College football is a year-to-year thing. In 2016 it was Washington taking down Stanford and, despite a loss at home to USC, dominating Colorado and winning the Pac-12 title en route to a College Football Playoff berth.
The 'Cats will win more conference games than California
Arizona went 1-8 in the Pac-12 a year ago and 3-9 overall and also lost starting QB Anu Solomon who transferred to Baylor. But Rich Rodriguez's team lost by just two points to BYU, took Washington to overtime in late September and were in games into the second half more often than most 3-9 teams.
The big question is quarterback, which doesn't bode well for their overall shot at rebounding in 2017, but they host Oregon State, Utah, Washington and UCLA and always have a shot at Arizona State, though they have lost three straight in Tempe.[divider]
Arizona State Sun Devils
ASU will upset, Stanford, Washington or USC at home
There's more talent in Tempe than their 5-7 record suggests and they may have QB taken care of with transfer Blake Barrett on campus to challenge Manny Wilkins.
But weird things tend to happen at Sun Devil Stadium and they three shots at the three best teams in the conference, all at home. [divider]
California Golden Bears
Cal will be the worst defense in the Pac-12
Yes, a defensive-minded coach has taken over in Justin Wilcox, but it will take a year or two to install his scheme and recruit enough of his players to start fixing one of the conference's very worst defenses.
They served up 518 yards a game last year, No. 10 in the Pac-12, and lost a handful of starters to graduation. There's not a lot of depth and the Pac-12's offenses are only going to get better.[divider]
Buffs offense takes step forward offensively
With Sefo Liufau, for the most part, Colorado averaged 437 yards per games and ranked in the middle of the Pac-12 in most offensive categories, including scoring (31.1ppg, No. 7). So how, without Liufau, will they be better?
Stevemn Montez is a very capable QB as he showed in Liufau's absence in 2016 and several key players are back on this side of the ball, including tailback Phillip Lindsay, wide receivers Shay Fields and Bryce Bobo and three offensive linemen, all seniors, including center Jonathan Huckins.
Justin Hebert leads the Pac-12 in QB Rating
Hebert, in nine games in 2016, posted a rating of 148.8, third in the conference behind only Jake Browning and Sam Darnold. His 19-4 TD-INT ratio and 7.6 YPA also ranked No. 3 and he'll start fall camp as the clear QB1.
Hebert still has weapons with which he's familiar, too, led by senior WR Charles Nelson, and Royce Freeman's return assures the Ducks of offensive balance. [divider]
Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers will gnaw their way to the No. 3 rushing attack in the Pac-12
Both Ryan Nall (951 YDS, 6.5 YPC, 13 TD) and Artavis Pierce (523 YDS, 5.3 YPC, 4 TD) return and the offensive line is experienced and led by three upper classmen.
If the QB situation produces more consistently, OSU should be able to replicate their success on the ground, and then some. The Beavers defense should be a bit better in 2017, too, which means more close games and more chance to hand the ball to the 240-pound Nall in the fourth quarter.[divider]
The Cardinal will score more points without Christian McCaffrey — and run the ball better
Stanford averaged 26.3 points per game last season — No. 9 in the Pac-12 — and were No. 4 in total rushing yards. They'll better both marks in 2017 behind an experience O-line and set of backs, rather than the go-to that was McCaffrey.
Bryce Love is likely to get the bulk of the carries, but this bold prediction isn't to suggest he's better than McCaffrey. Love will have the benefit of more stability at cornerback and a better defense that allows for more offensive shots.[divider]
Josh Rosen will not have a big year and it won't be his fault
Assuming he's healthy, Josh Rosen is one of the talented QBs in the nation. But his health guarantees nothing in terms of performance and the Bruins may be shy on talent around him.
Jim Mora's team finished last in the conference in rushing at 84 yards per game and that was 35.7 yards fewer than Washington State, who ranked No. 11. The Bruins averaged 2.93 yards per carry and scored just 13 rushing touchdowns.
Not that teams can't turn it around in a year in college football — they can, have and will — whether or not UCLA has the bodies and overall talent to do it remains to be seen. And it's not like Rosen has tons of proven receivers back for 2017.
Rosen may just be one of those quarterbacks who are better pros than college players, and that's turned out just fine for Tom Brady and Joe Montana, among others.[divider]
Sam Darnold will not be the best Heisman candidate the Trojans feature
What?! Hey, these are bold predictions.
Darnold is fantastic, has the pre-season hype and a great season behind him. He also has a good team, weapons all around him and will play a loaded schedule and have games in prime time. But the same also can be said for Ronald Jones II, the Trojans' junior tailback.
Jones averaged more than six yards a pop last season and scored 12 times. He's capable of breaking any run to go the distance and may have been underused in the passing game a year ago.
Darnold will get a lot of credit for his numbers, but if Jones steals the show in prime time games, he could also steal the Heisman attention if Darnold doesn't have enormous numbers to go with the team success and exposure.[divider]
Troy Williams' offense will rank higher in the conference than Utes' defense
Kyle Whittingham always has coached sound football teams, led by staunch defense and fundamentals. Williams showed flashes of being a legit QB1 a year ago but has to be more accurate beyond the short passes.
With a year of experience as the starter now under his belt, Williams is ready to take the next step.[divider]
Jake Browning will have a better 2017 than 2016
This normally wouldn't be all that bold, since it's a sophomore QB turning into a junior QB. But Browning threw for 3,430 yards and 43 TDs in 2016, tossing just nine picks and leading the Pac-12 with a 167.5 rating.
He wasn't healthy the last five games of the year and if he stays so this season should exceed the 3,430 yards easily and could very well improve greatly on his 62.1 percent completion rate.
Does such an improvement keep him in the Heisman conversation this season?[divider]
Washington State Cougars
WSU's will rank in the Top 5 in the Pac-12 in total defense
Washington State is known for Mike Leach's Air Raid offense and Luke Falk's mastery execution. What has gone under the radar, however, is the program's progress on the defensive side of the ball — and in the running game, which only helps a defense stay rested and sharp.
The Cougars finished No. 7 in the conference a year ago in total defense — surprised aren't ya? — and did not lose many key elements. They'll begin fall camp with 10 upper classmen penciled in as starters on defense and a 2-deep chart littered with experienced players with talent.
Pass rusher Hercules Mata'afa is back for his redshirt junior season and is an all-conference level performer.