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PAC 12 Power Rankings - Preseason

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The Washington hype train is leaving the station.

UCLA v Washington Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

SPOILER ALERT: Washington is atop this week’s power rankings.

That UW is number one is probably shocking news to many of you, but I couldn’t let the suspense trigger a regional epidemic of transient losses of consciousness due to the stressful suspense of it all.

As great as the Huskies are and as much as we all want to talk about them, there are some other teams in the conference. And they deserve to be ranked, too.

As always, the rules of the Power Rankings probably are worth mentioning (as I am sure I will have to do many times over througout the course of the season). The fundamental premise here is to rank the teams based on a subjectively assessed index of how much momentum they have, how favorable their immediate future looks and what they have left to play for as the season progresses. It is not a ranking of the impressiveness of their wins, their spot in the standings or the fashion sense of their head coach.

It’s all about what’s ahead as opposed to what has already transpired.

With that, let’s kick this sucker off with everyone’s favorite feature: the Cool Chart.

The Cool Chart

PAC 12 2018 Power Rankings _ Week 1
Chris Landon, UW Dawg Pound

The Power Rankings - Preseason

12. Oregon State

The preseason loss of rising safety David Morris puts a damper on the start of the season for Beaver Nation. That said, there probably wasn’t much that was going to prevent Oregon State from occupying the cellar position in the preseason Power Rankings.

For those of you not keeping up with Beaver updates, coach Jonathan Smith still has an undecided QB competition between senior Jake Luton and JC transfer Jack Colletto and he’s been indicating that several true freshmen, including star-of-camp Jesiah Irish, are in line for playing time.

The rebuild is fully underway in Corvallis. But, hey, at least OSU fans can enjoy the return of Benny.

Next up: @ #5 Ohio State

11. Arizona State

Arizona State is one of those teams (not unlike Arizona State last year) that could start jitterbugging up and down the Power Rankings chart. They open up low due to the series of unknowns that come with a new coaching staff PLUS having questions in the rushing attack PLUS significant concerns on the defensive side of the ball.

NCAA Football: Arizona State Spring Game
Pucker up, Herm. It might be a tough season.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But ASU does have some nice weapons in the passing attack including the league’s best receiver in N’Keal Harry. They also have a battle-tested QB to hang their forks on. If it turns out that we’ve overhyped the disaster that was the hire of Herm Edwards (yes, we have), ASU could see an uptick in their rankings soon.

Next up: vs UTSA

10. Colorado

The Buffaloes have a lot of “show me” to accomplish if they want to work their way up the Power Rankings. They’ll get the chance to do a bit of that when they open up in Week 1 with a road trip to rival Colorado State and their beautiful new stadium.

By all accounts, Colorado has had a nice, trouble-free fall camp. Transfer RB Travon McMillan has shined and looks to be in line to lead the Buffalo rushing attack. In addition, QB Steven Montez is getting glowing reviews for his leadership while the talk of camp has been 6’7” redshirt freshman DE Terrance Lang.

We’ll see if all this good mojo persists once the bullets start flying.

Next up: @ Colorado State (Friday)

9. California

Cal right now looks to be a fringe-level bowl team. Optimists will point to the fact that the Bears have several returning starters on both sides of the ball and that Year 2 in coaching regime overhauls tends to bring the biggest bumps in overall output.

But the pessimists also get a say in the matter. Those guys are concerned that QB Ross Bowers really hasn’t separated himself thus far in camp (transfer Brandon McIlwain is still in the mix of what has been called an open competition) and that there are still so many unknowns in the playmaker categories on both sides of the ball.

I’m keeping my eyes on the QB situation, the emergence of receiving threats to complement Kawani Noa and Vic Wharton (keep an eye on freshman slot receiver Nikko Remigio who, by all accounts, is tearing up camp), and the d-line depth. Cal will need positive developments in all of those areas in order to make a push up the poll.

Next up: vs North Carolina

8. Washington State

If you are looking for a team who might be getting the Cal (“ranked too high”) treatment from me this pre-season, it might be the Cougs. On the heels of incoming JC defensive lineman Pono Lolohea leaving the program without ever having played a down, you might be wondering who exactly is left around the program to play on that d-line.

Washington State v Utah
Can WSU’s defense survive the loss of Hercules Mata’afa and still flourish under new DC Tracy Claeys?
Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

It’s a fair question.

Still, WSU has a few things going for it that I think buoy this ranking. The defensive back seven looks like it will be taking a step forward this year. In addition, Gardner Minshew looks like he has locked down the starting QB job and, by all reports, would seem to have some upside over current expectations. If he and incoming freshman RB Max Borghi can add to the core already in Pullman, the Cougs might be able to put a few more points on the board than what I thought was realistic just a few weeks ago.

Next up: @ Wyoming

7. UCLA

Chip Kelly is up to his old tricks by playing “keep away” with the local LA media. Thus, I don’t think anybody knows what is really going on down in Westwood.

Is Devon Modster entrenched at QB? I don’t know.

Has Joshua Kelley jumped ahead of Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olufunrunmi as UCLA’s top back? No clue.

Is Jaelan Phillips looking like a breakthrough? Your guess is as good as mine.

And then there is this nonsense:

Despite all the questions, we do know that UCLA has some things going for it. Their defensive secondary looks good. Theo Howard is a playmaker at WR. Caleb Wilson looks back to health at TE. #7 feels about right until we see the Bruins on the field.

Next up: vs Cincinnati

6. Oregon

I had a tough time working slots four through six in this preseason poll. I ultimately opted to slot Oregon here mostly because of the reliance that they will have on the young offensive playmakers around QB Justin Herbert and the questions that they have along their defensive line. I’m already on record as thinking that the Ducks are a legitimate dark horse candidate in the North. But for the purposes of a preseason power poll, the truth is that we have more questions than answers.

There are reasons to think that Oregon might go on the upswing from this point. That offensive line appears to be coming together very well. Herbert looks healthy. Jalen Jelks and Troy Dye both look like legit DPOY candidates. Maybe if the Jalen Hall situation gets worked out to Oregon’s benefit, we could see a pop in this poll for the Ducks.

Next up: vs Bowling Green

5. Arizona

All the reports coming out of Tucson so far this fall is that QB Khalil Tate has really taken to his new coaching staff and that the young signal caller has taken the proverbial “next step” in his maturity journey.

We shall see about that.

Regardless, Tate’s talent alone is enough to buoy a top-half-of-the-conference power poll ranking to start the season. Add him to a mix that includes sophomore RB JJ Taylor and big WR Shawn Pondexter, and you can see the offensive potential that Kevin Sumlin’s team brings to the table. Add to it a rising defense being built around young stars like Colin Schooler, Tony Fields and Lorenzo Burnes and you can see why I’m bullish on Arizona.

Next up: vs BYU

4. Utah

The Utes bring to the table the best mix of offensive line, defensive line and QB among the muddled middle of teams four through six in this ranking. Thus, I have Utah at the top of that heap.

Utah v Washington
Utah RB Zack Moss figures to be a major part of the Utes offense in 2018.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Tyler Huntley has gotten rave reviews so far this fall. He looks like a legitimate breakout candidate to me. He has the benefit of that line and a solid RB in Zack Moss to lean on. I do wonder who steps into the role of “go to” WR, but there is time for something to work out in that regard.

Utah looks like a tough out right now.

Next up: @ Weber State (Thursday)

3. #13 Stanford

The Cardinal are ranked slightly ahead of USC in national polls but are behind USC here mostly because I think the national media is overlooking just how incomplete the Cardinal defense is. Things really haven’t changed from our initial assessment a few months ago that the Stanford front seven may be among the weakest in the PAC. While it is possible that former heralded recruits Dylan Jackson and Curtis Robinson could still breakout (and I kind of expect it from Robinson), the truth is that points prevention looks like it will be tough for Stanford.

That said, the offense is shaping up to be one of the best - if not THE best - in the PAC. Bryce Love is healthy, the offensive line is stacked, and there are some really big receivers who can make converting third downs seem as easy as a two hour calculus final sandwiched between a quantum physics study group and trivia night at the Rose and Crown. When even the Cardinal fan boys are calling on Stanford to “forget about defense”, you know that the Harbaugh days are a distant memory.

Next up: @ San Diego State (Friday)

2. #15 USC

USC is a bit of an enigma as we prepare to open the season. On one hand, they are the reigning PAC 12 champs. On the other hand, they are going into opening weekend with a restocked defensive line, a new feature running back and, it appears, a true freshman QB who hasn’t yet turned 18.

Man, nobody saw that coming. Oh, wait, yes we did.

The success that freshmen quarterbacks are increasingly having buoys my confidence in USC holding on to the #2 position in the power rankings. Their talent and depth are undeniable. They have to be seen as the favorites in the South, at least until they take on Stanford in Week 2.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington
Washington needs more chunk plays in the passing game if UW is to be a playoff contender.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Next up: vs UNLV

1. #6 Washington

The Dawgs are the obvious pick atop the power poll. News of Hunter Bryant’s injury before camp aside, they are about as healthy as any other team out there, they are loaded with experienced starters and they have a great opportunity to put themselves immediately in the national playoff conversation should they find a way to beat Auburn in Week 1.

That is a lot of positive juju right there.

Fans are probably concerned about things like the incredibly shrinking defensive line, speed at the ILB positions and the youth of the receiving corps. But what little news we’ve gotten out of camp bodes well for the argument that there seem to be a number of talented players ready to make their “breakouts” this year (no pressure Ty Jones, Salvon Ahmed, Jaylen Johnson, Benning Potoa’e or Byron Murphy).

For now, UW is the marquee attraction in the PAC.

Next up: vs #9 Auburn (neutral site)