During the championship era of college football, 16 years of the BCS (1998-2013) and 2 years of the CFP (2014-2015), the PAC 12 placed 4 teams in the championship game. Southern Cal sent undefeated teams in 2003 and 2004, beating Oklahoma 55-19 and losing a classic heart breaker to Texas 41-38, and in 2010 undefeated Oregon lost a heart breaker to Auburn 22-19, and then lost 42-20 to an inspired Ohio State team in 2014. But since then, the parity in the PAC 12 conference has derailed any opportunity for a shot at the National Championship. With the consistency at Stanford, the resurgence at USC and UCLA, the inclusion of a very good Utah, and the rise of Washington and Washington State, I question whether the PAC 12 will have a team dominate enough to go undefeated in 2016.
Much is written about the SEC being College Football’s toughest conference, and indeed, statistically the CFRC agrees with that. Top to bottom the SEC has been the Nation’s number one conference for 9 consecutive seasons dating back to the surprising season of the now defunct Big East in 2006. During it’s championship run that season the Big East’s Louisville finished 12-1 (#3), West Virginia 11-2 (#9), Rutgers 11-2 (#13) and South Florida 9-4 (#26) and just barely edged out the SEC by an average team rating of 264.740 to 263.800.
But over the years the SEC has had one thing that in most seasons the PAC 12 has not…..a dominate team within the conference. Somehow, some way, a team from the SEC has managed to maneuver through the conference schedule (and ultimately the full season) undefeated or with one loss. Unless someone steps up in 2016, I don’t see that trend changing. The line between the projected division leaders in both the PAC 12 North and the South are so razor thin that literally, anyone of 8 teams could win the conference crown with a mere favorable bounce of the ball in a handful of key games.
In the North Division I have predicted Washington to take the crown, solely based on the Husky’s home game against Stanford on September 30. That is a big gamble. Stanford lost a ton of talent, but Christian McCaffrey returns and single handedly, he could bring the title back to Palo Alto. Oregon is a strong factor, and the Ducks get Washington and Stanford at home, but has major question marks on both sides of the ball. So much so that it’s hard to believe Oregon will come out on top in both contests, much less navigating through road games at Washington State, USC and Utah. Washington State was a huge surprise in 2015 and easily could continue their winning trend in 2016, but it won’t be easy. The Cougars schedule is brutal with a non-conference game at Boise State, home games with Oregon, UCLA and Washington, and road games at Stanford and Arizona State. California and Oregon State are the only two teams in the North that do not figure into the title run.
In the South Division, UCLA, USC and Utah will battle for the crown with Arizona State and Arizona not far behind. Even annual cellar dweller Colorado is showing signs of life and will be a dangerous team to contend with, especially at home in the high altitude at Boulder. Speaking of navigating difficult schedules, how did the Bruins end up with not one but two major powers for non-conference games? UCLA opens the season at Texas A&M and two weeks later travels to Provo to face BYU. I have UCLA picked to win the PAC 12 South, but seriously, I’m not sure what I’m thinking. The Bruins start their conference schedule with home games against Stanford and Arizona, then travel to Arizona State and Washington State before returning home to face Utah. If UCLA goes undefeated playing that schedule, they could easily be ranked #1 headed into November, but really? That schedule spells doom before they even reach midway through the season.
Here is the way I am projecting the PAC 12 conference: