The PAC-12 has quickly transformed into one of the elite conferences in the country. While it fails in comparison to the SEC, you can make a pretty strong argument that it’s surpassed the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC. In 2013, the PAC-12 went an impressive 31-6 in non-conference play and their 6-3 record versus BCS opponents was tops in the nation. Not to mention the PAC-12 went an impressive 6-3 in their bowl games and weren’t far off from going 8-1. When it was all said and done, the conference had six teams ranked inside the Top 25, which was the most all-time.
It’s no secret who the top dogs are in the PAC-12, Oregon and Stanford have combined to win each of the last 3 titles and the Cardinal are now two-time defending champs. Surprisingly enough, these two teams have tied for the North title each of the last three years. Prior to last year the South had failed in comparison to the North, but with the emergence of UCLA and Arizona State, plus the return of USC, the South has quickly closed the gap.
Here’s a quick look at how I see both division shaping up in 2014, plus my prediction on who will claim the PAC-12 title.
% Chance to Win the PAC-12 Based on Current Odds
Calculated using Odds to Win the PAC12 from 5Dimes
PAC-12 North Standings
PAC-12 North Predictions
The race for the top spot in the North has came down to the wire each of the last three seasons, but I’m not expecting that to be the case. I have Oregon running away with the title in 2014. This Ducks team is better than they were a year ago and have potentially the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick leading the charge. Helping out matters is the fact that Stanford just doesn’t look to be as strong as years past.
For the other four teams in this division, it’s been a matter of surviving and trying to finish 3rd, which I think will be a pretty entertaining race this season. I have in-state rivals Washington and Washington State sharing the honors, with Oregon State close behind.
I know some experts are expecting more out of the Huskies in their first season under former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen, but I think that team lost way to much talent at the skill positions not to suffer some kind of a decline. The same thing can be said for the Beavers, who are weak in the trenches and lose an electric playmaker in Brandin Cooks. The big surprise for me in 2014 is Washington State, who I see really making strides in the third year under head coach Mike Leach. A lot of people forget the Cougars nearly went on the road and beat Auburn in non-conference play last year.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise at all that I have California bringing up the rear for second consecutive season. While the Golden Bears should be improved from last year, they have quite a gap to make up to be taken seriously. Not to mention they once again have one of the toughest schedules in the country.
PAC-12 South Standings
PAC-12 South Predictions
I’m also expecting a two-team race for the top spot in the South, expect this one doesn’t figure to be decided until the final weeks of the regular season. I don’t think there’s a whole lot that separates the Bruins and Trojans, but I had to give the edge to UCLA due to the fact that they get to host USC. Regardless of who finishes on top, I think it’s pretty safe to say that the South’s chances of winning the conference title will come down to these two teams.
Some might find it surprising that I have the defending champs finishing 4th with a losing record inside conference play, but Arizona State has just 8 starters coming back from last year and were dealt a difficult home schedule with both UCLA and Stanford. You might be wondering how I could have Arizona ranked ahead of them after they lost All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, but this Wildcats team is loaded with talent and ready to make a similar impact as Washington State in the third year under head coach Rich Rodriguez.
I had a difficult time pick Utah to finish 5th, as the Utes should be a much improved team from last year. However, the schedule just doesn’t set up well for Utah to move up in the standings.
Finishing up in the basement of the South will be none other than Colorado. The Buffaloes were able to go 4-8 after finishing just 1-11 in 2012, but I don’t foresee them taking another step forward. While Colorado has 16 starters coming back, the offense looks to take a big step back with the loss of star wide out Paul Richardson and that’s bad news with the awful defense they send out on a regular basis.
PAC-12 Championship Game Prediction: Oregon defeats UCLA
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