2018 Season Preview: PAC 12

By Kevin Fay on August 24, 2018 at 9:30 am
Nov 12, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington Huskies running back Myles Gaskin (9) takes the hand off from Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Browning (3) during the second quarter against the USC Trojans at Husky Stadium.  Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
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We wrap up our Power 5 previews with the PAC 12 where Washington looks to be far and away the class of the conference.

Much like the Big 12, there are your usual teams who have the talent to sneak up and steal one, but the majority of the conference can be described as “meh”. Let’s jump in to the tiers.

Contenders

  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • USC
  • Stanford

The top tier continues to be generally the same as it has been with Washington leading the way this year. They return Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin who combine to form one of the scarier backfields in the nation. Even though human tank Vita Vea is now playing on Sundays, their defense should yet again be great. (Important note: Penn State scored 35 points against this defense)

Justin Herbert is the first of two extremely fun quarterbacks in this conference. He has an excellent, accurate arm and the ability to keep plays alive with his legs. While injuries have kept him in check to this point in his career, he is a darkhorse Heisman candidate. Oregon's schedule stacks up nicely, which is why I put them at number two, but their defense will need to improve to earn that ranking. The promotion of Mario Cristobal was generally praised as a solid move, though he will have to prove that his experiences as an assistant under Nick Saban and Willie Taggart have put him in position to be more successful than he was at Florida International.

Next up is a USC squad that will once again be loaded with talent. They will, however, be without Sam Darnold. As far as his replacement goes, all eyes are on former five-star J.T. Daniels. There's little doubt that he's the most talented passer left on campus, but the question will be whether Clay Helton is willing to ride with his true freshman in what could be considered a pivotal year when it comes to determining his future in Southern California. No matter who is named the starter though, they'll have the benefit of handing the ball off to Stephen Carr. A lot.

Finally, we have Bryce Love and Stanford. It’s really unfortunate that Love will likely have mediocre quarterback play again because with even a small improvement at quarterback he could put up 2,000 yards. Their schedule also plays a role in this ranking, as they play Oregon and Washington on the road, not to mention a trip to Notre Dame. If nothing else, make up for all those times you didn't watch Christian McCaffrey, and enjoy Bryce Love while he's here.

Next Tier

  • Arizona
  • Utah
  • UCLA

This tier is hereby named the Khalil Tate tier. He is, quite simply, the most exciting player west of the Mississippi. Throw in Kevin Sumlin and hooo boy Arizona could be fun. If the defense can improve even a little bit, Tate can pretty much do the rest.

Utah should be super boring as usual, but will still probably churn out 7 or 8 wins and a bowl. Ho hum. There really isn’t anything spectacular about them at all, and most of their wins are very boring. They are the anti-PAC 12.

Finally, Chip Kelly went back to college. Only time will tell whether or not his offensive genius will show right away at UCLA, or if it will take a few years of recruiting the right kind of players. Like...not Wilton Speight. Either way, the defense should be solid enough that they will likely be in just about every game they play.

The Rest

  • Washington State
  • Cal
  •  Arizona State
  •  Colorado
  •  Oregon State

The rest of these teams are varying levels of bad but also have varying levels of intrigue.

  • Has Mike Leach indeed lost his mind? It’s probably for the best he stayed at Wazzu and out of the giant spotlight that would have been on him at Tennessee.
  • Cal has talent but seemed to have a lot of bad luck last year. If they can avoid the injury bug they actually might jump up a tier.
  • Arizona State’s black uniforms with the matte black helmet are the best in college football and if you @ me with another opinion you will be lightly scolded. Also, HERM.
  • Colorado fell hard after a fun 2016 season and has to replace quite a bit.
  • Oregon State is exactly what we all expected Oregon State to be without Mike Riley. Terrible.

Overall, the gap between the top of the PAC 12 and the rest isn’t quite as big as say, the Big 12, but Washington is the clear class of the conference. Even if Washington does run away with it, #PAC12AfterDark will remain fun for yet another year.

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