Washington, which doesn’t face USC in the regular season, has the easiest schedule in the Pac-12. Four of its final five regular-season games are at home.

Share story

1. WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Coach: Chris Petersen, fourth year.

2016: 12-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12

Starters returning: 15 (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jake Browning, QB, 6-2, 210, Jr. — Despite suffering a shoulder injury in the second half of the season that required offseason surgery, the two-year starter threw for 3,430 yards, a league-record-tying 43 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in 2016. He was selected the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy balloting.

Myles Gaskin, RB, 5-10, 191, Jr. — Improved on a breakout 1,302 yards and 14 TDs as a freshman with 1,373 yards and 10 TDs last year. Chris Polk and Napoleon Kaufman are the only UW players with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

Azeem Victor, LB, 6-3, 230, Sr. — The AP Preseason All-American is the heart of UW’s defense. Three-year starter was the team’s top tackler with 67 (6.7 per game) before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 10.

Vita Vea, DE, 6-5, 340, Jr. – Backup lineman last season who started just five games but was projected as a second-round choice in the 2017 NFL draft.

THE SKINNY

The Huskies don’t play an opponent with a proven quarterback until Week 8 (at home vs. UCLA on Oct. 28), which should allow its young secondary that lost cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Kevin King and safety Budda Baker to the NFL plenty of time to gel. UW, which doesn’t face USC and Arizona in the regular season, has the easiest schedule in the Pac-12. Four of its final five regular-season games (UCLA, Oregon, Utah and WSU) are at home.

2. USC TROJANS

Coach: Clay Helton, third year.

2016: 10-3 overall, 7-2 Pac-12

Starters returning: 13 (5 offense, 7 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Sam Darnold, QB, 6-4, 220, So. – Started 2016 on the bench and finished a fairy-tale season with an epic performance (453 yards and 5 TDs) in a 52-49 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State for the MVP trophy. Darnold is 9-0 as a starter and projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.

Ronald Jones II, RB, 6-0, 200, Jr. – As Darnold, Jones came on big late last season. He ran for just 285 yards and two TDs in first seven games and had 797 and 10 in the final six games to finish with 1,082 and 12.

Cameron Smith, LB, 6-2, 250, Jr. – The AP Preseason All-American led USC with 83 tackles, including seven for a loss and a sack last season while moving from outside to inside linebacker.

Iman Marshall, CB, 6-1, 205, Jr. – One of USC’s three AP Preseason All-Americans, he developed a reputation as a physical defender while playing on the opposite side of departed star Adoree’ Jackson.

THE SKINNY

USC lost by 46 points to Alabama in the opener last year and stumbled to a 1-3 start, which put Helton on the hot seat in his first full season. Nine victories later, the Trojans are being hailed as national-title contenders. Darnold lost his top two receivers and three offensive linemen, which is troubling for a team that allowed just 12 sacks last season. However, the roster appears as if it’s finally back to full strength after sanctions.

3. STANFORD

Top 12 games of the season

1. Texas A&M at UCLA: Sept. 3, Sunday

2. Stanford at USC: Sept. 9, Saturday

3. Texas at USC: Sept. 16, Saturday

4. Stanford at San Diego State: Sept. 23, Saturday

5. USC at Washington State: Sept. 29, Friday

6. Stanford at Utah: Oct. 7, Saturday

7. Utah at USC: Oct. 14, Saturday

8. USC at Notre Dame: Oct. 21, Saturday

9. UCLA at Washington: Oct. 28, Saturday

10. Oregon at Washington: Nov. 4, Saturday

11. Washington at Stanford: Nov. 10, Friday

12. UCLA at USC: Nov. 18, Saturday

Bonus: Apple Cup, WSU at Washington Nov. 25, Saturday

Percy Allen

Coach: David Shaw, seventh year.

2016: 10-3 overall, 6-3 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (7 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bryce Love, RB, 5-10, 191, Jr. – Averaged 7.1 yards per carry while running for 783 yards and 3 TDs last season.

Keller Chryst, QB, 6-5, 234, Jr. – After 4-3 start, promoted to starter and won six consecutive games. Passed for 905 yards, 10 TDs and 2 INTs before tearing his right ACL during a 25-23 Sun Bowl victory over North Carolina. Eight months later, he was back on the field for training camp.

Quenton Meeks, CB, 6-2, 197, Jr. – Long and rangy cover corner who headlines what figures to be one of the top defensive backfields in the nation.

Harrison Phillips, DT, 6-4, 295, Sr. – Finished last season with 46 tackles, including 9½ for loss.

THE SKINNY

Can Stanford score enough points without do-everything star Christian McCaffrey? Averaged just 17 in first seven games last season before making the switch to Chryst. The scoring soared in final six games (37.2 ppg.) against toothless defenses. Four starters return to an offensive line that allowed 34 sacks and should provide better protection for Chryst, who completed fewer than 57 percent of his passes. But if Stanford is going to extend a three-year streak of at least 10 victories, then the defense, which surrendered the second fewest points and returns eight starters, will have to lead the way.

4. WASHINGTON STATE

Coach: Mike Leach, sixth year.

2016: 8-5 overall, 7-2 Pac-12

Starters returning: 18 (7 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Luke Falk, QB, 6-4, 223, Sr. – In three years, the former WSU walk-on has thrown for 10,893 yards and 89 TDs while completing 69 percent of his passes in 31 games. He’s within striking distance of the Pac-12 career records for yards (13,600) and TDs (116).

Cody O’Connell, OL, 6-8, 370, Sr. – Behemoth left guard was an Outland Trophy finalist and unanimous all-America selection in his first year as a starter last season.

Hercules Mata’afa, DL, 6-0, 252, Jr. – Finished last season with 47 tackles, including 13½ for loss and a team-high five sacks.

Peyton Pelluer, LB, 6-0, 225, Sr. – Three-year starter who led team in tackles (93) for second consecutive season.

THE SKINNY

WSU has started each of the past two seasons with a defeat against an FCS team before rebounding with an impressive win streak and fading at the end. This year could follow a similar pattern as the Cougars face upstart Montana State in its opener and finishes the season with a home finale against Stanford before road games at Utah and Washington. The Cougars’ vaunted Air Raid attack that led the Pac-12 with 362.5 passing yards per game last season isn’t expected to dip despite Falk losing primary targets Gabe Marks and River Cracraft. And WSU returns nine players, including four in the secondary, to a defense that forced 23 turnovers.

5. COLORADO BUFFALOES

Coach: Mike MacIntyre, fifth year.

2016: 10-4 overall, 8-1 Pac-12

Starters returning: 14 (9 offense, 3 defense, 2 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Steven Montez, QB, 6-1, 190, So. – Went 2-1 as a replacement starter last year. Finished with 1,078 yards and nine TDs, including clutch performances in wins over Oregon (333 passing yards) and Oregon State (293 passing yards). Struggles with accuracy (59.3 percent and 5 INTs.)

Phillip Lindsay, RB, 5-8, 190, Sr. – Productive playmaker who finished fourth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (1,252), first in rushing TDs (16), while leading conference running backs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (493).

Shay Fields, WR, 5-11, 180, Sr. – Led CU in receiving yards (883), TD receptions (9) and yards per catch (15.8).

Rick Gamboa, LB, 6-0, 230, Jr. – Three-year starter had 77 tackles last year and 78 as a freshman.

THE SKINNY

Lopsided Alamo Bowl loss to Oklahoma State and offseason turmoil put a damper on a storybook worst-to-first 2016 season and the program’s first bowl appearance in nine years. Colorado lost defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt to Oregon and must replace its entire secondary, the bulk of its defensive line and four-year starting QB Sefo Liufau. In addition, Colorado fired assistant coach Joe Tumpkin, who was accused of domestic violence, while suspending chancellor Phil DiStefano and forcing athletic director Rick George and MacIntyre to give $100,000 to benefit domestic violence awareness for failing to report the allegations.

6. UTAH UTES

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 13th year.

2016: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Pac-12

Starters returning: 9 (4 offense, 5 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tyler Hunter, QB, 6-1, 190, So. – Mobile signal caller from Florida was named the starter Aug. 21 after beating out senior incumbent Troy Williams, the former UW Husky.

Darren Carrington II, WR, 6-2, 205, Sr. – The former Oregon standout transferred to Utah after being dismissed following a DUI arrest in Eugene. Led Ducks with 43 receptions for 606 yards and five TDs last season.

Chase Hansen, SS, 6-3, 220, Jr. – The converted QB is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He had a team-high 90 tackles, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions last season.

Lowell Lotulelei, DT, 6-2, 320, Sr. – Limited last season due to injuries, but he’s the War Daddy on a defensive line that led the Pac-12 in run defense (128.7 ypg) last season.

THE SKINNY

Whittingham, the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12, has had nine offensive coordinators in the past 10 years. The latest is Troy Taylor, who directed Eastern Washington’s FBS record-setting offense last season. He inherits a beleaguered offense that ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in passing (216.7 ypg) last season and needs to replace four offensive line starters and star running back Joe Williams, who were all taken in the NFL draft. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky led the nation with a 47.7-yard average.

7. UCLA BRUINS

Coach: Jim Mora, sixth year.

2016: 4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (8 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Josh Rosen, QB, 6-4, 220, Jr. – A shoulder injury limited him to just six games last season, but he managed to throw for 1,915 yards and 10 TDs. He’s projected to be a top-10 choice in the 2018 NFL draft despite an 11-8 record as a starter.

Scott Quessenberry, C, 6-4, 315, Sr. – All-conference first-teamer who anchors the middle of an offensive line that returns three starters.

Darren Andrews, WR, 5-10, 195, Sr. – The depth at skill positions is lacking, but Andrews is an experienced pass catcher who had 55 catches for 709 yards and 4 TDs last season.

THE SKINNY

After one year, Mora fired offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu and brought in Jedd Fisch from Michigan to revitalize an offense that ranked 11th in scoring (24.9 ppg.) and last in rushing (84.3 ypg.) last year. Fisch is Mora’s third OC in three years. Feels like a make-or-break season for Mora who is 41-24 (.631) at UCLA. The Bruins don’t have to win its first Pac-12 title since 1998, but they need to compete for a South Division title and beat USC to silence Mora’s critics.

8. OREGON DUCKS

Coach: Willie Taggart, first year.

2016: 4-8 overall, 2-7 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (6 offense, 9 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Justin Herbert, QB, 6-6, 225, So. – Took over at Week 6 and showed flashes of star potential, including a 489-yard performance against ASU. Was 2-5 as a starter.

Royce Freeman, RB, 5-11, 238, Sr. – College football’s active rushing leader with 4,146 career yards and 44 TDs in the previous three seasons. Injuries were partly to blame for a relatively subpar season last year in which he ran for 945 yards and 9 TDs.

Charles Nelson, 5-8, 170, Sr. – Played WR and DB in 2015, but switched to a WR/kick returner role last year. Caught a career-high and team-best 52 passes for 554 yards and 5 TDs. Also had four rushing attempts and averaged 9.3 yards per carry.

THE SKINNY

It was a rocky transition for Taggart, who rebuilt programs at South Florida and Western Kentucky. Five days after his hiring, co-offensive coordinator David Reeves was arrested for DUI and resigned. A month later, the strength coach was suspended after three players were hospitalized following intense workouts. And Taggart dismissed leading returning pass catcher Darren Carrington II, who was arrested for a DUI. If new DC Jim Leavitt can shore up a defense that returns nine starters and ranked 11th in points (41.4) and yards (518.4) allowed, then there’s enough talent for Taggart to double the victories from last season.

9. OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Coach: Gary Andersen, third year.

2016: 4-8 overall, 3-6 Pac-12

Starters returning: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense, 1 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jake Luton, QB, 6-7, 234, Jr. – JUCO All-American at Ventura College in California last season where he passed for 3,551 yards, 40 TDs and 15 INTs. Before that he spent two years at Idaho, where he redshirted and was a backup. Won starting job early in camp.

Ryan Nall, RB, 6-2, 234, Jr. – Big bruising runner, who totaled 951 rushing yards and 13 TDs last season, is the centerpiece of the offense and face of the program.

Manase Hungalu, LB, 6-1, 238, Sr. – Had breakout season that included 83 tackles, three fumble recoveries and one interception.

THE SKINNY

Finished 2016 with back-to-back victories, which sparked optimism that Andersen can direct OSU to its first bowl since 2013. OSU plays five Pac-12 road games, which is less than ideal. If the Beavers can get anything positive out of Luton and keep Nall healthy and productive, then a veteran defense should be able to keep games close.

10. ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Coach: Todd Graham, sixth year.

2016: 5-7 overall, 2-7 Pac-12

Starters returning: 12 (7 offense, 5 defense).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Manny Wilkins, QB, 6-3, 197, Jr. – Incumbent starter fought off challenge in training camp from Alabama transfer Blake Barnett to retain his job. Threw for 2,329 yards, 12 TDs and 9 INTs last season.

N’Keal Harry, WR, 6-4, 220, So. – Exceeded first-year expectations with 58 receptions — an ASU freshman record — and 659 yards.

Kalen Ballage, RB, 6-2, 227, Sr. – Finished with 536 yards and 14 TDs last season. Tied an NCAA record with 8 TDs against Texas Tech.

THE SKINNY

After starting 5-1, ASU finished last season with a six-game losing streak. Graham fired most of the coaching staff and brought in five newcomers, including offensive coordinator Billy Napier from Alabama and Baylor’s Phil Bennett to lead the defense. Napier is ASU’s third OC in as many years while Graham, a one-time defensive guru, ceded defensive play calling to Bennett. Only one assistant remains from 2014 — ASU’s last winning season.

11. ARIZONA WILDCATS

Coach: Rich Rodriguez, sixth year.

2016: 3-9 overall, 1-8 Pac-12

Starters returning: 16 (7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Brandon Dawkins, QB, 6-3, 210, Jr. – Better runner (944 yards, 7.2 ypg and 10 TDs) than passer (1,348 yards, 8 TDs and 6 INTs) last season. Accuracy (53.6 percent) was his biggest flaw.

Nick Wilson, RB, 5-10, 208, Sr. – Had a breakout freshman season in 2014 when he ran for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs, but injuries have robbed large portions of the past two seasons. Had just 320 yards in five games last season.

J.J. Taylor, RB, 5-6, 170, So. – If he can stay healthy, the diminutive speedster is perfect for Rodriguez’s hurry-up spread offense. Averaged 6.9 yards per carry and essentially played just two games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

THE SKINNY

Three-year starting QB Anu Solomon transferred to Baylor, seven recruits reneged on verbal commitments and a paper-thin roster forces the defense to rely on as many as six freshmen who are listed on the two-deep depth chart. Injuries decimated the offensive backfield last year. Not sure if Rodriguez can survive a repeat of 2016 in which Arizona endured an eight-game losing streak.

12. CALIFORNiA GOLDEN BEARS

Coach: Justin Wilcox, first year.

2016: 5-7 overall, 3-6 Pac-12

Starters returning: 15 (5 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Demetrius Robertson, WR, 6-0, 185, So. – Caught 50 passes for 767 yards and 8 TDs last season. His 63.9 receiving yards per game is tops of any returning Pac-12 player.

Tre Watson, RB, 5-11, 205, Sr. – Paired with Vic Enwere, 6-0 and 245 pounds, they’re a thunder and lightning duo that combined for 1,045 yards last season.

Devante Downs, LB, 6-3, 245, Sr. – Led Cal with 84 tackles and was ninth in the Pac-12 with 7.0 per game.

THE SKINNY

Wilcox, a first-time head coach and former Washington defensive coordinator, takes over a team that surrendered at least 40 points in nine games and was last in the Pac-12 and 127th in the nation in points allowed (42.6 ppg.). Wilcox and new OC Beau Baldwin, the former Eastern Washington head coach, didn’t announce a starting quarterback heading into the final week of training camp. No matter who emerges between sophomore Ross Bowers and redshirt junior Chase Forrest, the offense is likely to struggle as neither of them attempted a pass last season.

Pac-12 predictions
How Percy Allen sees the conference finishing:
NORTH
Team W-L
1 Washington 12-0, 9-0
2 Stanford 9-3, 6-3
3 Washington State 8-4, 5-4
4 Oregon 8-4, 5-4
5 Oregon State 5-7, 3-6
6 California 2-10, 1-8
SOUTH
1 USC 10-2, 8-1
2 Colorado 8-4, 5-4
3 Utah 7-5, 4-5
4 UCLA 6-6, 4-5
5 Arizona State 4-8, 2-7
6 Arizona 2-10, 1-8
PAC-12 TITLE GAME
Washington over USC
Bowl predictions
Game Team
Rose Bowl (CFP semifinal) Washington
Fiesta USC
Alamo Stanford
Holiday Colorado
Foster Farms Oregon
Sun WSU
Las Vegas Utah
Cactus UCLA