Pac-12 media days are Wednesday and Thursday in Hollywood, Calif., and as usual, we’ll get the preseason media poll at some point Wednesday morning.
Based on preseason magazines, expect the Buffs to be projected third or fourth in the South, and my guess is that they’ll be in fourth, behind USC, UCLA and Utah.
I had a vote for the media poll, and here’s how I voted, with a short explanation of each team. In doing my ballot, I projected the wins and losses for each team. My projected record for each team is in parenthesis.
1. USC Trojans (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12): This is the popular pick around the country, and I’d be surprised if anyone in the Pac-12 media picks someone else to win the South. The Trojans lost some exceptional talent, but they’ve got a ton coming back. I actually see them getting upset by Stanford in Week 2; just a hunch, as I think it may take a few weeks for everything to jell. By October, I think USC is one of the best in the country, running away with the South.
2. Colorado Buffaloes (8-4, 5-4): Not sure if a 5-4 mark will get the Buffs to second in the South, but I’m not as high on Utah and UCLA as others. I’ve got the Buffs starting 0-2 in conference (losing to Washington and UCLA), but going 5-2 down the stretch, losing at Washington State and at home against USC. A win in Salt Lake City in the finale secures second place.
3. Utah Utes (7-5, 4-5): At some point in September, if not right out of the gate, Utah is going to be a top 25 team. The Utes are usually pretty solid, and the early schedule gives them a chance at a 4-0 start. That’ll give them a solid national ranking. From there, however, the slate is tough, with road trips to USC, Oregon and Washington and home dates with Stanford and Colorado.
4. UCLA Bruins (7-5, 4-5): The return of Josh Rosen at QB has a lot of people projecting a big bounce-back year for the Bruins, who were 4-8 last year. I think they’re better, but not dramatically. The Bruins have all three of the top teams in the North (Stanford, Oregon and Washington) on the schedule, as well as road dates with USC and Utah. I’ve got all five of those as losses.
5. Arizona State Sun Devils (5-7, 2-7): Remember last year when the Sun Devils started 4-0, and then went 1-7 down the stretch? I’m projecting the same thing this year. They’ll tease everybody by beating Oregon in the Pac-12 opener to get to 4-0, but the schedule is a monster after that. The Sun Devils beat rival Arizona in the finale, however, to avoid the cellar.
6. Arizona Wildcats (5-7, 2-7): The schedule should give Arizona a chance at a 3-0 start out of the gate, but the Pac-12 will be tough. They can find a way to win a couple of conference games. I’ve got them down for a win at Cal and an upset of Washington State at home.
1. Washington (12-0, 9-0): All the tools are there for this team to make a run at a perfect season. The first seven games set up nicely for a 7-0 start. The toughest game in that stretch is at Colorado. Get past that one and it’s smooth sailing for a while. After a Week 8 bye, the Huskies get four of the last five at home. The one road trip is in that stretch is at Stanford, but the Huskies prevail and win the North.
2. Stanford (10-2, 7-2): The Cardinal need to get their QB situation settled, but coach David Shaw has won 10-plus games in five of his six seasons. Having a bye before a Sept. 9 trip to USC will be huge. I’ve got the Cardinal pulling off that upset, sparking an 8-0 start. An early November trip to Pullman derails the perfect season, however, and then Washington hands them a second-straight defeat the next week.
3. Oregon (9-3, 6-3): There’s too much talent in Eugene for the Ducks to be down again. I’m picking an upset loss at ASU – just a gut feeling – and then losses at Stanford and Washington. After 4-8 last year, though, there’s no shame in a 9-win bounce-back season.
4. Washington State (7-5, 4-5): After going 7-2 in the Pac-12 last year, the Cougars return a lot of key players. So, why a three-game drop in the Pac-12? More than anything, I think it’s because the conference is better. The Cougars have three very difficult road games (Oregon, Utah, Washington) and a home date with USC. They might be as solid as last year, but the results won’t show it.
5. Oregon State (6-6, 3-6): It’s been a while since the Beavers have been a winner, but they are improved. They’ll compete better in the Pac-12, but the schedule is tough. After a 3-0 start, they’ll face a difficult five-game stretch against the better teams in the conference. I see them regrouping down the stretch and getting the sixth win and bowl eligibility.
6. California Golden Bears (1-11, 0-9): There’s more talent on this team than 1-11, but with a new coaching staff, new quarterback, etc., there will be growing pains. A Week 2 date with Weber State might be the only win for this team, but they’ll compete and show improvement by the end of the year.
Pac-12 championship game: USC over Washington
Just for fun, here’s some Pac-12 bowl projections:
College Football Playoff: USC
New Year’s Six bowl game: Washington
Alamo Bowl: Stanford
Holiday Bowl: Oregon
Foster Farms Bowl: Colorado
Sun Bowl: Utah
Las Vegas Bowl: UCLA
Cactus Bowl: Washington State
At-large bowl bid: Oregon State
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at email@example.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.