Let’s get right to it. Here is the order of prediction I submitted for Pac-12 football Media Day, which will be held Friday in Los Angeles:
3. Arizona State
I suspect the top three teams will get first-place votes, although none of the top three is without potentially fatal flaws.
UCLA has the right quarterback (Brett Hundley) and defensive playmakers (Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks) but is still young on the offensive line and inexperienced in the secondary.
USC still has enviable front-line talent, especially with All-American receiver Marqise Lee and in the defensive front seven, although starting over at quarterback and a perilous lack of depth throws buckets of cold water over hopes of bouncing back from a disappointing season. The defensive changes installed by new coordinator Clancy Pendergast could tell the Trojans’ tale, one way or another.
Arizona State is a well-balanced team, with a nice mix of quarterback, running backs, an attacking defensive front led by tackle Will Sutton and outside playmaker Carl Bradford, and a couple of proven playmakers in the secondary. The Devils, who have their fingers crossed about junior college help at receiver, still have to show they can knock off the biggest boys in the conference.
We’ll spend the next month writing about and previewing Arizona. General impression: UA will romp through an easy non-conference schedule and should be able to pick up at least four conference wins. How does 7-5 sound to you?
4. Oregon State
6. Washington State
Flip a coin between Stanford and Oregon. Each should be a national title contender. They have split the past four meetings. This year’s game is at Stanford on Nov. 7, a Thursday night showdown.
The coaching change in Eugene, from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich, made it a little easier to go with the Cardinal. An even bigger reason to like Stanford is its fearsome front seven that will lead what should be one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. Kevin Hogan was the answer at quarterback late last season, and the running game will continue to thrive.
Going with Washington third takes a little leap of faith after the Huskies posted three consecutive 7-6 seasons. Steve Sarkisian is just 26-25 in four seasons, so the heat is on, but having this quartet on offense — quarterback Keith Price, running back Bishop Sankey, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and receiver Kasen Williams — makes big things possible.
There’s not much to dislike about Oregon State after it went 9-4 last season. New Cal coach Sonny Dykes doesn’t have a quarterback who has thrown a college pass, but he does have lightning-quick Brendan Bigelow at tailback and more raw material to work with than second-year Washington State coach Mike Leach.
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The Pac-12 media poll will be released Friday morning, with the press conferences beginning at 9 a.m. PT. Coach Rich Rodriguez, linebacker Jake Fischer and receiver Terrence Miller are expected to take the stage at 11:35 a.m. This portion of Media Day will be streamed live on Pac-12.com.