2013-08-20

FBS - Preview - PAC 12

The next conference is a bit on the rise at the moment. It got a new TV deal which lead to lots of additional money and the teams started to spend big time money on high profile coaches.

Pacific 12 Conference
The PAC-12 did hire the last few years some very well-known coaches, at least for college football level.
It resulted in a much more competitive team landscape than a few years ago.
Gone are the days when USC and Oregon did battle it out on their own with a one-season-wonder-team does challenge them once in a while and win a share of the conference title.
Last season did Stanford win it all (in the second year of the PAC-12 expansion, before that it was the PAC-10 with 10 teams and no conference championship game).
That was the first time for any team since the 1999 season that NOT USC or Oregon won the conference.
Winner in 1999 was ... Stanford.

All those realignments which did happen from last season end to this season start did happen to most of the other conferences, the PAC-12 was rock stable.
And there are no rumours to lose or add teams.

Teams added 2013:
NONE

Teams lost 2013:
NONE

The 12 teams are:

North Division:
University of California, Berkeley (Cal) Golden Bears
University of Oregon Ducks
Oregon State University Beavers
Stanford University Cardinal
University of Washington Huskies
Washington State University Cougars

South Division:
University of Arizona Wildcats
Arizona State University Sun Devils
University of Colorado Buffaloes
University of California, Los Angeles Bruins
University of Southern California Trojans
University of Utah Utes

Now let's get a bit into the details:
North Division

California Golden Bears
Cal has a new coach, Sonny Dykes, formerly known for his work at Louisiana Tech until end of last season.
He won a WAC Conference title (2011) and has now the chance to get the Bears back on track.
The Bears are a bit away from the competing teams at the moment and Dykes Offense should at least make those games much more fun to watch.
Question will be if he can get the defense on competitor level as quick as he usually gets his speedy offense right.
They will play better than last season, I'm sure, but if they will be able to crack the 3 wins from last year is an open bet.

Non-Conference games are against: Northwestern, Portland State (FCS) and Ohio State
The PAC 12 does only play 3 non-conference games usually, since they play 9 conference games.
Those 3 games above do really look like a 1-2 campaign.
Northwestern will be good and it's the first game. Unless the start on 100%+ motivation level, they will lose.
The FCS game will be a nice win but then does come the perfect Ohio State team and will crash the party.

And after that does the fun start ... if you are not a Bear fan.
Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Washington on the road?
I think they will have to aim for a few upsets against Washington State, USC and Arizona at home.
The Colorado game looks like the only winnable game so far and THAT is also on the road late in the season.

To make it short, I think Cal will have a hard time this season.
Of all teams in the PAC 12 North I see them as the worst this year. Bottom team.

Oregon Ducks
The Ducks did also get a new headcoach, since Chip Kelly took the Philly Eagles NFL job.
Chip Kelly did win the conference 3 times in his 4 years as HC and did also win a tie of the division title last season (but did not play in the Championship game).
Mark Helfrich got the gig now (he was the OC for some seasons with the Ducks) and expectations are that he will keep the Ducks on that level.
Tough job, since the balance of power did shift a bit.
Stanford got very strong and new coaches with big reputation do come into the conference since 2 seasons.
This won't be a walk in the park again.
To be fair, it wasn't already last season.

Non-Conference games are against: Nicholls State (FCS), @Virginia and Tennessee
For a PAC 12 team, that start couldn't be much softer.
Of cause when teams do negotiate their future opponents, nobody can forecast a totally mess at Tennessee and nobody can imagine an up and down Virginia team.
Those games were fixed years ago, but they do come in hand at the right time.
Easily will the Ducks win these games, if Helfrich does at least keep the team on 80% of last season speed and strength and build on those results.

The conference games will be more fun and until October they have a nice ramp up.
Colorado, the Washington teams and Cal shouldn't be a real challenge.

Then does the UCLA game happens and with a 1 bye-week does come the Stanford game.
At that point the division crown will probably be awarded, but it could happen that the Civil War against Oregon State is the deciding game.

Still, contending team and one of the two favourites to win the division.

Oregon State Beavers
Last season was some kind of a stunner for Oregon State fans, in a good way.
The Beavers did win 5 games in 2010 and 3 games in 2011.
Everybody thought to see another sub-Bowl-eligibility season in 2012 and a coach Mike Riley on a hot seat after 12 seasons with the program.
Those expectations got smashed.
They won 9 games and went to a Bowl, where they lost to Texas.
Not that bad.
Now expectations are high and the coach is safe for his 13th season.

Non-Conference games are against: Eastern Washington (FCS), Hawai'i and @San Diego State
We might see here a perfect non-conference run.
SDSU will be the toughest opponent, and it is an away game and will get rough.
Depended on the progress of both teams, this can go either way.

They have 5 away games inside the conference which is bad luck.
But they do avoid UCLA and Arizona from the south; still have to play Arizona State and USC.
If they want to get those 9 wins from last season again, they will have to win a lot of games, against improving teams.

My bet is that they will not get those 9 wins again, but will be a Bowl team.
Mid field team.

Stanford Cardinal
Stanford is having a great run lately.
The Cardinals were in a hole since 2002 and did have 2 unsuccessful coaches before Jim Harbaugh took over and polished the teams into a winner.
He did not win any championship, no conference and went only 2 times to a Bowl and won only one.
Still he landed the 49ers gig since everybody was able to see, want he had done.
David Shaw inherited that polished program and did cash in a Division title in 2011 (tied with Oregon, which then won the conference) and a conference title in 2012.
And there is no sign of slowing down.
Stanford is one of the programs which are considered to have a chance to win it ALL, not only the conference.

Non-Conference games are against: San Jose State, @Army and Notre Dame
The Spartans game will be nice, but I'm betting on a Cardinals win here.
Army has no chance and the Notre Dame Rivalry game will be fun.
I'm expecting a Stanford win here, but it will be close.

Most of the PAC 12 games will be very one sided, but some might get interesting.
They play UCLA and Oregon at home and those games will probably decide the division crown of the north.
Last season they stumbled a bit over the Washington game and lost it, this year it's a home game, so most likely they will win that one.

Chances are very high, they will only have to battle it out with Oregon and Stanford will be the favourite in that one.
Top contender for the conference championship.

Washington Huskies
I have to admit I can't get an opinion on Steve Sarkisian, the headcoach of the Huskies.
He is in his 5th season now and the best he got was 7 wins and 6 losses (the last 3 years in a row).
That's not what he was hired for.
On the other hand he did get his team to deliver crucial losses to some of the better PAC 12 teams, every season.
First season they won against #3 ranked USC, 2nd season was again against USC, ranked #18, in his 3rd season they did only win the supposed to win games and last season they won against #8 Stanford and #7 Oregon State.
But they also did suck from time to time and what's left is, they are no team you like to play but you can win against them any given Saturday.
This season this should better go a bit upwards, since every team in that league is getting better.
So either they adjust or they will sit at the bottom of the division and we all know what that means for coaches.

Non-Conference games are against: Boise State, Illinois and Idaho State (FCS)
The season start against the Broncos will be hard. I'm expecting a battle here with the Broncos winning.
Illinois is played at Soldier Field on neutral site, and Washington can hope for a win here.
Idaho State is a nice relaxing game. So, potential a 2-1 at this point.

Inside the conference they play only 4 away games, all of them look like sure losses.
But that give hope for one of the crucial upsets ....
If they win their home games they will top their record from last season, but that includes a must win against Oregon and arch rival Washington State.

I doubt such results; they might get lucky and get 6 wins. But I expect them to drop behind the Cougars and finish 5th in the division.

Washington State Cougars
You can't deny Mike Leachs skills in bringing teams forward.
He knows how to get the best out of his players.
That Texas Tech incident is still blurry for me and I'm still not sure if Leach did something wrong or not.
Anyway, he is now in his second year with the Cougars and I'm expecting a jump in production.
I think they are not ready to play with the big boys all season long, but they might be able to get more wins against the mid field level teams.

Non-Conference games are against: @Auburn, Southern Utah (FCS) and Idaho
It's never easy to play a SEC team, but Auburn should not be that tough on season opener. Malzahn will get his Tigers in shape, but that takes a bit time.
The FCS games should be a walk in the park and the Battle of the Palouse against rival Idaho should be a win, too.

Let's pick the crucial games: Oregon State at home, Arizona State at home, @Arizona, Utah at home and the Apple Cup against Washington on the road.
That looks good, since you can add Colorado to that schedule.
I think they have the potential to win 6 games or more in that season and go bowling.
They will end up in the mid field, probably 4th place in the division, but they might climb even higher.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats
I'm curious to see how Rich Rodriguez will do here.
I'm still thinking he would have got Michigan on track with a bit more time.
But fixing the offense and then fixing the defense it not Big 10 style and he was let go.
Well, lucky him the Wildcats are hungry for winning and they got a first taste last season, when Rodrigues did arrive.
He took over a 4-8 Arizona team and went 8-5 including a Bowl win.
This season the fans will want more, for sure.

Non-Conference games are against: Northern Arizona (FCS), @UNLV and UTSA
If they don't cruise through this with 3-0 I would be not only surprise, I would be stunned.
None of this teams should be a match for any PAC 12 team, less for a team on the rise.

If the Wildcats wants to get better in division standings (last season they had only 4 conference wins and finished 4th in the south division), they have to win against all mid field or worse teams.
The problem is they have basically most of those teams on the road.
At home they have UCLA, Oregon, Utah and Washington State.
Bad year for an improvement on the record, if the team might not grow up quickly.
I expect them to win many games, but I doubt they will win all crucial games and get 6-7 conference wins.
No, I think they will be lucky if the manage to get 5 wins.

Mid field team with probability of getting at 3rd place.

Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils did also get a new coach last season, Todd Graham, but he was not that much in the news as Mora or Rodriguez, which is odd, since he managed to get the Sun Devils to 3rd place and a Bowl win in his first year.
The reason for that was probably that the leap from 6-7 to 8-5 was not that high as the leaps of UCLA and Arizona.
Still, he had his team winning and everything is pointing towards a contending season.

Non-Conference games are against: Sacramento State (FCS), Wisconsin and Notre Dame
That's not a win boosting non-conference schedule. The FCS game will be a win, yes, but Wisconsin, even at home will be tough and Notre Dame (played in Texas) will be also tough.
They might win both games, but those win have to be earned big time.
Expect at least one loss here.

And if they win both games, expect a drop in conference play.
They do for certain aim the top so they have to compete against everyone.
But they play Stanford on the road and also UCLA on the road. So much for the top.
I expect them to get short here and get an upper mid field position, with only 4 road trips in the PAC 12, that's OK.

Toughest games for that goal will be Oregon State and Arizona, both at home.

Expect a 2nd place in the division.

Colorado Buffaloes
Colorado is a mess. As far as I understood the situation, the former-former headcoach did suck with a big contract and the former headcoach was selected with the remaining money, so he was not only a cheap choice, but also had no room to work with.
No wonder the Buffaloes had any success and an eventually good coach had his hand tied up behind his back and did at the end suck in the eyes of the fans.
So he was let go and since the whole process needed years and the PAC 12 did sign a new TV contract, suddenly money is no issue and the new headcoach gets 4 times the money the former one got.
Looks like Mike MacIntyre has now a better situation to work with.
He was the headcoach of San Jose State the last three seasons.
Expectations are he will rebuild that team to new glory, but this will take years.
Don't look for a quick turnaround here, we might see some nice results next season, but I'm expecting an almost as bad record as last season (1-11).

Non-Conference games are against: Colorado State, Central Arkansas (FCS) and Fresno State
What a nice start; they play the Rocky Mountain Showdown against rival Colorado State as season opener.
Last year the Rams did win, overall the Buffalos are leading the series by a mile.
Expect them to win the FCS game and get probably flatten by the Bulldogs.
They might get 2-1 here or 1-2. Everything is possible.

You might think it can't get worse by starting the conference play against Oregon and Oregon State?
Well it don't get better until November when they get Washington and Cal.

There are some potential wins in that schedule overall (Cal and Utah) but I doubt more than 1 win in conference games.

They will top their last season record, but not much more.
The bottom team of the PAC 12 South.

UCLA Bruins
Jim L. Mora did surprise everybody last season, when he took over the Bruins program and won the division in his first year.
Now the expectations in Los Angeles are even higher.
Not only is everybody expecting a repeat, but also to compete against the North champion for the conference.
The way is long and rocky, and they have to beat basically every team on the conference schedule, since Arizona State and Arizona will not sleep.
And there is USC, which might rebound.

Non-Conference games are against: Nevada, @Nebraska, New Mexico State
The Nebraska game will be the most interesting one. Nevada and New Mexico State will lose against the Bruins, but the Huskers at home are a different league.
I dodged a prediction for that game in my Nebraska preview and I'm still not sure who will win.
But I think the Huskers will have the edge here and it's their game to lose.

Still, all this is irrelevant for the conference where they have to play Stanford and Oregon from the North on the road.
That's tough.
They have to play Arizona State at home which is good, but USC also on the road.
It might come down to the direct compare to the Sun Devils to lift then into the championship games.

Contenders for the division and conference.

USC Trojans
For me, Lane Kiffin is not a headcoach for a program as USC is.
OK, I wouldn't even hire him as headcoach, period.
But that's a different thing.
I don't understand why USC did hire him (4 seasons ago), since everybody could see, what he had done to the Raiders and to Tennessee.
And I don't mean his coaching and (not) winning.
I mean his behaviour to the press and to other people in that business.
He annoys me, every time I see him.
He did fire his DAD, Monte Kiffin, who did come to him from a very nice NFL DC job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (he was there for 13 seasons!) to help his son and that brat did fire him after 4 seasons.
Only to save his job.
Monte Kiffin is now the DC of the Dallas Cowboys.
I bet the defense of USC won't get much better this season, since the problem was not the dad ...
But ... maybe Lane Kiffin does some turnaround and gets the ship in the right direction. Maybe.
A bad season to start with that turnaround, now that his Magazine-Cover-QB is gone and no real successor did show up.
Remember, last season was supposed to be the national championship run.
They finished 7-6 including a Bowl-loss to Georgia Tech.
For me it's hard to see them going Bowling this season. But maybe ....

Non-Conference games are against: @Hawai'i, Boston College, Utah State and Notre Dame
It might sound funny, but beside Notre Dame, Utah State could be the toughest opponent in that group.
Hawai'i is far from becoming competitive and Boston College was coached to the ground. Rebuilding is needed.
Notre Dame IN South Bend will probably be too much this season.
So USC might start with 2-2 or even 3-1 here.
If they lose against Utah State, it's a bad signal.

They have to play 4 road games in the conference, including Oregon State and Arizona State.
Means they meet UCLA and Stanford at home. That might help.
If they are as worse as I expect them to be, it won't, but if Kiffin did get the most out of his very deep talent pool, there might be an upset possible.
I expect them to win against Washington State, Utah, Cal and Colorado. That's it.
If they win more, Kiffin might have some coaching left, or maybe he just starts focus on the field and the team, instead of the press and other coaches and programs.

They probably will fight for a Bowl worth season and if any of those named teams I expect to lose against them did their homework ... it won't happen.
The funny thing is, if the players can play and get the right direction, the team is strong enough to win the south division.
I sort them in as 4th, but everything is possible.

University of Utah Utes
The Utes did miss a Bowl last season, first time since 2002. That's a nice series of Bowls going down.
Kyle Whittingham is now in his 9th season as Utah Headcoach.
Obviously this was his first losing season with them, having a 5-7 record.
Don't expect them to rebound quickly.
There are many question marks on offense and defense and with many teams in the PAC 12 getting better, it's only logical that some get worse (at least on the record).
Utah is primed to be such a team.

Non-Conference games are against: Utah State, Weber State (FCS) and @BYU
Here are two rivalries at the start. The Battle of the Brothers against Utah State is a series, Utah does own with Utah State winning once in a while, as they did last season. And it is not unlikely they might win this year again.
Last time they won back to back was 1996 and 1997.
The Weber State game will be easy and then comes the Holy War against BYU.
That one is also owned by Utah, but it's much closer.
In fact Utah did basically win almost every game until mid-60s, then the Mormons did start fighting back and did basically win almost every game until the mid-90s.
Now it looks like a more or less even series.
Last season Utah did win at home by 3 points.
I expect them to lose this year.
That makes a 1-2 start, right?

Now let's have a look at the conference.
They also have only 4 road games, but they got not many easy teams on their schedule at all.
Of cause they have Colorado (at home), but as I expect them to become the 5th placed team in the south, all other teams in the division will be a challenge.
USC? On the road. Arizona? On the road. Means they will play the two toughest south teams at home, which means all 4 games in total could be losses.
North teams? Hey, they got lucky and got Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State and Washington State ...
Means out of 6 teams, they got my projected 1st to 4th teams. And they got Oregon State at home and Washington State on the road.
Means again it might come down to 4 losses.

It won't get that hard, I'm sure, but every game will be a challenge and they will not get Bowling.
I put then 5th in the south.

So my TIP is:

North Division:
Stanford Cardinal
Oregon Ducks
Oregon State Beavers
Washington State Cougars
Washington Huskies
California Golden Bears

South Division:
UCLA Bruins
Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona Wildcats
USC Trojans
Utah Utes
Colorado Buffaloes

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