Pac-12 Football 2018 Predictions

Complete Pac-12 preview for the 2018 season.

The Pac-12 never lacks for intrigue, but the conference heads into 2018 looking to rebound after a disappointing 2017 slate. The league did not produce a playoff team, had only two programs reach double-digit victories and went 1-8 in bowl games. But there's reason for optimism on the West Coast for 2018. Washington takes the top spot in Athlon's Pac-12 predictions, as coach Chris Petersen's team should be in the mix for a playoff spot this fall. The Huskies are loaded on both sides of the ball and are a clear favorite to win the conference title. Stanford and Oregon are both top 25 teams and will battle Washington for the top spots in the North. The other side of the conference features three teams vying for the division title. USC is the favorite in the South, but there's little separation between the Trojans, Arizona and Utah.

 

Washington is the Clear Pick to Win the Pac-12 in 2018

Washington is the clear No. 1 team in the Pac-12 for 2018 and represents the Pac-12's best shot at a playoff team. Coach Chris Petersen's squad returns 16 starters, including senior quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin. The line is anchored by the senior duo of Trey Adams and Kaleb McGary at tackle and is among the best in college football. The strength of Washington's 2018 squad will be its defense. The Huskies held opponents to 16.1 points a game last season and return arguably the best secondary in college football. Petersen's team has few concerns, but the receiving corps and big plays in the passing game remain an issue. True freshman Marquis Spiker could provide some much-needed playmaking ability on the outside for Browning. Washington opens the year with a huge showdown against Auburn in Atlanta. If the Huskies lose to the Tigers, can they afford another defeat in Pac-12 play and still stay alive in the playoff mix? It's hard to see a two-loss team getting into the playoff this season, which is why Washington won't have much margin for error if it loses the opener. 

 

Stanford or Oregon: Which Team is Washington's Biggest Challenger in the North?

Deciding between Stanford and Oregon was the toughest call from the North Division of Athlon's Pac-12 prediction meeting. The Cardinal are the defending North champs, but coach David Shaw's team enters 2018 with significant question marks on defense. Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips, safety Justin Reid and cornerback Quenton Meeks left for the NFL, adding concerns to a unit that gave up nearly 170 rushing yards a game last season and surrendered 5.98 yards a play. The outlook is better on offense for Shaw. Stanford returns Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Love and one of the nation's top offensive lines. Quarterback K.J. Costello should take a step forward in his second year under center. The Cardinal got the edge over Oregon for second in Athlon's predictions, but the Ducks are an intriguing team to watch. New coach Mario Cristobal has one of the nation's most-talented signal-callers in Justin Herbert to lead the offense, while coordinator Jim Leavitt will continue to build a defense that showed marked improvement in 2017. Oregon also has a favorable path to second in the North. The Ducks won't play USC in the regular season and Washington and Stanford visit Eugene. However, the biggest question mark for this team remains the coaching transition. Will there be a transition period with Cristobal? Or will the Ducks quickly return to the top of the Pac-12?

 

USC, Utah or Arizona at No. 1 in the South?

The Pac-12 South might be the toughest prediction of any division in a Power 5 league this year. USC eventually emerged as Athlon's pick, but coach Clay Helton's team is far from secure at No. 1. The question marks for the Trojans start under center. Will true freshman JT Daniels edge Matt Fink and Jack Sears to replace Sam Darnold at quarterback? Until a signal-caller emerges, USC can rely on its offensive line and ground game to win. Sophomore Stephen Carr is a breakout candidate at running back. Also, the defense should be among the league's best with six returning starters, including standout linebacker Cameron Smith. Arizona has the easiest path to the top of the South, as new coach Kevin Sumlin's team won't play Washington or Stanford in the regular season. Additionally, USC visits Tucson in late September. The Wildcats shouldn't have much trouble scoring points behind dynamic quarterback Khalil Tate, and the defense will continue to improve with nine starters back. Utah edged Arizona in Athlon's Pac-12 predictions for the second spot in the South, but coach Kyle Whittingham's team has a tough schedule in 2018. The Utes host Arizona and USC but catch Stanford, Washington and Oregon in crossover play. Junior quarterback Tyler Huntley is poised for a breakout year, and even though only four starters are back, Whittingham's defense will be solid once again. There's not much separation between USC, Utah and Arizona. The Trojans have the best overall roster talent and the most upside, which helped to edge the pick at No. 1 to Helton's team.

 

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What's Expected Out of UCLA and Arizona State?

Due to coaching changes, there's no shortage of intrigue at UCLA and Arizona State this season. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly has returned to the collegiate ranks after a stint in the NFL, taking over a UCLA team that has only two finishes in the top 25 since 2006. Kelly is the right coach to get this program on track, but his first season is likely to be a transition year. The Bruins enter fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback, question marks on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and has concerns surrounding a defense that gave up 36.6 points a game last season. UCLA has recruited well, so there's talent in the program. However, how long will it take Kelly to get his up-tempo offense in place? And can new coordinator Jerry Azzinaro quickly put the right pieces into place on defense? Azzinaro does have pieces to work with, including a talented secondary and former five-star recruit Jaelan Phillips at linebacker. Just getting to a bowl would be a good debut for Kelly.

 

While Kelly is one of college football's top hires for 2018, the most interesting move of the carousel came from Arizona State. The Sun Devils hired former NFL coach Herm Edwards to replace Todd Graham. Edwards hasn't coached in college since 1989 and was away from the sidelines since he was dismissed as the Chiefs head coach in 2008. Credit Arizona State for trying something different to improve its football program, but Edwards has a tough job ahead in 2018 (and beyond). The Sun Devils return only 11 starters, but two of those are quarterback Manny Wilkins and receiver N'Keal Harry. Edwards and coordinator Danny Gonzales have to find a few answers for a defense that allowed 32.8 points a game and struggled to stop the pass in 2017. As if the personnel concerns weren't enough, Arizona State's schedule is difficult. The Sun Devils play Michigan State, San Diego State and Washington in September. Additionally, this team also catches Oregon and Stanford in crossover play.

 

California on the Rise Under Justin Wilcox

Even though California's record (5-7) in coach Justin Wilcox's first year matched its 2016 total under Sonny Dykes, this program took a step forward last fall. The Golden Bears were competitive in most of their losses, dropping four games by 10 points or less. Wilcox's team should take the next step and contend for a bowl in 2018, especially with an offense that returns 10 starters, including 1,000-yard rusher Patrick Laird and quarterback Ross Bowers. A deep receiving corps will have an added threat thanks to the return of Demetris Robertson from injury. The biggest impact Wilcox had on this team last fall came on the defensive side. California's defense showed marked improvement, cutting its yards per play allowed total from 6.7 to 5.8 and allowed only 28.4 points a game. Wilcox and coordinator Tim DeRuyter have to replace a few cogs in the front seven, but the secondary should be a strength with all four starters back. With Oregon, Stanford and Washington visiting Berkeley, California will have a chance to play spoiler in the North this season.

 

Washington State and Mike Leach Facing a Rebuilding Year in 2018

Washington State has won 26 games over the last three years, but coach Mike Leach's team is in rebuild mode for 2018. The Cougars enter the season without a quarterback that has taken a snap in a Washington State uniform. East Carolina graduate transfer Gardner Minshew will compete with Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley for the starting job this fall. Leach's offensive acumen will keep this unit from falling off too far, but the Cougars lost two starters up front and top two receivers from 2017. In addition to the new faces on offense, the defense has a new coordinator (Tracy Claeys) and must find a replacement for standout tackle Hercules Mata'afa. Despite the turnover, Washington State should go 3-0 in non-conference play and plays five Pac-12 home games. The Cougars will get better over the course of the season, as the offense should find its rhythm in time to guide this team to a bowl game for the fourth straight year.

 

 

Pac-12 2018 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. 
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5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 
6.  6.  6.  6.  6.  6. 

 

Pac-12 Football 2018 Predictions
         
North Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 Washington 8-1 11-2
2 Stanford    6-3 8-4
3 Oregon 5-4 8-4
4 California 4-5 7-5
5 Washington State 3-6 6-6
6 Oregon State 0-9 2-10
         
South Division
Rank Team   Projected Pac-12 Record Projected Overall Record
1 USC 7-2 9-4
2 Utah 5-4 8-4
3 Arizona 5-4 8-4
4 UCLA 4-5 6-6
5 Colorado 4-5 6-6
6 Arizona State 3-6 5-7
         
Pac-12 Championship Game
 Washington over USC 

 

Pac-12 2018 Superlatives and Season Predictions
 

Steven 

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

Braden

Gall

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR @BradenGall
Offensive POY

Bryce Love

RB, Stanford

Bryce Love
RB, Stanford
Bryce Love
RB, Stanford
Bryce Love
RB, Stanford
Defensive POY

Cameron Smith

LB, USC

Cameron Smith
LB, USC
Troy Dye
LB, Oregon
Cameron Smith
LB, USC
Coach of the Year

Chris Petersen

Washington

Kevin Sumlin
Arizona
Kevin Sumlin
Arizona
Kyle Whittingham
Utah
Coach on Hot Seat

Herm Edwards

Arizona State

Herm Edwards
Arizona State
Mike Leach
Wash. State
Herm Edwards
Arizona State
Top Freshman

JT Daniels

QB, USC

JT Daniels
QB, USC
JT Daniels
QB, USC
Dorian
Thompson-Robinson
QB, UCLA
Top Newcomer

Tabari Hines

WR, Oregon

Travon McMillian
RB, Colorado
Travon McMillian
RB, Colorado
Travon McMillian
RB, Colorado
Sleeper Team Utah Arizona Arizona Utah

Key Position

to Watch

Washington WRs Washington WRs Stanford DL Stanford DL
Best Coordinator Hire

Bush Hamdan

Co-OC, UW

Danny Gonzales
DC, Arizona St.
Noel Mazzone
OC, Arizona
Tracy Claeys
DC, Wash. State

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

USC USC Arizona State UCLA
Coach on the Rise

Beau Baldwin

OC, Cal

Marcus Arroyo
OC, Oregon
Beau Baldwin
OC, Cal
Justin Wilcox
Cal
Must-See Game

Stanford at

Washington

Stanford at
Washington
UCLA at
Oregon
Stanford at
Washington
Breakout Player

Eno Benjamin

RB, ASU

Jaelan Phillips
LB, UCLA
Chase Hansen
LB, Utah
K.J. Costello
QB, Stanford
Comeback Player

Trey Adams

OL, UW

Demetris Robertson
WR, Cal
Peyton Pelluer
LB, Wash. State
Justin Herbert
QB, Oregon

 

Podcast: Athlon's Editors Discuss 2018 Conference Predictions

 

Event Date: 
Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 16:27

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