PULLMAN – Well, it’s the offseason. All the Pac-12 teams have wrapped up their spring camps and now pretty much all news will be bad news until Pac-12 Media Days in July.
So, now what? Well, it’s early, but it’s never too early to speculate about how things will play out next season. Here’s how I see the conference shaking out, based on what we saw in the spring. What do you think?
1. USC – After beginning the season on the Trojans’ bench, Sam Darnold emerged as perhaps the best quarterback in a conference full of good ones. USC loses some topline talent, but that school always has more waiting in the wings. By the end of 2016 the Trojans were a playoff-caliber team, and the expectation here is that they continue to get better.
2. Washington – Even without John Ross, the Huskies have a startling amount of talent returning on offense. With Azeem Victor, Vita Vea, Greg Gaines and whoever emerges in the secondary, the defense once again appears to be the Pac-12’s best.
3. Stanford – Wasn’t Stanford terrible last year? Well, not really. Despite some blowouts at the hands of the Evergreen State schools (No, not the Geoducks), still managed 10 wins in 2016. Things will be a little iffy on The Farm until quarterback Keller Chryst gets healthy, but it’s safe to assume David Shaw will figure something out.
4. Washington State – It’s going to be an interesting year for the Cougars. WSU has its best offensive line situation, running back situation, and quarterback situation since Mike Leach rode into town. But the wide receivers are unproven and the defensive linemen are undersized. Leach has built the program to consistently have a high floor, which is his primary job, but this year the ceiling might be a little lower than the last two seasons.
5. UCLA – Some of us still believe that Josh Rosen has too much talent to not lead the Bruins to a pretty good season or two, and he could flourish with a new offensive coordinator.
6. Utah – Kyle Whittingham’s reputation for doing more with less took a huge hit this offseason, when the Utes had eight players picked in the NFL draft, three more than any other Pac-12 school. Quarterback Troy Williams is already a little shaky, and he’s going to miss those four NFL-caliber offensive linemen, not to mention stud running back Joe Williams.
7. Oregon – Justin Herbert looked really good at times last year playing as a true freshman quarterback and Royce Freeman is still an elite running back. Ducks might not be back yet, but should expect to go bowling.
8. Colorado – These are not last year’s Buffaloes. Not only does CU lose basically all of the talent from its fearsome defense, it loses the coordinator who made them fearsome in the first place. Steven Montez showed some things last year, but losing quarterback Sefo Liufau stings, too.
9. Arizona State – There is a pretty large gap between the eight and ninth best team in the Pac-12. ASU has the most talent of the teams that are not very good.
10. California – New coach, new Golden Bears? I can certainly see Justin Wilcox having success in Berkeley. I cannot see it happening this year (or next).
11. Oregon State – Another year of readers asking us why Gary Andersen left Wisconsin and mumbling something about not getting along with the athletic director in response.
12. Arizona – Rich Rodriguez obviously knows how to put together a football program, so it’s kind of remarkable to see the Wildcats fall this far.