Bold Predictions for Every Pac-12 Football Team's 2014 Season
When it comes down to it, college football is just a game, and amid all the Pac-12 previews about trap games, top freshmen and exciting matchups, we like to have a little fun.
That means coming up with a bold prediction for every team in the conference, though bold here does not necessarily mean happy or good. By the same token, I'm not placing my reputation on the line here either; otherwise you'd see slides like "Mariota wins the Heisman" or "USC wins 10 games."
Neither of those predictions would be very bold, so we're putting out ones that should make you take a second glance. Of course, that doesn't mean you'll see "Leonard Williams gets 30 sacks" either; that's not just bold—it's flat-out insane.
But enough rambling—click ahead to see one bold prediction for every Pac-12 team's 2014 campaign.
Bold Prediction: Arizona will beat at least two ranked opponents.
After thrashing Oregon by a score of 42-16 last November, it might seem reasonable to think that Arizona can top two ranked opponents in 2014. But the Wildcats lose both B.J. Denker and Ka'Deem Carey—two leaders on offense who had Rich Rodriguez's offense humming by bowl season.
But there's a lot to like about Arizona, starting with a deep corps of receivers led by Austin Hill, who was injured throughout the 2013 season. As for ranked opponents, you have to figure that winning at Oregon or UCLA will be extremely difficult.
Beyond that, the Wildcats get Arizona State, Washington and USC all at home. While there's no guarantee that any of those teams will be ranked when they travel to Tucson, there's a good chance at least one or two will be.
Arizona seems ready to notch a couple of more big wins after getting a taste for it in 2013.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Bold Prediction: D.J. Foster will have more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving.
If D.J Foster tops the 1,000-yard mark in both rushing and receiving yards, you'll be sure to hear Heisman Trophy talk along with many different pundits claiming they had an eye on him from the start.
The truth is, despite rushing for 501 yards and hauling in 627 yards receiving in 2013, Foster has played largely in the shadows of Marion Grice, Taylor Kelly and now Jaelen Strong. Grice is gone, which means 193 carries are also gone, and Kelly likely won't have much more than the 173 he totaled last year.
If Foster gets half of those missing carries or roughly 95, he'll double the number he had in 2013. As a result, it stands to reason he might double his production as well, which would put him over 1,000 yards. At receiver, Grice, Chris Coyle (who played tight end), Kevin Ozier and Richard Smith are all gone, and if defenses stay locked into Strong like they should, Foster could be the one to benefit in a major way.
California Golden Bears
Bold Prediction: Cal will win at least four games.
This prediction five years ago would have garnered many bizarre looks, but Cal football is in a state of disarray. The Bears won just one game last season, and despite a promising young quarterback and some intriguing talent at receiver, one win is really all that matters.
Moving forward, QB Jared Goff should be toughened by what he went through in 2014, and we should start seeing that pay off immediately. Anyone hoping for bowl eligibility is going to be disappointed, but four wins would be a smashing success.
In looking at the schedule, you've got to figure that the first win will come against Sacramento State. Although Colorado may be the better team, let's say for the sake of the slide that the Bears nip the Buffaloes at home.
Are there two more wins on the schedule? At Northwestern, at Washington State and home games against Washington and BYU seem like the best chances, and we think the Bears will win at least two of those.
Bold Prediction: Linebacker Addison Gillam will lead the nation in tackles.
This prediction doesn't have as much to do with Colorado as a team as it does with one individual player, but getting the defense where it needs to be is the most important step to becoming competitive in the Pac-12.
Addison Gillam had a sensational freshman campaign, and if not for Myles Jack, he might be the toast of the Pac-12 at linebacker. Even still, he posted 107 tackles, which put him among the best linebackers in the country.
The leader in tackles was San Jose State's Keith Smith with 159, though he's now gone from the college ranks, as are the next two leaders—Jake Doughty of Utah State and Ryan Shazier of Ohio State.
Let's say 140 tackles is the mark to reach; in order to reach that, Gillam will have to see plenty of offenses that know how to move the ball, which in turn will allow him the chance to make tons of plays. It's a good thing Colorado is in the Pac-12.
Bold Prediction: The Ducks will have two 1,000-yard running backs and an 800-yard back.
Notice that we didn't even include Marcus Mariota in the discussion, as the prediction is strictly about running backs. The first player to hit 1,000 yards will be Byron Marshall, who had 1,038 yards in 2013 despite dealing with a couple of injuries down the stretch and missing time.
Sophomore Thomas Tyner, a powerful back with track speed, had 715 yards as a true freshman on just 98 carries. Nothing 150 rushes should be enough to put him over the mark. So where does the third member come in? And who is it?
Perhaps we're buying into the hype a bit early, but freshman Royce Freeman looks like the real deal. In fact, running backs coach Gary Campbell thinks there's an open battle for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart between all three players, via Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet. If Freeman is that good already, he'll have a great chance to top what Tyner did last season.
Oregon State Beavers
Bold Prediction: Sean Mannion won't reach 4,000 yards passing.
Sean Mannion is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the country after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last season. He isn't going to be worse in 2014. On the contrary, look for Mannion to be a much more efficient quarterback. But without superstar Brandin Cooks at receiver, his numbers won't be nearly as pretty.
Don't let that be a knock on a guy like Richard Mullaney, who will almost certainly hit 1,000 yards receiving after nearly getting 800 last year. After him, though, it's a bunch of young players who will need to step up if the offense is to come anywhere close to the passing attack Oregon State had last year.
Ultimately, the Beavers may be a better team if the run game can hit its stride early on and keep the pressure off Mannion having to throw four or five touchdowns per game. He'll be great, but he won't hit the elusive 4,000-yard barrier again.
Bold prediction: Stanford will allow more than 25 points per game.
Half of this prediction is accounting for the massive loss in leadership the Cardinal suffered on defense this offseason. Players like Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov were the heart and soul of the defense, and they'll be missed more than folks realize.
The unit on the whole isn't necessarily less talented, but it's also dealing with the loss of defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who is now the head coach at Vanderbilt. When you combine that with the fact that the Pac-12 has the best collection of offenses in the nation, holding teams to less than 25 points per game is going to be tough.
Stanford also has to travel to face Oregon, Washington, UCLA and Arizona State, so the only way to stay under that 25-point mark may be to post a few low numbers early against teams like UC Davis and Army. In any case, expect the Cardinal defense to take a step back this season.
Bold Prediction: The Bruins will fall to an unranked team.
It's another sign of the times when it sounds crazy to think that UCLA will lose to an unranked team in 2014. The Bruins return quarterback Brett Hundley, the core of the offensive line, the top two running backs and an extremely talented group of receivers.
And the defense is better than the offense.
All of that points to a possible spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, so long as UCLA doesn't slip up along the way. A loss to Oregon wouldn't be devastating, but a defeat to a team outside the Top 25 might deal a fatal blow.
As of right now, Arizona and Utah look like prime candidates to make this bold prediction come true, but perhaps it will come from a currently ranked team that will have fallen from grace by the time it plays UCLA.
Bold Prediction: The Trojans will place three players on the All-American first team.
Most folks can agree with the notion that USC is on the rise and perhaps ready to become a national powerhouse once again. Just how quickly that occurs is the biggest question, because when you factor in the type of talent the Trojans haul in each year and the fact that crippling NCAA sanctions no longer hover over the program, the rise to power seems inevitable.
If Steve Sarkisian is able to put everything together in Year 1, this could be a team that challenges for the playoff. We're not going to be that bold, but we will predict that three players will be first-team All-Americans.
In looking at the main candidates for the elusive spots, Leonard Williams clearly stands out as the most likely player to claim the honor. But wide receiver Nelson Agholor is among the best at his position, and safety Su'a Cravens is one of the top young talents in the land. In addition, the offensive line is filled with studs.
Look for three players to make a case to be the very best at their respective positions by the end of the season.
Bold Prediction: The Utes will win just four games.
That's probably not the sort of bold prediction that Utah fans were hoping to see here, but unless quarterback Travis Wilson can take about five steps forward from his play toward the end of last season, the Utes will struggle.
Yes, Wilson was banged up, but while he showed flashes in several early games, it wasn't as if he was playing at an All-Conference level. The defense is led by Nate Orchard up front, but again, playing in the Pac-12 tends to make even tough defenses look poor and occasionally awful.
Let's assume Kyle Whittingham's team will be up to the challenge against Idaho State to open the season. After that, there are no guaranteed wins. Fresno State will be tough, as will Washington State and even Colorado. The coaching staff may get this team to five or six wins, but I'm not sure the talent level is there.
Bold Prediction: Washington will finish fifth in the Pac-12 North.
There's a lot to like about where Washington is headed, and it all starts with new head coach Chris Petersen. The new top dawg has a track record of success and a formula that seems destined to help return the program to its previous heights during the late '80s and early '90s.
But while media and fans can get goo-goo eyes for the new head coach, the fact remains that this team just lost its starting quarterback, starting running back and starting tight end. Its top young receiver, Damore'ea Stringfellow, is no longer on the team.
Cyler Miles should be just fine filling in for Price, and Kasen Williams is an elite talent at receiver, but points will be tough to come by early on. That happens to be a poor recipe for playing in a league that is expected to produce many fireworks.
Washington State Cougars
Bold Prediction: Connor Halliday will pass for 5,000 yards.
Five thousand passing yards over the course of a 12-game season averages out to just over 415 yards per game, which sounds outlandish for a team that doesn't belong to a non-power-five conference. Then again, Connor Halliday would be the guy you'd pick to do it from the major conferences when you consider he was a mere 403 yards off last season.
Amid his near 4,600 passing yards were games with 184, 215, 248 and 285 yards. Mike Leach's offense is designed to rack up more than 300 yards passing even in losses, as evidenced by Halliday's 557 in a blowout loss to Oregon. Those efforts leave plenty of room for improvement.
With all of his top receivers back, Halliday should be locked and loaded for another monster year. Assuming he fixes some of his turnover issues, the extra possessions will lead to more yards and ultimately put him over 5,000 for the season.
Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.