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.

California

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.

Oregon

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.

Oregon State

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.

Stanford

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.

Washington

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.

Washington State

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.

Arizona

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.

Arizona State

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.

Colorado

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.

UCLA

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.

USC

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

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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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.

Oregon Ducks

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.

Stanford Cardinals

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.

Washington Huskies

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.

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Pac-12 Championship Preview

Colorado Buffalos vs Washington Huskies

Washington battles Colorado for Pac-12 championship (Enter Contest). A victory by fourth-ranked Washington over No. 9 Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game might be enough to get the Huskies into the College Football Playoff. But maybe not. The prospect of the Big Ten getting two teams into the four-team playoff could shut out Washington (11-1), even if it defeats the surprising Buffaloes (10-2), who went from worst to first in the Pac-12 South in one season. The teams play in the sixth Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The North champ is 5-0 in the league title game. Washington’s poor non-conference strength of schedule (Rutgers, Idaho, Portland State) could come into play when the selection committee makes its decisions, but first there is the matter of finding a way to beat a veteran, balanced Colorado squad.

Colorado Buffalos

The Buffaloes cleared big hurdles in the past two weeks, twice defeating teams ranked No. 22. They followed a 38-24 win over Washington State with a 27-22 win against Utah to clinch the South at 8-1. That marks three more conference victories than Colorado managed over its first five seasons in the Pac-12. Colorado ranks 13th nationally in total defense (323.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (18.8 points). Senior cornerback Chidobe Awuziewas selected the team’s most valuable defensive player; he has 54 tackles, 10 pass break-ups and a nine career sacks, four this season. Safety Tedric Thompson has tied the school record for most interceptions in a season with seven.

The Buffaloes’ offense isn’t as explosive as Washington’s, but the run-pass balance is formidable. Senior quarterback Sefo Liufau has thrown for 2,150 yards, completing 64.6 percent of his 277 passes, with just three interceptions. Liufau also has 483 rushing yards. Running back Phillip Lindsay posted 1,136 rushing yards in the regular season, to go with 44 receptions.

Washington Huskies

Washington is third nationally in scoring at 44.8 points per game. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is third in the country in passing touchdowns (40), fourth in passing efficiency (181.6 rating) and ninth in yards per completion (14.78). In last week’s showdown at Washington State for the Pac-12 North title, he completed 21 of 29 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Sophomore running back Myles Gaskin ran for 1,180 yards in the regular season, his second season of at least 1,000 yards. Speedy senior John Ross is second nationally with 16 touchdown catches. Wide receiver Dante Pettis has 14 touchdown receptions. Washington did lose starting linebackers Joe Mathis and Azeem Victorto injuries during the season, but redshirt freshman D.J. Beavers is making the most of his new opportunity. Beavers tallied four tackles with a forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception in last week’s game against Washington State.

Washington and Colorado each lost to USC, with the Buffaloes also dropping a game at Michigan. They were leading that game in the second half before Liufau left with an injury. The Huskies have won six consecutive meetings against Colorado, the last coming in 2014 in Boulder, 38-23.

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Washington Huskies vs Washington State Cougars Preview

It has been a long time since the Apple Cup packed such importance and No. 5 Washington and No. 23 Washington State square off in a duel for the Pac-12 North Division crown when they meet on Friday in Pullman (Enter Contest). The last time the two rivals were both ranked when they met was in 2001. It was a 26-14 win for the Huskies.  The visiting Washington’s national championship hopes hang in the balance as well as attempting to secure a spot in the Pac-12 title game. The Cougars had an eight-game winning streak halted with a 38-24 road loss to Colorado on Saturday.

ABOUT WASHINGTON (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12)

Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning fueled the Huskies’ rise with his superb play that includes a school-record 37 touchdown passes to go with 2,870 yards and only seven interceptions. Two junior big-play wideouts have certainly aided his production. Both John Ross (64 receptions for 991 yards and 15 touchdowns) and Dante Pettis (46 for 701, 12 scores) are enjoying solid campaigns, as is sophomore running back Myles Gaskin (1,130 yards, nine touchdowns). The defense has lost key players in linebackers Azeem Victor (67 tackles) and Joe Mathis (five sacks) with season-ending injuries. No worries though because junior inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria leads the nation with five fumble recoveries. Washington owns a 70-32-6 series lead and recorded victories in each of the past three meetings.

ABOUT WASHINGTON STATE (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12)

Junior quarterback Luke Falk is enjoying his own splendid season with 35 touchdowns passes (three off the school record he set last season) and he ranks third nationally with 3,935 passing yards. Falk (87) is four touchdown passes away from breaking the Cougars’ record set by Connor Halliday (90 from 2011-14). Senior receiver Gabe Marks (74 catches, 12 touchdowns) became the 13th player in FBS history to top 300 career receptions and his 36 career touchdown catches are five shy of the Pac-12 record held by USC’s Dwayne Jarrett (2004-06). Senior free safety Shalom Luani has a team-best four interceptions and junior middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer has a team-leading 80 tackles for a defense allowing 25.5 points per game.

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College Football Playoffs picture shakeup

Here is a rundown of the huge upset that affects the College Football Playoffs picture (Enter Contests).

Pittsburgh vs Clemson

Blewitt didn’t blow it. Pittsburgh kicker Chris Blewitt kicked a 48-yard field goal with six seconds remaining as the Panthers stunned No. 2 Clemson 43-42 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, knocking the Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten and damaging their hopes for a return trip to the College Football Playoff. Pittsburgh stuffed Clemson running back Wayne Gallman for a one-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 play at the Pittsburgh 35-yard line with less than a minute to play and quickly drove 34 yards in six plays to set up Blewitt for the winning score.

Michigan vs Iowa

On a stunning Saturday in college football, the carnage continued inside Kinnick Stadium. Freshman kicker Keith Duncan connected on a 33-yard field goal as time expired to lift Iowa to a stunning 14-13 upset of No. 3 Michigan The heavily favored Wolverines (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten) were dealt a blow to their College Football Playoff chances, but will likely still qualify if they win their remaining games. Michigan gave Iowa life when quarterback Wilton Speight threw an interception to freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba, who was filling in place of an injured Greg Mabin. Iowa gave it right back when a deep ball from quarterback C.J. Beathard intended for wide receiver Jerminic Smith was picked off by Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling.

It appeared Michigan would then salt away the win, but the Hawkeyes forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines’ Grant Perry was called for a face mask during a Desmond King punt return. It gave Iowa the ball at Michigan’s 36-yard line. Iowa (6-4, 4-3) had converted only 3 of 15 third down attempts, but it got a fourth when Beathard ran up the middle on a quarterback draw for eight yards to move the chains and set up Duncan.

USC vs Washington

Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold threw for 287 yards and two touchdowns as unranked USC upset the fourth-ranked Washington Huskies 26-13 on Saturday to further cloud the playoff picture. The Trojans (7-3 overall, 6-2 in the Pac-12 South) jumped out to an 11-point halftime lead and held on for their sixth consecutive win, while Washington (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12 North) is the third unbeaten team to lose Saturday. Only Alabama remains with a perfect records this year.

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College Football Playoffs Rankings

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The College Football Playoff selection committee released its first set of rankings on Tuesday night. As expected, Alabama took the top spot, with Clemson at No. 2 and Michigan at No. 3 The big surprise came at No. 4, as the committee went with Texas A&M over Washington. The Huskies checked in at No. 5, while Ohio State, Louisville, Wisconsin, Auburn and Nebraska rounded out the top 10. Western Michigan was the top Group of 5 team at No. 23, and Oklahoma was the first Big 12 team at No. 14.

college-football-playoffs-11-01-2016

If the college football playoffs started today, No. 1 Alabama would play No. 4 Texas A&M  at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and No. 2 Clemson would square off against No. 3 Michigan at the Fiesta Bowl. The winner of those semi-final match-ups face each other at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on January 9th 2017 for the National Championship.

The Aggies’ lone loss this season was at Alabama on Oct. 22, when A&M fell 33-14. Although Washington remains undefeated, the Huskies have only one road win against a ranked opponent in the Utah Utes. They are in the outside looking in for now, as the college football playoffs final rankings will now be updated every Tuesday moving on.

Major Bowls Projections

The Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual still gets the Pac-12 champ, which would be No. 5 Washington, and because No. 3 Michigan is in the semifinal, the Rose Bowl would host the next-best Big Ten team: No. 6 Ohio State.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl is guaranteed the Big 12 champ, which would be No. 14 Oklahoma, but because the SEC champ and Texas A&M are both in the semifinals, the Sugar Bowl would take the next-highest SEC team, No. 9 Auburn.

The Capital One Orange Bowl is guaranteed the ACC champion, but because Clemson is in a semifinal, the Orange Bowl would take the next-highest ACC team, No. 7 Louisville. The Orange Bowl then chooses the next-highest team from the SEC, Big Ten or Notre Dame. In this case, it would be No. 8 Wisconsin.

The highest-ranked Group of 5 champion is guaranteed a spot in a New Year’s Six Bowl. As such, No. 23 Western Michigan would go to the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, which can then choose an at-large team from any FBS conference, and No. 10 Nebraska is the highest-ranked team available.

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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.

ABOUT WASHINGTON

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.

ABOUT STANFORD

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.

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