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The Ultimate 2017 Pac-12 Preview

2017 Pac-12 Preview.

NORTH

1. Washington (Ranked #8 Nationally)

13 starters return from a Pac-12 Championship and Playoff team that took the Huskies to a 12-2 season. That includes star quarterback Jake Browning, who despite nagging injuries late in the year, ended up throwing for almost 3,500 yards, and finished with a 43/9 Touchdown-Interception mark. The defense, which was ranked best in the conference last season, also brings back it’s star: Linebacker Azeem Victor, who finished top-three in tackling for the Huskies despite missing 30% of the year. The game against Stanford is on the road, but the Huskies avoid USC from the South, and should contend for another playoff appearance. Projected Record: 11-1 (8-1)

T2. Stanford (Ranked #14 Nationally)

Stanford actually went 10-3 last season, but to some, that felt as a down year. Because those losses were early on in the year, the Cardinal were out of the public eye for awhile until they started stringing together some wins (Stanford did finish as my #12 team). Normally a ten-win team returning 16 starters would be a lock for a playoff berth, but Stanford draws USC and UCLA from the South, as well as an out-of-conference game against Notre Dame. Another ten win season (including bowl) seems possible, but a playoff bid may be asking for too much. Projected Record: 9-3 (6-3) 

T2. Oregon (Ranked #21 Nationally)

Oregon went 4-8 last year, with just one win against a bowl team, despite having a top-15 offense. The Ducks put up points last year, but they just couldn’t keep the other team from doing the same, as Oregon finished with the third-worst defense in the country. Brady Hoke is out as defensive coordinator, and he’s being replaced by one of the best in the country, former Colorado DC Jim Leavitt. The Ducks return 17 starters, including Heisman contending runningback Royce Freeman, who if he wanted too, probably could’ve been a top draft pick, but decided to stay and play out his senior year in Euguene. Projected Record: 9-3 (6-3)

4. Washington State

A season that included wins over Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA last year proved that Wazzu could hang with the big boys in the Pac-12, so Luke Falk decided to come back for his senior year. Falk threw for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns last year, and with 16 starters returning overall, this Washington State team will be a lot better, but the conference as a whole is getting better too, and with a schedule that happens to have five road games in the final seven, the Cougars could start strong and falter towards the end. Projected Record: 8-4 (5-4)

5. Oregon State

Oregon State returns 15 starters (doesn’t everybody in the Pac-12) from a team that made significant strides in year two under Gary Anderen, which was capped off with their first win over Oregon in nearly a decade. With multiple solid options at quarterback, and a physical game in the trenches that reminds me a lot of Utah, Oregon State is going to be a better team, but their record might just not reflect that. The Beavers will have to play the majority of Pac-12 games on the road, and as a whole the conference is better. Projected Record: 4-8 (2-7)

6. California

In my breakdown of Cal’s hire in my coaching carousel articles, I mentioned that even though I don’t normally like a power five school hiring a guy with no head coaching experience, I really liked the staff that new  coach Justin Wilcox put around himself. Tim DeRuyter (Defensive Coordinator) and Beau Baldwin (Offensive Coordinator) each spent many years as head coach at Fresno State and Eastern Washington respectively. Now, Cal is most certainly a rebuilding process, and in year one, they might be the worst in the conference, but I have a feeling that we could be finding the Golden Bears on bowl watch in just a few years. Projected Record: 3-9 (1-8)

SOUTH

1. Southern California (Ranked #4 Nationally)

Sam Darnold went 9-1 as a starter last year including a win on the road against eventual playoff team Washington and a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State, averaging 309 yards and 3.1 touchdowns per game. What doesn’t get enough credit is the job that Ronald Jones does on the ground to keep defenses honest against Darnold’s passing attack, Jones is a 1,000+ yard rusher that finsihed with 12 touchdowns last season. USC will face an early test against Stanford in week two, but they avoid Washington from the North and have UCLA at home. The Trojans should be a huge favorite in the South, and are a legit national title contender Projected Record: 11-1 (9-0)

2. UCLA

After going 37-16 in his first four years on the job in LA, things went out of control in year five for Jim Mora. Despite a quarterback that many thought could be the #1 NFL Draft Pick, and a team picked to win their division, the Bruins went 4-8 last season, and Mora found himself as my #3 coach on the hot seat. That team did have problems with injuries though, most notably Josh Rosen, and with 15 now-healthy starters back, a Top-25 finish isn’t out of the question. They just need Rosen to stay healthy. Projected Record: 7-5 (5-4)

3. Colorado

After an incredible 10-4 season in 2016, everybody knew that Colorado was going to take a step back this year, but the loss of Jim Leavitt to Oregon does hurt. The top-20 defense not only loses it’s coordinator, but with just three returning starters on D, it would be near-impossible to repeat that success anyway. Steven Montez steps into Sefo Liufau’s role as the leader of the offense, and while he looks promising, he might not fully get situated until about halfway through the year. The Buffs should make a bowl again, and will probably contend for #2 in the division, but no one is touching USC at the top. Projected Record: 7-5 (4-5)

T4. Utah

Utah is potentially the most overrated team in the power five. I realize that’s a bold statement about a team that has gone 28-11 in the past three seasons, but it’s the truth. The Utes return just nine starters, draw @ Washington and @ Oregon from the North and will have to travel to face division-favorites USC in October. Utah will be strong in the trenches again, but they just don’t have the skill talent to compete in a rapidly rising Pac-12, the Utes will miss a bowl for the first time since 2013. Projected Record: 5-7 (3-6)

T4. Arizona State

Arizona State missed a bowl for the first time under Todd Graham last season, which landed Graham on the hot seat list I mentioned earlier. The Sun Devils have recruited incredibly well recently, so it would be a shame if Graham was forced out before he could see that come to fruition. Blake Barnett transfers over from Alabama to start at quarterback, but Arizona State has Oregon, USC, Washington, and Colorado at home, which is a bad thing for a team fighting for a bowl, because it means most of their winnable games are on the road. Projected Record: 5-7 (3-6)

6. Arizona

Todd Graham wasn’t the only coach from the state of Arizona that found himself on the hot seat, Rich Rod also made that list. The Wildcats averaged the fewest points per game in the conference last year (24.8 per game) and could look for a new, mobile quarterback, after Brandon Dawkins’ performance last year opened the door for sophomore Khalil Tate to challenge for that starting spot. I don’t see a bowl in 2017, but I also see Arizona giving Rich Rod one more year to turn it around, the ‘Cats have been ranked 15 weeks under his watch. Projected Record: 4-8 (2-7)

Pac-12 Title Game: Southern Cal over Washington

All-Pac-12 Team and Awards

Offense

QB: Sam Darnold – USC
RB: Royce Freeman – Oregon
RB: Myles Gaskin – Washington
WR: N’Keal Harry – Arizona State
WR: Dante Pettis – Washington
WR: Deontay Burnett – USC
C: Scott Quessenberry – UCLA
OL: Cody O’Connell – Washington State
OL: Trey Adams – Washington
OL: Jeromy Irwin – Colorado
OL: Tyrell Crosby – Oregon

Defense

DL: Lowell Lotulelei – Utah
DL: Hercules Mata’afa – Washington State
DL: Vita Vea – Washington
DL: Kylie Fitts – Utah
LB: Cameron Smith – USC
LB: Azeem Victor – Washington
LB: Koron Crump – Arizona State
DB: Quenton Meeks – Stanford
DB: Chase Hansen – Utah
DB: Iman Marshall – USC
DB: Justin Reid – Stanford

Special Teams

K: Matt Anderson – Cal
P: Mitch Wishnowsky – Utah

MVP: Sam Darnold, QB – USC
Offensive Player of the Year: Luke Falk, QB – Washington State
Defensive Player of the Year: Azeem Victor, LB – Washington
Newcomer of the Year: Blake Barnett, QB – Arizona State

247Sports Recruiting Rankings

  1. USC
  2. Stanford
  3. Oregon
  4. UCLA
  5. Washington
  6. Utah
  7. Colorado
  8. Arizona State
  9. Arizona
  10. Washington State
  11. Oregon State
  12. Cal

Five Quick Questions

Team taking a step forward? Oregon
Team taking a step back? Utah
How many teams have a shot in the North? Probably just the top three
Best new coordinator: Jim Leavitt
Best QB: Sam Darnold

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