The power in the Pac-12 conference has shifted. After USC dominated for the latter half of the 2000’s, the North has taken over the Pac-12, with Oregon and Stanford finishing in the Top 10 again last season. Oregon once again appears to be the heavy favorite even with the loss of their coach Chip Kelly, and it’s hard to argue it at the moment. Much of Oregon’s offense remains in tack, and though not having USC on your schedule isn’t as big as it has been in the past, it is still a welcome change to their yearly schedule.
Who Will Win: Oregon
As we mentioned in the intro, we still like Oregon this season despite the loss of their coach. Though Kelly is gone, the high paced system he brought is still in place, and the players on the field have mastered it. In addition, the Ducks showed some rare defensive power last year, making them even more dangerous, as their previous strategy was the simply outrun everyone. While Stanford will be solid, they will likely take a step down, and there doesn’t appear to be a team that can challenge them in the South, unless USC can play up to their potential, or UCLA can put together a perfect game against them.
Surprise Team: Arizona State
Arizona State has been a team full of teases over the past few years. The Sun Devils will score a big upset at home to propel themselves into the conversation for the Pac-12 South title, only to have it slip away with a string of disappointing results. Well this year looks to be the time for the Sun Devils, as some experts have them winning the league. It won’t be easy with UCLA and USC both fielding solid squads to start the season, but both teams struggle in depth which could bite them when the inevitable injuries come.
Taylor Kelly, a redshirt junior, steps in at Quarterback for ASU, and he will rely heavily on his senior back Marion Grice. However, it is an experienced defense that has Sun Devil fans excited. The defense dressed eight seniors in their starting eleven in the Spring Game, and they will prove to be tough puzzles for the high power Pac-12 offenses to solve.
I personally still like USC or UCLA to take the title this year, but don’t be surprised to see Arizona State beat one of these teams and be in the race until the end.
Disappointing Team: Cal
It’s tough for a team to be considered disappointing when there aren’t a ton of expectations but the Cal Golden Bears have really fallen off the face of the earth in regards to college football. Cal, who just a few years ago was a perennial threat to win the Pac-12, has now fallen to the bottom of the Pac-12 North, as many are predicting them to be in last place. Given the huge amount of money that was poured into a new stadium on campus, it’s got to be frustrating for Cal fans and boosters to see their team fall to obscurity. It would be shocking if Cal finished in the top half of the Pac-12 this season, and many believe they will be one of the bottom teams in the conference.
Conference Player of the Year: De’Anthony Thomas
My USC bias is making it difficult to write this section. I wholeheartedly believe that Marqise Lee is not only the best player in the conference, but is also the best NFL prospect in the Pac-12. While I don’t think Thomas will be as effective in the NFL as he is in the college game, he is set to be the focal part of an offense that will be one of the highest scoring in the nation. Thomas will put up video game stats, and given that his team will likely be at the forefront of not only the Pac-12 race, but the National Title race, I think Thomas has a great shot at not only the Pac-12 player of the year, but the Heisman Trophy as well.
I have a feeling that this season will have a good amount of upsets, but it’s hard for me to find an end result different than the one last year: Oregon beating UCLA in the Pac-12 title. USC of course has the potential, but the lack of experience in many positions, namely Quarterback, makes me think that the Trojans are on their way to another subpar record and bowl game, which will hopefully lead to the firing of Lane Kiffin. I think Oregon is weak enough to lose a game or two and not threaten for the title, but they are certainly Rose Bowl favorites in my mind right now.
What do you think will happen in the Pac-12? Let us know in the comments!