Pac-12 Media Makes Right Call Voting Oregon to Win Conference in 2014

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is shown warming up for an NCAA college football game against UCLA in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
Don Ryan/Associated Press

The voting was close, but for the fourth time in five years, Pac-12 media members predicted Oregon to win the conference.

The Ducks got 37 of 39 votes to win the North Division and 24 votes to win the league title outright. UCLA, which also got 37 votes to win its division, the South, was picked by 13 voters to win the conference, with Stanford and USC getting one vote apiece.

Here's a look at how the full voting broke down:

Pac-12 Preseason Media Projections
North (1st-Place Votes)PointsSouth (1st-Place Votes)Points
1. Oregon (37)2321. UCLA (37)231
2. Stanford (2)1922. USC (1)181
3. Washington1423. Arizona State (1)163
4. Oregon State1254. Arizona119
5. Washington State875. Utah82
6. California416. Colorado43
Overall Pac-12 ChampionVotes
1. Oregon24
2. UCLA13
t3. Stanford1
t3. USC1

In assessing the preseason polls, it's important to divorce what you think will happen from what you think should be predicted to happen.

Myself? I prefer UCLA. I've gone on the record stating as much. I think the Bruins are one of the most complete teams in the country. I think they have a decent schedule. I think this can be their year.

But that doesn't necessarily mean they should be the preseason favorites. Oregon is far too proven. I fancy UCLA this upcoming season, but I know, statistically, it is more likely for Oregon to win the conference. The Ducks have earned this prediction:

Oregon vs. UCLA: Last Five Seasons
ORE RecordORE F/+ RankUCLA RecordUCLA F/+ Rank
Source: Football Outsiders

With Stanford losing so many pieces from last year's team, and USC still struggling with depth issues (largely the result of NCAA sanctions), UCLA is the best candidate to finish over Oregon this season. The Pac-12 media votes reflect that—and reflect that it should be close.

But Oregon has finished in the top 14 of the Football Outsiders F/+ rankings in each of the past five seasons, the top 10 in each of the past four and the top five in each of the past three. UCLA has never been in the top 14 during that stretch, cracked the top 36 for the first time last season and has twice finished outside the top 78.

Yes, the media predictions have to do with the upcoming season more than the last five seasons. But the last five seasons have more to do with this upcoming season than many people realize.

Here is how Football Outsiders explains that methodology:

The strongest indicator of how a college football team will perform in the upcoming season is their performance in recent seasons.

It may seem strange because graduation enforces constant player turnover, but college football teams are actually much more consistent from year to year than NFL teams. Thanks in large part to consistency in recruiting, teams can be expected to play within a reasonable range of their baseline program expectations each season. Our Program F/+ ratings, which represent a rolling five-year period of play-by-play and drive efficiency data, have an extremely strong (.76) correlation with the next year’s F/+ rating.

There's also the elephant in the room: Oregon and UCLA's most recent head-to-head matchup. Even last season, when the F/+ difference between them was far smaller than any other year since 2009, Oregon beat UCLA convincingly, 42-14.

The final score of that game was deceptive—Oregon led 21-14 after three quarters before blowing things open late—but it still speaks importantly to the state of each program. UCLA is almost where it needs to be to win the conference, but Oregon is already there.

And it's been there for a while now.

Might 2014 be the year the Bruins finally get there? Certainly. Again: I am on the record saying I think that will be the case. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be as the underdogs. It should be.

In his first mock draft for 2015, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller listed three first-round draft picks from Oregon: quarterback Marcus Mariota (No. 1), cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (No. 13) and defensive tackle Arik Armstead (No. 31). That doesn't even touch on its offensive line, which might be its strongest overall position group.

It doesn't touch on the potentially awesome backfield, either. Byron Marshall has proven his worth, and sophomore Thomas Tyner, whom offensive coordinator Scott Frost said has "decided to take it to the next level" this spring, per Andrew Greif of The Oregonian, is a former 5-star recruit who looks like a future Heisman candidate.

Oregon has been consistently great for five seasons and didn't have its roster drained the way Stanford did. By virtue of success and continuity, it deserves to be the preseason favorite—no matter how enticing UCLA might seem. But the voting also deserved to be close.

The Pac-12 media got this exactly right.

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT


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