With a little less than three weeks until college football kicks off on September 3, it is time to make some fearless predictions for the Pac-12. These are not stabs in-the-dark. These are educated guesses to which most pundits will not admit.
I am fearless. I will put it out there.
USC will beat Auburn in the College Football Playoff semi and play Ohio State in the championship game.
There is little doubt the SEC champion will make the CFP-- the question is, who will it play? Most fans would like to see more Pac-12 v SEC contests (fear not fans, USC plays Alabama next year) so Auburn v USC is a great match-up. It's also a chance for Auburn to erase those bad memories of 2003, when the Trojans shut out the Tigers 23-0.
A Pac-12 team playing a Big Ten team for the national championship just means the planets have all aligned and Earth has returned back to its rightful place.
Devontae Booker will lead the conference in rushing yards.
A tailback from USC or UCLA will not be the most productive rusher this season. Booker, an incredibly tough runner at Utah, will turn heads this season. If Booker can produce 125 yards-plus against Michigan and Oregon in September, throw his name in the early Heisman race hat.
Oregon will struggle to get to 10 wins in the regular season.
No one wants to dwell on the past but when your former quarterback was a Heisman winner, well, a gut check is required. Vernon Adams is the heir apparent but he will have had only four weeks of practice with his offense when the Ducks travel to Michigan State in week two.
The Eastern Washington graduate transfer is very talented but was just cleared to practice with Oregon this week. Adams' new playbook, new coach, retooled offensive line and a rebuilt secondary should give pause for thought.
Oregon could have two early losses in September to Michigan State and Utah.
For the first time in five years, Washington will not go bowling.
This season is going to be tough for Husky fans. The front seven's losses are incredible. Gone are Danny Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha. So is linebacker Shaq Thompson. All three were first or second draft choices (Cleveland, New Orleans, Carolina, respectively) in the 2015 NFL Draft.
I see two wins for Washington (Sacramento State and Oregon State) but after that it gets a little dicey. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is back at Utah State after being granted a medical hardship by the NCAA, so that game is a toss-up. Washington State is due for an Apple Cup win but the Huskies have won five of the last six games. A 4-8 season is not out of the question.
Cal will be ranked after going 4-0 in September.
Can we talk about Cal's schedule? The Golden Bears drew Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Utah from the South. They also play at Oregon and at Stanford. UGH.
The Bears do play Grambling State, San Diego State, Texas and Washington in September. That equates to two Power 5 teams, a good Mountain West team and an FCS team. A 4-0 record will get Cal noticed by pollsters. Let's see how long the Bears can remain in the AP's Top 25.
Two Pac-12 players will be Biletnikoff Award semifinalists.
USC's John "JuJu" Smith-Schuster and Colorado's Nelson Spruce are elite receivers. Nelson made the award's preseason watch list but Smith-Schuster did not. This is the second time in recent memory that a Trojan receiver was left off the list. In 2012, Marqise Lee was not on the original 2012 watch list but his name was added 24 hours later. Lee went on to win the 2012 Biletnikoff Award.
USC will own Los Angeles after a three-year Bruin reign.
The UCLA Bruins have a lot of talent on their roster. But all that talent will be dependent on true freshman quarterback Josh "The Chosen" Rosen. It's not official, but I'm sold on Rosen as UCLA's starting quarterback. I'm not sold that he will be able to handle the Pac-12 South, including a deeper Trojan team.
UCLA's three-year domination occurred during USC's NCAA-mandated sanctions. One of the sanctions included a reduction of 10 scholarships per season for three years, which ended after the 2014 season. While USC will not be at full strength with 85 scholarshipped players this season, it should field more than the usual 60-ish scholarshipped players it had in the past three years. USC has much more depth.
Translation: it's not UCLA's fault USC wasn't playing with a full deck but the deck was definitely stacked in UCLA's favor for the past three years. That will change this season.
Colorado will go bowling.
When Colorado scheduled Hawai'i , it also optioned to play a 13 game-schedule instead of the standard 12. That extra game requires an extra win to become bowl eligible--Colorado needs seven wins, not the usual six. The Buffaloes should be 4-0 after beating Hawai'i, UMass, Colorado State and Nicholls State. So where do the other three wins come from?
Two road trips to Oregon State and Washington State look like possible wins. This means the Buffs will have to upset a big boy to go bowling. Last season the Buffs lost four conference games by five points or less. Last year they were close--this year the ball bounces their way.
Arizona State will upset Texas A&M in Houston
The Sun Devils don't get a lot of respect from the pollsters while the Aggies seem to get too much. Last year the Aggies jumped from No. 21 to No. 6 after beating South Carolina, Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas. For what it's worth, four of their seven regular season wins were against Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana Monroe.
Texas A&M is currently a 3-point favorite over Arizona State, presumably because the Aggies have home field advantage. College Station-to-Houston is an 80-mile drive. I like the Sun Devils to shock the Aggies and force pundits and pollsters to re-evaluate their biases.