The Gekko File: Patching Up Our Pac 12 North Forecasts

Coach Leach ... yeah, we smell it too. We were hoping for so much more in 2013! - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The second Gekko File update to our off-season Pac 12 predictions focuses on the North Division. You know it well, it is the one with the funny birds and the dancing tree.

This is the second in a two-part update looking at the Gekko File predictions for the Pac 12 season from last August.  You can find part one right here, or along the sidebar as part of our story stream.

As a refresher, here is how we projected the entire Pac 12 race in August.

Pac12_2013_projected_standings_1_medium

The focus of this post is the Pac 12 North.  At the beginning of the season, there wasn't a great deal of debate going on as to how the general structure of the P12N standings would work out.  Most observers felt that Oregon, even sans Chip Kelly, was the team to beat while Stanford was its only true competition.  The Stanford homers over at the ESPN Pac 12 blog both picked Stanford to finish ahead of Oregon, but they were generally the exception to the rule.  Beyond that upper tier, there was, and has continued to be, great debate as to where Oregon State, Washington and Cal rated in the next tier down with a general consensus that WSU, while rising, was still the donkey's end of the division.  Of course, injuries to two-thirds of Cal's starting D and a learning curve complicated by a true frosh QB has dropped Cal's prospects considerably, but little else has gone significantly awry in the Pac 12 North projections.  Let's take a closer look.

Pac 12 North - 2013 Predictions and Updates

Team Predictions What Gekko Said
1. Oregon

August

8-1

1st North

Mariota is a true Heisman candidate and one of the most dangerous QBs in the nation...

...It remains to be seen how Helfrich will change the offense...His background as a passing game guru at both ASU and then Boise State hint that there could be more balance...

...While I don't see Oregon running the table, there is little doubt that this is another BCS type of season for the Ducks. They have the talent and the schedule to make a serious run at the championship and they should handily win the Pac 12 North in what amounts to an 11-win type of regular season.

Updated

8-1

2nd North

Comments: The Ducks have been even better than I imagined when I put together my original forecast.  Marcus Mariota has been even better than he was last year and has gone from a great "system" guy to a legit top 5 NFL talent.  The play of the Defense has followed the pattern that we documented (though I'm still surprised by Arik Armstead's benching), but the overall productivity of that group has matched the accomplishment of the offense and created a legit national title contender.  The problem?  Their extremely soft schedule, I think, has left them in a vulnerable state going into this week's game with Stanford.  I can see the Cardinal surprising the Ducks early with their physicality and turning that game into a mud-wrestling match.  I'm calling the Cardinal to win it and knock the Ducks out of the Pac 12 championship game.
2. Stanford

August

6-3

2nd South

The Stanford D is absolutely loaded. With the exception of the outstanding Chase Thomas and some pieces in the secondary, the Cardinal return just about every key piece in 2013 from a team that was 11th in the nation in Scoring D and 20th in the nation in Total D...

...The Offense isn't quite as impressive... Gone are the big TEs, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as is top wideout Drew Terrell. Listening to the coaches, it is clear that the dreams of the Offense lie with the hoped-for breakout of the heretofore underwhelming Ty Montgomery...

...Still, Coach Shaw and the Cardinal have earned the benefit of the doubt. I'm projecting a 8 to 10 win campaign that should keep them in the hunt for the P12 North title

Updated

8-1

1st North

Comments: It appears that my projections for the demise of Stanford, once again, have proven to be untrue.  I don't know what it is with me and Stanford as it seems that I'm almost always correct in reading their flaws, but completely blind as to how they compensate for them.  This year, I noted that that Kevin Hogan was over rated as a passer and that they would be more challenged to rush the ball ... and its TRUE!  But this is the most resilient team in college football (and, while I think David Shaw is a pompous, falsely modest ass, you have to give him a TON of credit) and, after they upset the Ducks this week, they will have a clear path to the P12 Championship game.
3.Washington

August

6-3

3rd North

No Gekko File posted on UW

Updated

6-3

3rd North

Comments: Looking at the Huskies offensive and defensive output through the first half of the P12 schedule - easily the most difficult P12 schedule played by any team to date - indicates that the Huskies are playing at a really high level.  Even factoring in the let-down in Tempe, the Huskies have consistently produced in most of the important categories used to forecast wins and losses.  Considering their general state of health (pretty good) and the consistency in which they've performed (remarkably well), there really isn't any reason to believe that they won't win out.  I get that Husky fans are skeptical about the Dawgs' ability to win on the road in environments like Corvallis and Pasadena, but an objective look at the performance to date suggest that they should be able to take those games and, in doing so, finish third in the P12 North.
4. California

August

4-5

5th North

The offensive skill positions are stocked with bright young talent that should take to Dykes' offense from Day 1. Whereas last year I was effusive about the RB situation, this year it is all about the very talented, very deep and very young receiving corps that fits absolutely perfectly in the Bear Raid...

... A one-time Husky commit, Bigelow is clearly the man in the Bears backfield now that Isi Soefele and CJ Anderson have moved on...don't be surprised to see Dykes pull the red shirt off of stud recruit Khalfani Muhammad and give him a shot at the Freshman Offensive Player of the Year race...

...Last year, I made the mistake of underestimating both Arizona and Arizona State because of what I perceived to be a "long learning curve" for each team.

Updated

0-9

6th North

Comments: While I clearly whiffed on Cal, it is important to note that projecting injuries, certainly the likes of which Cal has endured, is not something anybody can do with accuracy.  Still, the rationale for my initial ranking of Cal was based on the way that their young weapons - in particular those receivers and the emerging (at the time) Brandon Bigelow - seemed to be an ideal fit for Sonny Dykes and his Bear Raid.  The successes that both Todd Graham and RichRod had in installing their offenses had emboldened me to think that something similar could happen at Cal.  The fact that it hasn't does raise the question as to whether or not the Air Raid style offense can work in this conference given how D's are constructed across the board.  That is a topic for another day.  Regardless, I don't see another win on Cal's schedule - even with Colorado still ahead.  But, fear not Cal!  I'll be projecting a huge bounce back next year.
5. WSU

August

2-7

4th North

Thanks to the Apple Cup surprise, the Cougs enter 2013 with a bounce in their step not unlike what they had entering 2012..

...Curiously, my optimism around the Cougs starts not with their offense, but with their defense...returns eight starters and, importantly, features experienced depth...

...the WSU offense has the baseline talent required to make plays and to score the ball. The big question is whether or not the Offensive Line will allow them the time to make those plays...

... The way it plays out for the Cougs makes it very likely that the Apple Cup could be the deciding sixth win opportunity for WSU...I see this being a 3 to 4 conference win type of season for Mike Leach - one where he pulls off a big upset somewhere along the line (Stanford, maybe?) and challenges for bowl eligibility.

Updated

3-6

5th North

Comments: While my expectations were tempered to begin with, I admit that I expected more maturation out of Mike Leach's club than what we've seen in year 2 of the Air Raid.  While it is true that the D looks better than a year ago, it still looks unable to be a stabilizing unit for a program that takes a lot of risks, and gets burned, on the offensive side of the ball.  Connor Holliday is an interception waiting to happen while the Coug rushing attack has no bite.  I think the Cougs have one win left - vs Utah - but drop their games at Arizona and at Washington to finish one game better than I projected in the P12N.
6. Oregon State

August

2-7

6th North

Believe me, I'm not eager to make the same mistake twice by falling asleep on Oregon State. The Beavers proved me wrong on a variety of dimensions in 2012...

...this is an offense with questions marks. How reliable will the QB play be? How stout will the O-Line play? Where will the receiving depth come from? Can they match their ridiculous red zone performance from a year ago?...

...The Beavers graduated their two best bigs in the middle of that Defensive Line and will be relying on a stable of JC recruits to plug the gap... this is a striking area of concern. Defensive line depth beyond Crichton and Wynn also is a concern as the top backups from a year ago are all gone...

...Like Stanford, it is very tempting to forecast OSU with a strong bias towards what happened in 2012. But to do so would be a mistake as this team is not that team.

Updated

4-5

4th North

Comments: In the preseason, the picking of the Beavers to finish sixth in the North was the most controversial of all of my picks.  Though I had projected a relatively soft early season schedule for them, my foundational concerns about their lack of depth on the defensive line and the middling speed of their secondary were major cited as limiting flaws.  I also had concerns about their offensive playmaking beyond Brandin Cooks.  What I had not forecasted was the breakout performance of Sean Mannion or the serviceability of that offensive line.  Still, with three games left to play at ASU, vs UW and at Oregon, I don't see any more wins on the schedule for an OSU team that has already lost two in a row.  Call this a better than expected but still disappointing season for Mike Riley and co.


Closing Thoughts

My forecasts for the North are further off than what I had projected for the South.  The big disruption, of course, is the play of Cal.  I had them projected at four wins in conference and I've now revised that prediction to zero.  Stanford, while not substantially off from my forecasts from a state-of-the-team perspective, is going to squeak out with a better record than I had predicted if they do, in fact, beat Oregon on Thursday.  Also, I can't help but to give credit to Mike Riley for doing more with less once again.  I know that there are people in Corvallis who grumble about their inability to get over the top.  However, if you were to do an honest, objective analysis of what he started with in 2013 - in particular on the defensive side - you'd have to say getting his team to where it is, even if they end up dropping the last five of the season, was an accomplishment.  I know some Husky fans who'd love to see the Dawgs squeeze that kind of over-achievement out of it's roster.

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