If you read Part 1 you know the drill, but just in case, these rankings are about what should happen in Pac-12 football next year based on how the teams look, not which ones are historically good. Some of it is arguably a bit arbitrary, but I hope at least a little of it causes a few questions to be asked. Here goes with 7-12:
No. 7: Washington
I’m not buying the Huskies underdog story. Almost any preview of the Huskies you’ll read says that they’re really bound to be a spectacular 2017 squad but that their success might come early. I’m here to tell you that it won’t.
Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin both had awesome freshman seasons, but even with their talents the Huskies only made it to 6-6 in the regular season because of wins over a terribly-coached USC and a Luke Falk-less Washington State. The team’s personnel losses are by no means catastrophic, but linebacker Travis Feeney and wideout Jaydon Mickens won’t be totally trivial to replace. The defense should be very good again, but will it be good enough to contain the litany of offensive weapons that should litter the North division next season? I’m not sure.
I think Washington will end up being a whole lot better in 2016 than 2015 – I really do! It should win a few more games, and take those it does more convincingly. But I still think the Huskies are a half-step back in what figures to be a quite competitive conference title race.
No. 8: Cal
Was Cal more than Jared Goff last year? Not really. But it seems to me that the Bears have a chance of taking care of the bottom feeders in the conference next year, mostly because they’re the only one of them that has any sort of defense to speak of.
I think Hardy Nickerson might be the top linebacker in the conference next season, and I think Sonny Dykes’s increased emphasis on this side of the ball is bound to pay the team dividends. The secondary and defensive line certainly have some lingering questions, but at least the team has a few exciting recruits to fill some of these gaps.
Mostly, however, my opinion comes down to this: only a Cardinal fan with an extremely short memory could write a team off just because its star quarterback left. Cal continues its recent momentum.
No. 9: Colorado
Quaterback Sefo Liufau was a huge disappointment last year, but if this team continues to quietly get better I think it could make a bit of a splash in a South division that may lack the luster it has had for the last couple years.
Is Colorado really improving, you ask? I think so. The difference between the Buffaloes in 2014 and Buffaloes in 2015 is that two years ago, teams slept on Colorado, whereas last year everybody knew what they were in for. Even Stanford felt like it needed to use a little creativity against the Buffs, preparing Christian McCaffrey to throw his first ever pass attempt for the game.
Mike MacIntyre’s side got within 3 points of USC, 4 points of UCLA, 6 points of Utah and 7 points of Arizona, indicating how much more competitive they were than their 4-8 record shows.
This year’s Colorado team is slated to return a huge amount of its talent (and add another competent quarterback in Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb) and now has an idea of what it can do if it really buttons down and plays its heart out. I think it’s time. Colorado joins the Pac-12 for real.
No. 10: Arizona
Arizona’s defense was atrocious last year. Sure, Arizona was without Scooby Wright for most of last year, but guess what: They won’t have him this season, either. With three other starters also leaving, it’s going to be an uphill battle for a team that ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in points allowed.
The Wildcats do return a good number of players from an offense that could be pretty explosive next year, but I’m not sure how much they can increase the number in the team’s win column. Anu Solomon (or whatever his name is) is a fairly competent quarterback and Nick Wilson has flashed potential, but ultimately, neither is good enough to carry a team that’s going to allow their opponent 35.8 points per game.
I fully expect Arizona to end up with more conference wins than Colorado – their schedule is just that much more favorable – but I bet they’ll get crushed in the head-to-head game in Tucson on November 12. Prove me wrong.
No. 11: Oregon State
For a team that seemed like it was made of all freshmen and sophomores last season Oregon State sure looks a lot different this year. Losing Seth Collins will be a disappointment, but my read on things is that Gary Andersen had pretty much given the job to Utah State transfer Darell Garretson, anyways. The team will also have no fewer than seven junior college transfers joining it in 2016, at least a few of whom are capable of quickly shaking up its depth chart.
Ultimately, my elevation of the Beavers from the bottom is more of a leap of faith in Andersen’s coaching than any contrarian read on their talent. Corvallis is indisputably at least a couple years away from becoming a football Mecca. But at least the closet is a little less empty this year, and the team has had a full year to digest the system brought in by its coach. Maybe, just maybe, that’ll earn it a few conference wins.
No. 12: Arizona State
Man, talk about wasted potential. I predicted Arizona State was going to win the Pac-12 South last season, what with a strong quarterback in Mike Bercovici and Todd Graham’s typical ability to get teams to play well and all.
Instead, the team cracked. The Sun Devils dropped their season opener to A&M in dramatic fashion, their conference opener to USC in dramatic fashion and, for good measure, four of their final six games. Now, with the team losing Bercovici and top receiver Devin Lucien, I’m really not sure what’s stopping them from losing the rest.
Normally, I’d still count on Graham to figure things out again – it’s not like good recruits haven’t been finding their way to Tempe – but since that strategy failed me so spectacularly last season, I’m going to wait and see. After how much I overrated ASU last season, there’s almost no way I can underrate them enough to make my net error neutral. But hey, at least I’m trying.
Andrew Mather’s editors found out today that there is a hate page dedicated to his writing on a USC fan forum. To find out more, email him at [email protected]