Pac-12 Football 2017 Predictions

Complete Pac-12 preview for 2017.

Washington claimed the Pac-12 title and a CFB Playoff berth last season, and despite some key personnel departures, coach Chris Petersen’s team isn’t fading from the top of the league in 2017. The Huskies are a slight favorite over USC in Athlon’s 2017 Pac-12 predictions, with Oregon, Stanford and Washington State rounding out the next tier. Defending South Division champion Colorado has several key losses on defense, but coach Mike MacIntyre should keep the Buffaloes in the mix for second behind USC. Utah and UCLA – with Josh Rosen back under center – are two other wild cards to watch in the South this fall.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Pac-12 predictions for 2017:

 

1. Washington and USC…the Clear Favorites for 2017

In Athlon’s Pac-12 prediction meeting, there was little debate about the top two teams in the conference. Washington – the defending Pac-12 champion – was the unquestioned pick from the North. In the South, USC was the pick after finishing 2016 by winning their final nine games. Assuming the champion of this league makes it through with one loss, it will be hard to keep the Pac-12 title game winner out of the CFB Playoff. Of course, there are other factors involved, but on paper, a one-loss Washington or USC team would be appealing to the committee. The Huskies return 13 starters from last year’s Pac-12 title team, including quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. Coach Chris Petersen has to find a replacement for No. 1 target John Ross and rebuild a secondary that lost standouts Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King. Even if the defensive backfield takes a step back, the Huskies still possess the Pac-12’s top front seven. Road trips to Colorado, Arizona State and Stanford are tough, but Washington avoids USC in regular season play and won’t be tested in non-conference play. Recapturing the magic from one year to the next is never easy. But the Trojans shouldn’t have a hard time contending for a CFB Playoff berth behind quarterback Sam Darnold. The sophomore was a big reason why USC’s fortunes changed last fall – and he’s also the main reason to believe the Trojans can reach the top four in 2017. While Darnold is a Heisman contender, coach Clay Helton has to fill a few key voids around his star quarterback. The offensive line lost three All-Pac-12 performers, top receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left for the NFL, and the defense must replace standout cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. While Darnold is probably the Pac-12’s best player for 2017, the nod as the favorite in the conference in Athlon’s meeting went to Washington – largely because of the track record of Petersen. 

 

2. Who is the Top Challenger to Washington in the Pac-12 North?

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The battle to finish second in the Pac-12 North should be one of the conference’s most intriguing storylines this season. Oregon, Stanford and Washington State each have a compelling argument to be picked No. 2 in the North, but Athlon settled on the Cardinal. Coach David Shaw’s team finished 2016 by winning its last six games and returns most of its core with 16 starters back. But this team isn’t without question marks. Quarterback Keller Chryst is recovering from a knee injury suffered in the Sun Bowl, and the defense will miss standout end Solomon Thomas. If Chryst is slow to return to full strength, Stanford could turn to promising redshirt freshman K.J. Costello. Regardless of which quarterback takes the most snaps next year, the Cardinal will once again rely on a standout ground game and a solid back seven on defense. Home games against Oregon and Washington could be the difference in the battle to get to 6-3/7-2 in conference record and second in the North. After a 4-8 record last fall, Oregon hit the reset button and overhauled its coaching staff. New coach Willie Taggart should be a good fit in Eugene, and his up-tempo, spread offense is similar to what the Ducks have used in previous seasons. Taggart has plenty to work with on offense, with the return of running back Royce Freeman and quarterback Justin Herbert. Additionally, Oregon returns four starters up front, and tackle Tyrell Crosby is back after missing most of last season due to injury. If the Ducks are going to take second in the North, they will need significant improvement on defense. This unit surrendered 41.4 points per game last fall and is under new leadership with coordinator Jim Leavitt. While most of the offseason attention has been focused on Oregon and Washington, Washington State quietly lurks within striking distance. The Cougars finished second in the North last season with a 7-2 conference record and return one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in senior Luke Falk. Coach Mike Leach’s team also returns a deep backfield and a solid defense, anchored by rising star at defensive end in Hercules Mata’afa. Out of the three teams vying for second, Washington State might have the toughest path on the schedule. The Cougars play USC, Colorado and Utah in crossover play and catch Washington and Oregon on the road.

 

3. The Josh Rosen Factor at UCLA

UCLA’s 2016 season essentially ended after quarterback Josh Rosen’s shoulder injury in the 23-20 loss against Arizona State on Oct. 8. Rosen threw for 1,915 yards and 10 touchdowns in his limited action last year. Even if Rosen stayed healthy in 2016, UCLA’s problems on offense were bigger than just one player. And as a result of last year’s struggles, coach Jim Mora overhauled his offensive staff, hiring four new coaches, including coordinator Jedd Fisch. The offensive line had its issues in pass protection (24 sacks allowed) and only cleared the way for rushers to average just 2.9 yards per carry. Can this unit take a step forward with four starters back in 2017? Keeping Rosen upright and healthy is essential for UCLA to return to the bowl scene, but the offense also needs better balance from its ground game. Can juniors Soso Jamabo or Bolu Olorunfunmi or senior Nate Starks become the go-to back? The defense has key players to replace at all three levels, but there is a solid foundation – including five-star recruit Jaelan Phillips – for coordinator Tom Bradley. With Rosen back in the mix, UCLA should return to the postseason and has a shot to be the No. 2 team in the South Division. But just getting Rosen back isn’t going to be enough to take the Bruins from four to six wins. This team needs more from its supporting cast.

 

Related: Pac-12 Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. What to Expect from Colorado and Utah?

UCLA got the nod as the No. 2 team from the Pac-12 South in Athlon’s predictions, but there’s very little separation between the Bruins, Colorado and Utah. The Buffaloes are the defending South champs and will remain a factor in this division. Coach Mike MacIntyre’s team suffered heavy losses on defense, but the offense has a chance to be better than last year’s version that averaged 31.1 points per game. Quarterback Steven Montez is a breakout candidate, while the receiving corps is the best in the league. Utah has won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons, and despite significant personnel departures, don’t count out coach Kyle Whittingham’s team. The addition of Troy Taylor as the program’s new play-caller should provide some punch to the passing game for an offense that finished eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring last fall. Quarterback Troy Williams returns for his second year as the starter, but his supporting cast is a concern. The line returns just one starter, and standout running back Joe Williams is handling carries in the NFL. The Utes should be tough on defense once again, featuring a front seven that ranks among the best in the Pac-12. Safety Chase Hansen is a candidate for All-America honors. Why Colorado over Utah? The schedule. The Utes play the top four teams from the North, while the Buffaloes miss Oregon and Stanford in favor of Oregon State and California.

 

5. The state of Arizona

What a difference a couple of seasons can make in the Pac-12. It wasn’t long ago Arizona State (2013) and Arizona (2014) played in the conference title game. But both programs have been trending in the wrong direction over the last few years. The Sun Devils are 21-17 since 2014, while the Wildcats are 20-19 in that span. Both coaches – Arizona State’s Todd Graham and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez – have experienced their share of success in the desert but both are inching closer to the hot seat. Will their fortunes change in 2017? Arizona would seem to have a steeper climb to a winning record this year, as the Wildcats feature significant question marks at receiver, quarterback and with a defense that surrendered 38.3 points per game in 2016. But the schedule doesn’t feature Washington or Stanford in crossover play and UCLA, Utah, Oregon State and Washington State visit Tucson. Arizona State is in better shape in terms of personnel, but Graham’s team faces a brutal slate. The Sun Devils play three out of the top four teams from the North and catch UCLA and Utah on the road. Led by sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry, a talented backfield and Alabama transfer Blake Barnett at quarterback, scoring points shouldn’t be a problem. However, question marks remain from a defense that gave up 39.8 points per game and continued to have problems against the pass last fall. 

 

Pac-12 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.   2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

Pac-12 Football 2017 Predictions
         
North Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 Washington 8-1 12-1
2 Stanford 6-3 9-3
3 Oregon 5-4 8-4
4 Washington State 5-4 8-4
5 Oregon State 3-6 5-7
6 California 2-7 3-9
         
South Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 USC 8-1 11-2
2 UCLA 5-4 7-5
3 Colorado 4-5 7-5
4 Utah 4-5 7-5
5 Arizona State 2-7 5-7
6 Arizona 2-7 5-7
         
Pac-12 Championship Game
 Washington over USC 

 

 

Pac-12 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Sam Darnold

QB, USC

Defensive POY

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Coach of the Year

Chris Petersen

Washington

Willie Taggart

Oregon

Willie Taggart

Oregon

Coach on Hot Seat

Jim Mora

UCLA

Rich Rodriguez

Arizona

Rich Rodriguez

Arizona

Top Freshman

Byron Murphy

CB, Washington

J.J. Taylor

RB, Arizona

Jaelan Phillips

DL, UCLA

Top Newcomer

Blake Barnett

QB, Arizona State

Blake Barnett

QB, Arizona State

Corrion Ballard

S, Utah

Sleeper Team Oregon State Oregon State UCLA

Key Position

to Watch

USC OL UCLA OL USC OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Jim Leavitt

DC, Oregon

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

UCLA Utah California
Coach on the Rise

Pete Kwiatkowski

DC, Washington

Alex Grinch

DC, Wazzu

Beau Baldwin

OC, California

Must-See Game

Washington at

Stanford

Washington at

Stanford

Oregon at 
Washington
Breakout Player

Rasheem Green

DL, USC

Bryce Love

RB, Stanford

Justin Herbert

QB, Oregon

Comeback Player

Josh Rosen

QB, UCLA

Josh Rosen

QB, UCLA

Azeem Victor

LB, Washington

Event Date: 
Monday, June 5, 2017 - 16:40

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