Teams listed in predicted order of division finish from the Pac-12 preseason media poll

SOUTH DIVISION

USC Trojans

Coach: Clay Helton, 3rd season (16-7)

2016: 10-3, 7-2 in Pac-12; defeated Penn State, 52-49, in Rose Bowl

Returning starters: 12 — 5 on offense, 7 on defense

3 key players: QB Sam Darnold, So. (246-of-366, 3,086 yards, 31 TD, 9 INT; rushing: 62 att., 250 yards, 2 TD); RB Ronald Jones II, Jr. (177 att., 1,082 yards, 12 TD); CB Iman Marshall, Jr. (51 tackles, 3 INT, 8 PBU).

Outlook: After winning their last nine games last year and finishing No. 3 in the final rankings, the Trojans bring lofty expectations into this season. Pac-12 picked them to win the conference, and they come in ranked No. 4 in the preseason Associated Press poll. Darnold is one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy. If he's that good and the Trojans can plug some holes created by graduation, they'll be one of the best teams in the country.

Utah Utes

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 13th season (104-50)

2016: 9-4, 5-4 in Pac-12; defeated Indiana, 26-24, in Foster Farms Bowl

Returning starters: 8 — 4 on offense, 4 on defense


Advertisement

3 key players: RB Zach Moss, So. (84 att., 382 yards, 2 TD); RB Armand Shyne, Jr. (78 att., 373 yards, 4 TD); QB Tyler Huntley, So. (5-of-7, 60 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT; rushing: 9 att., 15 yards, 1 TD); DE Kylie Fitts, Sr. (3 TFL, 1.5 sacks in two games).

Outlook: The only team in the South to never win the division, the Utes are hoping to change that this year. They made a surprise move by picking Huntley to start at QB over last year's starter, Troy Williams. They also added receiver Darren Carrington, who was dismissed from Oregon this summer. The Utes usually run the ball well and play good defense. Get the passing game figured out and they'll be tough to beat.

UCLA Bruins

Coach: Jim Mora, 6th season (41-24)

2016: 4-8, 2-7 in the Pac-12

Returning starters: 13 — 7 on offense, 6 on defense

3 key players: QB Josh Rosen, Jr. (137 of 231, 1,915 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT); FS Jaleel Wadood, Sr. (76 tackles, 4 PBU); LB Kenny Young, Sr. (90 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 1 INT).

Outlook: Last year was a major disappointment for a team that was projected to win the South. Losing Rosen to injury certainly didn't help. With him back, the Bruins should be better offensively, and they typically play good defense. Are there enough playmakers around Rosen? If there are, a bounce-back year is in store.

Colorado Buffaloes

Coach: Mike MacIntyre, 5th season (20-31; 36-52 career)

2016: 10-4, 8-1 in the Pac-12; lost to Oklahoma State, 38-8, in Valero Alamo Bowl

Returning starters: 12 — 9 on offense, 3 on defense

3 key players: RB Phillip Lindsay, Sr. (230 att., 1,189 yards, 16 TD; 47 catches, 390 yards, 1 TD); QB Steven Montez, So. (79-of-130, 1,017 yards, 9 TD, 4 INT; rushing: 51 att., 231 yards, 1 TD); CB Isaiah Oliver, Jr. (25 tackles, 13 PBU, 1 INT).

Outlook: Winning the South surprised everybody last year. After losing eight starters on defense, as well as four-year starting quarterback Sefo Liufau, the Buffs are expected to take a step back. How quickly CU can fill the gaps will determine how big of a step back they take, if at all.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach: Todd Graham, 6th season (39-26; 88-55 career)

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

Returning starters: 14 — 7 on offense, 7 on defense

3 key players: RB Kalen Ballage, Sr. (126 att., 536 yards, 14 TD; 44 catches, 469 yards, 1 TD); RB Demario Richard, Sr. (155 att., 593 yards, 3 TD; 17 catches, 136 yards); OLB Koron Crump, Sr. (37 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 INT, 3 fumble recoveries).

Outlook: ASU was one of the more disappointing teams in the Pac-12 last year, especially after starting 4-0 and 5-1. Aggressive defense was always a trademark with Graham, but the Sun Devils lost that edge a year ago. They will need a quarterback to step up and for the defensive to make dramatic improvement.

Arizona Wildcats

Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 6th season (36-29; 156-113-2 career)

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

Returning starters: 14 — 7 on offense, 7 on defense

3 key players: QB Brandon Dawkins, Jr. (98 of 182, 1,348 yards, 8 TD, 6 INT; 131 rushing att., 944 yards, 10 TD); RB Nick Wilson, Sr. (55 att., 331 yards, 3 TD); DT Parker Zellers, Sr. (12 tackles, 3 sacks).

Outlook: The wheels fell off for the Wildcats last year, but they managed to go into the offseason on a high note with a win against rival ASU in the finale. The Wildcats almost have to be better than last year, when they were last in the conference in scoring (24.8 points per game) and finished ninth in scoring defense (allowing 38.3 points per game). It'll be tough to make up ground in the South, however.

NORTH DIVISION

Washington Huskies

Coach: Chris Petersen, 4th season (27-14; 119-26 career)

2016: 12-2, 8-1 Pac-12; won Pac-12 title; lost to Alabama, 24-7, in College Football Playoff semifinals

Returning starters: 13 — 7 on offense, 6 on defense

3 key players: QB Jake Browning, Jr. (243 of 391, 3,430 yards, 43 TD, 9 INT); NT Vita Vea, Jr. (39 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 5 sacks); LB Azeem Victor, Sr. (67 tackles, 2.5 TFL).

Outlook: The Huskies surged into the College Football Playoff last year and have the talent to get there again. They enter the season ranked No. 8 in the AP poll. Browning enters his third year as the starter and has a bunch of weapons around him. Defensively, they were one of the best teams in the country last year and should be again. Vea and Victor are on a lot of preseason All-American lists.

Stanford Cardinal

Coach: David Shaw, 7th season (64-17)

2016: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12; defeated North Carolina, 25-23, in the Sun Bowl

Returning starters: 16 - 8 on offense, 8 on defense

3 key players: QB Keller Chryst, Jr. (77-of-136, 905 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT; rushing: 41 att., 159 yards, 2 TD); OLB Joey Alfieri, Jr. (51 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 2 INT); CB Quenton Meeks, Jr. (22 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PBU).

Outlook: The Cardinal managed to turn what looked like a down year into a 10-win season. Although superstar Christian McCaffrey is gone, there is a bunch of talent back. Expect the Cardinal to once again be tough on defense, efficient on offense and make a run at the Pac-12 title. They come in ranked No. 14 in the AP.

Washington State Cougars

Coach: Mike Leach, 6th season (29-34; 113-77 career)

2016: 8-5, 7-2 in Pac-12; lost Holiday Bowl, 17-12, to Minnesota

Returning starters: 16 — 7 on offense, 9 on defense

3 key players: QB Luke Falk, Sr. (443-of-633, 4,468 yards, 38 TD, 11 INT); WR Tavares Martin Jr., Jr. (64 catches, 728 yards, 7 TD); DE Hercules Mata'afa, Jr. (47 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5 sacks).

Outlook: Leach has had the Cougars knocking on the door in the North the past two years. Is this the year they finally break through? Falk is one of the most efficient and most talented QBs in the country and there shouldn't be any issues scoring points. The defense returns a lot of starters and that could be the difference. The Cougars entered the season at No. 24 in the AP poll.

Oregon Ducks

Coach: Willie Taggart, 1st season (0-0; 40-45 career)

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

Returning starters: 15 — 7 on offense, 8 on defense

3 key players: QB Justin Herbert, So. (162-of-255, 1,936 yards, 19 TD, 4 INT; rushing: 58 att., 161 yards, 2 TD); RB Royce Freeman, Sr. (168 att., 945 yards, 9 TD); LB Troy Dye, So. (91 tackles, 6.5 sacks).

Outlook: The Ducks went through their first losing season since 2004 last year. That prompted a change at head coach and Taggart bringing a fresh outlook. Offensively, the Ducks should be explosive. The defense was dreadful last year, however. If former Colorado defensive coordinator can work the same magic in Oregon that he did in Eugene, the Ducks could make a push for the North title.

Oregon State Beavers

Coach: Gary Andersen, 3rd season (6-18; 55-56 career)

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

Returning starters: 14 — 6 on offense, 8 on defense

3 key players: QB Jake Luton, Jr. (transfer from Ventura C.C.); RB Ryan Nall, Jr. (147 att., 951 yards, 13 TD; 22 catches, 214 yards, 2 TD); ILB Manase Hungalo, Sr. (83 tackles, 1 INT, 3 fumble recoveries).

Outlook: Entering their third season under Andersen, the Beavers believe this can be a breakout season. The run game should be solid, and Luton won a three-way battle at QB. If he has a good season, the Beavers will be improved on offense. Defensively, the return of eight starters will help. They may not be a contender for the North title, but the Beavers could be good enough to reach bowl eligibility.

California Golden Bears

Coach: Justin Wilcox, 1st season

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

Returning starters: 13 — 5 on offense, 8 on defense

3 key players: WR Demetris Robertson, So. (50 catches, 767 yards, 7 TD); RB Tre Watson, Sr. (143 att., 709 yards, 4 TD; 21 catches, 241 yards, 4 TD); LB Devante Downs, Sr. (84 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks).

Outlook: Even with NFL caliber quarterbacks the past few years (Jared Goff and Davis Webb), the Bears were an average team. Now, they are in full-on rebuild mode. There are good athletes on the roster, but expect some growing pains in the first year with Wilcox - his first season ever as a head coach.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.