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PAC 12 Power Rankings: Pre-season

Washington or USC?

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Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn State
Is USC at the top of the PAC to start the season?
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Football starts this week.

Let me repeat that.


Two PAC 12 teams are participating in the August 26th NCAA season kickoff when Oregon State travels to Colorado State and Stanford takes on Rice out of Sydney, Australia.

The time for talk is quickly coming to an end. All of the speculation, all of the prognostication, and all of the analysis effectively becomes moot once the action on the field initiates.

Thank God. I can’t even stand the sound of my own typing any longer. I can only imagine how you all are feeling as you read this now. Still, "free" is a very good price.

Kickoff is still a few days away. That leaves just enough time for one more meaningless preseason tradition to be offered. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the PAC 12 Preseason Power Rankings.


Before I offer the rankings and the cool chart, let me remind you all how I approach the task of setting up Power Rankings. The very first thing that you need to understand is that this is NOT a projection of the future. I am not predicting who is going to succeed over the course of a season or even in the week ahead.

The Power Rankings are, in fact, a snapshot in a moment of time. We are trying to assess their power in terms of capability, team health status, momentum and accomplishment. It is not remotely scientific and it is wholly subjective.

That’s what makes it fun.

With that said, let’s jump in.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 Preseason Power Rankings
Chris Landon

The Power Rankings - Preseason

12. Cal

Next Up: @ North Carolina

To the “Cal is ranked too high” crowd, I look forward to sparring with you over my positioning of UCLA in this same space.

The truth is that Cal looks to be in a precarious position. They continue (at least as of when I wrote this) to struggle in selecting a QB among the candidates Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers. In fact, they are still giving valuable reps to transfer Brandon McIlwain who, most likely, will not be eligible this year. The DL continues to look precariously thin. The offensive line is unsettled. And the defense, which seems to be showing some signs of life based on reports, apparently is still struggling with Tim DeRuyter’s concepts and rotations.

To cap it off, they also look like the team with the most certain loss in Week 1. North Carolina may not be ranked, but ESPN is projecting an 85% win probability for the home team.

11. Arizona State

Next Up: vs New Mexico St

This will probably come up as the first major surprise as I’d expect many readers to expect to see the Wildcats in this space. I’ll admit that it is difficult to rank one of those two below the other at this moment in time. However, the Sun Devils seem to me to be in just a bit higher state of disarray than the Wildcats. That Manny Wilkins hasn’t turned over the QB situation to Alabama transfer Blake Barnett is a red flag to me.

Arizona State v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

That said, there is probably a greater collection of talent at ASU than Arizona right now. It would not surprise me to see the Sun Devils migrate more to the middle of these rankings as things settle. But it still looks like a group in a state of transition just as they ought to be settling into their roles.

10. Arizona

Next Up: vs Northern Arizona

Unlike ASU, Arizona is already set at QB (Brandon Dawkins) and in most of their key position battles on the offense. They also seem to have more confidence on who is going to be counted on to make plays (Dawkins, WR Shun Brown, RB Nick Wilson, RB JJ Taylor) then some other situations around the PAC.

I have to admit that I didn’t like to hear that Rich Rod is planning on playing around 20 true freshmen this season. Not only is this a statement related to the lack of depth that Rich Rod perceives on his team, but it also is a prognostication on the number of on-the-field mistakes that the we are all going to see play out as these young players get acclimated.

9. Oregon State

Next Up: @ Colorado St, vs Portland St

It is weird for me to look at the Beavers and say to myself, “Self, those Beavers are clearly in the next tier of teams up from the basement of the PAC.”

Oregon State will kick off this week against Colorado State and then host Portland State before we get to the next Power Rankings assessment. This will give us two opportunities to see how new QB Jake Luton gels with his playmakers (RB Ryan Nall, RB Thomas Tyner, WR Jordan Villamin and WR Seth Collins) and how the refurbished defense has progressed since their strong close to 2016.

One thing is certain: I expect the Beavers to have two wins on the record by the time we do this again.

8. Oregon

Next Up: vs Southern Utah

The Ducks are generating a lot of news right now, but much of it seems to be focused on who they are recruiting to future teams. Not much is being revealed regarding the progress in camp of the current squad.

Still, the Ducks have a some things working for them. The QB situation is stable with Justin Herbert. The RB corps is deep and sounding like they are healthy. The O-Line appears to be completely set. We are even hearing some complementary reports coming out regarding the progress of the defense - in particular the secondary.

Willie Taggart has some positive vibes floating around the program right now. But the issues at wide receiver and on the defensive line can’t be written off. We’ll have to see.

7. Washington State (#24)

Next Up: vs Montana State

I might be a bit harsh here as the Cougs are definitely a team to watch in the Power Rankings as we go through the season. After all, this is a team that is well-grounded in its coach’s offensive philosophy, boasts a stud QB as its unquestioned leader and features some very high level players such as OG Cody O’Connell and DL Hercules Mata’afa.

Arizona State v Washington State
Hercules Mata’afa is ready to go for WSU.
Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

We’ll have to see how questions surrounding the pecking order of the wide receivers and the progress of the defensive secondary turn out. As we do, we’ll get a sense of the true upside for this team.

6. Utah

Next Up: vs North Dakota

This was the one ranking that I struggled the most with. Not only does it appear that Troy Williams has lost the QB job to sophomore Tyler Huntley, but the Utes have absorbed one of the most significant injuries of the offseason with the loss of RB Armand Shyne for an extended period. Uncertainty in both offensive backfield position groups isn’t the best way to engender confidence to start a season.

The thing that buoys the Utah ranking here, for me, is that the strengths of this team continue to reside on both sides of the line of scrimmage. DL Lowell Lotulelei, DL Kylie Fitts and OL Leka Uhatafe all look good and ready to dominate. That’s good news for the ranked Utes.


Next Up: vs Texas A&M

Josh Rosen can’t stop making news, but appears to be buckling down on the task of elevating the Bruins as they get ready for their big showdown with Texas A&M to start the season. There are some good signs coming out of camp that Rosen is picking up on new OC Jedd Fisch’s system. But has there been enough progress in establishing the RB rotation of Nate Starks, Sosa Jamabo, and Bolu Olorunfunmi? It is an open question.

The Bruins are healthy and optimistic. They have all the pieces that they need. In week 1, we’ll get a chance to see whether or not Jim Mora can really coach those pieces up.

4. Colorado

Next Up: vs Colorado State (9/1)

I might be overvaluing the Buffaloes going into week 1, but I’m really impressed with what they have accomplished not just last season but in camp so far. They are completely locked and loaded on offense at all levels: QB Steven Montez, RB rotation starting with Phillip Lindsay, a deep receiver rotation and an established o-line.

They also seem to be filling many the of the gaps that were left open on defense last year. Many of the upperclassmen that the staff were hoping would step up are doing so just as some exciting young players, such as LB Jacob Callier, break out.

3. Stanford (#14)

Next Up: vs Rice (Sydney)

The Cardinal are having by most accounts a successful camp. The priorities were clearly to establish a healthy Keller Chryst, work out a rotation of RBs to fill in for Christian McCaffrey, stabilize the offensive line and put a more competitive defensive line onto the field. All of those goals seem to be working out. Chryst is on the field and playing. Bryce Love has become a clear breakout RB candidate. Senior leaders David Bright (OL) and Harrison Phillips (DL) have testified that the progress of each of their units is ahead of schedule.

Rice v Stanford
Get ready to see a lot of this for Bryce Love.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Not that they’d say anything else, but that’s all good news.

It also appears that two young playmakers - WR Osiris St. Brown and RB/WR Conor Wedington are making strong cases to get into the rotation this season. An infusion of a couple of capable playmakers can do nothing but help this Stanford team.

2. USC (#4)

Next Up: vs Western Michigan

USC fans won’t like me putting a higher ranked Trojan team behind the Huskies to start the season. It might be homerism. After all, the Trojans are fairly loaded on offense, boast a Heisman worthy QB, and have a rising defense with some legitimate playmakers.

In truth, USC and UW may deserve to be tied. The issue for USC is that they seem a little less prepared for the start of the season than UW. Of particular concern is that they are still working out health issues on the offensive line and with stud receiver prospect Michael Pittman, Jr.

We’ll have to see how things come together for Western Michigan.

1. Washington (#8)

Next Up: @ Rutgers

The Huskies are ready to go. Outside of a few questions related to the back end of the receiver rotation and the outside backer rotations, just about every single position grouping appears to be settled. The Dawgs are generally healthy and their key playmakers on both sides of the ball seem to be locked in.

It’ll be interesting to see how the staff uses the soft up front schedule to introduce younger players into rotations for the purposes of helping them bank reps. I could see Chris Petersen pushing some deep reserves into early game situations in order to maximize the developmental value of those reps. If so, we may see some sloppy moments in the first few weeks. Whether or not it affects the perception of UW’s readiness to compete at a high level remains to be seen.