2015 PAC-12 CONFERENCE PREVIEW
Yes, the SEC has dominated the College Football landscape for a decade now, and the ACC and Big Ten have won the past two National Championships. But no conference is surging upwards faster than the Pac-12. Over the past few seasons, top-notch coaches were brought in, and the recruiting boosts over that span are now paying off with on-field success. Following the mold of the Big Ten Network, the Pac-12 Networks are generating nice revenues - and they are only divided 12 ways, not 14.
The North Division has won the league all four seasons since expansion, but this looks like the year that the power finally shifts to the South. USC and UCLA have recruited at elite levels, and those stars are now veterans. For USC, the expanded roster will allow for better depth and they should be able to close out games better in the 4th quarter - a recurring problem last season. UCLA has essentially the entire team returning besides their quarterback and 2 star defenders. 19 returning starters is unheard of, especially coming off a 10-win season. The Bruins will go as far as #1 incoming true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen takes them. Arizona State is flying under the radar, just like they did in 2013 when I was the only one in America to pick them to win the South. But this year the LA teams are worth the hype. I am calling for USC to win the South.
In the North, it has been all Oregon and Stanford; it will stay that way again. Losing Mariota will hurt the Ducks, but a promising transfer from Eastern Washington (Vernon Adams) can be electric - IF he makes it academically. I thought California at #3 was a diamond-in-the-rough pick, but it turns out that many other pundits caught on as well. It's year 3 for head coach Sonny Dykes, and they have the best quarterback you've never heard of: Jared Goff. Usually I strongly value a coach's 2nd year at a program, which is that for Chris Petersen at Washington. However, 4 UW defenders were picked in the top 44 picks in the NFL Draft, AND several key players missed spring to injury. Looks like another rebuilding year in Seattle -- but look out for UW in 2016!
The Pac-12 was one of the hardest to forecast this year, because I see 3 legit Playoff-caliber teams in USC, UCLA, and Oregon. Ultimately, I like USC's roster talent the best; coupled with the 2nd year coach bonus, expanded roster depth, and an influx of 5-star recruits, I am calling for them to represent the league in the College Football Playoff. What I wonder is what will happen if the Pac-12 champion emerges with an 11-2 record. Does that outweigh an 11-1 SEC division runner-up. I say YES.
CLICK ON THE DIVISION NAMES FOR FULL TEAM PREVIEWS: