The disparity between the best and worst teams appears to be far greater in the North, where Washington, Oregon and Stanford look to be markedly better than Washington State and, especially, Oregon State.
Ballots for the 2018 preseason media poll were due last week, and in the ongoing push for full disclosure, my submission is available below for approval or, um, ridicule.
(The official poll will be released July 25, in connection with Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles.)
Key point on the poll in general:
Only once, in 2011, the first year of the 12-team conference, has the media correctly picked both division winners (Oregon and USC).
As for my ballot, please know that I strongly considered experience at quarterback and on the lines of scrimmage, because stretch-run survival, especially on the road, starts up front.
I also paid close attention to the conference schedule in general and the crossover rotation in particular. It very well could impact the order-of-finish, particularly in the South.
The disparity between the best and worst teams appears to be far greater in the North, where Washington, Oregon and Stanford look to be markedly better than Washington State and, especially, Oregon State (with Cal in the middle).
That makes the cross-division rotation critical for the South teams:
* Arizona, for example, doesn’t play two teams that could be reasonably viewed as losses, Washington and Stanford.
* Meanwhile, Utah misses two teams, Oregon State and Cal, that could reasonably be viewed as wins.
That’s potentially a two-game edge in record for the Wildcats over the Utes.
Here we go …
1. Washington Huskies
Most complete team in the conference, dominant on both lines of scrimmage, stellar secondary, veteran quarterback (Jake Browning), gets Stanford at home and misses both USC and Arizona. Could have the division wrapped up in early November.
2. Oregon Ducks
Top quarterback (Justin Herbert) combined with first-class offensive line and just enough defensive playmakers. Slight edge over Stanford based on the head-to-head matchup being in Eugene and not playing USC.
3. Stanford Cardinal
Will be difficult to stop with Bryce Love and playmakers in the passing game, but the defense is suspect until proven otherwise and the even-year schedule, as always, is brutal. (Cardinal was 5-4 in 2014 and 6-3 in 2016.)
4. Cal Bears
Upward trajectory continues in overall competence, but the Bears remain two more recruiting cycles away from contending. Stanford, UW and Oregon all visit Berkeley, but that’s not enough for Cal to crack the top three.
5. Washington State Cougars
The roster attrition and staff changes would be problematic for programs with far greater resources and depth than the Cougars. If they finish in the top three, Mike Leach is COY.
6. Oregon State Beavers
Better chance of going winless in conference play than finishing in fourth place in the division. (Even fifth seems too much to ask.) Let’s wait until the end of 2020 to assess Jonathan Smith’s performance.
1. USC Trojans
Difficult to have full confidence in a team starting a true freshman quarterback, JT Daniels, who skipped his senior year of high school, but the Trojans are loaded elsewhere (four returning starters on the offensive line) and miss Washington and Oregon.
2. Arizona Wildcats
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Considered the Wildcats for the division title due to combination of new-coach energy, elite quarterback (Khalil Tate), veteran defense and manageable schedule: They miss UW and Stanford and get Oregon and USC at home.
3. Utah Utes
While both USC and Arizona miss two of the North heavyweights, Utah plays all three. Plenty to like on both sides of scrimmage, but the Utes would need to be significantly better than the Trojans and Wildcats to offset the schedule, and they aren’t.
4. UCLA Bruins
Don’t be surprised if the Bruins exceed expectations after years of doing the opposite. But the upside seems limited given the quarterback issues and holes on both lines. Missing Oregon State and Washington State doesn’t help.
5. Colorado Buffaloes
Will we see the Buffs of 2016 (upside surprise) or the Buffs of 2017 (major disappointment)? The rotation sure helps — they miss Stanford and Oregon — and the roster turnover just might be a positive.
6. Arizona State Sun Devils
In stark contrast to Kevin Sumlin, Herm Edwards gets all the teams he’d rather avoid and has only two games that could be considered gimmes (UTSA and Oregon State). Oh, and the defense needs a major overhaul.
Washington over USC.