Pac-12 Football Predictions
It was another season of hard knocks for the newest members of the Pac-12. Both Utah and Colorado finished with losing seasons, and their fans have to be second guessing the jump to a new conference.
Meanwhile, we continued to see the same teams at the top of the conference standings in 2012. Stanford, Oregon, UCLA and USC have dominated the conference standings in back-to-back seasons. The Ducks had won three consecutive conference titles coming into the 2012 season, but it was Stanford that took the crown last year.
Overall, a total of eight Pac-12 teams made the postseason with Stanford and Oregon making BCS Bowls. They represented their conference well as Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and Oregon crushed Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
1. Oregon: Despite the loss to Stanford last year, a strong argument could be made that Oregon was the best team in the Pac-12. They will play Stanford on the road this season, but won their last trip to Palo Alto. The Ducks managed to avoid USC and Arizona State out of the South, and they have 15 starters returning this season. The adjustment to a new head coach should be a short one since Mark Helfrich has been the offensive coordinator for the Ducks the past four seasons.
2. Stanford: Stanford will have a key game against Oregon at home, but they drew both USC and Arizona State out of the South. They have one of the best defenses in the country holding opponents to 17.2 points per game last season. Their difficult schedule will get in the way of repeating as Pac-12 Champions.
3. Oregon State: A soft schedule should allow the Beavers to open the season with a 7-0 record. They finished third in the conference in yards per game at +44 and have 15 starters returning from 2012. They have three conference road games that should be winnable.
4. Washington: The Huskies have 18 starters returning and should top the seven-win total for the first time since 2001. However, they will be an underdog in all four of their conference road games. Washington has one of the most difficult schedules in their division, which will prevent them from finishing in the top half of the North.
5. Washington State: Head coach Mike Leach went into 2012 with high expectations. He had all the talent a new coach could ask for at the wide receiver and quarterback positions. The Cougars finished 1-8 in conference play, losing by an average of 16.3 points per game. They were one of the biggest let down teams in the conference. In Leach’s second year, I expect to see some improvement and the Cougars may even have a chance at making a Bowl Game. Unfortunately, they are in a division stacked with talent which is why they will finish among the bottom of the Pac-12 North.
6. California: When you can’t win your conference home games it is usually going to be a bad season. That is what happened to Cal last season, going 1-4 at home in Pac-12 play. Their total of two Pac-12 wins were their fewest since 2001. They have a new head coach in 2013, and there will inevitably be a learning curve as these inexperienced players learn the new systems.
1. USC: A lack of depth killed the Trojans last year. The entered the season as the #1 ranked team in the AP poll, but could not keep their running backs healthy. They also suffered an injury at the quarterback position late in the season and USC struggled without Barkley under center. They manage to avoid Oregon out of the North this season and should be able to bounce back from an underwhelming year in 2012. The expectations are much lower this year, which should help take some of the pressure off the new players.
2. Arizona State: With 15 starters returning from last season, Arizona State figures to be a contender in the Pac-12 South. The biggest area of concern for the Sun Devils was their performance against teams with a winning record last year. They beat only one team with a winning record during the regular season, and that came against in-state rival Arizona. If the Sun Devils can improve in that area, they may be a sleeper team to take the South.
3. UCLA: The Bruins have five Pac-12 road games this season, including back-to-back matchups against Oregon and Stanford. Their 12 returning starters is tied for second fewest in the conference, so a third consecutive trip to the Pac-12 title game seems very unlikely. Jim Mora is in his second season with the Bruins, so they should be an improved team, but their schedule is a lot harder this year so it may not reflect in their record at the end of the season.
4. Arizona: Closing games will be the motto in the locker room for the Wildcats this season. Last season they gave up a touchdown with a minute left against Oregon State to lose the game, led Stanford by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before losing in overtime, and they blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead against Arizona State. They have 17 starters returning, but lost their best receiver Austin Hill in the spring with an ACL injury.
5. Utah: The Utes will need to get off to a fast start if they want to improve on 2012′s abysmal 5-7 record. They have started the season at 0-4 in conference play their first two seasons since joining the Pac-12. They managed to avoid both Stanford and Oregon their first two years in the conference, but they will play both of them this season, which should lead to another finish towards the bottom of the conference.
6. Colorado: The Buffaloes are just 3-15 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference. They were out-gained by 188.4 yards per game last season which was by far the worst in the conference. They have a new head coach this year and he has a history of turning bad programs around. Mike MacIntyre started 1-15 in his first 16 games with San Jose State before finishing 2012 with a 10-2 record. This program should be one of the most improved in 2013, but they have a long way to go before they can claw their way out of the bottom of the conference standings.
Conference Championship Game Prediction: Oregon beats USC
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