Pre-Season Pac-12 prognosticators continue to beat the drum that the Washingon Huskies are the team to beat out west. Many USC supporters aren’t buying it, and usually cite what USC did to Chris Peterson in Seattle in 2016.
I admit, I didn’t think USC would win that game going in. The Trojans had won five straight…but I’ve always liked Petersen and was still sore Pat Haden couldn’t reel him in and settled for Steve Sarkisian after Lane Kiffin. I thought the Purple & Gold would show up really ready to stop USC.
But USC really handled Petersen’s Huskies on 11/12/16 in solid 26-13 fashion and for the first time, I thought Clay Helton might really be onto something.
But generally speaking, the world of college football gave Sam Darnold all the credit for the subsequent amazing win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Then last season, USC was frankly a weird team that was usually struggling to beat most people while stumbling beyond belief against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Result? The jury is still out on Halton, and even though USC is perceived as one of the nation’s “top ten teams on talent alone”, their 2018 O/U win number by South Point Casino is still only 8.5.
And that’s with another so-called “generational QB” coming in with JT Daniels now ruling the YouTube/practice video kingdom. After what Alabama just did with a frosh QB, why can’t the Trojans just plug-in Daniels and let him wing it? Or why can’t Matt Fink or Jack Sears grab the reins and ride the Trojan defense, which is loaded!
This excellent team breakdown written by Chip Patterson of CBSSports.com only reinforces the lack of confidence the media shows in Helton, while the heavily-respected Petersen is painted as the guy headed towards 11 wins under his belt for 2018.
On a side note, just for the sake of rivalries, UCLA is again portrayed as being on Chip Kelly’s first-year-as-a-Bruin training wheels, with not enough talent to do any harm right now.
|7.5 wins: Since Rich Rodriguez was let go relatively late in this year’s spin of the coaching carousel, I don’t think the union of Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate received quite the attention that it deserves heading into 2018. Tate was the most electrifying player in college football for about a month, dicing up defenses in the open field and showing flashes of a good, deep arm to pair with his running game. I think Sumlin can add quick game passing elements to Tate’s attack to round out a potential Heisman Trophy contender and lead the Wildcats to an 8- or 9-win season.|
|5 wins: Herm Edwards doesn’t inherit a schedule that’s friendly to a first-year coach. The Sun Devils play Michigan State and San Diego State in nonconference games, Washington, Stanford and Oregon out of the division and take on both USC and Arizona on the road. With Manny Wilkins and a handful of talented wideouts back — led by 1,000-yard receiver N’Keal Harry — winning one of those seven games isn’t out of the question, but I’d like to see more toss-up games on the schedule to go all-in on Edwards getting this team to six wins in Year 1.|
|5.5 wins: Justin Wilcox received high marks early in the year as the Bears started 3-0 in 2017, but what is going to make significant progress in the win column difficult is the team’s place in the pecking order among its own division. Cal can improve, but until it catches up with the likes of Washington, Stanford, Oregon and even Washington State, the much-coveted breakthrough season in Berkeley will be a goal for the future instead of a reality in the present. With road games at Arizona and USC on the schedule as well, a team that could be better (and hopefully healthier) than 2017 could end up with the same 5-7 record.|
|4 wins: This is a good number for Colorado. At 3.5, I’d feel real good about going over, but there’s not a lot to suggest that the Buffs have the personnel to leap back into the Pac-12 South title race. If anything, the success of 2016 speaks to the multiple-year process it takes for a program to truly go worst-to-first in its conference. There’s only one or two games on the 2018 schedule where you can feel confident in a Colorado win, so asking for an investment in a five-win outcome is too much for me.|
|8.5 wins: When Justin Herbert was healthy and in the lineup, Oregon went 6-1 in 2017. Heading into 2018, Herbert is the top quarterback in the Pac-12 and in the conversation as one of the best in the country at the position. While Willie Taggart is gone, Herbert’s former offensive coordinator, Mario Cristobal, is now the head coach and the quarterbacks coach, Marcus Arroyo, is now the offensive coordinator. That kind of continuity bodes well for Herbert and the Ducks, as does retaining Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator. Oregon also gets to host two of the biggest Pac-12 games of the year in Autzen Stadium with both Stanford and Washington coming to Eugene in Week 4 and Week 7, respectively.|
|2.5 wins: First-year coach and former Oregon State star quarterback Jonathan Smith draws the most daunting debut of any new coach in 2018, opening the year against Ohio State in Columbus. We expect the depth chart to be filled with plenty of sophomores and juniors, allowing fans to take small victories and point towards a hopeful future, but it’s going to be a long season in Corvallis. If the Beavers can get one Pac-12 win (Cal at home and Colorado on the road look like the best opportunities), I think OSU gets to three wins.|
|8 wins: This number is far too low for a program that has played in four of the last six Pac-12 Championship Games and a team that returns the Heisman favorite in Bryce Love. The Cardinal have been one of the most consistent programs of this decade, and a late-season showing from K.J. Costello suggests that quarterback play might no longer be a position of concern. I don’t think Stanford will beat Washington again, but it will cover this number with at least nine wins. — Over -110, Under -110|
|5 wins: The fact that Chip Kelly’s record as a college coach is 46-7 shouldn’t be ignored totally, but for the purposes of this exercise and others related to projecting UCLA’s success in 2018, it’s better to focus on the personnel. After all, we have no idea what Kelly intends to do schematically (and good luck getting any hint before the Bruins hit the field) and the team has enough question marks in the trenches on both sides of the ball to know there’s not going to be a single easy win on the schedule. A six-win season is a huge success for Kelly in Year 1, but I’m just not sure UCLA has the program depth to get there yet.|
|8.5 wins: The new starting quarterback for Clay Helton faces a brutal September with road games at Stanford and Texas in back-to-back weeks. On talent alone, it’s one of the top 10 teams in the country, but between roster turnover and the draw of the schedule, it’s not a stretch to think USC might enter its bye week in early October with three or four losses. There is an opportunity after that to go on a run — like the Trojans did in 2016 after a 1-3 start — and while 8-4 seems more likely than 9-3, a Pac-12 championship isn’t out of reach at that number.|
|7 wins: I’m very bullish on Utah. Drawing Washington, Stanford and Oregon from the Pac-12 North is brutal, but Utah still has a chance to be a player in the Pac-12 race with home games against USC and Arizona in October. I think Utah can win two or three of those five games and finish year 9-3 in the thick of the conference title race.|
|10.5 wins: So I agree that, on a wildly difficult schedule that starts with Auburn and includes trips to Utah and Oregon, there is a potential and maybe even a likelihood that Washington will lose a game. But I’m feeling good about betting on an 11-1 season for a team that will be led by many of the same players who have contributed to back-to-back double-digit win years for the Huskies. After an offseason of hype, Washington isn’t going to sneak up on anyone and doesn’t qualify for a “dark horse” label. This is the Pac-12’s most probable playoff contender, and if the Huskies go under to finish 10-2, then we’re probably talking about the league getting left out again at the end of 2018.|
|6.5 wins: While much of Mike Leach’s tenure has been defined by a steady level of success produced by his system, the 2018 season will test the plug-and-play nature of his program in Pullman. It’s not the just the loss of key players like Luke Falk, Cody O’Connell and Hercules Mata’afa, but also defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. We’re used to seeing a step back in a season after that kind of turnover, and while I think the Cougars are going to finish the year in a bowl game, there’s just not enough evidence to feel comfortable investing in this year’s team exceeding expectations.|