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The Obstructed PAC-12 Preview-2018

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 10: Bryce Love #20 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball against the Washington Huskies at Stanford Stadium on November 10, 2017 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Disclaimer: I originally was going to do the Big Ten Preview this week, but in regards to what is happening with Urban Meyer and Ohio State right now, I’m holding off on doing that preview just in part knowing that there may be some changes heading Ohio State’s way and I can’t get a good read on it.  I will actually post something if/when a solution is happening in Columbus.  But the Big Ten preview will be next week.  Now onto the PAC-12.

The PAC-12 is that power conference just wanting recognition.  The players, fans, and the media alike are tired of hearing the excessive love for the SEC, Big Ten, and the ACC.  Following writers and such who cover the PAC-12 on Twitter, you sense that they are sick of it and want to show that their conference stands out.  Unfortunately, last year was not a year that the PAC-12, the fans, and the media alike had a lot to defend.  The conference was pretty much done from any playoff discussion by mid-November, and their top dogs in Washington and USC took hits from either losing in upset games (Arizona State) or failing to win those big games which would have had their resumes stand out (Notre Dame).  And then the bowl games were a giant mess as the conference went a combined 1-8 (including going 0-4 vs. the Big Ten).  Adding on, one head coach left after one year for greener pastures.  Another coach got fired because of a scandal.  So the PAC-12 pretty much had a forgettable season as a whole.  Will it continue in 2018 or will somebody break from the pack and get a team in the Playoff?

There were plenty of changes around the PAC-12 for coaching hires.  5 teams (Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA) have new bosses and some were needless to say interesting hires.  So if anything, the PAC-12 will be fun to watch.  So make sure you keep watching college football late Saturday nights this year.

So the big questions will be, can Washington get back atop the conference and make the playoff?  Can USC or Stanford get over that hump?  Can UCLA get back on track with Chip Kelly?  Will either Arizona school flourish?  Can Utah be the surprise school?  There are a lot of questions on a conference that is always unpredictable.

PAC-12 NORTH:

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(1) WASHINGTON HUSKIES: Washington’s season was a bit of a letdown after their 2016 Playoff appearance.  And honestly the reason why it was a letdown is that Jake Browning, who played like a Heisman candidate in 2016, was inconsistent (though he lost a key target in Chico McClatcher) and was a huge reason why the Huskies didn’t see the playoff.  But the scary part is, the Huskies defense is one of the tops in the nation.  Forget PAC-12 and they have shown they are a stout defense across the board.  And they bring back 9 starters.  If Washington dominates on defense, they will be a very tough out in the PAC-12.  Vita Vea is gone, but Greg Gaines is going to be a fun one to watch on the end.  The secondary is all back which is going to be huge with Taylor Rapp at free safety.  But it will come back on the offense and if Browning can play more like 2016 and not 2017.  Myles Gaskin could also be a Heisman candidate after logging nearly 1,400 yards last season.  He could have a huge year similar to Stanford’s Bryce Love so keep an eye on that Stanford game in November.  But again, it will all come down to Browning who will have 4 of his 5 starters last year returning and a bevvy of weapons.  Washington’s schedule has an interesting start with a trip to Atlanta against SEC power Auburn.  The last time Washington played in Atlanta was the Playoff game against Alabama and lost (though they earned a lot of respect for playing as physical as the Tide did).  IF the Huskies win that game, it may be that jolt that could carry them the rest of the way in the season.  The major patch in their schedule is in October when they have trips to UCLA and Oregon.  However, with new coaches there and adjustments to make, the Huskies shouldn’t have to worry too much and they will be talked about for that Playoff.  Another game to watch will be at Utah early on especially if the Huskies come up short in Auburn.  BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0.  WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4.  MY PREDICTION: 11-1.  I think Washington beats Auburn to start the year and it will carry them.  The Oregon game is a little scary though.  But it may be enough for the Huskies to get a Playoff spot again.

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(2) OREGON DUCKS:  Willie Taggart is gone after one year, heading to Florida State.  Mario Cristobal is in.  He has a career record of 27-48 mostly at Florida International (FIU), but many Oregon fans hope he picked up a few things after being with Nick Saban in 4 seasons at Alabama (including being Saban’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach) and in recent memory, Saban assistants have been rolling.  The one thing I think you can expect is Cristobal to run the ball a lot and he will have an assortment of backs even though Royce Freeman is gone.  They may not miss a beat.  However, the passing game should actually improve with Justin Herbert becoming one of the PAC-12’s top QB’s and a sleeper Heisman candidate.  If he stays healthy, he will have a line that should be more physical.  And he will have a good young receiver in Dillon Mitchell.  It may not be Oregon circa Marcus Mariota, but they are on the upswing.  The defense is going to take another step forward too as Oregon kept Jim Leavitt from leaving with Taggart to Florida State.  Troy Dye is going to be a linebacker to watch as the Ducks are faster and have some more physicality than what has been seen over the last few years in Eugene.  The secondary will have to step up (88th in passing defense), but I think they will be more experienced and tougher to throw on and especially if Jalen Jelks has a great season and is a Bednarik candidate.  The Ducks have a relatively easy non-conference schedule (no Power 5 opponent this year) and start the conference at home with Stanford before divulging with a bit of a run with Washington, Washington State (who has their number as of late) and then an intriguing trip to Arizona.  If they can go 2-1 or 3-0, they could make a push for a New Year’s Six game.  BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2  WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6  MY PREDICTION: 8-4.  Oregon still may have a hiccup here & there, but it is not out of the realm they could be one of the nation’s sleepers this year.

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(3) WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS: Mike Leach, pending on who you are, is labeled one of those coaches who is overrated or underrated.  To me, I think he’s the latter for what he’s done in Pullman with Washington State.  The Cougars were an absolute mess when he got there and Leach, despite his moniker of being the air-raid, quick-strike guy who wants to score 50+ and win 51-48, really adapts well, notably of having some good defenses in recent memory (9th overall against the pass last year-impressive).  However, this may be Leach’s toughest challenge.  No Luke Falk.  No QB who has taken a snap in college.  Replacing defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.  New receivers.  Of course the first thing Leach will have to do is find a quarterback.  Is it the transfer Gardner Minshew from East Carolina or will it be Trey Tinsley?  Either way, Leach has a lot of QB’s to pick.  If they get the QB situation solved right away then things will look up.  The other issue Leach will have to do is replace three starters on the line though the line had issues with some of the ones who aren’t on the team this year.  The good news is, the two starters are stout and very key to the line (left tackle and center).  The receivers are new, but again, in Leach’s offense, it isn’t like they will struggle I believe.  Defense will be a question despite seven starters returning that had a good defense.  It is the defensive coordinator that will be a question.  Alex Grinch is at Ohio State while Tracy Claeys who had been pretty solid in his time at Minnesota.  If the defense doesn’t miss a beat from one coordinator to the other, then the Cougars could have another strong go at it. But they need to keep healthy as depth is a concern in the secondary, but they are great secondary headed by Jalen Thompson.  The linebacking corps remain with a bevvy of talent.  It has to mean though the defensive line (where the question does reside at) will have to improve as only one starter is there (Nnmadi Oguayo).  Washington State’s schedule like Oregon’s does not have a Power 5 opponent so they can work out any kinks with quarterbacks early on before their date at USC September 21. The road schedule isn’t bad (Oregon State, Colorado) outside of them or Stanford.  The home schedule isn’t too forgiving (Oregon, Washington, Arizona).  BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2.  WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5.  MY PREDICTION: 8-4.  I do think there are a lot of questions, but I think Mike Leach is a good enough coach to have a quality year assuming there are no hiccups.  

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(4) CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: Cal is an interesting team all around.  They weren’t an offensive juggernaut last season like they had been with Sonny Dykes prior, but the problem with the Bears they didn’t have the depth to be a threat in the PAC-12 despite taking two wins against Power 5 teams in North Carolina and Ole Miss.  Ross Bowers had a good season under Justin Wilcox last year but will be pushed for the job with Brandon McIlwain, the South Carolina transfer.  But whoever is at quarterback will have a good running back in Patrick Laird, who ran for over 1,000 yards in a more balanced offense.  And the offense does return 10 starters.  So expect more of a cohesive unit that will be better in 2018.  On defense, they looked better from the absolute mess from Dykes, though the passing game was still rough.  If they can get more of a pass rush from the ends and star linebacker Alex Funches, they can really make some noise and improve on the passing defense as they return their whole secondary from last year (which is a very young and talented bunch). California once again has North Carolina (but at home) and then a road trip to BYU before Idaho State before a bye and then string off 9 in a row against their conference foes.  Their toughest test will be near the end where they see Washington, at Washington State, at USC, and then Stanford at home.  If they hold their own, they will be a bit of a sleeper in the conference in 2018.  BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2.  WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6.  MY PREDICTION: 7-5.  California is taking the right steps to compete and there are pieces to make it a fun season in Berkeley.  

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(5) STANFORD CARDINAL:  I’ve probably committed the Cardinal Sin (no pun intended) of putting this team one notch above last place in their division, especially since Stanford won the PAC-12 North.  But hear me out.  Yes, they have Bryce Love and he may be the best back at least in the Conference and maybe in the whole nation now. He’s probably going to net 2,000 yards or close to it again.  But the passing game is still in question even with KJ Costello (he did nothing wrong, but he isn’t necessarily a guy that can lead the Cardinal with his arm when needed as was the case against USC and TCU last year.  But he will have a bevvy of weapons to dispose and will be a game manager.  But it really isn’t the offense that I’d be worried too much on save if they are down against the likes of their better foes in Washington, Oregon, and USC.  It’s going to be the (gasp) defense.  And where their bread & butter has been since Jim Harbaugh coached them has been the line.  That is a major question heading into the season as really they were in the bottom half of the conference against the run (which is bad given the conference has becoming more of a run-oriented group) and they only return Dylan Jackson there.  Worse, Stanford loses standout safety Justin Reid and Quenton Meeks, which adds more pressure to a decent (but not overly great) secondary.  And given how there has been jumps from Washington, Washington State, Utah, and even Oregon on defense, Stanford is no longer the cream of defenses in the PAC-12, which is a scary thing for them.  Stanford’s schedule is very problematic on top of it with road trips to Oregon, Notre Dame, and Washington as well as finishing out the final two games in Cal and UCLA.  They also have an early tilt with USC that could really set the tone for the Cardinal.  It may not be an overly memorable year for the Cardinal in 2018.  BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4.  WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8.  MY PREDICTION: 6-6.  I think if the offense was more balanced and strong in the passing game, it may shore up some questions on defense, but I think given how that road schedule is a nightmare and if teams jump on the Cardinal early, they won’t be able to make it up in the air.  But I may have created that cardinal sin so who knows.

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(6) OREGON STATE BEAVERS: Oregon State looked like they at least had some things working heading into the 2017 season but after getting destroyed by Colorado State to start the year and then squeaking by Portland State the week after, you knew things would be bad for the Beavers.  And they were.  They were destroyed in every aspect on defense.  They were destroyed pretty much on offense.  They were hideous.  Jake Luton is the quarterback and many hope that he will improve the passing game and he does have weapons returning with Isaiah Hodgins and Timmy Hernandez with a good tight end in Noah Togai and he will have 4 starters return on the line though many wonder if that is really a good thing since the line really struggled.  The defense is a giant mess as they couldn’t stop the run at all (121st) and have major questions on the line, only returning one starter in Kalani Vakameilalo and the linebacking crew only returns two.  The safeties of Jalen Moore and David Morris may be the bright spot of the defense that isn’t incredibly porous in the passing (but still very rough).  Needless to say, first year head coach Jonathan Smith has his work cut out for him.  The schedule starts out as a fun one, seeing Ohio State to start the year before a home game with FCS Southern Utah and a trip to Nevada before the conference schedule opens up.  And it is going to be a rough home stretch and their best chances (Arizona State, Colorado, Stanford?) are on the road so that may be a problem.  BEST CASE RECORD: 3-9  WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11.  MY PREDICTION: 2-10.  A successful year will have to be if the Beavers are competitive against the teams in the conference, even if they come up a bit short.  I don’t know if that is going to be the case though.

 

PAC-12 SOUTH:

Arizona

(1) ARIZONA WILDCATS: Rich Rodriguez out because of sexual misconduct and having an extramarital affair.  And Kevin Sumlin is in.  Pending on who you are, you think Sumlin is a good coach who got a bad break at Texas A&M or he is a coach who mishandled talent and had little locker room control thus making him an overrated coach.  To me, I think he is trying to adapt and not just be the guy who is an air-raid, quick strike, but he always seems to use it as his fail-safe when things go south like they did with the Aggies.  However, Sumlin, when he has a top quarterback, looks like a genius and the team benefits greatly.  And he has Khalil Tate.  The guy is a running quarterback, but with Sumlin and his passing happy mentality, you can expect Tate to throw the ball more and I think he can throw it well, but needs to be more accurate and less turnover prone.  He may have a good shot at a Heisman as well if all goes right.  But JJ Taylor will have to be more used as will the other running backs notably Nathan Tilford.  Tate will have a load of weapons at receiver with Shun Brown and Shawn Poindexter with Tony Ellison providing experience.  The tight ends are pretty good too with Bryce Wolma so Tate may have a surprise year with his arm.  The line returns only two starters, but at key spots at left tackle (Layth Friekh), and center (Nathan Eldridge) and have quality guys to take over.  Defensively, the Wildcats return 9 starters, but is it a good thing? Arizona ranked near the bottom in everything last year in the conference.  That’s not good especially when Sumlin wasn’t necessarily a defensive minded guy in the SEC.  But at least he is in the PAC-12 where it may not be as physical.  However, they will be an experienced bunch as the time goes and can gel pretty quickly.  So if they can get the line (where there is new faces there) on track and increase a pass-rush, the Wildcats could have a vastly improved defense even under Sumlin.  Arizona doesn’t see a Power 5 foe in non-conference, which is good, but has an intriguing road game at Houston early on.  But they don’t see Washington this year and has USC and Oregon coming to Tucson.  They could be a threat in the conference while an outside sleeper for a Playoff if all goes well.  BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1. WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6.  MY PREDICTION: 9-3.  There are two road games that would concern me with Utah and Washington State especially the late one at Pullman which could be a bit of a weather issue.

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(2) UTAH UTES:  Stanford gets a lot of attention of being a “quietly going about their business” mentality but Utah does it quieter I think.  They are that team nobody wants to see, whether it is home or the road because they can give you fits.  They will always be in games against the top dogs as they nearly took down Stanford, USC, and Washington.  However, Tyler Huntley has to be healthy for a full season which it stung the Utes last year into only a 6-6 record (they had two stinging losses at home to Arizona State and Washington State that doomed Utah’s chances).  That won’t happen this year I think.  They always have a strong line, though there are 3 new starters.  Bradlee Anae will be fun to see coming off the end and harassing the quarterbacks of the PAC-12.  But while the Utes only have 4 starters returning from last year, many feel their defense is deep with guys who can step up and play.  The starters they do have, are guys that are just pure playmakers (Anae, linebacker Chase Hansen, and Justin Blackmon).  And defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is definitely one of the top coordinators around and really doesn’t get enough credit he deserves.  If Huntley can keep healthy and Zack Moss continues his ways, Utah is definitely a threat to the division title and be one of those teams that could really make havoc with the top dogs of the PAC-12.  But it will be the health of Huntley that decides.  Utah doesn’t get a Power 5 opponent but has an intriguing road game at Northern Illinois of all places.  But the early part of the conference schedule is tough (Washington, at Washington State, at Stanford, Arizona, and USC to start the conference schedule) and they do not draw Oregon State this year so anything higher than 8-4 is huge.  BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1.  WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7.  MY PREDICTION: 8-4.  Utah has a tough schedule but they may bring down a team or two that has either conference title aspirations or even a Playoff aspiration.

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(3) USC TROJANS: Sam Darnold, despite having not taking a step forward in 2017, is gone, which leaves a void, but USC hopes that true freshman JT Daniels is going to step up and so far he has impressed many in Los Angeles.  He will have weapons as in Michael Pittman and Tyler Vaughns, who could be one of the nation’s best receivers and he’s only a sophomore.  Daniels will have a line that returns four, but has been a problem against the bigger, and more physical squads, which has really kept the Trojans from having a Playoff appearance.  Worse, the spot that doesn’t return a starter, is left tackle and it looks like it is Austin Jackson (not the baseball player), who is a sophomore.  That has to be figured out soon or USC will have issues on offense, even with all the talent at the skill sets, which has been the issue.  On defense USC returns 7, mostly at linebacker and secondary, which wasn’t too hot (82nd overall against the pass).  But the Trojans secondary has to stop giving up the big play which killed them last year.  They can rush the quarterback better than anybody in the nation, but the secondary has to play more disciplined and not give up the big plays anymore.  That is also a key issue for USC to move forward.  USC has a very tough start after the first week with back-to-back road trips in Stanford and Texas.  They beat both teams last year, but those road games against the better teams always stand out.  But then a home tilt with Washington State and a key road game in Arizona to end the first month and it could really dictate USC’s chances of a conference championship and a possible playoff.  One good piece of news is they wouldn’t see Washington unless it is for the conference championship.  BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1.  WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5.  MY PREDICTION: 8-4.  I think the problems USC had last year are fixable this year (allowing lesser big plays, improvement on the offensive line), but I’m not sold on Clay Helton being that coach to guide them to the promised land, especially if the lines do not dominate.

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(4) COLORADO BUFFALOES: I somewhat figured the Buffaloes to take a step backwards when Jim Leavitt left for Oregon to be the defensive coordinator up there and a 5-7 record was about what I had them at last year.  But they really did take a major dip last season on defense where DJ Eliot just didn’t match up well to the PAC-12 offenses.  He brings back 6 starters to help, but those guys have to step up on a defense that was near the bottom of the PAC-12 barrel overall (dead last in the conference and 109th overall against the run).  They added JuCo transfers to help against the pass, notably the pass rush, which was anemic last year and guys to stop the run.  But there’s hope that the likes of Jacob Callier keeps stepping up and become that pass rusher the Buffaloes need.  The secondary struggled too but Evan Worthington could have a big year at safety.  The offense hopes to get the ball rolling.  Steven Montez is a quality quarterback and an underrated one and with new coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, Colorado may utilize Montez more in the passing game.  But he will have new weapons as the receivers he had last year are gone.  Jay MacIntyre is the top receiver returning and hast slightly under 400 receiving yards, but Colorado feels their receivers are a strength.  And adding Virginia Tech grad transfer Tavon McMillian at running back could give the Buffaloes a very scary offense in the offense-rich PAC-12.  But that defense will be problematic.  Colorado sees their in-state rival Rams to start the year and their old Big 12 nemesis Nebraska right after before they get into a not-too-rough schedule in 2018 (back-to-back road games with USC and Washington will be a killer though) as Colorado could get a bowl game assuming the Buffs defense improves, which is a giant question mark.  BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3.  WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8.  MY PREDICTION: 5-7.  I think they get off to a good start, but I think the defense just doesn’t hold up throughout the season.  

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(5) UCLA BRUINS:  Of course, whenever you get a top coach to run the program, high hopes are going to come right away.  Look back to when Alabama hired Saban, Michigan hired Harbaugh, Ohio State hired Meyer, and even Georgia with Smart.  Most times when a hire is made like UCLA with Chip Kelly, you believe that things will turn around immediately.  Yes, it worked for Meyer at Ohio State and somewhat for Michigan with Harbaugh.  But Saban struggled at Alabama in his first year (6-6, losing to Louisiana-Monroe), Smart at Georgia (7-5, losing to Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech at home and nearly losing to Nichols State) and many will look at Tom Herman if Texas has a big year this year.  Kelly I think will have some challenges at UCLA.  It was a few years removed that the Bruins had a good, physical defense with the likes of Takk McKinley and others that bullied teams and were projected to be a front-running team with a young QB in Josh Rosen.  But it didn’t pan out and UCLA has been near the rock bottom of the nation in defense now.  The defense returns 6 starters but a change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 will be key with Jerry Azzinaro.  But that may be a challenge to get accustomed to for the starters and the guys who were in the 4-3.  And they have an early tilt at Oklahoma, which won’t be fun.  On offense, where Kelly specializes, expect more running (which UCLA was near the bottom of that) and a balanced attack.  No Josh Rosen anymore, which means either Devon Modster or freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson will call the snaps, and there is a bit of a question mark on that.  Thompson-Robinson is more suited for Kelly’s offense as he is a duel threat.  It doesn’t seem like it is a clear-cut winner yet at quarterback, which this year may be a problem early on with a not-too-easy non-conference schedule with Oklahoma and Fresno State on it.  The Bruins will have to find their quarterback fast and if it is Thompson-Robinson, while he seems like he is very poised, will have those freshman mistakes I believe and will keep UCLA (alongside the adjustments on defense) from being competitive in the PAC-12 South Division.  BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3.  WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8.  MY PREDICTION: 5-7.  I don’t see UCLA with all the changes on both sides being a major threat in 2018.

Arizona State

(6) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:  Anybody who has followed me from my time of posting on sportsblog and here know I have never been a fan of Todd Graham as a head coach.  In fact, he is probably only one notch behind Bobby Petrino as my least favorite coach and I’ve even gone back and forth with that.  Graham who normally spurned his prior gigs in classless ways (Pitt) as well as his philosophy on offense of score often and fast and not mind having the worst defense in the nation I have never been a fan of.  But even I raised my eyebrows when Arizona State fired him after getting them to a bowl game in 2017 and beating rival Arizona and taking down PAC-12 heavyweight Washington.  I guess the mentality of trying the style of being offensive dominant with a quick strikes on offense hadn’t been working to further the Sun Devils climb in the PAC-12.  It was more brow-raising when Herm Edwards was hired.  Edwards hadn’t coached in nearly 10 years with the Chiefs and the current players didn’t even know who he was and it even has the feel Edwards is in over his head.  Recruiting hasn’t panned out right since he has started and it also sounds like he doesn’t want to tweak the offense too much of being a quick strike, but maybe more of quick passes.  On defense, where Arizona State has been one of the worst for a long time now, the Sun Devils will try something new with Danny Gonzalez, a 3-3-5 defense, which I’m not sure if it pans out to be a good one given how the PAC-12 has guys like Bryce Love, Zack Moss, Myles Gaskin, and Khalil Tate who can just run like no other in open fields.  The scheme may improve the passing defense, which has been atrocious at best, but the run game, which wasn’t too horrendous last year, will probably take a step back now.  Arizona State’s schedule isn’t a fun one even with the non-conference slate seeing a defensively sound UTSA to begin the season and then Big Ten power Michigan State comes to town and then a road trip to a tough San Diego State squad as well before the conference schedule comes in, and it is a rough one there (at Washington, at Oregon, at Arizona, at USC).  There may be a possibility Herm Edwards may end up one and done especially if they get off to a slow start, even with a solid quarterback in Manny Wilkins.  BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5.  WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10.  MY PREDICTION: 4-8.  This team is really intriguing, but I don’t think this is a case of a bad hire and Arizona State is either not making the needed changes or the changes don’t really fit to what they need to do.

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PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP: WASHINGTON VS. ARIZONA:  Kevin Sumlin by this time will be in contention for coach of the year, and the Wildcats offense will be clicking.  But I think Washington, who sees enough of the offenses like Oregon, Washington State, and others, will just frustrate Tate and the Wildcats.  Washington is too big and too strong for most teams in the PAC-12, even Arizona.  They won’t see each other in the regular season, but I think the Huskies would be fine in this game and start a debate of who belongs in the playoff and who Doesn’t.  WASHINGTON 41, ARIZONA 24

TOP 3 QUESTIONS:

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IS THE PAC-12 THE WORST POWER 5 CONFERENCE RIGHT NOW?  Hard to say.  I guess my answer is no, because I think you have Washington, USC, and you have strong teams this year in Arizona, Oregon, and perhaps Utah.  But the next rung of teams like Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon State, and California really drag the group down.  But what makes it cloudy is that the likes of Colorado, Arizona State, and Cal have those upset wins against the likes of Oregon, Utah, and that makes it problematic.  The Bowl season didn’t help matters either. But the PAC-12 regardless, need to have a big year, especially early on, notably if USC can take down Texas, Washington to take down Auburn, at least have UCLA put up a strong fight in Oklahoma and make sure they avoid the non-Power 5 schools not drag a team down.  Arizona State, Colorado, and even Oregon & Washington State needs to take care of business early on.  Or else the PAC-12 will still get no respect from others notably east of the Mississippi.

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WITH 5 NEW COACHES, WHICH HEAD COACH IS ON THE HOTTEST SEAT IN THE PAC 12?  Either Clay Helton or Herm Edwards.  Both are surprises but Helton is running a historic football factory.  USC is a blue-blood and is expected to be the forefront.  While the last two years have been nice, USC isn’t a program that likes “nice.”  Rose Bowl win agianst Penn State aside, Helton hasn’t shown that he can beat the top teams around.  He’s been embarrassed by fellow blue-bloods of Alabama and Ohio State while he really got embarrassed by Notre Dame this past year.  This year he has to take care of a road game in Texas and has to beat Notre Dame while avoiding any trip-ups to teams that aren’t as talented as they are.   And that’s where the concern is.  And many (myself included) don’t feel Helton is on that same level as the likes of Saban, Smart, Swinney, or even the likes of Dantonio, Petersen, Patterson, etc.  Anything short of a New Year’s Six game may get USC to find another coach.  Sad because he is 27-10 already, but remember the environment.  As for Herm, people have been blasting this move.  Maybe firing Todd Graham was a good idea, but there is a chance he could start 0-4 and end up with a 3-9 or even a 2-10 record and Arizona State comes off as a fan base feeling that they are ready to belong in the college football world.  A setback like this would be unacceptable.

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SHOULD THE PAC-12 EXPAND TO BE THE PAC-14 AND IF SO, WHO WOULD JOIN?  Yes, but the oddity is, there seems to be a stand-off between the PAC-12 and the Big 12, hoping that one of the conferences bottoms out so the other conference can swoop in.  I’ve read rumors the Big 12 wanted to take the Arizona schools.  I’ve read the PAC-12 wants to make a swoop to be the PAC-16 and take Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State.  If one of those situations occur, I think we can expect a massive realignment in college football.  But I think the PAC-12 plays it safe and brings in Mountain West power Boise State and perhaps San Diego State.  One rumor was Houston, as they’ve been begging to be a Power 5 school, but I don’t know if it is really logical for the PAC-12 or Houston at this point.

That’s it for this week.  Next week, regardless, Big Ten time.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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