 points and 490 yards per game.
In Tate’s favor, Arizona returns almost all of their contributing receivers including all four starters, a part-time starter and three of the four top reserves. Arizona should top 250 passing yards per game. Co-starter J.J. Taylor returns at running back after leading the non-Tate runners with 847 yards and a 5.8 yard average. The offensive line needs some repairs, but there was depth here last year, and this unit should perform more than adequately.

The Wildcat defense was almost as inept at the offense was brilliant. The Wildcats finished dead last in pass defense, so returning the secondary and linebacker corps in full may or may not be a great thing. The four starting defensive backs made a dozen interceptions, and the starting linebacker trio teamed up for 16 1/2 sacks and 232 total tackles. The defensive line is the major question mark here. After giving up 185 rushing yards last year, UA could see those numbers worsen in 2018.

If the offensive personnel buy into Sumlin’s offense, Arizona can contend for the South Division title. If they struggle, the Wildcats could fall to as low as 5th place in the division.

Arizona State Athletics Director Ray Anderson is playing Russian Roulette knowing that the first two pulls of the trigger didn’t have the live bullet. Hiring Herm Edwards as head coach will certainly get the Sun Devils a lot of publicity. When USC hired Pete Carroll, he came to Troy with 11 years of college coaching experience. When Penn State hired Bill O’Brien from the New England Patriots, he came to Happy Valley with 14 years of college coaching experience. Edwards has just three years of college coaching experience that happened 30 years ago. He hasn’t coached at all in 10 years. This gamble has little precedence where a coach came out of a double-digit year retirement to take over a team in the level that he lacked experience coaching. We can only come up with legendary Hall of Famer Bud Wilkinson, who came out of retirement to coach the St. Louis Cardinals in the NFL 15 years after retiring as head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Wilkinson went 9-20 in 1 1/2 seasons before losing his job.

Edwards uses the Tommy Lasorda method of motivation, and maybe his younger players will buy into what his NFL players often did not. There is some talent in the fold, especially on offense where the Sun Devils averaged 32 points and 431 yards per game. Quarterback Manny Wilkins is not one of the top five passers in the league, but he is rather consistent. Except for the Utah game, his stats were generally about the same week in and week out. He has never had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive years, and this year is no different. The receiving tandem of N’Keal Harry and Kyle Williams combined for 148 receptions and 1,905 receiving yards, but the depth is thin behind these two.

The Sun Devils are a bit thin in the backfield and must replace their top two backs, including 1,000-yard rusher Demario Richard and the big power runner, Kalen Ballage.
Edwards was a defensive star in the NFL, and he tends to coach in a style that helps his defense as much as possible. ASU’s defense will need all the help it can get this year with major losses up front in the trenches and at safety. The Sun Devils will switch to a 3-3-5 defense, and they will take their lumps learning this new system against the high octane offenses in the Pac-12. Cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Kobe Williams give ASU a pair of serviceable defenders to build around, but the talent level is not Pac-12 worthy at safety. Expect to see backup cornerback Jalen Harvey moving to safety to try to add a little more talent on the field.

At linebacker, Arizona State has little depth and even less experience. Koron Crump looked like a potential star last year until his season ended in after playing just three games. He was given an extra year of eligibility and should become the leader of the defense.

Edwards needs to win the locker room quickly this year, as the Sun Devils face a tough trio of opponents in September. After beginning with a semi-breather against UTSA, games against Michigan State, San Diego State, and Washington follow, the latter two being road games. If ASU can come out of this stretch at 2-2, they have a chance to sneak into a bowl at 6-6 or even 7-5. If they are 1-3, they could be headed in a downward spiral to 3-9.

Colorado is at a crossroads in the Mike MacIntyre tenure. The Buffaloes followed up a South Division title in 2016 with a slide back to 2-7 in league play last year. Facing a monumental rebuilding project on offense, things could get worse in Boulder before they get better. Football in the Pac-12 has never been what it was for CU when they were in the Big 12, Big 8, or even the old Skyline Conference. Colorado is not a great fit as the remote outpost to the east. The PiRate’s Captain used to attend games at Folsom Field and was on the CU sidelines the day the Buffaloes destroyed number one Nebraska 62-36 and start the beginning of the end of the Frank Solich era in Lincoln. The two former bitter rivals will finally play again this year when the Buffs visit Lincoln in September.

One of the few offensive holdover for CU is quarterback Steven Montez. When not rushed, Montez has loads of talent and natural ability, and he can pick a defense apart. When rushed and forced to think on the run, as Washington’s defense made him run all day, Montez seems to become the college version of Ryan Fitzpatrick. He must cut down on his mental lapses and throw the ball away or run and take a dive before contact for CU to move out of the basement in the Pac-12 South this year.

Running back Travon McMillian decided to become a one-year free agent after playing at Virginia Tech. McMillian rushed for over 1,000 yards as a freshman in Frank Beamer’s offense, but he did not flourish the last two years in the Justin Fuente offense in Blacksburg. McMillian could top 1,000 yards in Boulder, but he is a step down from last year’s star Phillip Lindsey.

The receiving corps is a mess after the loss of three high quality wideouts that all were signed as undrafted free agents by NFL teams. Jay MacIntyre and Juwann Winfree lead the returnees after catching 28 and 21 passes respectively. Winfree has the potential to be a star if another receiver can prevent him from being double-teamed.

The Buffalo defense took a step backward last year, giving up more than 28 points per game after surrendering only 21.7 the year before. They gave up 107 more total yards per game as well, as they could not stop dual threat quarterbacks and big running backs. The line and linebacking units are not up to par with the other South Division schools, and the secondary will break down if there is not a better than expected pass rush. Linebackers Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis return after finishing one-two in tackles, but too many of those tackles were made five yards and more past the line of scrimmage. They need nose tackle Javier Edwards to have a breakout season and keep blockers away from the duo. Expect four or five true freshmen to see significant action on this side of the ball.

Most of the Buffs’ winnable games occur in the first half of the season, and a 4-2 start is a must if they are to have any chance of sneaking into a bowl. They will need to find two or three upset victims in the second half to play again in December, and we cannot see a legitimate path there.

Now, for the biggest unknown of the college football season. UCLA won the race with Florida to secure Chip Kelly as their new head coach (see the new coaches section below). Kelly creates instant excitement in Westwood, where the NFL’s Rams and Chargers look to both make a playoff run this year. Kelly may not have the same amount of quickness his Oregon teams had, but he will welcome some extra muscle with the Bruins in 2018.

In order to make the spread offense with the zone read work, you have to have a smart quarterback with deceptive running ability or outright sprinter’s speed. Two of the three contenders to replace Josh Rosen at quarterback have the dual-threat talent Kelly is looking for, but he also has an experienced starter from the Big Ten on board for a year, who happens to be more of a pure dropback passer. Wilton Speight started 16 times for Michigan in 2016 and 2017. His best games came in 2016, but he has played against the likes of Florida, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State with decent results. The quarterback race may not be settled until the Bruins begin preparing for Cincinnati in late August. Whoever eventually wins the job should get better as the season progresses, because Kelly’s offense needs a good number of snaps to fully grasp how to make it dangerous. Kelly has mentioned that he doesn’t want a running back that cannot throw for his quarterback, so Speight might have a slight advantage over Devon Modster and true freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but DTR has the potential to be another Marcus Mariota.

The Bruins will most likely use Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfumi interchangeably at the running back position. Jamabo will probably get the edge to start due to his ability to hit the wide holes of the read option quicker, but Olorunfumi might get more opportunities near the goalline with his straight ahead power.

Whoever wins the QB battle will have a huge target to find in the seams in tight ends Caleb Wilson and Devin Asiasi. Asiasi has some decent moves for a 287-pound monster. Enemy safeties will not like having to stop him mano a mano. Theo Howard is the top wideout on this team, and he could emerge as a 70-catch, 750-yard star if Speight wins the quarterback battle.

The offensive line may not have as many stars as some of the other contenders, but Kelly’s offense makes it easier to succeed with slightly better than average blocking. The Bruins may start off a bit slow as they get used to running the offense against live opponents, but by mid-October, they should be starting to look like a typical Kelly team, if there is such a thing. Kelly has been known to run the ball over 60 times in a game and pass the ball more than 60 times the next game, as he did at New Hampshire in back-to-back wins.

The Bruin defense figures to be improved over last year, and the amount of improvement will determine whether they can make a run to bowl eligibility. The farther back you go on this side, the more talented the units are. Defensive line will be a glaring weakness and the only reason why UCLA will not challenge for the division flag this year. How bad was the run defense last year? How about dead last in the entire FBS with an average yield of 287 yards per game! This was without playing a service academy or Georgia Tech that could have inflated the number. The Bruins gave up 457 yards on the ground in an 47-30 loss to Arizona; 405 rushing yards to Stanford in a 58-34 loss; and more than 300 yards in three other games.

The Bruins will transition to a 3-4 defense, and linebacker Jaelan Phillips should get a chance to live up to his press clippings coming out of high school. Phillips recorded 3 1/2 sacks and 7 total tackles for loss as a freshmen in limited action last year, and he could double those numbers this season. Nate Meadors anchors the back line after having 9 passes defended, including a pick 6 against Arizona State. Fellow cornerback Darnay Holmes led the Bruins as a freshman with 3 picks, one of which he took back all the way against Hawaii.

We want to make sure you understand this point. Our mechanical PiRate Ratings below will paint the worst possible picture on UCLA, and this does not actually reflect the expected improvement throughout the season as UCLA gets more and more familiar with the Kelly offense. We expect the Bruins to challenge for a bowl bid this year, and by November, nobody will want to face this team.
Here is how the Big 12 Conference Media voted in the preseason poll

North Division 1st Place Points
1. Washington 40 249
2. Stanford 1 198
3. Oregon 1 178
4. California 0 108
5. Washington St. 0 98
6. Oregon St. 0 45
South Division 1st Place Points
1. USC 22 225
2. Utah 14 209
3. Arizona 3 178
4. UCLA 2 116
5. Colorado 1 80
6. Arizona St. 0 72
Pac-12 Championship Game Winner
Washington 37
Oregon 1
Stanford 1

The PiRate Ratings differ somewhat, and as we have mentioned, we expect considerable movement in these ratings, especially in the wide-open South Division.

Pac-12 Conference
North Division
Team P12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
Washington 0-0 0-0 128.1 125.0 130.7 127.9
Stanford 0-0 0-0 120.3 117.5 121.0 119.6
Oregon 0-0 0-0 114.4 114.5 115.1 114.7
California 0-0 0-0 110.3 107.5 110.1 109.3
Washington St. 0-0 0-0 107.0 105.8 105.4 106.1
Oregon St. 0-0 0-0 88.5 86.0 86.9 87.1
South Division
Team P12 Overall PiRate Mean Bias Average
U S C 0-0 0-0 112.5 110.7 111.8 111.7
Utah 0-0 0-0 111.0 109.0 111.9 110.7
Arizona 0-0 0-0 109.9 107.6 110.0 109.1
Arizona St. 0-0 0-0 105.4 103.3 103.8 104.2
U C L A 0-0 0-0 102.5 102.2 100.0 101.5
Colorado 0-0 0-0 98.9 100.4 100.1 99.8
Pac-12 Averages 109.1 107.4 108.9 108.5

New Coaches
The Pac-12 tends to have a lot of coaching turnover, and this year is no different. The only difference this year, is that the coaching changes made more headlines than normal.

Oregon didn’t hold onto Willie Taggart very long. Taggart returned to the Sunshine State. Former Sunshine State coach Mario Cristobal, returns to the head coaching ranks after serving as an associate head coach at Alabama for four seasons ans offensive coordinator here last year. Known as an excellent recruiter, Cristobal should continue the winning tradition in Eugene.

Just up the road an hour, Oregon State hired Jonathan Smith to try to pull the Beavers out of the nosedive that has given them sole position in the basement. Smith was offensive coordinator at Washington the last four years, but more importantly, he is one of the all-time favorite Beavers. As quarterback at OSU, he guided the Beavers to their best ever season in 2000, when they went 11-1 with a win in the Fiesta Bowl.

All the controversy took place in the Grand Canyon State. Arizona fired Rich Rodriguez amid allegations of harassment by a former administrative staffer, but probably more because the Wildacts were not competing for the division title. The Wildcats turned to Kevin Sumlin, who Texas A&M has just fired for leading the Aggies to multi-year mediocre and unacceptable finishes (four consecutive 5-loss seasons).

Arizona State made the most controversial coaching hire this century. The Sun Devils let go of Todd Graham after he guided ASU to a second place finish in the South Division. Graham had one first place and three second place finishes in six years in Tempe, but that was not good enough to keep the job. So, who did the Sun Devils go out and hire to take them to new heights? Former NFL coach and ESPN commentator Herm Edwards. Edwards last coached in 2008, when he guided the Kansas City Chiefs to a 2-14 record following a 4-12 season in 2017. He has very limited college coaching experience, having served as the defensive backfield coach at San Jose State the first three years following his retirement as a player in the NFL. He does have the unique distinction of having a play named for him. The end of game play with the quarterback taking a knee out of the victory formation is called the Herm Edwards Play, due to the Miracle in the Meadowlands in 1978, where instead of falling on the ball, New York Giants QB Joe Pisarcik tried to hand off to Larry Csonka. The snap was bobbled, Pisarcik missed the hand-off and fumbled, and Edwards scooped it up and ran for a touchdown to win the game.

And, then there is the most talked-about coaching change. Chip Kelly returns to the college ranks after trying his hand in the NFL. He takes over at UCLA, after Jim Mora, Jr., like his father, couldn’t talk about playoffs. UCLA figures to have an adjustment period early, but as the season goes on, and the players get some game-time experience, expect the Bruins to improve by 10-13 points.

Predicted Won-Loss Records
Note: These predicted won-loss records are strictly mechanical based on the initial PiRate Ratings. No upsets are factored in these predictions. Additionally, our PiRate Ratings are only useful for the next week of games and cannot really be used to forecast past that point. Part of our weekly adjustment to our ratings includes a factor where depth issues or non-issues have been pre-set. In other words, a team without talented second stringers may lose ratings points as the season progresses even if they win games by the predicted margin, whereas a team with exceptional depth (like Alabama) will improve during the season and see its rating rise even if they win games by a little less than the predicted margin. What we’re saying is: don’t take these numbers with anything more than a grain of salt. In the case of UCLA, if they played any of the 12 games on their schedule next week, they might win just one as the predictions will show. But, if they were to play any of the 12 games on their schedule on November 24, they might win 10.

Pac-12 Conference
Team Conference Overall
Washington 9-0 13-0*
Stanford 8-1 10-2
Oregon 7-2 10-2
California 4-5 7-5
Washington St. 3-6 6-6
Oregon St. 0-9 1-11
Team Conference Overall
Utah 6-3 9-4
USC 6-3 7-5
Arizona 5-4 8-4
Arizona St. 3-6 5-7
Colorado 2-7 4-8
UCLA 0-9 1-11
* Washington picked to win Pac-12 Champ. Game

Bowl Tie-ins
1. Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA
2. Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, TX
3. Holiday Bowl in San Diego, CA
4. San Francisco Bowl in San Francisco, CA
5. Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX
6. Las Vegas Bowl in Las Vegas, NV
7. Cactus Bowl in Tucson, AZ

Coming Tomorrow–The Big Ten Conference

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