Putting together the Gekko File previews every year is a labor of love. Each team requires about four to five hours of research focused on rosters, previous years’ stats, Youtube game reviews, and media recaps of offseason and spring ball news.
My process is to do each team individually and then go straight into my writeup. Thus, it isn’t really until I’ve published my review on every team that I’m ready to assess how it all might play out on paper when you put the PAC 12 schedule in front of you.
As I set up this year’s predictions, you might get the sense that they feel eerily similar to last year’s picks. That would be because they are, all the way down to my conference championship game projections and the one team on the schedule to whom I fear UW might drop a game. I assure you, though, that this is by chance. The fact is that I pick each game “bottoms up” and that the chips fall wherever they may when the numbers are tabulated.
Picking Every Single Game of the 2018 Season
Below is the table that I use to pick every game. It is relatively straightforward. The horizontal axis designates home teams while the vertical designates road games. If you want to know what my prediction for UW @ Utah is, for example, simply find Utah along the horizontal axis and follow the column down until it intersects with the UW row. Voila! You’ve got it.
PAC 12 South
While our favorite team resides in the North, I can’t help but conclude that the South race appears to be the far more interesting of divisional races. By my count there are at least four serious contenders, with the other two teams being more than capable of making a darkhorse, Colorado circa 2016 run at the title should certain cards fall just right.
Despite the trouble that comes with finding a new quarterback, I’m picking USC to win the the South. In a division that figures to have a lot of shootouts, the Trojans simply have more guns. They also have an agreeable conference schedule that affords them the opportunity to miss both Oregon and Washington and to catch Stanford early in the season (though I have Stanford winning that one). The key for them is two road trips to the two South teams that I figure will give them the most trouble: Utah and Arizona. I have them winning both of those games based on matchups and timing on the schedule, but that is hardly a given. If USC drops even one of those, we could well be looking at another divisional champ.
Utah is my second place team by virtue of that loss to USC. They finish 6-3 and one game ahead of Arizona thanks to the win that I’m giving them over the Wildcats in Salt Lake. Utah fans might be disappointed with this projection, especially after you consider that I’ve got the Utes 4-1 on the road and just 2-2 at home. Those two home losses are against UW and USC, two teams that I think simply have more playmaking abilities.
With all of the hubbub around USC’s quest for the CFP and Khalil Tate’s run for the Heisman, Chip Kelly’s rebuild in Westwood has been all but forgotten in the South discussion. I know that many of our readers here have their doubts about the Chipster, but he has some players at his disposal and he knows a thing or two about coaching them up. I have the Bruins splitting their road games while going 3-2 at home, including a win over Arizona, good for third place in the South. Surprised? Even more distressing is that I have UCLA taking one from the Huskies in their October game at the Rose Bowl. Call it the “ASU game” of 2018, if you will.
Though I have them in fourth, Arizona is right there in the conversation. Khalil Tate is the most dynamic open-space player in the league and he has an emerging set of offensive playmakers to complement him. I think Kevin Sumlin and his staff will be very effective in deploying those offensive weapons. Still, I’m not sure that the ‘Zona D will be anywhere near good enough to keep some of the PAC’s better offenses from outscoring Tate and Co. in shootout situations. Thus, I have them at 5-4 overall. For those of you who are looking out for my upset picks, I do have Cal beating the Wildcats early in the season. Let the “Cal Love Affair” continue.
Colorado and ASU bring up the rear in my projections. The Buffs are a bit of a mystery to me. On one hand, they are replacing a whole lot of players. On the other hand, most of the new starters are going to be upperclassmen and they still have a QB in Steven Montez who has big play potential.
The Sun Devils, I expect, will turn out to be a much tougher out in most weeks than what anybody expects at this juncture. They have a proven quarterback and hands down the best receiver in the conference. That’s enough firepower right there to do some damage, but probably not enough to enough damage that it changes outcomes of a lot of games. I have them winning just two games, both at home with one of them being a big upset over Stanford (wishful thinking? Perhaps).
PAC 12 North
Yes, I’m picking the Huskies again. The Dawgs are about as well situated as any team can be to start the season. They have multi-year starters returning at their most important offensive positions (quarterback, tailback, offensive tackles), they have one of the best secondaries in the nation, they are as deep as they’ve ever been on the defensive line even if they don’t have that one dominating presence like Vita Vea, and they have the most stable coaching staff in the conference.
That’s a lot to like.
Yet the Huskies are far from impenetrable. The receiver situation is still not resolved, though it looks like there is more talent to work with this year than last. The pass rush continues to be a big unknown, especially given all of the same names that we are looking to step up this year having mostly failed to do so last year. I think teams with big offensive lines and strong pass rushes are likely to give UW some trouble. I’m especially concerned about Utah, Stanford, and Oregon.
With what may be the best offense in the division, the Cardinal look to me to be at worst a second-place finisher and, if they catch some breaks, a possible division winner. I’m optimistic that K.J. Costello is ready to take the next step which would, I think, amplify the strengths of that offensive line and of Bryce Love. I also think there are still some playmakers on that defense, though their defensive line is going to be a challenge.
I tagged Oregon as a darkhorse to win the North in my Gekko File preview last week. However, as I played out the schedule, I had trouble seeing how they can close the gap with the top of the division in Mario Cristobal’s first year. Their favorable schedule doesn’t quite make up for the talent gap that still seems to exist after you adjust for in-game experience. Simply put, I don’t think that Oregon will be able to stop Bryce Love just as I don’t think they’ll be able to put up enough points against UW’s D. Dropping two home games is not usually a recipe for success in a division title race.
Cal and WSU both turn in 3-6 records in this analysis. Including non-conference games, I sense that both teams will be hovering around the .500 mark this season and I see them both becoming bowl eligible.
Cal is probably a smidge ahead of WSU at this point despite the fact that I think their offense is going to struggle. Justin Wilcox has implemented a culture of toughness, especially on D, that has changed the trajectory of the program. I think his patient ability to roll out his patented bend-don’t-break strategy is a great way to generate an upset or two, but not good enough to win every week.
WSU will have a tough time recuperating from the overhaul that they are experiencing on the defensive side of the ball, not to mention at quarterback. There is just a lot going on in Pullman that is going to take some time to deal with. I suspect it might suck some of the wind out of the Pirate’s sail this fall.
I’ve got Oregon State down for two wins this season. They’ve got more pieces than people might care to recognize and, if they can stay healthy, I think that they’ve got a great chance at winning their home games against both Cal and Washington State.
The PAC 12 Championship
If all of this plays out as I have painted it (my track record was roughly 65% last season, one of my lowest since starting this), then the Huskies are going to be in a clear position to make another run into the College Football Playoff. This holds true even if they lose a close one to a ranked Auburn team on a “neutral” field to open the season. But it is especially true if they beat the Tigers.
The same won’t necessarily be true for the Trojans. Unless they happen to beat both Texas and Notre Dame in their out-of-conference slate, dropping two in the PAC is probably too great a gap to overcome.
But that isn’t to say that USC can’t beat Washington.
In fact, USC presents exactly the kind of attributes that I think UW will really struggle with: big offensive lines and a strong pass rush. The Trojans have what it takes to both keep the ball away from UW’s offense and to harass Jake Browning out of his preferred perch deep in the pocket.
On the flip side, I’m not sure that USC will be able to move the ball that well against UW’s secondary. Much depends on the maturity level of whomever is playing quarterback at that point in the season. Even still, this game would be a battle of USC’s offensive playmakers against UW’s defensive ones.
Games like that are often decided by special teams both in terms of kickers and field position. This is where I think the Huskies would have an advantage. Field position and an extra possession or two are the keys to the rationale as to why I think UW claims their second conference championship in three years.
That’s a wrap for the 2018 Gekko Files PAC 12 preview series. I hope you’ve enjoyed the analysis, the predictions, and the visits from other fanbases in the comments section. I would enjoy hearing your perspectives on how you think the season is going to play out, where the upsets may occur, and who you think some of the darkhorse teams out there are. As always, I am also keen on your thoughts on what more I can do to make this series more useful to you as you prepare yourself for another season of PAC 12 football.
Let’s keep the conversation going.