California: Although Junior QB Jared Goff is gone to the NFL after three strong seasons behind center for the Golden Bears, they may have an immediate answer in the form of Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb. The Golden Bears went 8-5 last season under third year head coach Sonny Dykes and figure to implement to same style of offense in previous years slinging it all over the field with Webb. The Bears also returns three running backs who combined for nearly 1,600 yards last season in Khalfani Muhammad, Vic Enwere and Tre Watson. The Bears defense will need has improved greatly over the past two seasons, and this trend should continue in 2016 even with just five starters returning. Cal should put up big offensive numbers this season, but with one of the nation’s toughest schedules, it will be tough for the Bears to return to a bowl game.
Impact Newcomer: Quarterback Davis Webb, Texas Tech transfer, 15 starts between ’14-‘15
Watch Out: The Bears will open the season against Hawaii in Australia, the official opening of the college football season.
Oregon: The Ducks were an underwhelming 9-4 in 2015 just one season after losing the national championship to Florida State. This year they lose Eastern transfer QB Vernon Adams who was oft-injured but productive in 2015; but they gain Montana State transfer QB Dakota Prukop who brings the dual-threat dynamic to the Ducks offense. Royce Freeman (1,836 yards and 17 TDs in 2015), Taj Griffin, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James will lead what should be one of the nation’s top rushing attacks; Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford should also lead a very good receiving corp to help Prukop. The defense allowed 37.5 points last year and could struggle at times with just five returning starters on defense.
Impact Newcomer: Dakota Prukop, Montana State transfer, 3,525 all-purpose yards in 2015
Watch Out: A potentially dynamic offense mixed with a tough schedule and being 44-5 at home over the last seven years could lead to a big season for the Ducks.
Oregon State: The Beavers went 2-10 last season under first year head coach Gary Andersen and will look to improve upon that in 2016. This year they bring in Junior transfer QB Darell Garretson from Utah State and brings a good pocket presense at QB and he will vastly help and OSU pass offense that ranked 115th in the nation last year in yards per game. They return 13 starters from last season on both sides of the ball and 47 lettermen from last year’s team; so this is an experienced squad, but they also haven’t made a bowl game since 2013. One of the nation’s top 20 most difficult schedules will make it hard for the Beavers to find success this year, but I bet they hang in games, especially the handful in Corvallis.
Impact Newcomer: Darell Garretson, Utah State transfer, 2,586 passing yards between ’13-‘14
Watch Out: They get Oregon at home in the Civil War in the last game of the season, a bowl may not be on the line, but I bet they take down the Ducks in Corvallis!
Stanford: The Cardinal were once again one of the top teams in college football last season going 12-2, all while winning the Pac-12 Championship and the Rose Bowl after thumping Iowa 45-16. The Cardinal return arguably the best running back in the nation in Junior Christian McCaffrey, who breezed by Barry Sanders all-purpose yards record last year combining for 3,864 yards between rushing, receiving, punt returns and kick returns (led team in all categories). McCaffrey was the benefactor of four-year starter Kevin Hogan handing him the ball often, but this year they turn to true Sophomore Keller Chryst, who threw just nine passes all of last season. The defense returns six starters and will try to get back to their dominant, as just two seasons ago they allowed 16.4 PPG. They should easily make a bowl game despite a loaded front end schedule, and they should be a major contender in the North.
Impact Newcomer: Kaden Smith, True Freshman, 6’5, 250 pound Tight End
Watch Out: The Cardinal face a brutal schedule the first six games of the year, but if they manage to slip through at 4-2 or 5-1, they can make a run at the playoff.
Washington: The Huskies went 7-6 last season needing a win in the Apple Cup against Washington State to even become bowl eligible. This year however, many are pegging the Huskies as the presumptive favorite to win not just the Pac 12 North, but the conference as a whole. Under third year head coach Chris Petersen, the offense should thrive under the dynamic sophomore duo of QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin, this team should have no trouble scoring points. The defense was one of the best in the nation last year ranking 13th in the nation allowing just 18.8 PPG and return seven starters from that unit. The Huskies should coast to a 4-0 start and then a Friday battle against Stanford in week five could determine if this Huskies team is as legit as many people think.
Impact Newcomer: Sean McGrew, True Freshman, 5’7 173-pound Running back
Watch Out: A cake walk of a non-conference schedule (Rutgers, Idaho and Portland State), a third year head coach… this has all the makings of a sleeper playoff team.
Washington State: The Cougars exceeded expectations in 2015 under fourth year head coach Mike Leach, going 9-4 which included an astounding loss to Portland State and a missed FG as time expired to beat Stanford. This year the Cougars return eight starters from their air raid offense, including prized Junior QB Luke Falk, who threw for 4,561 yards and 38 TDs last season. They Cougars return all three of their leading rushers (Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, Keith Harrington) and their leading receiver and one of the best wide outs in the Pac 12 Gabe Marks. The Cougars also will implement James Williams, a redshirt freshman tailback into the offense more after an impressive spring game. The defense returns six starters from a unit that shaved nearly eleven points off their total PPG from 2014 to 2015, and they should see continued success. This Cougar team has a lot of promise and many people are high on them, but the only worry has to be is if Luke Falk can remain healthy all season.
Impact Newcomer: Chima Onyeukwu, Junior, JC Transfer, OLB
Watch Out: Four of the Cougars five toughest matchups come in the first six games of the year, so if they get hot and come out 4-2 or better, this is a team that could stun some people.
Arizona: The Wildcats were an underwhelming 7-6 last season, just one season after going 10-4 and making a Big Six bowl game and the Pac-12 Championship. Fifth year head coach Rich Rodriguez has fifteen returning starters on both sides of the ball, and will need QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson to get back to their Freshman ways as they both went through a Sophomore slump last season, due in part to injuries. The defense returns eight starters from last season, albeit eight starters from a defense that gave up 35 points per game. The schedule sets up nicely for this team in the first three games, but their conference schedule could make it tough for this team to advance to a fifth straight bowl game.
Impact Newcomer: MLB Michael Barton, University of California transfer, 169 tackles while at Cal (16.5 tackles for loss)
Watch Out: Arizona has knocked off at least one Pac-12 team ranked in the top ten in the nation the last four years, that trend should continue this year.
Arizona State: To say the Sun Devils underwhelmed in 2015 would be an understatement, as they entered the season ranked 14th in the nation, and ultimately finished 6-7. Fifth year head coach Todd Graham returns just ten starters from last season and will look for either redshirt freshman Brady White or sophomore Manny Wilkins to take over the helm at QB. ASU does return a stellar running back in Demario Richard (1,104 yards last season) and will look for him to be a prominent part of the offense. The defense was sup par last season and with six returning starters from that unit the numbers should be increased this year for this team, which is a big reason I think the Sun Devils will stun some teams in big games this season.
Impact Newcomer: Wide Receiver N’Keal Harry, True Freshman, 7th ranked overall WR prospect last season
Watch Out: The Sun Devils schedule could propel them to a 4-0 start, but a date against rival Arizona on Thanksgiving weekend could determine if the Sun Devils go bowling for the sixth straight season.
Colorado: The Buffaloes went 4-9 last season doubling their win total from 2014 under third year head coach Mike MacIntyre. This year, they return 18 starters, nine on both sides of the ball, and they will need to pick up production on the offensive side of the ball much the way they did with the defense in 2015. The Buffaloes went from giving up 39 PPG to 27.5 in just one season, and with nearly that entire unit back from last year, that number should continue to decrease. However, the offense was unproductive at times throughout the season and averaged just 24.6 PPG (11th in the Pac-12). With nine starters returning however, the offense should be more productive and should keep the Buffaloes in games throughout the year. The Buffaloes boast one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year but do open up with two winnable games against Colorado State and Idaho State.
Impact Newcomer: Wide Receiver Juwann Winfree, Maryland transfer, 158 receiving yards’ freshman year at Maryland
Watch Out: The Buffaloes return 63 lettermen from last season which ranks ninth in the nation and first among Pac-12 schools. This is a young team that will content in games throughout the year and should be a year away from going bowling.
UCLA: The Bruins went 8-5 last season after starting the season 4-0 and climbing all the way up to #7 in the polls last season, but ultimately finished the year 4-5 with a bowl loss to Nebraska. This year however may be the best Bruins team as not only do they return nine starters from what should be one of the most improved defenses in the nation, they return Sophomore QB Josh Rosen. “The Rosen One”, as he is often referred to as amongst Bruin fans, excelled as a true Freshman with lofty expectation, throwing for 3,668 yards and 23 TDs. However, the player to watch this season on this Bruins squad may have to be true sophomore Sotonye “Soso” Jamabo who in limited action last season showed why he was the #2 RB recruit just a year (404 yards in 2015). The Bruins could compete with Utah and Washington for the right to be the best defense in the Pac 12 with nine returning starters, and of the two new starters one just happens to be Eddie Vanderdoes who was a Freshman All American that was lost for the season after one game last year.
Impact Newcomer: LB Mique Juarez, True Freshman, second overall ranked LB in 2016 class
Watch Out: The schedule sets up nicely as the Bruins toughest road games will be against Texas A&M and Washington State, and I think this team has all the makings to make a run at the Pac-12 Championship and potentially a playoff spot.
USC: The Trojans rolled to an 8-6 season last season which saw them snag the Pac-12 South Championship. This season, the Trojans return ten starters on offense from last year’s team and will look for Max Browne, who was in a battle with redshirt freshman Sam Darnold up until a handful of days ago, to be Cody Kessler’s successor. Browne will have plenty of weapons surrounding him with running backs Justin Davis and Ronald Jones, along with potential All-American Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (1,454 yards and 10 TDs in 2016). They return five starters from the defense last season and will be tested early as USC has the most difficult schedule in the nation according to many pundits. Though many people would see a season with less than nine wins as underwhelming, there should be plenty of optimism for this team going forward.
Impact Newcomer: WR Tyler Vaughns, True Freshman, third overall ranked WR in 2016 class
Watch Out: The opener against Alabama will be a huge telling point for the Trojans going forward on the year. Many are already counting out USC, but the Trojans will come to play and maybe sneak out a win.
Utah: The Utes heavily exceeded expectation last season going 10-3 and finishing second in the Pac-12 South. This year they lose two-year starting QB Travis Wilson and will turn to former Washington and JUCO transfer QB Troy Williams to lead the team this year. The Utes will take a blow in the backfield as Devontae Booker has finally moved on after compiling over 2,700 rushing yards in just two season as a Ute. When Devontae Booker toward the end of last year, Joe Williams started the final three games for the Utes and ran the rock 85 times for 399 yards and three scores, and he could be in for a breakout season in 2016. The Utes also return seven starters from one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 statistically last season and will feature one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Kyle Whittingham has reached nine bowl games in his twelve seasons in Salt Lake, and is 8-1 in those nine bowl games, look for that trend to continue this season.
Impact Newcomer: Quarterback Troy Williams, Washington/JUCO transfer, one start for Huskies in 2014
Watch Out: Since taking over as running backs coach in 2014, former Miami Hurricanes coach Dennis Erickson starting RBs have combined for 3,172 yards in just two seasons in 26 starts.
Projected Conference Finishes
Washington: 10-2 (7-2)
Oregon: 9-3 (7-2)
Stanford: 8-4 (6-3)
Washington State: 8-4 (6-3)
California: 4-8 (2-7)
Oregon State: 3-9 (2-7)
UCLA: 11-1 (8-1)
Utah: 8-4 (5-4)
USC: 8-4 (5-4)
Arizona State: 7-5 (4-5)
Arizona: 6-6 (3-6)
Colorado: 3-9 (1-8)
Huskies versus Bruins in Pac 12 Championship Game. One of the toughest predictions every year is who is going to make the Pac-12 Championship, and this year is no different. However, I see two clear favorites in the Huskies and the Bruins in their respective divisions due to what should be stellar defenses, excellent QB play and great rushing attacks. This game could go a long way no matter who makes it in determining if the Pac-12 is represented in the playoff as it was not last year. The Huskies defense should limit teams and they should be able to shut down most of the stellar Pac-12 RB’s. The Bruins should score with anyone and boast one of the nation’s most improved defenses. I expect the Bruins to defeat the Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship, but not advance to the playoff.