The 2016 Pac-12 football season didn't go as expected. Oregon fell apart, California took another step in the wrong direction, Josh Rosen's injury grounded the UCLA Bruins and Colorado, Washington State and Washington joined USC as the four best teams in the conference.
Here's how the media predicted both divisions in the Pac-12 last summer:
And here's how it turned out:
|4.||Oregon State||4.||Arizona State|
College football rosters change dramatically every season, however. Some more than others. Here's how the entire conference shakes out in one observer's opinion, but there are a lot of scenarios that make sense and three realistic candidates to win the conference title.
The defending champion Huskies have a tall task in replacing three impact defensive backs in Sydney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker. But if one school in the Pac-12 can recruit secondary options it's Jimmy Lake and Washington, and Defensive Freshman of the Year Taylor Rapp and hard-hitting safety Jo Jo McIntosh return to set the pace.
Where the Huskies may be even better is on the offensive side of the ball. Ross is the only impact loss and among the returners include four of five starting O-lineman, wide receiver Dante Pettis and both running backs. And, of course, quarterback Jake Browning.
If things go as most expect, USC will match up with Washington in the Pac-12 title game. The Trojans upset the Huskies in Seattle a year ago, but the two schools don't play each other during the regular season.
Sam Darnold broke through last year and Clay Helton appears to have solidified the foundation in Troy and Ronald Jones II might be a sleeper Heisman candidate.
Helton and company will need to shore some things up defensively but the talent is overflowing again in L.A.
The Cardinal started slowly last season but rebounded after being blown out by the two Washington schools and finished 7-1. Quarterback play was an issue last season and Christian McCaffrey is in the NFL, but David Shaw is as good as there is and has had another run of elite recruiting to replenish the talent.
Of Keller Chryst can improve upon his 2016 (56.6%, 905 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT), especially in making plays down the field, Stanford is a threat to upset Washington's plans to repeat in the North.
The Cougars are an offensive team led by QB Luke Falk and coach Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. But all three running backs return from an improved running game WSU's defense improved, too, ranking No. 7 overall and No. 3 versus the run.
Can Falk find new go-to receivers? Gabe Martin and River Cracraft are both gone, leaving Tavares Martin Jr. (64 REC, 728 YDS, 7 TD) as the leading returning option.
The Bruins' season starts and ends with the health of QB Josh Rosen… just ask last year's team, which fell apart quickly once Rosen hit the shelf.
After a decent, competitive 3-2 start with losses at Texas A&M (31-24) and home versus Stanford (22-13), UCLA finished 1-6, including 1-5 without Rosen, UCLA scored fewer than 25 points in five of the final six contests, including three under 15 points.
Once Justin Hebert settled the quarterback issue mid-way through the season, it became apparent the real problem was the defense.
The Ducks allowed 50 points or more six times last season, including 70 in a 49-point loss at home to Washington. If Willie Taggart wants to turn around the Ducks' fortunes, it starts on defense where he'll lean on new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, credited with turning around Colorado's defense the past two seasons.
Leavitt does have some talent to work with, including sophomore linebacker Troy Dye.
The Utes, as always, will rely on defense, fundamental offensive football and special teams under Kyle Whittingham, but how effectively they replace running back Joe Williams, safety Marcus Williams and star tackle Garett Bolles remains to be seen.
To improve on their 2016 campaign, the Utes may need more out of QB Troy Williams (53.7%, 2,757 YDS, 15 TD, 8 INT).
No team in the conference lost more than Colorado in terms of impact. The Buffs lost both starting corners, their starting safety and and their starting QB, not to mention DT Jordan Carrell and four other key players to graduation, including starting center Alex Kelley.
Most of the offense is back, however and Steven Montez gained valuable experience while Sefo Liufau was injured. If safety Afolabi Laguda gets enough help in terms of a pass rush and his new secondary mates, Colorado could be interesting again, but another run to the South title seems unrealistic.
The Sun Devils seem to have underachieve since Todd Graham's first three seasons in Tempe resulted in a combined 28 wins. They're 11-14 the last two years, despite starting last season 5-1. They dropped six straight to end the season and defensively ranked as the worst in the conference. Allowing 520 yards and 40 points per game will make victories hard to come by.
Graham has a potential star at WR in N'Keal Harry and now a new signal caller in Alabama transfer Blake Barnett, who may challenge Manny Wilkins for the starting gig right out of the gate.
10. Oregon State
Gary Andersen did a good job in Year 2 just to get the Beavers to four wins. Can OSU take the next step and be bowl eligible this season?
It sounds cliche, but it may come down to whether or not the Beavers found their quarterback. Jake Luton, a JC transfer, will start Week 1 for the Beavers. He will have the luxury of a strong running game, at least if last season is any indication.
Ryan Nall and Artavis Pierce combined for almost 1,500 yards last season and present a thunder and lightning scenario for the second straight season.
Who knows what Rich Rodriguez is trying to do in Arizona, because it doesn't appear he does. He's had two 8-5 seasons with Mike Stoops' players, won 10 games with a mix of his own recruits and Stoops' upperclassmen and then went 7-6 in 2015.
Last season's 3-9 season seems like the outlier, but it's difficult to find a season where Rodriguez got a lot of out of his players — we might have to go back to his days at West Virginia for that.
Jared Goff is long gone. Davis Webb is in the NFL, too, after one very good season. Cal has no clear answer at QB and new head coach Justin Wilcox will have to fix a defense that ranked No. 10 in the conference a year ago and dead last against the run (6.15 yards per carry, 273 yards per game).
|5.||Oregon State||5.||Arizona State|