Here we go, friends. Sean and Rusty, the two game pickers you love [to make fun of] are back in the saddle to tell you all how it’s going to be. We’ll be back each week during the season to make our game picks (unless we find ourselves in some kind of Lochte-in-gas-station situation), but for now, we’re going to take a look at the season that will be for the Pac-12 North.
We live in a world where Washington - yes, Washington - is picked to win the North. With that as a succinct way of saying “What the hell is going on here?” let’s dive in and make some predictions, even as we stand on crazily uneven ground.
S: Washington UNDER 9 Wins
I mean, let’s cool our freaking jets here. The Huskies went 6-6 last year and were a Luke Falk injury away from not making a bowl game. Now they’re supposed to win 10 games and the North? Not buying it.
I think this is an improved team, definitely. Chris Petersen can coach - hard - but going 10-2 would be a massive surprise. I think this is a top-25, 8-4 type team. Give me the under.
R: Washington UNDER 9 Wins
I get why this is a high number. The Huskies have eight starters back on offense and have seven starters back on defense. Sophomore quarterback Jake Browning is back and they have solid starters at every position.
But I think it’s important to remember that quality players has never been an issue in Seattle. Remember that Washington had 3 great NFL draft picks a couple years ago and they weren’t a good defense. Washington has historically recruited really well. Their lack of execution has been the most troublesome. The best example is when they were down two scores to Oregon and had a drive that lasted over five minutes, only leaving them under two minutes to get the ball back and score. That’s a terrible decision by the coaching staff to just let it run like that.
This is also a team that won only six games last year. One of their wins was over USC whose coach was having some very serious issues with alcohol. Two of their wins came against a lower mid-major team in Utah State and a win over Sacramento State. They also dropped games to the unimpressive Cal and Arizona State teams.
The Huskies will start off with three wins after facing the cupcake schedule of Rutgers, Idaho, and Portland State. They face Stanford on a short week and then follow that trip with Oregon. Facing any team after Stanford is tough. Then they still have Utah and USC on the schedule.
S: Stanford UNDER 8.5 Wins
Stanford will of course compete. They have McCaffrey, good wide receivers, a probably-strong defense, and a hell of a lot of pluck. But they lost a lot of good role players and have a new quarterback facing a murderer’s row of Pac-12 North opponents, plus USC/UCLA in the South, plus Notre Dame and Kansas State in the non-conference. I just think it’s a lot to ask. I see these guys also going 8-4. A 9-3 record would be a hell of a coaching job by David Shaw, but you can’t discount the loss of leadership provided by Kevin Hogan for all those years.
R: Stanford OVER 8.5 Wins
Stanford is one of those teams that I’m expecting to start falling but never do. It won’t happen this year or probably next year. My opinion might be skewed by the fact that Stanford was pretty bad for some of my formative fan years.
The Cardinal has five starters back on offense including Heisman front-runner Christian McCaffrey. Two starters are back on the offensive line. They have to replace starting quarterback Kevin Hogan but I don’t think that will be too difficult because the stats show the more Hogan had to throw the ball during a game the less likely they were to win. There might be a small dropoff in offensive production but not much and the defense has six starters coming back so they’ll be fine in that department.
I have the Cardinal beating Kansas State in the opener. I think Stanford is just better and the inexperience on the Kansas State offensive line is going to show against Stanford. I also have Stanford beating Washington, Colorado, Oregon State, California, and Rice. That means they only have to find three wins out of USC, UCLA, Washington State, Notre Dame, Arizona, and Oregon. They beat all those teams except Oregon. Notre Dame will most likely win but I’m sure they’ll find three wins out of that group.
Picking Stanford to go over is so boring though. Their offense is so boring and their defense is so boring. I also hate the concept of using all-purpose yards because if you just do your job on kickoffs and return five kickoffs you get 100+ yards added to your total, and that’s even before factoring in punt returns. Stanford will get over 8.5 wins and the train will keep rolling and I will try to not sleep through most of it.
S: Oregon OVER 8 Wins
RETURN OF THE HOMER PICK. Ducks, oddly, have nowhere to go but up. They have the best group of skill players top-to-bottom in the conference, and probably a top 3 group in the country. They have, obviously, big questions at QB, but between Prukop, Jonsen, and this young Herbert fellow/fella, I think QB play will be at least serviceable. And, obviously, the revamped defense has to improve because, well, it would be almost impossible to be worse than last year. Tough game on the road in Lincoln, and tough draw getting USC, Arizona State, and Utah out of the South division. But let’s be real: this team is too talented to go 7-5. I think another 9-3 season with more of a defensive identity is a successful year. (And if the Ducks can sweep the Washington schools and beat USC, watch out for a 10-win season.)
R: Oregon OVER 8 Wins
The hate for the Ducks has gone too far. There are easy wins over UC Davis, Virginia, Colorado, California, and Oregon State. Nebraska is a probably win, host Washington who I believe is very overrated, are at Washington State but will have a good quarterback playing and a defense that isn’t the worst in the country, and beat USC and Stanford last season. This is an easy pick for me and I have zero concerns about picking the over. If Oregon is under eight wins then there are some very serious issues on the team that we are not aware of at this point.
S: Washington State OVER 7.5 Wins
Luke Falk will throw for like 9,000 yards and like 73 TD. WSU will have the best offense in the conference. Despite the not-great running game and who-knows defense, I just think they can sneak out of their schedule with 8 wins on their passing game alone. They have a soft non-conference schedule and relatively soft South Division schedule (UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado). Big year ahead for the Cougs if they can just get off the field on 3rd down a little more.
R: Washington State UNDER 7.5 Wins
Washington State is a weird team. They dropped the first game of the season against Portland State in one of the worst football games I have ever seen. Absolutely nobody saw what was coming next, and if you say you did you’re a liar. The Cougars went on to win eight more regular season games including a win over nationally ranked UCLA in Los Angeles. The season was full of thrills with seven of the games being one-score wins or losses.
I’d like to say that the Cougars start off with three straight wins but they play Boise State and the Cougars did lose to Portland State last year so there is no such thing as a sure thing. There are probable wins over Oregon State and Cal but those are really the only ones on the conference schedule. I’d like to think that the Cougars are going to continue success but the last few years would lead one to think that 2015 was an anomaly of sorts. The stars aligned.
It is important to note that the Cougars have eight starters back on offense, get their top receiver back, Luke Falk, and three offensive linemen. On defense six starters are back including the first, second, and third leading tacklers.
With some regression to the mean and adjusting for close wins/losses I doubt the Cougars exceed seven games.
S: California UNDER 4 Wins
I just don’t see any position group where Cal got better this year. They may seriously lose to every North Division team. They have a absurdly tough non-conference schedule (Hawaii (in Australia), San Diego State, Texas) and lost the No. 1 overall pick. Even 3-9 might be a stretch for the Golden Bears.
R: California UNDER 4 Wins
Cal loses their top passer and top overall draft pick Jared Goff. His replacement only threw 18 passes last year and the six best receivers from last year are gone. Only four starters are back on offense and five are back on defense. Of the top six tacklers last season only one returns.
The season opens on August 27th against Hawai’i in Sydney, Australia. Then they’re at San Diego State and host Texas. Looking at the rest of their games the only one that looks winnable is against Oregon State. If Cal drops a game to Hawai’i or San Diego State they are definitely going to be under 4 but the more likely case is that they push.
This is going to be a learning year for the Golden Bears and it could be really bad at times, especially in September when they play Arizona State and Utah.
S: Oregon State UNDER 3.5 Wins
I have a decent feeling about Little Brother, even after a 2-10 campaign in 2015. There’s enough talent for Gary Andersen to make some positive moves with the program.
But this schedule is a murderer’s row.
Tough non-con schedule with Minnesota and Boise State, of course the North Division is deep, and I don’t feel great about OSU beating any of the South teams on their schedule (Colorado, Utah, UCLA, Arizona). At this point, to get over, the Beavers would have to beat Idaho State (no guarantees: ISU is a very solid FCS squad), both Colorado and Cal, and then one more win between Minnesota, Boise State, Utah, and Arizona. I just can’t see it.
R: Oregon State UNDER 3.5 Wins
Gary Andersen enters his second year as head coach of the Oregon State Beavers and he gets seven starters back on offense and six back on defense. Three offensive linemen are back and former quarterback Seth Collins has made a permanent move to wide receiver. Only half of the front six are back. But this is a significantly more experienced team than last year.
The Beavers schedule is also very tough. Their non-conference games are against Minnesota on the first Thursday of the season and hosting Boise State who is coming off of a bye. Oregon State’s own bye week is in week two, meaning they will go eleven weeks in a row with a game. By the time they play Stanford in November they will have run through a gauntlet of teams.
Looking at their schedule I don’t see any lay ups other than Idaho State but Oregon State has a history of losing games early in the year to FCS teams. If the Beavers don’t beat California then they are definitely going to be under three wins. I think it is unlikely that they find three wins on their conference schedule.