The expanded and re-branded Pac-12 will hold its football media day Tuesday in Los Angeles … so it’s prediction time.
There is a certain “sameness” to many of the league predictions, a certain it-makes-sense-on-paper logic to it all. But for the Pac-12 South in particular, there is a larger-than-usual range of options for the teams, if only because all of them all flawed and none seem truly worthy of being a frontrunner.
But the picks must be made, even if there is no rock-solid conviction behind them, so here we go:
2. Arizona State
OK. I have been going back and forth between the Trojans (who are ineligible to participate in the new conference title game because of NCAA sanctions) and the Sun Devils. The tipping point for me: Matt Barkley over Brock Osweiler at quarterback.
When in doubt, go with the better, more experienced quarterback.
The Sun Devils, because of their high number of returning starters — including linebacker Vontaze Burfict — have been the default pick in the South for many. But they likely would be the pick of only a few if Arizona hadn’t dropped about five potential interceptions against Osweiler in last year’s regular-season finale.
Instead, of being a major question mark, Osweiler came out of that game looking like a gritty winner.
As for the Wildcats?
They might not be much more than a .500 team but could meander their way to the South title with the right combination of victories in this weak division. But it’s never wise to give the benefit of the doubt to a team that has only one returning starting lineman — defensive tackle Justin Washington — on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
We’ll go with Utah for third place ahead of Arizona, if only because of the schedule. The Utes miss Oregon and Stanford in the crossover schedule against the Pac-12 North. The Wildcats have to play both of those preseason top-10 teams.
In any case, I think the window of opportunity is open for four teams in the South, while the same is true for really only two teams in the North.
3. Oregon State
6. Washington State
There are three tiers here, with Oregon and Stanford at the top. Either makes sense as the division favorite.
Then, mix up Oregon State, Washington and Cal in any order. We’re going with the Beavers as the best of the second tier because Ryan Katz is in his second season as the starting quarterback … and quarterbacks in coach Mike Riley’s system usually make a big jump in production in their second year.
Then, there’s Washington State. Improving, especially because of tough-guy QB Jeff Tuel, but still … it’s Washington State.