It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new season for Pac-12 football.
And we’re feeling good.
This 2017 season could become one of the most competitive seasons in a long time for both the North and South Divisions. After week one, four teams from the Pac-12 ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll.
So what can we expect from the conference of champions moving forward? We could see another Cinderella story like Colorado’s 2016 team who defied all the odds by completing a 10-win season, claiming the South division title after only winning four games in 2015. We could also see powerhouses like University of Southern California, Washington and Stanford show the rest of the conference who’s boss.
As we prepare for the first Pac-12 game of the year between Stanford and USC on Saturday, here are my predictions for how the North Division will fare in 2017.
6. Oregon State
Beavers head coach Gary Patterson is very close to being on the hot seat after an unimpressive performance in their week zero opener against Colorado State. His case was not helped by a close 3-point win over FCS opponent Portland State on Saturday. The worst offensive team in the conference a year ago only brought in four offensive recruits during the offseason. On defense, the Beavers gave up 58 points to a Colorado State team that would score only 3 the next week against Colorado. The silver lining for Oregon State is junior running back Ryan Nall, who ranked third in the conference last season in rushing yards per game. Besides that, things are not looking bright in Corvallis.
The era of Golden Bear football under new head coach Justin Wilcox got off to a great start against North Carolina last Saturday, as the Golden Bears impressed many with a 35-30 victory in Chapel Hill. Sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers looked superb as he threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in his debut. Could he be next on the impressive list of NFL quarterbacks to come out of Cal? Another player to watch is junior wide receiver Vic Wharton III, as he electrified his way to 156 receiving yards on five receptions against the Tar Heels. Wharton could be the replacement for Chad Hansen, the former Golden Bear and current New York Jet. Wilcox’s new defensive philosophy could help this program get rid of its defensive woes from the past, but there’s still some ways to go until Berkeley gets back on the map.
The Ducks will want to quickly put their 4-8 2016 season in the rear view mirror. New head coach Willie Taggart takes over an Oregon team that has sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert at the helm. Herbert’s shown some nice flashes here and there, but the ground game will carry most of the load this season with the likes of senior Royce Freeman and junior Tony Brooks-James. Together, the two backs combined for 1,716 yards on the ground last season. The defense needs some major tinkering compared to seasons past, especially against the run. That should be something high on the to-do lists for both Taggart and new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who joins the Ducks after leading Colorado’s elite defense in 2016.
3. Washington State
Senior quarterback Luke Falk and head coach Mike Leach are the talk of the town in Pullman these days. Losing former receiver Gabe Marks might hurt this entertaining offense slightly, but coming off a season averaging 343 passing yards per game, Falk is poised to do great things in his final season as a Cougar. If the defense is solid enough, Leach could easily lead the Cougars to their third consecutive winning season. Talk about a nice turnaround for a program that was the runt of the litter not long ago. This summer’s solid recruiting season will also help Wazzu stay relevant in the Pac-12 for years to come.
Stunningly enough, the defending Pac-12 champions coached by Chris Peterson are ranked second in the North for me. Junior quarterback Jake Browning is coming off an extraordinary campaign, winning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Browning lost deep threat John Ross III to the NFL draft, but senior wide receiver Dante Pettis and junior running back Myles Gaskin will return to help keep the Huskies’ menacing offense chugging. While the secondary still includes Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year Taylor Rapp, the unit lost some major pieces in the offseason. The departures of Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones could hurt a pass defense that was best in the conference last season. All said, Washington will definitely compete for the North, as they’re fortunate enough not to have USC on their schedule. However, the Huskies will have to go on the road to play the Buffaloes in Boulder and will have to travel late in the year to meet up with the juggernaut I have next in the rankings.
The Cardinal are in a good position to go down the road to Santa Clara and into the Pac-12 Championship Game this season. Their 62-7 beat down of Rice in Sydney, Australia, comes as no surprise, but this 2017 Stanford team really is one to watch out for. Senior Keller Chryst might be the most underrated quarterback in college football, and junior running back Bryce Love is as quick as a flash in the backfield. Love could very well replace former Heisman contender Christian McCaffrey in the Stanford backfield. Yes, they lost Solomon Thomas on the defensive line, but the entirety of the starting defense this season consists of juniors and seniors. With the exception of the Pac-12 opener against USC, the big match ups for Stanford will all be played in Palo Alto. Stanford’s unbeaten in three games at home against ranked opponents, a streak they’ll look to continue when Washington and Notre Dame come to town. To put the cherry on top of it all, Stanford had a terrific recruiting season with nine ESPN 300 recruits to their credit, making the Cardinal a formidable force in college football for years to come.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Drew Sharek at firstname.lastname@example.org.