I hope you’ve enjoyed the Gekko Files this summer. The mission of this project is to engage in a broader dialogue with fans across the PAC 12 continuum while providing UW fans with an intelligence bulletin on every team that the Huskies compete with for the conference championship. Many of you have noted that I don’t have much by way of precision in predicting win totals in my individual write ups.
That is true. My process for writing these is to dive deep into every team one at a time. Thus, I don’t necessarily know how, for example, Arizona matches up against Utah at the time I’ve completed my research into the Wildcats if I haven’t yet looked at Utah.
Now that my research has come to a conclusion, I’ve gotten a pretty good sense about what I like and don’t like about the teams in the PAC. I’ve also had the opportunity to look at everybody’s schedules and to formulate some opinions on how things line up for every team from a momentum perspective. Thus, I’m ready to get jump in and to project the final standings for every team in the PAC 12 in 2017.
To get there, I went through the same process that I do every year in picking every single game in the PAC 12. I use the following grid to plot out who plays who and my picks. Home teams are listed along the horizontal access while road teams are along the vertical. Games that I see as clear “upsets” (as measured against ESPN’s predictor tool) are highlighted in the yellow boxes.
So, what does all of this mean? Let’s take a look at the breakdown by division.
PAC 12 South Division
No surprises here - the South looks like USC’s to lose.
The Trojans bring to the table the best offensive team in the South anchored by their star QB, a depth of high-impact skill position players, and upside on the offensive line. Defensively, they are a relatively sound team that projects somewhere towards the middle of the conference but with the talent to have upside in the top third of the PAC.
When you look at the Trojans' schedule, the layout of the big games is favorable. This is especially true if USC can get past Stanford in Week 2 which I’m predicting they will do. I have projected a couple of losses on their schedule. I don’t like how USC matches up against Utah at home and I think the Trojans are going to face an upset alert when the trip to Pullman.
UCLA is my number two. I’m making a big assumption that the Bruins get back to average rushing game production and that QB Josh Rosen returns to the trajectory he was on as a freshman. If that happens, UCLA has more than enough talent to affect games across all three dimensions of the game. I see them winning all of their home games but struggling with their road games against physical opponents in USC, Utah, and Stanford.
Colorado and Utah are projecting at five wins each with the tiebreaker falling to Colorado. I’m following a bit of a hunch on this one as the tiebreaker means that Colorado wins on the road in Salt Lake. I felt compelled to go in this direction mostly because I think Colorado is a deeper overall team and more likely to have some momentum going into the end of the season.
For their part, I am projecting Utah to overcome their obvious challenges on offense and to handle the teams on their schedule that are less accomplished offensively. As good as the Utah front seven is, I don’t see them in a position to hang with teams that hang 27 or more points on them. That might change if Troy Williams gets beat out and some of their high upside receivers catch fire, but I’m not ready to go there yet.
The tail end of the South resides in great state of Arizona. Of the two, I think Arizona is in a bit better position to pick off a couple of regular season wins given the relative stability that the Wildcats have with their rushing attack including QB Brandon Dawkins. I have them winning two home games including a shocker over a Utah team that I think they’ll catch by surprise.
ASU’s season looks like a stinker. I can’t find a win during the regular season anywhere except for possibly their home finale against the Wildcats. I wavered on their home game against Colorado - watch that one. Otherwise, I think we are looking at Todd Graham’s swan song in Tempe.
PAC 12 North Division
Just like everybody else, I like the Huskies to win the North once again.
What UW loses from last year’s team in both the secondary and in the receiving corps, they more than make up for with the emergence of young players who all earned significant game experience a year ago as well as a boost in overall team maturity in just about every position grouping. Offensively, the Huskies should be right there with USC as the most explosive in the PAC. Defensively, there simply isn’t another team as deep and as well-rounded as the Dawgs. That there appear to be the pieces ready to generate a pass rush is gravy.
I’m only seeing one loss on the UW’s conference schedule. It might feel like a gut punch to some of you, but I could see Jim Mora - a man with his own unique talents in motivation - coming into Montlake with a fired-up team and catching a 7-0 Husky team looking ahead to their Oregon - Stanford gauntlet. Otherwise, UW has a clear line of sight to the divisional championship, even if their road trip to Palo Alto doesn’t go as I’ve projected.
The Cardinal are the clear #2 in the PAC. Just like UW, they are loaded with talent all across the roster. They just happen to be a little less balanced in experience, particularly along that defensive line and, possibly, the offensive line. I expect that they’ll fall to both USC and UW during the regular season. I’m also projecting an upset loss to Oregon State - this is more about my belief that the Beavers are due to “get one” as opposed to any specific matchup assessment.
One thing that I want to note about the way the schedule breaks is how critical the Week 2 matchup against USC will be for David Shaw’s team. If they pull out a win in that one, their path to a divisional championship could very well come down to their home game against the Huskies.
I’m projecting WSU coming in third place with five wins. The Cougs are in as good a shape from a depth and consistency perspective as they’ve been since I started doing these assessments. I don’t see WSU dropping any games that they shouldn’t like they have in years past. In fact, I have them upsetting USC at home.
Oregon should bounce back a little bit after falling off a cliff last season. I see Willie Taggart and his all-star staff instilling some discipline into the defensive side of the ball and unleashing a few high-scoring output days against some of the weaker defenses in the conference. Still, there is a lot of turnover going on in this team, especially at the wide receiver position. This isn’t their year.
Oregon State should take a step forward this year. They’ve definitely got some fight to them now, even if they lack the talent required to compete for the division. I see a line of sight for them to get three wins in the conference if they can pull off one big upset (which I have tagged as Stanford). If they get that done, they could be a bowl team in 2017.
Cal is in rebuild mode and seems very unlikely to put a bowl-worthy team on the field in 2017. They aren’t without talent and they have some really good coaches. I’m very interested to see what Beau Baldwin and Marques Tuiasosopo do with that Cal offense given the skill talent available to them. I’m looking for the Bears to win a couple of games. This includes a home game against WSU which should create a unique situation where both UW fans (“Cal is ranked too high”) and WSU fans (“UW bias”) unite against the Gekko.
The PAC 12 Championship
It is impossible to know what the situations of both UW and USC will be when they make their trips to the PAC 12 championship under the scenario that I’ve laid out here. On one hand, I see UW as the deeper team and with a big advantage on the defensive side of the ball. On the other, I like that USC has the higher upside receiving corps and, importantly, that they would have a bye week just before the championship weekend.
If you pressed me on it, I would call it for the Huskies. The Dawgs match up pretty well against USC’s offensive line and have kind of offensive balance to get and hold an advantage against the Trojans. Given the maturity of UW’s offensive line, I don’t see USC being nearly as disruptive along the line of scrimmage as they were a year ago and, of course, I’m betting on a fully healthy Jake Browning.
Should the Huskies prevail against USC, they ought to be in a good position for their second playoff berth. A win over USC will carry more weight than the win a year ago against Colorado while the one UW loss I have projected will have happened early enough in the season for UW to recover its ranking position.
There you have it. Every single game in the PAC 12 predicted. Time to put down the keyboard and whip up a delicious bloody mary. I’ve earned it, if I do say so myself.