2015-09-01

FBS - Preview 2015 - The Pacific 12 Conference

The next conference is at the moment one of the most viewable of all conferences.
They teams are getting closer and the games are getting much more interesting.
Nationally did the conference gain some reputation and some do ask the essential question: When will they produce the next national champion?

Pacific 12 Conference
The last national champion from the PAC12 was USC in 2004 and USC also won the championship a year before, 2003.
Since then … nothing.
The SEC did win all of the titles in the years since then until 2012, followed by Florida State in 2013 and Ohio State in 2014.
But it's not like the PAC12 had no chances.
Last year did Oregon lose against Ohio State.
In 2011 did Oregon lose against Auburn.
In 2006 did USC lose against Texas.
Chance are good the PAC12 will at least bring another team into the playoffs and from that point on the will have to hope.
The only question regarding this scenario will be, if the teams will eventually win and lose against each other and the overall performance will be not enough to make it into the playoff mix.
Honestly, after last season's selection process, I can't see a playoff participator with 3 losses, even if the team won the PAC12.

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
I have to admit I can't get warm with the Bears.
Since the time I got a bit more interested in college football the Bears did more or less suck.
The last winning season?
2011 with 7-6, including a bowl loss.
Last conference title?
2006 in the then PAC10 tied at 1st place.
All under then later fired reigns of Jeff Tedford, who had one of the best record as Cal coach ever.
Still he got axed after a 3-9 season in 2012 and Sonny Dykes was hired.
He managed to win 1 game in 2013, and 5 in 2014.
So, maybe they will be able to break the winning record barrier this season.
Some see Cal as a sleeper, a dark horse, in the contention of the PAC12 North.
Well, they will have to convince me on the field.
At the moment I see them maybe in a bowl, but not in the championship game.
The non conference games will be easy. Kind of.
Grambling State (FCS) should be an easy win.
San Diego State could be tougher, but at home this also shouldn't be an issue.
Texas on the road will be a big test.
My guts are saying, Texas will be much better this season, winning this and much more.
So that makes it 2-1 out of the non conference games.
Let's have a look which teams they don't play, since having 9 games inside a 12 team conference means you play every team, but 2, right?
Those 2 teams are Arizona and Colorado, which means, at least 1 missed winning chance and 1 open game.
Instead they will have to play the better teams.
Crucial games for me are the road game against Utah, the road game against Washington and the road game against Stanford.
The home games do look like quite clear, with wins against Washington State and Oregon State and losses against Arizona State and USC.
But those 3 road games do have some kind of doomsday taste.
If the team could click, I think they might be able to keep the games close and might even win 1 or 2.
But overall I would guess they would be lucky to win 1 game of those.
In total it looks like the Bears will have a tough season.
If they want to get into a bowl, they better win one of those games I expect them to lose.
I see them at 5-7.

Oregon Ducks
The Ducks were not even close a national championship last season (if you don't count the Championship game participation).
They lost quite high in the final and Mark Helfrich will have to reload the Ducks after his star QB went for the NFL.
Oregon will field a good team, but good enough?
Inside the division, they might profit from many rebuilding/reloading teams and might still be the best, but inside the conference, there are other teams getting better and challenging them.
The 3 non conference games will only hold 1 challenge.
Not Eastern Washington (FCS), even if they are one of the better FCS teams, no, Michigan State will be played on week 2 on the road.
It will be a match between a good offense and a good defense and I pick MSU here as a winner in a close game, but this can go either way.
Georgia State will be a nice relaxing game after that.
They won't play Arizona and Utah, which means 1 mid-level team and 1 upper team less, which would have been maybe wins.
Instead they will have to face USC, which might be a preview for the championship game and they will play Arizona State on the road, which do also contend for the south division.
The North will be won against Stanford and Washington, but both are road trips.
Not the best circumstances.
Overall I think this will be too much.
They will lose too many games to claim the division title and will fall short.

Oregon State Beavers
The Beavers will have a new HC, after Mike Riley did move to Nebraska.
Oregon State did not wait very long and hired Gary Andersen, then HC of Wisconsin and before that of Utah State.
I'm not sure who had the best gain out of this coaching changes, but the Beavers did get a good one.
Not sure, how long he will stay here, but for now, Andersen will try to make the Beavers at least as good as under Rileys reign, if not better.
Weber State (FCS) will be the 1st game, followed by a road trip to Michigan and finished with a home game against San Jose State.
The Beavers will probably lose the Wolverines games, but the 2 other non conference games will be wins.
The team will avoid USC and Arizona State, which are 2 of the toughest teams in the South.
This should help.
Crucial games will be the road game against Washington State, the Colorado home game and the 2 road shows at Utah and Cal.
I'm not sure, what we can expect from this new Beavers team under new management, but I think these games are the games they could win.
My pick here is, that they will win some, but not all.
Adding all those games up, I think the Beavers will take a step back and might finish last.
The road games will hurt them and the home games are most of the time against much better teams.

Stanford Cardinal
The Cardinals took a step back last season, after winning the division in 2011 and the conference in 2012 and 2013.
They finished 8-5 and 2nd in the division.
David Shaw is now in his 5th season and will have to guide the team through this rebuilding time.
Expectations are high to get back into the division driver seat and the conference championship game.
But not so fast.
They do have some issues to solve.
Their defense has to be rebuild quite heavily, but there might be enough players of last season's team to fill the gaps.
If the schedule is right, this team could win it.
The non conference games are not easy, but manageable.
Northwestern is no powerhouse and UCF did play tough last season, but if they can really challenge the Cardinals at home has to be proven.
I guess not.
The last non conference game will be on last gameday against Notre Dame, a rival game.
Lucky for them, this is at home.
I pick them 3-0 in these games.
Inside the division will Stanford not play Arizona State, which is good, and Utah, which might hurt them a bit, since this could have been an easy win.
They will start on the road against USC, which will be crucial.
I'm expecting a loss here, but you never know.
UCLA at home will help, as does the home games against Washington.
But the best challenge will be Oregon at home.
Honestly, I see many potential losses, but I can also imagine a 1 loss season inside the conference and overall.
I'm optimistic, maybe too much, but I think they can win the division.

Washington Huskies
The Huskies had to look for a new coach last season, after Steve Sarkisian left for USC.
The made one of the biggest splashes and did get Mr.-Boise-State-can-beat-everyone Chris Petersen.
The math is easy.
If you are able to make a winner out of a non-factor team from Idaho, a conference winner, BCS-crasher and a team you don't like to play against, what can he do with the resources a team like Washington can offer?
Last season was probably a failure for many Huskies fans, winning only 8 games and losing in a bowl. But they won only 9 games a season before and that was the 1st time since ages.
Expectations are high to get to Boise State level.
The problem for Petersen is, there are many tough teams in the league and many tough games.
No more 7 to 9 walkthrough games and only a few real challenges. Every game is a challenge.
A road game start on the smurf turf of Boise State won't help.
They might lose there, no kidding. I pick them as a winner, but that win is not sure.
Sacramento State (FCS) will be a relaxing win and Utah State at home should also be won, which ends already the non conference games.
No Colorado and no UCLA does translate in one less top game and one less sure win.
Hottest games will be the road game against USC, the Oregon game, the Stanford trip and the road game against Arizona State.
Adding all those games up I think they will lose too many games to become a contender.
I expect them to win 9 to 10 games, but not enough to get to 1st place.

Washington State Cougars
When Mike Leach did take over Wazzu, I was thrilled to see a regular spoiler team, maybe even a contender.
He did had a great time with Texas Tech (until he got fired over off field issues) and so far the production at Washington State does disappoint me.
3 wins in 2012, 6 wins in 2013 and 3 wins in 2014.
Now, in his 4th season, I think the heat is getting a bit hotter under his seat.
Given the power circumstances in the league, it's hard to see them finish better than last.
They will start their non conference games against Portland State (FCS), will play at Rutgers after that and will then host Wyoming as final non conference game.
The Rutgers game is probably a loss, so a 2-1 record seems possible.
They avoid USC and Utah, but if that's helps is an open debate.
Crucial games for me are Cal (road), Oregon State (home), Colorado (home) and the rival game against Washington on the road.
If they can win enough of those games, they might not fall for the ground spot in the division.
The Beavers game especially might decide that fate.

South Division

Arizona Wildcats
It might have surprise a lot of people, but Rich Rodriguez came into this program in 2012 and made the Wildcats a division title winner last season.
That was the first division title ever, but the team is playing in a division only since 2011, before that the conference had only 10 teams and no divisions.
Still, their last conference title was a tied one in 1993.
What I want to state here is, that team is not used to winning and as are the visitors not used to see the Wildcats on top of the standings.
They won 10 games last season and it might get down this season.
Th season will start with UTSA, Nevada and Northern Arizona (FCS).
The road trip to Nevada will be challenging, but I think they can win this.
The other 2 games have to be wins.
From the North they will not play Oregon and Cal.
Not playing Oregon does help the record since some time, but the missing Cal game might hurt them.
They will have to play some tough games instead against the North teams and the toughest ones on the road (Stanford and Washington)
Crucial games will be USC, UCLA and Arizona State.
Except the UCLA game, all on the road.
My guess is, they will win some, but they will also lose some of those and that might be too much to repeat the division title run.
A valid scenario inside the South could be, that all teams will hand each other losses and a 2 or even 3 conference losses team will get into the title game, but I doubt it.
At the end they might finish on the upper half of the division, more likely 4th, and the mentioned games will decide their fate.

Arizona State Sun Devils
Todd Graham started in the same season as Rich Rod (2012) and he turned the Sun Devils also into a serious contender.
The team won the division in 2013 and fell short at 2nd place last season.
That won't go away this season and maybe they can win the division again.
They have the schedule to do this.
The non conference games are against Texas A&M, Cal Poly (FCS) and New Mexico.
The A&M game is a great start and will hopefully be a clash.
I pick the Devils as the winner here, but that's just gut feeling.
The other 2 games should be won.
The North will spare them games against Oregon State (which is not so good for the record) and Stanford (which will help the record).
Crucial games will be the home games against Oregon, USC, Washington and Arizona.
The road trip to UCLA will also be a challenge.
They might end up with 1 or 2 losses, but probably will the other teams have the same or more losses and the Sun Devils will win the division.
For sure they will end up under the top 3 in the division.

Colorado Buffaloes
2 years ago I did write as introduction for Colorado "Colorado is a mess."
They hired Mike MacIntyre to turn the situation around in that season I wrote the mentioned introduction and so far did the team win 6 games in total.
They won 4 in 2013 and 2 in 2014.
Welcome to the hot seat.
On one hand I wish the team would flourish finally, to have a bit more competition inside the conference and the division.
on the other hand I see them so far down the power rankings inside the conference and division, it's hard to imagine more than a few wins.
Starting at Hawai'i, UMass, the rival game against Colorado State and Nicholls State (FCS) will be tough.
Yes, they will play 4 non conference games, 1 more than usual.
And regarding winning I can see them winning all of them, except the Rams games.
They lost that rivalry game last season and I think they will lose this season again.
Cal and Washington will not be played, which means they will have to play some tough cookies from the North.
If I would have to name 2 crucial games they might be able to win I would s e l e c t the road trip to Oregon State and the road trip to Washington State.
You might want to add the road trip to Utah, but that's it.
I hope you did see the problems?
All 3 are road games, which will make them much more likely losses than wins.
I think they will finish last in the division, again and eventually the coach has to get a new job.

UCLA Bruins
And the next coach in his 4th season inside the PAC 12 south.
Jim L. Mora won the division in his 1st season, but since then did he win 1 more game (10 each) the next 2 season, but finished 2nd in the division each time.
With the power ranking getting again a bit shaken, it will be fun to see, if the Bruins will be able to get it done again.
The non conference games are not very spectacular.
Virginia, UNLV and BYU are the 3 opponents and the toughest one will probably be BYU.
I think they can win all 3, but the BYU game will be the closest.
They do avoid Washington and Oregon, which will give them a big boost in the record.
Crucial games will now be the Wildcats game on the road, the Sun Devils at home, Stanford on the road and the rival game against USC on the road.
Those are some road games and I think they will drop some of those.
They will fall short a division title.

USC Trojans
When Trojans did call Steve Sarkisian, at that time HC of Washington Huskies, he did not hesitate very long and became USCs new HC for 2014.
Since Pete Carroll left the team for the Seattle Seahawks after the 2009 season, the team had little success based on USC standards.
Lane Kiffin had some wins, but overall he was not able to win the big games needed to win the conference, or even national titles.
He was let go mid-season of 2013, the team made it through the season with an interims coach and hired Sarkisian, a former USC assistant, to get the team on track.
Last season was OK for a start (tied 2nd place in the division, 9-4 record), but expectations are high.
The non conference games are not spectacular.
Arkansas State, Idaho and Notre Dame (on the road) are more or less typical.
The 1st two games will be wins, no doubt, but the Irish game could become trouble.
Chances are good for a win, but the Irish at home can be hard to beat.
As north teams they don't play Washington State and Oregon State, which leaves the team with one of the toughest schedule of all PAC12 teams.
There are only a few easy games, many tough ones and a few super critical.
Those few are: Arizona State on the road, Oregon on the road and UCLA at home on season finale.
Those games will very likely define the season output.
I think they have a chance in all of them, but the team might suffer 1 or 2 losses.
They will contend for the division title, and as far as I can guess, they are in the best position.

Utah Utes
The Utes seem to be on track to get a bit more control over their fate in the PAC12.
When they joined 2011 they went from 4 conference wins, to 3 wins and then to 2 wins.
Last season they won 5 games and 9 overall, including a bowl.
Kyle Whittingham is in his 11th season and he does manage the team very well.
The biggest problem for them is, they play in a tough division, with many teams getting their weapons up to date.
How many divisions do have 4+ contenders for division title with 6 teams? Not so many.
I'm undecided, if this season will be a Utes season or not.
If they would emerge a real threat this season, it's very unlikely the PAC12 South will send a team into the national championship playoffs, because whoever might win the division, he might have 2 or 3 losses.
Too many, I think, to get into the mix.
My guts are telling me, the Utes will have a hard time, this season.
Non conference games against Michigan, Utah State and Fresno State.
All can be won, all can be lost.
With Stanford and Washington State not on the schedule from the north they do avoid 1 very tough game and 1 potential win.
They have Oregon, USC, Washington and Arizona as road games and for sure they will lose some.
Scanning the games and weighting in the power levels, I think they will win 5 to 6 games in total this season.
I have them 5th in the division, only because Colorado is my sure 6th one and the other 4 are too strong to have them drop to 5th.

So my TIP is:

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

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

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