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NCAA Football Futures: Who will Win the Pac-12?

Pac-12 - USC, Stanford and Washington

Summer is trucking right along and college football season will be upon us before we know it. It’s fans of the Pac-12 that are surely ready for the 2018 season. Last college football season was subpar at best for the conference.

The Pac-12 failed to produce a playoff team, and the schools lost 8 bowl games with only 1 victory. The Utah Utes saved the conference from being shut out by defeating the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The Utes will have a decent team this year but aren’t expected to win the conference. They are projected by the FPI to go 7-5 with a 2.9% chance of winning the Pac-12.

The FPI is really cool. They did 10,000 simulations of every game and now give the teams an overall ranking based on those simulations. They also give us the chances that each team will go undefeated or win out.

For example, the Washington Huskies are the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the FPI at 5th and they have about a 7% chance to finish the 2018 season undefeated.

I think the FPI will prove to be much more accurate at predicting how a team will perform before the season begins than the Coaches or AP Polls have done in the past.

BetOnline has odds on college football conference winners for the 5 power conferences and few others. Washington comes in almost at even money at (+125) with the Oregon State Beavers driving the caboose at (+10000).

Don’t worry. I’m not going to bore you the Beavers’ recruiting grade or even try to sell them as a potential Pac-12 title contender.

I broke the conference up into contenders and pretenders. I can’t include a (+10000) team in with the contenders or pretenders because they aren’t even trying to fool anyone. They know they stink. Sorry Beavers, no more bullying from me today.

Let’s get started with a couple teams that are projected to have good years, but simply don’t have enough sauce to be the best.

The Pretenders

Oregon: +750

The Ducks do have a favorable schedule this year, kind of. They play host to conference powerhouses Stanford and Washington while traveling to Utah and Arizona.

You could look at this two different ways.

The home field advantage could be enough to make the difference in games against teams better than them. Also, playing teams on the road you’re ranked higher than still gives you the opportunity to win.

The other perspective illustrates a much more catastrophic season for the Ducks. Even though they have Stanford and Washington at home, they will still be the underdogs. Stanford is good and Washington is very good, so let’s say the Ducks lose a couple close ones. Then they travel to play teams that are just about on the same level, and that makes Oregon the underdogs once again.

The Ducks don’t have the dynamic offensive weapons they normally do at wideout and running back nor do they have any depth in the defensive backfield.

First-year incoming head coach Mario Cristobal will need a crystal ball if he wants to compete with Washington and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.

The Ducks should improve from last season but in college football with recruiting and everything, it takes a while for a new head coach to settle in.

Arizona: +1600

The Wildcats down in Tuscon may be having an identity crisis of sorts. Recently, jaguars have made their way north from Central America into Arizona. Bobcats and Pumas have dominated the landscape for years, but there’s a new cat in town.

I don’t know if Arizona’s mascot is a bobcat, puma, or even a jaguar. I do know this, though, and that is the football team isn’t very good this season. Outside of super sophomore quarterback Khalil Tate, their personnel barely ranks in the top 5 in the Pac-12 particularly for running backs, wideouts, the O-line, or D-line.

There is a sizeable gap, in my opinion, between the USC Trojans and the Arizona Wildcats or Utah Utes in the Pac-12 South.

‘Zona has a fairly easy schedule, though, and could get hot towards the end of the year. They don’t play Stanford or Washington which is huge and they have USC at home. The Oregon game will also be at home but they will travel to Utah and UCLA.

The Cats are alright, but shouldn’t be a threat to the South division or the Pac-12 Championship.

Utah: +1600

“The two Utes, your honor.”

“I’m sorry. Did you say Utes?”

Well, if you’ve seen My Cousin Vinny then you know where the joke is going. If you haven’t, you really should. It’s a great movie, and there is a mention of youths, not the Utes of Utah.

Every last time I hear, say or write the word “Utes”, I think of that hilarious film.

Back to football, though, as we take a glimpse at the Utah football program and their chances in the Pac-12 this year.

Utah ranked 33rd in the FPI, is projected to go 7-5 this year with a 3% chance of winning the conference.

They have a good team but an atrocious schedule. The Utes have to play USC, Washington, and Stanford as well as games against Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon. That’s just too much for Utah. 7-5 is looking like a decent forecast for the pretending Utes.

Contenders

USC: +400

The Trojans lost their exceptional signal caller Sam Darnold to the New York Jets in the first round of April’s draft. Many experts considered Darnold to be the best all-around QB available in the draft, so we know the Trojans will have sizable shoes to fill at the most important position on the field.

USC kicks off conference play very early in the season traveling to Palo Alto to play the Stanford Cardinal. Even though the Trojans were able to beat Stanford twice last year, another win over the Cardinal may be a stretch.

With the game being early in the season, the QB position is likely to still be a question mark. Running back and Heisman candidate Bryce Love of Stanford should be a full strength force who leads them to victory.

USC can get away with a loss in this one and still be okay since Stanford is in the North division. It’s a trio of road games that could get the Trojans into trouble, though. They travel to UCLA, Utah, and Arizona. If one of these schools beats them, that team can probably only lose one other conference game and still win the South division.

Luckily there is no regular season matchup with Washington, but traveling to Stanford to play a team that lost to them twice last year will be a very tall task. I don’t see the Trojans losing more than 2 conference games this season, and they should finish atop the South.

They have the best defense in the division with the most talent on both sides of the ball. They should win the South and then they only have to win one game to be Paz-12 champs. They have a decent shot.

The FPI has them ranked 17th overall projected to go 8-4 but still a 23% chance of winning the conference.

Stanford: +550

If the Cardinal were in the Pac-12 South and USC in the North, Stanford would have higher odds than the Trojans to win the conference. Washington looks like the most dominant Pac-12 team this year, and Stanford will have to outplay them throughout the season to have a good chance to play for the title.

With arguably the best running back in the nation in Bryce Love and probably the best offensive line in the Pac-12, it’s no secret what the Cardinal plan to do to teams this year. It’s no different from their style of play every year, really. They have a massive line who smacks you in the mouth until you don’t like getting hit any longer, and that’s when you give them an opening they didn’t have earlier in the contest.

It’s on the defensive side of the ball that Stanford will likely have the most trouble this season. They have an adequate linebacking corps, but the state of the defensive line and backfield is currently a question mark with an exclamation point after it.

Stanford will have USC and Utah at home which is good and when they travel, they will be favored on the road at Oregon and against Chip Kelly’s UCLA squad. They can win all of these games and still not even play in the Pac-12 Championship.

That is, of course, because of the elephant in the room. A Husky elephant, that is.

Washington: +125

With a whopping 53% chance to win the Pac-12 according to the FPI, the Huskies of Seattle, Washington are the favorites to win the conference and hopefully be a playoff team. The school also has a 7.3% chance of going undefeated in this season.

Is this because the Pac-12 is weak?

Or maybe the Huskies have an easy schedule.

Could they actually have a team that can compete with Clemson or Alabama?

Well, the Pac-12 is a weak conference. I would say it’s the weakest of the Power 5. This is primarily because players aren’t as big, physical, and the coaches are more offense-oriented.

Let’s look at their schedule really quick.

They start off the year opposite one of those physical teams, the Auburn Tigers at a “neutral” site at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Even if they don’t win here, they will no doubt be a better team for the experience albeit they don’t leave the ATL with any major injuries.

Washington will travel to Utah, UCLA, and Oregon but will likely be favored in all of those games. The Stanford game is obviously the big one since it’s their division rival.

It looks like the Huskies, who are returning 16 starters, will have a very walkable path to the Pac-12 Championship. They will need to beat Stanford and USC as well to do so, but I believe it’s the Huskies’ year for a conference title.

In Conclusion

No, this isn’t the best conference in college football but that doesn’t mean the intrigue is absent.

Chip Kelly has moved south to Westwood to coach the UCLA Bruins. This year will likely be an adjustment period for UCLA, but don’t forget that it’ll be an adjustment period for their opponents as well.

The Trojans lost a lot on offense, but always recruit well and maintain talent at depth. Their defense will likely be the driving force behind their success this year. I don’t think they will be great, but good enough to win the Pac-12 South.

Utah and Arizona can definitely surprise some teams this year, but they will likely surprise themselves with some weaknesses they didn’t know were there.

The biggest game of the year will be on November 3rd in Seattle when the Cardinal and the most unique marching band in the country travel north to play Washington in a game that should decide the division and likely produce the winner of the Pac-12 conference.

I’m picking Washington to beat the USC Trojans in the title game by double digits and squeak into the College Football Playoffs.

Washington +125

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