Out on the West Coast, the Pac 12 is in a period of transition. What is old is new again, and what was new and trendy may be on its way out the door. The days of University of Oregon and Stanford University playing almost exclusively to determine the winner of the North Division are over, as are the days of the state of Washington providing us with subpar results on the gridiron.
Meanwhile, down south, a sleeping giant has awoken, ready to run roughshod over the South Division of the Pac 12, as was expected when the conference originally expanded.
How about we get this started? Here is my preview of the Pacific 12 Conference.
University of Southern California Trojans (USC) – They’re back. I can’t be more blunt than that. The Southern California Trojans are back to being a contender for not just a conference title, but a national championship as well. After what may have been the greatest Rose Bowl played in decades, USC is poised to return to the glory days that have been absent for several years. With Heisman Trophy Front runner Sam Darnold returning for what will likely be his final season at Quarterback before declaring for the NFL, all signs point to the Trojan offense becoming one of the most dynamic in all of college football. While it has been an unlikely ascension for USC under Coach Clay Helton, you could say it was refreshing to see the college football blue blood return to the national conversation after disastrous seasons under former coaches Lane Kiffen and Steve Sarkisian. I will be completely honest with you. I see no reason why the Trojans can’t go undefeated. They look to be the best of the South, most likely the best in the conference, and possibly the best team in the entire country.
Stanford University Cardinal (Stan) – Year in and year out, the Cardinal always seem to find a way to work themselves into the Pac 12 Championship conversation. Stanford continues to produce quality football under Coach David Shaw, including their latest graduating class that featured the dynamic and multitalented Running Back Christian McCaffrey. Stanford of 2017 will have to find a new way to move the ball on offense, and that will be especially intriguing considering the knee surgery from which Quarterback Keller Chryst is currently recovering. One thing that you can count on is that the Cardinal defense will be a formidable one, with top-flight Cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid returning to the defensive backfield. It will be difficult for Stanford to take down the defending Pac 12 Champions in Washington, but it is to Stanford’s advantage that they will get to play that game in front of their home crowd. Expect Stanford to put up another good run in the Pac 12, fighting once again for the opportunity to play for a conference championship.
University of Washington Huskies (UW) – The Huskies have the best coach in college football in Chris Peterson, and I have no reservations in making such a declaration. His success at Boise State has translated very quickly to Washington, including last year’s trip to the College Football Playoff. Even in their defeat against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Huskies showed a lot of fight. Washington gave the Crimson Tide a good run to start the game, before eventually ceding to a stronger Alabama team. Washington returns their own Heisman Trophy Candidate, in Quarterback Jake Browning, who was in the hunt for the award last year as a sophomore, and will be looking to improve upon his 2016 achievements with an even grander 2017. Chris Peterson teams are known for staunch defenses, and last year’s team was no exception, leading the Pac 12 in scoring defense. Peterson will have a tall task of replicating last year’s defensive prowess, but if anybody can do it, I have complete and total faith in Peterson. Washington will once again be in the running for not only a conference championship, but also a return run to the College Football Playoff. That is, if they can win their annual rivalry game against Washington State.
University of Colorado Buffaloes (CU) – It is simply a situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time for the Buffaloes in 2017. Competing for the same division championship as USC and UCLA (more on them later) will be a nearly impossible task. Colorado must replace nearly everyone from a defense that shocked the world by winning ten games and claiming a Pac 12 South Division Championship. Coach Mike MacIntrye has Colorado looking better than they have in over a decade after their success last year. Despite losing so much on defense, the offense returns almost in its entirety, leading me to believe that there is reason for hope for the Buffaloes going forward. Unfortunately, it might have to wait for 2018, as a crowded Pac 12 in 2017 just does not have room at the top for the Buffaloes this time around.
University of Utah Utes (Utah) – Similar to Colorado, Utah has several holes to fill, while also having the misfortune of playing in the same division as USC, UCLA, and Colorado. Coach Whittingham has seen enormous success in the wake of Urban Meyer’s departure in 2005, a feat not expected of him given the massive shoes left to fill. Some notable accomplishments under Coach Whittingham’s watch include seeing Utah successfully transition from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac 12, as well as make a run as a top 10 team in recent years. It is a difficult schedule for Utah, as the Utes must travel to USC, Brigham Young University, Washington, and Oregon in 2017, before finishing at home against the defending South Division champions, Colorado. There is hope for another good season for Utah, as the ever-dominant Defensive Line will once again be loaded with top talent. However, I just do not see anything other than a small step backwards for Utah in 2017, even if it is just a blip on the radar for this upward trending Utes team.
Washington State University Cougars (Wazzou) – Whatever Mike Leach is selling at Washington State, count me in for half of it. The Cougars were one win away from spoiling Washington’s Playoff chances and stealing their spot in the Pac 12 Championship Game as North Division Champions in 2016. In 2017, the Cougars will sport a few players with downright scary talent. Quarterback Luke Falk has taken to the air-raid offense like cats to milk. Doing the blocking for Falk will be the nearly 370-pound Guard Cody O’Connell, nicknamed “The Continent”. Unlike most Mike Leach teams, the defense will not be a pushover as you might expect it to be, led this year by Defensive End Hercules Mata’afa. After coming in second in the Pac 12 in scoring offense in 2016, the Cougars will be looking to jump to number one for 2017. If any team can make that leap to best scoring offense in the Pac 12, it is Washington State. I would never bet against a Mike Leach led team to be the one to do it. Washington State has not seen success in many years, and while it is unlikely that they will take down the titans of the conference, this is the team to watch as the likely Cinderella of the Pac 12 North Division.
University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (UCLA) – The Pac 12 has no shortage of Heisman Trophy candidates at the Quarterback position, so it is no surprise that Coach Jim Mora has one of his own in the form of Josh Rosen. I recently heard a joke on ESPN Radio’s Mike and Mike that the winner of the annual USC/UCLA contest will determine each of the following: The Pac 12 South Champion, the Heisman Trophy Winner, and the number-one pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, 2017 does certainly look to be a potential bounce-back year for the Bruins, setting the stage for such a monumental match up between the two Los Angeles rivals. UCLA returns nine offensive starters from last year, with that much experience coming back, everything is in place for Rosen to succeed this season. It will be an uphill battle for the Bruins, who are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2016. However, with his job likely at stake in 2017, I have a good feeling that Jim Mora will lead his team to the success that has thus far eluded him at UCLA. If not, the coaching carousel will visit UCLA this off season, and Jim Mora will be out of the job.
The Apple Cup – the annual rivalry game between 2017 Contender Washington and potential 2017 Sleeper Washington State – may mean more than it ever has before in 2017 when taking into consideration last year’s matchup, which weighed heavily in determining the 2016 champion of the Pac 12 North. Meanwhile, the Pac 12 South may also come down to one game, as a potential David in UCLA will look to take down the Pac 12’s Goliath in crosstown rival USC. We also cannot forget about Stanford, a Contender who always seems to find a way into the title picture. Overall, the embarrassment of riches that the Pac 12 has in the Quarterback position is mind numbing, and really makes you wonder if the Pac 12 can be the first conference to place two teams into the College Football Playoff.
Come back Sunday, August 6 to tedtalksports.com to find out who comes out on top!