With the long break between now and the bowl game, there is a strong temptation to start looking forward. I feel the same compulsion and, believe me, we'll have plenty of that in this blog in the coming weeks.
Like Chris Petersen, we believe strongly in the notion of accountability. It's why you see us "x-out" mistakes in our game recaps instead of deleting them. It's why we thank instead of ban members in the comments section who correct our errors.
It is also why we go backwards in time to revisit our forecast pieces after the season has concluded.
In early August, I published the final piece in my annual Gekko Files series - an in-depth preview of every PAC 12 team culminating with a forecast of every single game to be played in the coming season. The game-by-game forecast allows me to calculate projected final standings for each PAC 12 division which I then expound upon with analysis. Picking each game individually in August when you don't know who will start in key positions, who might get injured or - sometimes - who will even be coaching when the season ends can be a fool's errand. Surprisingly, my track record isn't too shabby. Last year, I picked just over 70% of the PAC 12 games correctly.
Here is the graphic depicting my pre-season game-by-game picks:
So, how did I do this year? Let's take a look.
The PAC 12 South Division
Thomas Edison once said that "I have never failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."
I'm not sure that this quote neatly applies to my 2015 South Division projections, but I'll throw it out there just to distract you from the misery of my picks in the pre-season.
The surprise of 2015, in my mind, was the simultaneous rise of UCLA under a freshman QB and the precipitous fall of ASU with a senior QB. I realize that many were crowing about UCLA to start the season thanks in large part to the return of so many seniors at key positions, but the emergence of Josh Rosen early in the season was a true surprise to me. In truth, the Bruins should have crumbled after injuries took out three defensive stars - including LB Myles Jack - early in the year. The poise and accuracy of Rosen - even if he wasn't all that flashy - kept UCLA afloat.
The Arizona schools were both disappointing. Injuries were a factor for the Wildcats to be sure - you just don't bounce back quickly when your starting RB, starting QB, and reigning DPOY all miss significant time. ASU is the more befuddling situation. I thought that the running game and the experienced defense would help to compensate for the QB situation, which I accurately predicted would suffer from an over-hyped Mike Bercovici and gaps at both WR and OT.
Despite USC's tumult at the coaching staff, they did what I expected them to do in winning the division. They were a young roster to be sure. But a senior QB, a stout offensive line, and enough depth to occupy 80 scholarships seemed like a good situation which, ultimately, played out on the field.
Utah finished two games better than I had projected, mostly thanks to an explosion against Oregon and weakness among the Arizona schools. The Utes got a lot of breaks and were able to cover up key injuries with very productive reserves.
And then there was Colorado, a school who I pegged exactly right in 2015.
Taken as a whole, I obviously did not project the order of finish very well. However, I did peg the strength of the division relatively accurately. In a season where most analysts were calling them the "strongest division" in all of college football, the PAC 12 South finished with 25 wins total, one game fewer than the 26 wins that I had projected. Contrast this with the 29 wins the North had (versus my projection of 28).
The PAC 12 North
2015 was a strange year for the North. It felt to most observers like the balance of power was shifting early on as Stanford got rolling early with their upset over USC, Oregon struggled with porous defense and a QB injury, and the Cal Bears opened up 5-0. But the final standings looked like this:
Not too much different than what we are used to seeing out of the North Division.
Obviously Oregon and Stanford are still the class of the North, just as expected. I wrote that the Cardinal offense was going to be the key ...
I also LOVE Christian McCaffrey as the breakout player of the PAC 12 this year. While Stanford's D has some questions - particularly at D-Line - there is enough talent and depth spread around the rest of the team to remain optimistic.
... and, of course, they were as RB Christian McCaffrey broke the PAC 12 record for all-purpose yards and earned himself an invite to the Heisman Trophy Awards Ceremony.
Oregon's play was surprising even if their record finished exactly as projected. Nobody could have predicted just how bad the Oregon defense would play and just how remarkable their air attack would be under the guidance of transfer QB Vernon Adams.
I had projected Cal as the "breakout team" of the PAC in 2015. While the Bears did improve to 7-5 and make their first bowl game under head coach Sonny Dykes, they didn't make the strides I quite expected. I had projected a bolder step forward from the defense and much more offense than what star QB Jared Goff was able to generate.
The actual "breakout" team was the Washington State Cougars who jumped all the way to 6-3 thanks to an experienced offensive line, a very good defensive line, and heady play out of the QB. Luke Falk was clearly better than projected, even if WSU fans' talk of him being a darkhorse Heisman hopeful was a bit on the hyperbolic side.
Washington finished exactly where I projected them and, in fact, I picked every single conference game for UW correctly. The Huskies played much better D than anybody could have projected, finishing first in the nation in Defensive FEI (an advanced stat that measures points value per possession and is strength of schedule adjusted). However, we didn't know when we did these projections that UW would end up starting true freshmen at QB, LT and RB. The woes of the offense lessened as the season wore on, but still ended up costing UW at least two victories in the conference.
I was a little too optimistic about the Beavers, though the games they played against both Stanford and Oregon demonstrated that they did possess the kind of fight that I had written about to start the season.
Wrapping it Up
My final count on my game-by-game picks in what was a pretty crazy and competitive PAC 12 was 35-19 - a winning percentage of 65%. This is the first season since I started this analysis that I declined from the year before. However, as I noted, I picked UW 100% and had very high percentages on several other teams. The successes of both Utah and WSU were the two key situations that vexed my picks. In addition, my upset picks (highlighted in yellow on the graph above) were only 2-5, though I was darn close with the Colorado-UCLA and WSU-Stanford picks.
That's it for another Gekko Files season. We'll be back after the bowl season concludes to do our "way too early" pieces. Until then, let us hear from you. How did the PAC 12 play out relative to your expectations?