Complete Pac-12 preview for the 2018 season.
The Pac-12 never lacks for intrigue, but the conference heads into 2018 looking to rebound after a disappointing 2017 slate. The league did not produce a playoff team, had only two programs reach double-digit victories and went 1-8 in bowl games. But there’s reason for optimism on the West Coast for 2018. Washington takes the top spot in Pac-12 predictions, as coach Chris Petersen’s team should be in the mix for a playoff spot this fall. The Huskies are loaded on both sides of the ball and are a clear favorite to win the conference title. Stanford and Oregon are both top 25 teams and will battle Washington for the top spots in the North. The other side of the conference features three teams vying for the division title. USC is the favorite in the South, but there’s little separation between the Trojans, Arizona and Utah.
The arc of the Cal program is headed in a positive direction, but second-year coach Justin Wilcox knows the Bears aren’t where they need to be. “It’s not good enough. We can say we have all these returnees, but we were 5-7,” he says. “Every one of us has got to show improvement.”
A year ago, the Bears dramatically improved the Pac-12’s worst defense and inched close to bowl eligibility. But the stretch run was a study in frustrating close calls, a 1-4 finish that included three losses by a combined seven points. “Those are the margins that are toughest to overcome,” Wilcox says. That will remain Cal’s challenge in the tough Pac-12 North.
The schedule sets up for a return to contention in the Pac-12 North. After three bland non-conference matchups — the Ducks can thank Texas A&M for backing out of a contracted series — Oregon hosts Washington and Stanford in conference play. With Justin Herbert and Tony Brooks-James in the backfield, and experience up front, the offense should be able to put up points. History says the defense in its second year under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt will take another step forward. But will it be enough to get Oregon back to double-digit wins and Pac-12 title contention? The Ducks haven’t won a bowl game since the 2014 CFB Playoff semifinal, a streak fans badly want to see end.
The Beavers aren’t trying to snap a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons like in 1999, but the gap between them and the rest of the Pac-12 felt as wide as ever last year. Still, if OSU can buy into what Jonathan Smith is selling and move past a disastrous 2017, his first season as a head coach will be considered a success.
For years, Stanford has led with its defense, which it backed up with a rugged, run-first offensive attack. That could change this year The Stanford offense hasn’t eclipsed 40 points per game since 2011, when Andrew Luck lined up behind center. It could in 2018. And it might need to, thanks to a defense in transition.
Stanford visits Pac-12 North favorite Washington on Nov. 3, but we’ll get a good picture of the Cardinal before September is over, with games vs. USC, at Oregon and at Notre Dame.
In Year 5 of the Chris Petersen era, the meticulous Washington coach will trot out a rarefied group that boasts 16 returning starters from a team that won 10 games. The Huskies take a backseat to no team when it comes to game experience. They’re positioned to run with college football’s elite again this season, and expectations are through the roof in Seattle. All Petersen’s club needs to do now is stay relatively healthy — and win.
In each of the past two seasons, Washington State fell four quarters shy of its first Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. It’s unlikely that the race for the Pac-12 North will come down to the Apple Cup again, and fans may need to temper their expectations after WSU followed an eight-win season in 2016 with nine wins in ’17. That doesn’t mean that the Cougars will backslide too much. They may just have to find some middle ground: Competing for a title in the rugged Pac-12 North seems unrealistic, but a bowl game is within reach.
With a forgiving schedule – Arizona does not play Washington or Stanford – the Wildcats are positioned to contend for the Pac-12 South title. Arizona is thin on defense, but its starters are of Pac-12 quality. Khalil Tate will attempt to be the school’s first All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback since Arizona joined the league in 1978. But much like on defense, Arizona is not deep and has no game-ready backup should Tate go down. Still, this is Arizona’s most anticipated season since 2010.
The presence a handful of top-shelf Pac-12 players may mask to some degree the scope of ASU’s overhaul, but at least it’ll give the staff a boost in the transitional phase. While the Sun Devils likely won’t challenge for the Pac-12 South division title, they have potential to remain relevant into November. All eyes will be on coach Herm Edwards, one of the most intriguing hires in college football in years.
After a South Division title in 2016, Colorado entered last season eager to prove it was more than a one-hit wonder. Instead, the Buffs settled into their familiar spot at the bottom of the division. Mike MacIntyre is only one year removed from winning National Coach of the Year honors and signing a contract extension (through 2021), but there’s pressure to get the Buffs back to the postseason. There’s enough talent and hunger to get them there, but not much margin for error.
Coach Chip Kelly is inheriting a full rebuilding job and not a top-25 team like he had when he embarked on his magical run at Oregon. The Bruins do have talent on campus from all those top recruiting classes signed by the previous staff, but there are significant issues on both sides of the ball.
It may not be long before Kelly has the Bruins contending for titles like they did with regularity two decades ago, but there are bound to be a few growing pains in 2018. Even in a wide-open Pac-12 South, this UCLA squad may prove to be more pesky than good as it builds toward a brighter future.
Clay Helton is the first coach in the program’s history to guide the Trojans to 10 wins in each of his first two seasons, but it is going to be a challenge to continue that level of success with significant roster turnover.
The Trojans should remain the favorites in the Pac-12 South race, considering the talent remaining on their roster and coaching changes that occurred at three of their division rivals. The challenge to repeat as Pac-12 champions gets off to a difficult start with a tough September slate that includes trips to Stanford and Arizona, plus a matchup with Washington State on a Friday night. It won’t be an easy road to navigate.
Utah is entering its eighth season in the Pac-12, and Kyle Whittingham now has been a head coach in this conference longer than he filled that role in the Mountain West. So the Utes are feeling some pressure to win their first Pac-12 South championship. “We are getting closer and closer to where we want to be, but no one cares about being close,” Whittingham says. “We have to get over that hump.”
The schedule is difficult – the Utes miss Oregon State and California in the rotation – but the pieces are in place for Utah to threaten USC for supremacy in the South.
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USC versus Stanford Preview
Stanford will try to defeat USC in the Pac-12 championship game for the second time in three seasons when the No. 15 Cardinal meet the No. 9 Trojans at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday night. Stanford has won eight of its past nine following a 38-20 victory against No. 17 Notre Dame on Saturday, and USC has won four straight for the second time this season. The Pac-12 Championship will be broadcast at 8pm on ESPN. Play this game as part of Tuesday GoW cross sports contest starting at 8pm ET.
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These teams met September 9 in Los Angeles and the Trojans played one of their best games of the season, piling up 623 total yards in a 42-24 victory inside the Coliseum. USC quarterback Sam Darnold completed 21-of-26 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns, and led the Trojans on six touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer. Stanford’s go-to player continues to be running back Bryce Love, who had 160 rushing yards on 17 carries and scored a touchdown in the first meeting, one of 10 games with at least 100 yards rushing this season. USC will see a different quarterback as sophomore K.J. Costello replaced senior Keller Chryst four games ago and is coming off his best performance, throwing for 176 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions against the Fighting Irish.
ABOUT STANFORD (9-3)
The Trojans will have their hands full trying to block senior Harrison Phillips, who leads all FBS defensive tackles with 16.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. The Cardinal also have a dependable secondary led by strong safety Justin Reid, the conference’s co-leader in interceptions with five, including one against the Trojans earlier this season. Reid displayed his versatility against Notre Dame, totaling nine tackles (three solo), a sack and a pass breakup.
ABOUT USC (10-2)
The Trojans will also have a somewhat different look than the last meeting against Stanford as the leading rusher from that game, Stephen Carr, hasn’t bounced back from a four-game absence in October because of a foot injury. Carr has appeared in two games since his return, but totaled only 12 rushing yards on four carries and caught three passes for 59 yards. Ronald Jones II has flourished as the No. 1 back for USC, especially in the past four games, combining for 674 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in that span.
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Thursday Games of the Week
Begin the football weekend with the College Football game between Stanford and Oregon State. Mix it with some NFL Thursday Night Football and you’ve got your Games of the Week. Check out both games preview below and come play FanPicks cross sports contest!!! >>>Click here to join the game<<<
Stanford Cardinals vs Oregon State Beavers
Following a much-needed week off, No. 20 Stanford aims for its fifth straight victory Thursday in Corvallis against a re-energized Oregon State team under interim coach Cory Hall. The game will start at 9pm ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.
The Beavers have dropped five in a row and will be hard-pressed to slow down Heisman Trophy hopeful Bryce Love. Love leads the nation in rushing at 198.1 yards per game and has 18 carries of 30 yards or more. He has a remarkable 1,387 rushing yards through seven games despite carrying only once in the second half of Stanford’s 49-7 rout of Oregon on October 14.
Stanford’s offensive line has gone four straight games without allowing a sack while creating opportunities for quarterback Keller Chryst, who turned in one of his best games of the season against Oregon, throwing for 181 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The Cardinal are tied for first in the Pac-12 North but need to avoid a letdown against Oregon State, which headed into its off week after playing one of its most competitive games of the season in a 36-33 loss to Colorado.
STANFORD (5-2, 4-1 Pac-12)
Love ranks second nationally with 200.9 all-purpose yards per game to lead the Cardinal, who have averaged 295 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns during their four-game winning streak. Linebacker Curtis Robinson had a team-high seven tackles against Oregon but the Cardinal run defense struggled again as the Ducks rushed for 276 yards. The Cardinal have been stronger in the secondary where safety Justin Reid (five) and cornerback Quenton Meeks (two) have combined for seven interceptions.
OREGON STATE (1-6, 0-4 Pac-12)
Hall took over for Gary Andersen on October 8 and immediately placed a greater emphasis on the run game as Ryan Nall finished with 172 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Colorado. Junior wide receiver Seth Collins, who leads the team with 43.3 receiving yards per game, missed the contest because of an unspecified illness and could be out for the rest of the season. Senior linebacker Manase Hungalu has been a bright spot on defense with 59 total tackles, five for loss, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and three quarterback hurries.
Miami Dolphins vs Baltimore Ravens
Journeyman Matt Moore is fresh off a brilliant comeback performance and now will serve as the starting quarterback when the Miami Dolphins visit the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday. You can catch that game at 8:25 pm on CBS.
Moore came off the bench after Jay Cutler suffered multiple cracked ribs on Sunday to rally Miami from a 14-point deficit and record a 31-28 victory over the New York Jets. He threw two touchdown passes during a 17-point fourth quarter and brings a more boisterous approach than the introverted Cutler, who could miss multiple contests. Miami has won three straight games, so it is experiencing better times than the Ravens, who have allowed an average of 27.6 points while losing four of their last five contests.
Running back Jay Ajayi (442 yards) is saddled with a 3.5-yard average that is well below the 4.9 mark of last season’s breakthrough campaign, but he will have a shot at posting his third 100-yard performance of the year against a Baltimore squad that ranks last in the NFL in rushing defense (145.3 yards per game). Moore will try to pump life into a sagging offense that ranks 31st in scoring (15.3 points) and dead last in total offense (261.8 yards) as well as try to make a downfield threat out of receiver Jarvis Landry, who is averaging just 8.1 yards on 45 receptions. Defensive end Cameron Wake has recorded six sacks after posting 2.5 against the Jets, but the defense has made only two interceptions.
Baltimore ranks 23rd in the NFL in scoring offense (18.8 points) and 28th in total offense (277.6 yards) while quarterback Joe Flacco has been an underwhelming performer with five touchdown tosses and eight interceptions. Cornerback Brandon Carr has recorded a club-leading three interceptions. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (team-best 4.5 sacks) is expected to play through a knee injury.
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NCAA Football 2017 Season
Pac-12 North Preview
Washington claimed the Pac-12 title and a CFB Playoff berth last season, and despite some key personnel departures, coach Chris Petersen’s team isn’t fading from the top of the league in 2017. Oregon, Stanford and Washington State will most likely battle for second in the Pac-12 North division. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
In 2016, Oregon’s offense slipped from elite to merely very good. The Ducks were 27th nationally in scoring at 35.4 points per game, and 18th with 6.6 yards per play. Being very good on offense didn’t get it done given that Oregon was absolutely dreadful on defense, finishing 126th in the nation both scoring and total defense.
With QB Justin Herbert, RB Royce Freeman, WR Darren Carrington and all that experience back on the offensive line, the Ducks figure to be even more explosive in new coach Willie Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense,” which was fourth nationally last season — at South Florida — in scoring (43.8 ppg) and sixth in yards per play (7.2). But will the Ducks be demonstrably better on defense?
The good news is that Oregon also returns a host of players on that side of the ball, too; the bad news is that those players were woefully ineffective last season. Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt might be one of the best in the country — the Ducks are paying him to be, at more than $1 million per season — but he may need another year to coach up the veterans and recruit more talent before Oregon is back competing for championships.
The Cardinal have reached a point where going 10–3, as they did in 2016, actually feels like a down year. But two of those losses were to the North Division champ (Washington) and the South Division champ (Colorado). The Huskies show no sign of slowing down in the North, and USC looks to be rising again in the South. The Cardinal will have to find a way to beat Washington if they hope to return to the Pac-12 title game.
After a College Football Playoff appearance, coach Chris Petersen returns 13 starters, including the reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and starting QB quarterback Jake Browning. Petersen can also count on middle linebacker Azeem Victor, who might be the league’s best defensive player.
The now highest paid coach in Pac-12 continues to recruit well. He has another soft non-conference slate and doesn’t have USC on the league schedule. If UW can restock the secondary and keep the momentum going, the Huskies will be a serious contender — both in the Pac-12 and nationally — again.
Washington St. Cougars
With 17 wins over the last two seasons, the turnaround of the WSU football program is basically complete. Now, head coach Mike Leach just has to keep his pirate ship headed in the right direction. Last year the Cougars stayed in the hunt for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game all the way up until the last game of the regular season. With quarterback Luke Falk and a number of playmakers returning, fans have plenty of reasons to expect to contend again in 2017.
Oregon St. Beavers
Following a disastrous 2–10 debut season for head coach Gary Andersen, Oregon State showed noticeable progress in 2016 by doubling its win total, notching three Pac-12 victories and closing the season with a blowout of Arizona and a come-from-behind win over Oregon. The Beavers identified some clear strengths, with running back Ryan Nall pacing a tough-minded rushing attack and a secondary spearheading a defense that ranked in the top 50 nationally in pass defense.
Though this program is still in the thick of its rebuild, there’s reason for optimism in 2017. Returning to a bowl game for the first time since 2013 is not an outlandish expectation.
California Golden Bears
Cal fans will see plenty of changes this season. Achieving success may be ambitious for new head coach Justin Wilcox. The schedule is tough, quarterback is unsettled and there are big questions along both fronts. For now, the Bears may find themselves thinly spreading whatever secret sauce they devise.
Stanford (3-0) vs Washington (4-0)
Junior running back Christian McCaffrey is ranked second in the nation in rushing yards per game but is somehow considered to be experiencing a down season. He leads No. 6 Stanford into a Pac-12 showdown at No. 9 Washington on Friday night (Enter Contest). McCaffrey’s spectacular 2015 campaign in which he rushed for 2,019 yards and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting has made his 145.3 rushing yards per game seem pedestrian but only San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey (199.7) has a better average. Washington coach Chris Petersen is well aware of who will be the best player on the field. Both teams won their last seven games dating back to last season. This contest is the Huskies’ opportunity to show they are for real and not unbeaten just because of a soft schedule.
Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning threw 14 touchdown passes against two interceptions this season while helping the Huskies rank 10th nationally in scoring offense at 45.8 points per game. Sophomore tailback Myles Gaskin leads the team with 302 rushing yards, but is being pushed from behind by junior Lavon Coleman. Coleman exploded for a career-best 181 yards on 11 carries in Saturday’s 35-28 overtime victory over Arizona.
Washington allowed a staggering 308 rushing yards to the Wildcats. It makes slowing Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey seem like more of a challenge for a defense led by junior linebacker Azeem Victor (team-best 31 tackles) and junior safety Budda Baker (20 stops). On the upside, the Huskies are tied for the national lead in takeaways (13) and have committed only four turnovers.
McCaffrey aims to help the Cardinal defeat the Huskies for the eighth time in the past nine meetings. He rushed for 436 yards and leads the Cardinal in receiving (12 catches for 119 yards). Despite opponents crowding the line to stop McCaffrey, you would believe that it helps opening up the passing game. Though senior quarterback Ryan Burns (395 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions) hasn’t displayed the ability to be a downfield passing threat despite throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass with 24 seconds left to beat UCLA on Saturday.
The defense ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense at 12 points per game. Junior defensive tackle Solomon Thomas has been named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after returning a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown and also posted a sack against the Bruins. Stanford won 15 of its past 16 contests and matched the school record of seven consecutive Pac-12 road wins. The Cardinals recent dominance has allowed them to tie the series 41-41-4. Senior WR Francis Owusu (concussion) won’t be available for this game. He got injured against UCLA.
Fanpicks.com College Football Bowl Game Preview
ROSE BOWL GAME
Stanford vs. Iowa
Fanpicks.com is proud to bring you grandest of the all the college playoffs – The Rose Bowl game preview featuring Stanford against Iowa. This will prove to be an exciting game for all fans. We predict that this year’s Rose Bowl will be won by Stanford with a 27-21 score. Play the best fantasy college football contests at Fanpicks.com.
Two teams that barely missed out on a spot in the College Football Playoff meet Jan. 1 as Iowa takes on Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual in Pasadena, Calif. “If the Rose Bowl is the consolation prize, what a deal for both of us,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters. The Hawkeyes suffered their first loss with a 16-13 defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, while Stanford earned its third Rose Bowl berth in the last four years with a 41-22 win over USC in the Pac-12 title game.
Iowa began the season unranked after finishing 7-6 a year ago but improved every week to earn its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1991. The Big Ten West Division champions rely heavily on their run defense, which ranks 10th in the nation at fewer than 115 yards per game. The impressive unit will be tested by a powerful Stanford offensive attack led by sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy race after breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yards record with 3,496.
Stanford struggled in its only other meeting against a Big Ten opponent this season as the Cardinal scored their fewest points since 2007 and lost their opener 16-6 at Northwestern. Following that low point, however, coach David Shaw’s squad strung together eight straight wins before losing 38-36 to Oregon on Nov. 14. In addition to McCaffrey, the Cardinal boast a steady hand at quarterback in senior Kevin Hogan, who has thrown for 2,644 yards and 24 touchdowns against seven interceptions while completing 68.6 percent of his passes.
STANFORD Season Overview (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12): The Hawkeyes can expect a heavy dose of McCaffrey, who rushed for 1,847 yards and eight touchdowns while adding 540 receiving yards and four more scores through the air. “He’s the best player in the nation,” coach David Shaw told reporters after McCaffrey recorded 461 yards in total offense in the Pac-12 title game. “I don’t know if that’s even a question. There’s nobody in the nation doing what he’s been doing. It’s not even a debate.” Linebacker Blake Martinez averages a Pac-12-high 10.2 tackles per game to lead the defense, which benefits from a Stanford offense that leads the nation in time of possession.
IOWA Season Overview (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten): For the Hawkeyes to win their school-record 13th game and their first Rose Bowl since beating Cal in 1959, they’ll need another solid outing from quarterback C.J. Beathard, who threw 15 touchdowns against three interceptions and rushed for six scores. Beathard could be without the services of leading rusher Jordan Canzeri, who ran for 12 touchdowns but left the Big Ten championship game with a sprained right ankle and is listed as questionable for the Rose Bowl. Iowa’s secondary is led by first team All-American Desmond King, who received the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back after recording eight interceptions while averaging 25.6 yards per kickoff return and 12.7 yards on punts.