Pac-12 Football Predictions
The Pac-12 has finished fourth each of the last two years in non-conference games after compiling a 25-11 record a year ago. There were 6-5 in the regular season against BCS competition before going a solid 4-4 in bowl games. That included a pair of BCS Bowl victories, making the Pac-12 the only conference that was able to accomplish that feat.
Oregon and Stanford were among two teams from the Pac-12 to finish in the Top 10 in the final AP poll. Only the SEC was able to get two teams in the Top 10 along with the Pac-12. Oregon had a legitimate shot to play for a National Title after a 10-0 start. It would fall to Stanford 14-17 at home despite being a 20-point favorite, which also cost it the Pac-12 North Title. Let’s see how this conference will play out in 2013.
Pac-12 North Predictions
1. Oregon – The Ducks were the best team in the Pac-12 last season after finishing No. 2 in the final polls. Unfortunately, their 3-point loss to Stanford cost them a shot at a National Title. Though Chip Kelly has bolted for the NFL, Oregon has hired from within as former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich takes over. With 15 returning starters from a team that led the Pac-12 at +144.8 yards per game in league play, Oregon is clearly the best team in the conference. It avoids the top two teams from the South in USC and Arizona State, and it will be one of the few teams in the country that will be favored in all 12 games this year.
2. Stanford – While most picked Oregon to win the Pac-12, it was Stanford which prevailed in the end. The Cardinal would go on to beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to finish the season at 12-2. Many believed this team would drop off the map with the departure of head coach John Harbaugh in 2010, and the loss of Andrew Luck in 2011. David Shaw is proving that he is one of the best head coaches in the country with the job he has done in two years here. Stanford returns 14 starters, including QB Kevin Hogan, who went 5-0 as a starter with four wins over ranked teams. The Cardinal will have one of the best defenses in the land, but unfortunately they draw both USC and Arizona State from the South. While they get Oregon at home, that schedule will prove to be too tough to overcome to repeat as North champs.
3. Oregon State – The Beavers were one of the biggest surprise teams in the Pac-12 last year as they compiled a 9-4 record. With 15 returning starters, they should be even stronger in 2013. Oregon State has a legitimate shot at opening 7-0 before facing the meet of its schedule. It will have to play Stanford, USC and Washington at home, while traveling to face Arizona State and Oregon in its final five games. Because the Beavers drew the top two teams from the South in USC and ASU, like Stanford, they have no chance of winning the North in 2013 despite being improved talent-wise.
4. Washington – It was very difficult to pick the Huskies here, but the fact of the matter is that the North is just loaded this year. Steve Sarkisian has taken Washington to three straight bowl games, and he’s doing a heck of a job here. With 18 starters and 58 lettermen returning, there’s no question that this is his most talented team at Washington yet. What will hold the Huskies back from contending for a North title is a brutal Pac-12 road schedule. They will be an underdog in all four road games at Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State.
5. Washington State – The Cougars did not live up to expectations in head coach Mike Leach’s first year on the job. In fact, they won just three games last year, and all three victories came by eight points or less over Eastern Washington, UNLV and Washington. Leach has weeded out some bad apples, and he has a lot of experience returning in 2013 as he welcomes back 16 starters. The offense should be much more efficient in the second year in Leach’s Air Raid scheme. The defense should also be improved with nine starters back on that side of the ball. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Washington State push for a bowl game in 2013, but it is certainly a notch or two below the top four teams in the North.
6. California – The Golden Bears are clearly in rebuilding mode. Jeff Tedford lost his job after a 3-9 campaign last year while winning just two conference games, which was Cal’s fewest since 2001. Enter Sonny Dykes, who led Louisiana Tech to an impressive 17 wins over the past two seasons. He is already doing a solid job on the recruiting trail, and while only 11 starters return, 52 lettermen are back in 2013. With five Pac-12 road games, and drawing USC and UCLA from the South, the Golden Bears will struggle to match their two conference wins from a year ago.
Pac-12 South Predictions
1. Arizona State – Todd Graham did a heck of a job in his first season at Arizona State. He guided to the Sun Devils to a solid 8-5 campaign in 2012 after throttling Navy 62-28 in their bowl game. With 15 starters and 55 lettermen returning, I have no doubt that this is the best team in the Pac-12 South entering 2013. The offense welcomes back QQB Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TD, 9 INT) along with leading rusher Marion Grice (679 yards, 11 TD) and top receiver Chris Coyle (57 receptions, 696 yards, 5 TD). The defense is loaded with eight returning starters, including LB Carl Bradford (81 tackles, 11.5 sacks) and DT Will Sutton (63 tackles, 13 sacks). The Sun Devils have five Pac-12 home games this season, including a key South showdown with USC. Their returning talent and schedule are the reasons I’m picking them to win the South.
2. USC – The Trojans opened last season as the No. 1 team in the country. They were the biggest disappointment in the entire FBS, finishing just 7-6 after falling to Georgia Tech 7-21 in their bowl game. Sure, the shoulder injury to QB Matt Barkley didn’t help, but their season was already pretty much doomed at that point. With 15 returning starters and 57 lettermen returning, the Trojans will have a chance to redeem themselves in 2013 amidst much lower expectations. They’ll go as far as sophomore QB Max Wittek takes them, and after watching him struggle replacing Barkley at the end of last year, that may not be very far. USC avoids Oregon from the North, which is a bonus, but it must face fellow South contender Arizona State on the road.
3. UCLA – The Bruins came out of nowhere to win the South in Jim Mora’s first season on the job in 2013. With the second-fewest starters (12) returning in the Pac-12, it’s going to be very tough for them to repeat as division champs. That’s especially the case when you consider their schedule. UCLA has five Pac-12 road games and must face the top two teams from the North in Oregon and Stanford on the road in back-to-back weeks. That schedule is going to be way too tough to overcome, and the best UCLA can finish in the South is third as a result.
4. Arizona – It was a very successful season for head coach Rich Rodriquez in his first year at Arizona in 2012. He led the Wildcats to an 8-5 campaign, which features a pair of wins against ranked team in then-No. 18 Oklahoma State and then-No. 10 USC. There is plenty of talent left in the cupboard as Rodriquez returns 17 starters this season. The offense will have a hard time matching last year’s numbers with the loss of QB Matt Scott, but the Pac-12′s leading rusher from 2012 returns in Ka’Deem Carey (1,929 yards, 23 TDs). The defense gave up 35.3 points per game a year ago, but it should be much improved with all 11 starters returning. Despite having five Pac-12 road games this year, the schedule is pretty manageable. The Wildcats could be the surprise team in the South in 2013.
5. Colorado – Things can only get better for the Buffaloes in 2013 after posting a 1-11 record last year. After a 1-15 start at San Jose State, new head coach Mike MacIntyle led the Spartans to 16 wins over their last 22 games. He did an excellent job turning around that football program, and it’s only a matter of time before he does the same at Colorado. He steps into a decent situation considering the Buffaloes return 16 starters and 61 lettermen. While there’s not a ton of talent here, MacIntyre at least has a veteran roster and a chance to make some big strides in his first season. Despite having just four Pac-12 home games, I look for the Buffaloes to escape the basement of the South in 2013.
6. Utah – The Utes failed to make a bowl game for the first time since 2002 with a 5-7 campaign in 2012. Kyle Whittingham has stated publicly that the days of winning 10 games a year in the Mountain West are now over in the Pac-12. He couldn’t be more right. Utah’s 12 returning starters are the second-fewest in the Pac-12, and their 34 lettermen lost are the most. Making matters even more difficult is the fact that it draws the top two teams from the North in Oregon and Stanford after avoiding both in each of the last two years. I foresee the Utes opening 0-7 in Pac-12 play against a brutal schedule before closing out the season with Washington State and Colorado in the final two weeks.
Pac-12 Championship Game: Oregon defeats Arizona State