Is the Pac 12 Southern California’s to lose? The Trojans are projected to make their first trip to the College Football Playoff. Which teams in the Pac will stand in USC’s way? Who’s got upset on their minds, and are there any under the radar squads ready to pounce? Check out my 2017 PAC 12 Preview!
2017 Pac 12 Preview
Which teams look like Pac 12 Contenders?
USC Trojans +110
The Trojans only return 10 total starters. But, one of the starters is sophomore QB Sam Darnold. How good is Darnold? He led the Trojans to 9 straight wins, became a Heisman Trophy contender, and led USC to a win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
The key for the Trojans, and Darnold’s health, will be the offensive line. If USC can replace a couple of key pieces along the offensive line, they can go undefeated in 2017. If the Trojans’ offensive line isn’t up to snuff, USC might win only 8 games.
Washington Huskies +325
Once again, Washington is loaded. 4 key players on offense return for coach Chris Petersen: QB Jake Browning, RBs Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, and left tackle Trey Adams. Adams could be a Top 5 NFL Draft Pick. He’s 6’ 8” and weighs 320 lbs.
On defense, Washington should be okay. Although the Huskies lost 3 starters in the secondary, the defensive line and linebackers are set. In college football, you must pressure opposing quarterbacks. If you can’t, it doesn’t matter how good your secondary is.
I expect Coach Petersen’s defense to be as strong as it was in 2016. Washington’s looking good at +325.
UCLA Bruins +800
After entering 2016 as a Pac 12 favorite, UCLA disappointed. The Bruins’ Heisman Trophy winning QB Josh Rosen went down with a shoulder injury. Rosen must come back 100% for UCLA to have any chance at beating USC or Washington for the Pac 12 title.
The good news about the offensive line is that it will be a veteran group. The bad news about the offensive line is that it was terrible last season. UCLA only averaged 2.93 rushing yards per game. If the Bruins can’t rush the football, opposing defenses are going to tee off on Rosen this season just like they did last season.
Which teams could pull off the Pac 12 Championship upset?
If David Shaw is the head coach at Stanford, the Cardinals will always contend for the Pac 12 Championship. Stanford returns 8 starters on both the offense and defense. RB Bryce Love should be a revelation for Cardinal fans. Love filled in admirably for Christian McCaffrey in 2016 when McCaffrey needed a breather, or was unable to play.
The Cardinal also returns 4 starters along the offensive line. The defensive line could be an issue. DE Solomon Thomas, the 3rd player chosen in this past April’s NFL Draft, won’t be easy to replace. Without a true star in the front 7, Stanford could be in some trouble.
Returning QB Troy Williams should lead a more dynamic offense. The big key on offense, like it is for so many college football teams, is the O-line. How will it respond with 4 new starters? It won’t matter how well Williams plays if he must throw off his back.
The defense should be tough. Lowell Lotulelei comes from a football family. His brother is one of the best in the NFL. Lowell anchors a defensive line that sacked opposing quarterbacks 43 times last season. The linebackers are a year older. They should play better.
The Oregon Duck’s biggest changes occurred at the top. Gone is coach Mark Helfrich. Oregon hired Willie Taggart. Taggart hired defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt away from Colorado. Leavitt is the big news hire. His first order of business was to convince Clemson DT Scott Pagano to head to Eugene as a graduate transfer.
Pagano should anchor a much-improved defensive line. Leavitt turned the Colorado Buffalos’ defense into one of the best in the nation. The Oregon Ducks’ defense has talent. It will be up to Leavitt to make sure the talent works together.
On offense, Taggart inherited a strong unit. QB Justin Herbert is a year older. The offensive line returns 4 starters. Taggart convinced senior RB Royce Freeman to stay. Freeman is as good as any returning rusher in college football. Don’t sleep on the Ducks.
Which under the radar teams can win the Pac 12 this season?
Washington State +1400
Washington State might have the best offense in the Pac 12. QB Luke Falk should be a star. 3 players return along the offensive line. The running back position is deep. Jamal Morrow, James Williams, and Gerard Wicks accounted for 1,645 rushing yards, and 22 TDs last season. The trio added another 1,014 receiving yards.
The defense has depth. The secondary should be good while the linebackers will be tough. But, the defensive line might have issues. That could be the Achilles Heel for the Washington State Cougars going into 2017. NFL potential at the QB position abounds in the Pac 12. Will the Cougars’ D-line stand up week in, and week out, versus some of the best gunslingers in college football?
Losing defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt is an issue. This is especially true because Leavitt bolted to another Pac 12 team, the Oregon Ducks. There’s a reason Leavitt left Boulder for Eugene. Colorado lost 9 of 11 starters on defense. That’s tough to replace.
The good news is that Colorado returns 4 offensive line starters. Jeromy Irwin is a 6th year senior left tackle. That’s big. Irwin has the most experience of any player in the Pac 12. Sophomore right guard Tim Lynott is talented. The O-line should lead the way for running back Phillip Lyndsay. Lindsay, a senior, garnered 1,745 combined yards last season. He scored 16 rushing TDS. He caught 53 passes.
The wide receivers are great. The big question is who throws them the football? Colorado must replace four-year starter Sefo Liafu. If projected starter Steven Montez can step it up, who knows?
Which Team Wins the Pac 12 in 2017-2018?
I love the USC Trojans this season. I watched Darnold play many times last season. The kid is a solid quarterback. He’s got fire in his eyes. He’s already one of the best QB leaders in college football. But, I have trouble believing that USC is as stacked as so many other college football fans believe.
One of my good friends is a Trojan homer. He’s peppered me all spring with how great the Trojans look. I agree. They look great. The problem is that the Pac 12 is deep, and if you don’t have an experienced offensive line, you’re in trouble.
UCLA is a mess at the top. That leaves the Washington Huskies as my pick. Chris Petersen is one of the best coaches in all of college football. The offense is stacked while the defense should have no trouble pressuring quarterbacks. It can’t be stressed enough how pressuring quarterbacks, and stopping the run, can hide inefficiencies in the secondary.
My upset pick is Oregon
Taggart convincing Freeman to stay signals to me that the Ducks rush the football way more this season than they did last season. The O-line should be stout. Pagano didn’t just join the defensive line to play football for another season. Leavitt must have shown his hand to Pagano to get the graduate senior to leave Clemson. I think the Ducks show up big this season.
Mark your calendars for Nov. 4. That’s when Oregon travels to Washington. Whomever wins that battle could take home the Pac 12 North Division.
Who’s my under the radar team? I’m going with the Colorado Buffalos. The Pac 12 is so deep this year that Colorado could get lucky. The Buffs are at UCLA, Oregon State, Washington State, ASU, and Utah. Colorado could win all 5 of those road games. Colorado’s 2 toughest home games are versus Washington and USC. If Colorado’s defense gels, they could be the team to watch in the Pac 12 for the 2017-2018 College Football Season.