The Pac 12 has been a conference on the up. Larry Scott orchestrated a massive new TV contract. Schools have translated that into sparkling new head coaches and facilities. Those coaches have proprietary claims in one of the nation’s richest talent regions. Oregon and Stanford have been that close to the national title in recent seasons. Almost assuredly getting a berth in the new playoff, the Pac 12 will hope to make a statement.
Prorated SRS: Here are the Prorated SRS standings for the Pac 12 over the past four years. Recent years are weighted heavier. This measure provides a rough baseline for how teams have performed to project moving forward.
No surprise, Oregon and Stanford have been among the most consistent, dominant teams in the nation. No team has emerged as a power from a muddled Pac 12 South. What these numbers would suggest is Stanford deserves a strong benefit of the doubt. You would want to be very confident in UCLA to argue they will run away with the Pac 12 South. USC has disappointed in relation to preseason media projections. That does not mean they have not been a factor in their division.
Helped By Schedule: No Pac 12 schedules are easy. But some are better than others. Oregon avoids USC and Arizona State from the South. They play Arizona, Washington and Stanford in Eugene. Washington plays Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA at home. Two of the Huskies’ road games are Cal and Colorado. Arizona gets five home games, avoids Stanford and has two of their road games against Washington State and Cal.
Hurt By Schedule: Some are harder than others. Stanford plays five road games, including trips to Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and UCLA. Three of Cal’s home games could be rough, against Stanford, UCLA and Washington. They also have Oregon at a neutral site and teams they may have been more optimistic against, Washington State and Oregon State, on the road.
Quarterbacks: The Pac 12 is strong and deep for quarterback play. Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Brett Hundley (UCLA) will be touted and scrutinized as potential top five draft picks. Beyond that, Taylor Kelly (ASU), Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and Connor Halliday (Washington State) will be back as seniors. We should throw juniors Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Cody Kessler (USC) and a now healthy Travis Wilson (Utah) in there as well. The major questions are at Washington, where Cyler Miles has looked the part but had issues off the field and at Arizona.
Returning Starters: UCLA is the leader, with eight starters back on each side of the ball. The Bruins were “Michigan” bad in pass protection last year, allowing 36 sacks. They’ll hope four starters back (or recruits behind ousting them) will lead to improvement. Oregon brings almost all of its offense back, excluding DAT who was not much of a factor anyway. As for losses, Stanford returns juts one starter on each line, from what were dominant units. Arizona State loses eight starters on defense.
Hot Seat: Pac 12 schools reinvested their TV wealth in quality coaching staffs the past few years. So, no coach enters 2014 on a true “hot seat.” Sonny Dykes could put himself there in a hurry if Cal does not show rapid improvement. The school has invested heavily in its stadium and new facilities. Failure to beat Colorado at home could make it two full calendar years without an FBS win.
Mark Helfrich could be another coach to watch. Oregon closed poorly last year, losing their final two road games and nearly dropping the Civil War at home. Chip Kelly’s sunshine will continue to fade. Helfrich is safe now. But, let’s say Oregon disappoints and goes 9-3 this year. Marcus Mariota leaves. Fair or not, Helfrich could be in Frank Solich territory heading into 2015. Chip Kelly raised the bar. Oregon may need a “Chip Kelly” to continue to reach it.
[USA Today Sports]