The PAC-12 overall will be one of the strongest Conferences based solely on its quarterback play. With 4 quarterbacks possibly getting first round grades in 2018 and 2 more with potential first round grades in 2019. While the division had been dominated by Oregon and Stanford in recent seasons last year saw both Washington teams make serious strides, with the Huskies winning the Pac-12 and participating in the playoffs. Washington State should improve on last seasons 8 wins, and have an outside shot at 10.
Top Draft Prospects
1: Luke Falk, Washington State
2: Jake Browning, Washington
3: Vita Vea, Washington
4: Royce Freeman, Oregon
5:Quenton Meeks, Stanford
Order Of Finish
1: Washington Chris Peterson’s system is fully in place and Jake Browning is the perfect quarterback for it. Browning led the PAC-12 and was 7th overall nationally in passing efficiency. The 6 quarterbacks ranked above him did not have to play Alabama either. The Huskies were able to keep Vita Vea and Dante Pettis for their senior seasons and will continue to build on their momentum. Offensively Browning and Pettis will be balanced by the presence of Myles Gaskin, a legitimate prospect in his own right, and an offensive line that returns both starting tackles and a center. Washington should not miss a beat offensively. Defensively the secondary lost both starting cornerbacks and their leader, free safety Budda Baker. Both of the returning safeties have starting experience in the last 2 seasons though. Akeem Victor will be the defensive leader from his linebacker position and pass rusher Greg Gaines stand to make a name for himself with a big season. The Huskies weak out of conference schedule means that they will likely only be challenges by Stanford and Washington State before the PAC-12 Championship game. Thus I expect them to be in the discussion for a playoff spot until late in the season. I see 11 wins for Washington.
2: Stanford David Shaw returns with a veteran team that has 16 returning starters split evenly between offense and defense. The entire offensive line and quarterback Keller Chryst return and Chryst will have his favorite target in tight end Dalton Schultz. Replacing Christian McCaffrey will be tough but Bryce Love averaged over 7 yards per carry last season and should be up to the task. Defensively the Cardinal have a stacked defensive backfield led by cornerback Quenton Meeks and Justin Reid. All 4 starting linebackers return along with Harrison Phillips at defensive tackle. This looks like the kind of Stanford team that David Shaw does well with. While Washington has more top line talent it might not matter if Stanford is able to impose their will on their PAC-12 brethren each week. The division will be won when Stanford plays Washington, but the Cardinal have a tougher schedule otherwise and I expect that to catch up with them somewhere. 10-11 wins for Stanford.
3: Washington State This will be Mike Leach’s best shot at a 10 win season since the height of his Texas Tech days. Luke Falk returns at quarterback as does his favorite target Tavares Martin and the Cougars 4 leading rushers in 2016. The offensive line has 3 returning starters, each with All Conference potential. Defensively is where the Cougars could show the most improvement with 9 returning starters and two full seasons under defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Peyton Pelluer and Isaac Dotson provide solid leadership from the linebacker position and with experience at each level of the defense the Cougars should be stingier, or at least more timely in making plays. Their schedule is difficult but Washington State should win 9 regular season games this year.
4: Oregon The Ducks are a trendy pick to rebound but I am not so sure they will be able to. Chip Kelly is the only Head Coach to really take Oregon to the highest levels of college football and he was only the head coach for 4 seasons. Offensively Royce Freeman is a legitimate prospect at tailback while Darren Carrington would have been a very good receiver for Oregon. His loss leaves the team woefully inexperienced at receiver. The Ducks offensive line will be solid and their defense has plenty of experienced players returning as well. The biggest problem I see with Oregon is that Willie Taggart is going to run a power system based on ball control, and field position, similar to what Stanford does, and he does not have the right kind of players to do that. If Taggart is patient and decides to adapt to his players then Oregon will win a few more games this year, at the expense of the future. I don’t expect that to happen and figure Oregon will win 7-8 games in 2017.
5: Oregon State Gary Andersen returns 15 starters in 2017 and the Beaver fans are expecting a bowl game appearance for their team. They are, unfortunately, likely to be disappointed as the Beavers simply do not have the talent needed to compete with the elites in the PAC-12. Ryan Nall is a power back that should put up good numbers and Jordan Villamin is a big bodies receiver that will help keep the chains moving. Neither is a game changer and the Beavers will need to play mistake free offensive football in order to keep pace with many of their opponents. Defensively things look slightly better for Andersen’s team but it is more experience than talent. Xavier Crawford is a player to watch at cornerback and Bright Ugwoegbu is a promising linebacker but there is no reason to expect the Oregon State defense to hold up to repeated scrutiny. 5 wins, tops.
6: California Justin Wilcox might be able to work his magic over time with the Golden Bears defense, and with 8 returning starters he might be able to improve on last season’s numbers, but last season’s defensive numbers were terrible and the offense lost Davis Webb and a system that scored ample points. It will be a culture shift in Berkeley and that will take some time to adjust to. Cal will win 3-4 games.