• Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Colorado receiver Tyler Vaughns had 57 catches for 809 yards and five touchdowns last season.

  • Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer

    Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate had over 1,000 yards rushing and passing last season.

  • Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

    Washington quarterback Jake Browning and the Huskies are 22-5 over the past two seasons, with three of the losses by one score.

  • Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

    Stanford running back Bryce Love was Heisman Trophy runner-up last year.



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


USC Trojans

Coach: Clay Helton, 4th season (27-10)

2017: 11-3, 8-1 Pac-12; lost to Ohio State, 24-7, in Cotton Bowl

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

3 key players:

QB JT Daniels, True-Fr. (2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year)

ILB Cameron Smith, Sr. (112 tackles, 11 TFL)

WR Tyler Vaughns, So. (57 catches, 809 yards, 5 TD)

Outlook: A year ago, the Trojans became the first South team to win the Pac-12 championship game. There a lot of holes to fill, especially on offense, but the talent is there to challenge for the title again. The quick development of Daniels — who is expected to be named the starter – could be crucial to USC’s chances to repeat.

Utah Utes

Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 14th season (111-56)

2017: 7-6, 3-6 Pac-12; defeated West Virginia, 30-14, in Heart of Dallas Bowl

Returning starters: 12 – 8 on offense, 4 on defense

3 key players:

DE Bradlee Anae, Jr. (39 tackles, 10 TFL, 7 sacks)

LB Chase Hansen, Sr. (51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT)

QB Tyler Huntley, Jr. (199-of-312, 2,411 yards, 15 TD, 10 INT; Rushing: 537 yards, 6 TD)

Outlook: The only South team to never win the division, is this the year? The Utes have fewer question marks than any team in the South. The only team in the Pac-12 to return its entire coaching staff from last year, the Utes also return their QB, top three runners (including Zach Moss, who had 1,173 yards and 10 TD), several good defenders and the best kicking unit in the country.

Arizona Wildcats

Coach: Kevin Sumlin, 1st season (86-43 career record)

2017: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12; lost to Purdue, 38-35, in Foster Farms Bowl

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

3 key players:

LB Colin Schooler, So. (95 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT)

QB Khalil Tate, Jr. (Passing: 1,591 yards, 14 TD, 9 INT; Rushing: 1,411 yards, 12 TD)

CB Jace Whittaker, Sr. (46 tackles, 3 INT, 13 PBU)

Outlook: Tate and the Wildcats took college football by storm last October, as he went from a backup to a Heisman Trophy candidate. He’s a dynamic player who led Arizona to four consecutive wins and unexpected bowl game. The Wildcats were 1-4 down the stretch, however, and Sumlin now aims to take a talented — but young — group and get them going again.

UCLA Bruins

Coach: Chip Kelly, 1st season (46-7 career record in college)

2017: 6-7, 4-5 Pac-12; lost to Kansas State, 35-17, in Cactus Bowl

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

3 key players:

CB Nate Meadors, Sr. (55 tackles, 9 PBU, 1 INT)

OLB Jaelan Phillips, So. (21 tackles, 7 TFL, 3.5 sacks)

TE Caleb Wilson, Jr. (38 catches, 489 yards, 1 TD in five games)

Outlook: Kelly was a high-profile hire this offseason after his sensational four-year run at Oregon from 2009-2012). After Oregon, however, he had a losing record (28-35) in four NFL seasons and was out of coaching in 2017. It will be intriguing to see what he can do at UCLA, but the Bruins – for now – don’t have the talent Kelly had to work with at Oregon.

Colorado Buffaloes

Coach: Mike MacIntyre, 6th season (25-38 at CU; 41-59 career)

2017: 5-7, 2-7 Pac-12

Returning starters: 11 – 4 on offense, 7 on defense

3 key players:

LB Drew Lewis, Sr. (119 tackles, 2 sacks, 8 pressures)

QB Steven Montez, Jr. (Passing: 2,975 yards, 18 TD, 9 INT; Rushing: 338 yards, 3 TD)

S Evan Worthington, Sr. (86 tackles, 3 INT, 7 PBU)

Outlook: Montez and a talented crew of receivers hope to lead the Buffs to more production on offense. Defensively, the Buffs return a lot of players, but will rely on several newcomers, as well, and have to improve on that side of the ball. If both sides make steps in the right direction, the Buffs could go bowling for the second time in three years.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Coach: Herm Edwards, 1st year (1st season at college head coach)

2017: 7-6, 6-3 Pac-12; lost to N.C. State, 52-31, in Sun Bowl

Returning starters: 12 – 8 on offense, 4 on defense

3 key players:

OLB Koron Crump, Sr. (13 tackles, 4 sacks in 3 games)

WR N’Keal Harry, Jr. (82 catches, 1,142 yards, 8 TD)

QB Manny Wilkins, Sr. (Passing: 3,270 yards, 20 TD, 8 INT; Rushing: 282 yards, 7 TD)

Outlook: Edwards returns to coaching for the first time in a decade. He posted a 54-74 record in eight seasons coaching in the NFL, including 6-26 in his final two years. Much has been made of this being an odd hire, but Edwards knows the game and takes over a veteran team that’s been in six bowl games over the last seven years. The initial transition may not be as rough as some expect.


Washington Huskies

Coach: Chris Petersen, 5th season (37-17 at Washington; 129-29 career)

2017: 10-3, 7-2 Pac-12; lost to Penn State, 35-28, in Fiesta Bowl

Returning starters: 17 – 8 on offense, 9 on defense

3 key players:

QB Jake Browning, Sr. (2,719 yards, 19 TD, 5 INT)

RB Myles Gaskin, Sr. (1,370 yards, 21 TD; 19 catches, 232 yards, 3 TD)

S Taylor Rapp, Jr. (59 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT)

Outlook: The favorite to win the conference for the second time in three years, Washington returns a ton of talent and some big-time play-makers on both sides of the ball. The Huskies are 22-5 over the past two seasons, with three of the losses by one score. A Pac-12 title and trip to the College Football Playoff are within reach.

Stanford Cardinal

Coach: David Shaw, 8th season (73-22)

2017: 9-5, 7-2 Pac-12; lost to TCU, 39-37, in Alamo Bowl

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

3 key players:

QB K.J. Costello, Jr. (1,573 yards, 14 TD, 4 INT)

RB Bryce Love, Sr. (2,118 yards, 19 TD)

LB Bobby Okereke, Sr. (94 tackles, 4 sacks)

Outlook: In seven years leading the Cardinal, Shaw has taken them to three Pac-12 titles, four North division titles and five 10-win seasons. Love was Heisman Trophy runner-up last year and his decision to return to school helps make Stanford a legitimate contender for the conference title again. Stanford almost always plays good defense and runs the ball well, and Shaw is sure to have them ready each week.

Oregon Ducks

Coach: Mario Cristobal, 1st season (0-1 at Oregon; 27-48 career)

2017: 7-6, 4-5 Pac-12; lost to Boise State, 38-28, in Las Vegas Bowl

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

3 key players:

LB Troy Dye, Jr. (107 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 sacks)

QB Justin Herbert, Jr. (Passing: 1,983 yards, 15 TD, 5 INT; Rushing: 183 yards, 5 TD)

DE Jalen Jelks, Sr. (59 tackles, 15 TFL, 8.5 sacks)

Outlook: Oregon’s third head coach in three seasons, Cristobal took over before the Las Vegas Bowl last year. The former head coach at Florida International (2007-12), he inherits a team with one of the Pac-12’s best QBs and a defense that returns a lot of players are improving dramatically under coordinator Jim Leavitt last year. Getting Stanford and Washington at home, Oregon can’t be counted out in the North.

California Golden Bears

Coach: Justin Wilcox, 2nd season (5-7)

2017: 5-7, 2-7 Pac-12

Returning starters: 18 – 10 on offense, 8 on defense

3 key players:

QB Ross Bowers, Jr. (3,039 yards, 18 TD, 12 INT)

LB Jordan Kunaszyk, Sr. (74 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT)

RB Patrick Laird, Sr. (1,127 yards, 8 TD)

Outlook: Much better than many expected last year, the Bears now look to build upon that in Wilcox’s second season. A defensive-minded coach, he’s aiming to bring more balance to a team that was one all about its offense. Cal has been to just one bowl in the last six years and its Pac-12 schedule is tough, but if the Bears can use their experience to be better this year, they could get to a bowl.

Washington State Cougars

Coach: Mike Leach, 7th season (38-38 at WSU; 122-81 career)

2017: 9-4, 6-3 Pac-12; lost to Michigan State, 42-17, in Holiday Bowl

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

3 key players:

SS Jalen Thomson, Jr. (73 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4 INT)

RB James Williams, Jr. (Rushing: 395 yards, 1 TD: receiving: 71 catches, 482 yards, 3 TD)

LB Jahad Woods, So. (64 tackles, 8.5 TFL

Outlook: Mike Leach has done a remarkable job in Pullman, going 26-13 the past three years (the Cougars didn’t have a single season from 2004-14), but he’s got his work cut out for him this year. Wazzu has lost a lot of pieces on offense and defense since last year and the Cougars will break in a new quarterback – likely East Carolina transfer Gardner Minshew. This might be a transition year for Leach and the Cougars.

Oregon State Beavers

Coach: Jonathan Smith, 1st season (1st year as head coach)

2017: 1-11, 0-9 Pac-12

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

3 key players:

LG Gus Lavaka, Jr. (two-year starter; freshman all-American in 2016)

TE Noah Togiai, Jr. (34 catches, 461 yards, 2 TD)

LB Jonathan Willis, Sr. (68 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks)

Outlook: Starting over after a dismal 2017 season, the Beavers are clearly in building mode. They were 0-11 against FBS competition last year and have gone just 3-24 in the conference the past three seasons. Smith brings a winning attitude after working at Washington the previous four years, and he did lead the Beavers to a share of the Pac-10 title in 2001 as their quarterback, but he’s got a tough task ahead of him as head coach.

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