With the exception of what is shaping up to be a somewhat anticlimactic recruiting signing day, this time of year presents bloggers of college football a bit of a challenge. How do we keep people engaged in the discussion when the season seems as far away as a hotel on the moon?
Lucky for me I am blessed with a readership who not only obsesses on college football as much as I do, but who also (generally) demonstrates an astute sense of the comings and goings across the entire PAC 12 conference. I’d like to take advantage of your collective wisdom (or propensity to guess at things) by surveying your opinions on how you think the PAC 12 is likely to play out in 2018.
This is obviously a “stab in the dark” exercise given that there are still many things that we do not know going into 2018. Player injuries, declarations for the draft and transfer news are all examples of material developments that still need to play out in front of us.
Still, it should be fun to get a pulse on how Husky Nation is feeling about the season ahead. Below, you will find a quick survey. All you have to do is assign each team their expected final ranking in their respective division for 2018. Once I’ve collected all of the data, I’ll put it together along with my own predictions in a separate Gekko Files piece.
Before we move on to the vote, let’s take a quick peek at where each team stands right now.
PAC 12 South
Rich Rod is out, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo appears to be the primary target (as Kevin Sumlin fans everywhere shout out in vain) and a whole lot of young talent waits to see what will become of their young program. The Wildcats are bringing back a lot of interesting young talent including freshman All American LB Tony Fields, Freshman DPOY Colin Schooler and, of course, QB Khalil Tate. But what kind of rebuild will the new coach have in mind?
Herm Edwards is the new guy at ASU and, oddly enough, is already the longest tenured coach among FBS and pro teams in the state. The notion that the Sun Devils were going to implement an “NFL style” program has already fallen apart given that Edwards has had to replace both of the coordinators that he and his AD both wanted to keep.
The venerable and silver-tongued coach has some real work on his hands. The Sun Devils have been robbing Peter to pay Paul with their JC-focused recruiting the last few years and appear to be paying the price with the lack of young talent on hand. Still, WR N’Keal Harry, QB Manny Wilkins, DL JoJo Wicker and LB Christian Sam are all pieces any coach could work with.
The big story for Colorado in 2017 was the severe regression that they took following their unlikely run to the PAC 12 championship in 2016. Now the Buffs will figure out how to take the next step without RB Phillip Lindsay or the receiving trio of Shay Fields, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo. Fortunately, the Buffs do bring a talented if not still unrefined QB in Steven Montez and plenty of interesting pieces on the defensive side. The stability of coaching staff and the program overall should also not be understated in a division that has seen half of its coaches turn over.
Look who’s back.
Chip Kelly has already gotten to work in restocking the talent down at Westwood - which was already in good shape - and will soon get busy upgrading a running attack that has been among the worst in the nation over the last two years. Something tells me that it won’t be long before the Chipster is getting serious production out of 5-star Soso Jamabo, starter Bolu Olorunfunmi and dual-threat QB Devon Modster.
But will he have enough in the passing game to replace QB Josh Rosen? Or enough on defense to present a reasonable resistance to the plethora of offensive styles he’ll see in the conference? Rosen, LB Kenny Young, S Jaleel Wadood and DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner are all big losses for UCLA’s new coach to deal with.
The reigning PAC 12 champs are already bracing for what comes next. QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones and DL Rasheem Green have all decided to join their senior brethren in pursuing their NFL dreams. Fortunately, coach Clay Helton has access to plenty of talent as he begins the process of defending his team’s title.
QB will be an interesting situation. Matt Fink served all year as the backup. But there are not too many people who are enamored with the idea of him running the show in LA. Freshman Jack Sears is coming off of a redshirt and incoming enrollee JT Daniels is one of the highest rated pro-style recruits in the nation. This will be the most interesting QB situation in the PAC.
The Utes disappointed with just three conference wins against six losses. Four of those six, however, were within the margin of a single possession. In all, the Utes were much more competitive than their record indicated. But can they build off of that in 2018?
There are some really significant contributors moving on. WR Darren Carrington, DL Lowell Lotulelei, DL Kylie Fitts and S Chase Hansen are all among them. The future is now for guys like QB Tyler Huntley, DL Bradlee Anae and RB Zach Moss.
PAC 12 North
Now we get to see what Justin Wilcox and his all-star coaching staff really bring to the table. Chalk year one up as a success. The Bears veterans reacted well to Wilcox’s vision for the program and, at times, they resembled something more akin to a gritty program than the novelty act that they became under Sonny Dykes.
But the task of getting a bunch of seniors, some of whom were talented football players, to overachieve is different than the task of competing with younger players in a division where most of your competitors outgun you. Wilcox part II is sure to be a suspenseful and intriguing sequel.
The Ducks found their man in Mario Cristobal and now begin the process of showing the world that their program has not devolved into some kind of minor league destination for castoff Floridians who couldn’t find a local team to suit their tastes.
Oregon has some pieces coming back in QB Justin Herbert, RB Tony Brooks-James and LB Troy Dye. They also have an influx of fine talent coming in thanks to a good class that Cristobal was able to hold together. But there is a price to pay for all of the coaching chaos that this program has seen over the last 15 months.
Beaver fans have had an interesting offseason. As if the shock of a winless conference season were not enough. They are seeing the return of not one but two school legends with Head Coach Jonathan Smith and assistant Mike Riley. They are saying goodbye to the guy simply known as the Wrecking Nall, RB Ryan Nall. And they are waiting anxiously to see what incoming transfers and JC talent (maybe KJ Carta-Samuels?) the new staff might be reeling in this winter.
Otherwise, nothing going on in Corvallis.
Hooray! The Cardinal (seemingly) have finally found a quarterback. That’s good news for David Shaw and co as it would seem that - at least on offense - Stanford is poised to bring back a pretty capable unit in 2018. That could all change if RB Bryce Love decides to go off to the NFL joining TE Dalton Schultz along the way. If he doesn’t, Stanford ought to be in good shape.
The defense is where the questions exist. DL Harrison Philips is also taking his talents to the NFL along with DB Quenton Meeks and LB Peter Kalambayi, among others. Stanford has had a few recruiting misses and washouts over the past few seasons. 2018 will be a real test.
The Huskies disappointed in 2017 but are in really good shape heading into the offseason. Fans are expecting a couple of seasons of quality recruiting to pay dividends on offense. QB Jake Browning is now the dean of starting QBs in the PAC and should benefit from upgrades in the receiving corps and development along the offensive line in what will be his final season at Montlake.
Defensively, UW is bringing back just about every major contributor with the exception of the big man in the middle, Vita Vea. There are questions about what the ceiling is for this group - particularly when it comes to the pass rush. But there is talent at every level.
I’m going to miss Alex Grinch, DL Hercules Mata’afa and the whole #speedD thing for Washington State. More so than the graduation of QB Luke Falk, which is a tremendously easy QB name to type for a PAC 12 blogger with clumsy fingers, I do think that the changes on defense under new DC Tracy Claeys will define this WSU team in 2018.
Offensively, the Cougs always manage to reload. I’m not terribly worried about whoever takes over at QB or what the receiver situation looks like. Whether or not it can evolve from a “good” to “great” situation is the key question for me.