Once known as the incompetent conference of the Big Six, the Pac-12 has solidified its standing in the college football world. While Colorado has been dormant for nearly a decade, the addition of a Utah Utes program that's accumulated 42 wins in the past four seasons instills credibility and depth to the league. Once USC is back to full-force in 2012, it's not inconceivable for the Pac-12 to challenge the Big Ten as the second-best conference in the land.
Oregon brings back a loaded squad fresh off a runner-up finish in the National Championship game last season, with stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas ready to defend their conference crown. Overwhelmed with experience on the offensive side of the ball, Oregon can theoretically improve upon the nation's best offensive attack, which averaged 47 points per game last season. The Ducks face an early test against LSU in Dallas in Week 1.
Oregon isn't the only one vying for a national championship out in the West. Coming off their thrashing of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, Stanford brings back golden boy Andrew Luck to try and run the table this season. Losing coach Jim Harbaugh to the NFL will hurt the program, but coach David Shaw, a former Cardinal, should be able to maintain the momentum from 2010.
A recurring narrative in the conference will be a focus on the head coaches, as Arizona's Mike Stoops, UCLA's Rick Neuheisel, Washington State's Paul Wulff, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and even California's Jeff Tedford could be out of work if their teams don't reach the bowl season. Nueheisel and Stoops will especially be on the hot seat, as their output hasn't met the hype surrounding their respective schools.
Using our college football simulation engine, WhatIfSports.com simulated thousands of college football games to create this Pac-12 Preview. Team ratings, player ratings and depth charts are accurate as of August 19th. What you see in the WIS-Pac-12 Predictions table is the most likely outcome based on the computer simulations. The team-by-team schedules use Absolute Records, which you can learn more about below. Those same game-by-game simulations also generate average points per game for both teams.
|Pac-12 North||W||L||Overall Record|
|Pac-12 South||W||L||Overall Record|
For details on how we generate the results and the definition of the Absolute Record, click here.
To hide the details, click here.
For this analysis, thousands of college football games are simulated, with the sum of the winning percentages of those games being our final predicted record. As can be noted, sometimes a team is "favored" (wins more than 50% of the time) in a different number of our games than the expected record shows. We list this record as the Absolute Record. The assumption of the Absolute Record is that the more likely scenario always happens. Since we know that it does not, our expected record (in the table above) is far more accurate. Also, especially since we are rounding, it is possible for a team to win a game more often, yet score the same or fewer points on average. In those cases, for Absolute Records, we always take higher winning percentage and are not predicting a tie or a win by an underdog. This is another reason why the expected records are more accurate, as the teams are so evenly matched, the game could easily go either way.
Steve Summers of eDuck.com is our Oregon Ducks insider:
The Pac-12's defending champion dominated the conference last season, coming just 3-points short of the BCS title. This year's Ducks are loaded at every position and boast the top running back in the nation and one of the very best quarterbacks. Slowing down Chip Kelly's offense is a major task and the Ducks look to be better defensively from a team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation last season for several weeks in a row. The opening game against LSU will likely match the No. 1 and 2 teams and the winner should hold the No. 1 spot for the rest of the season.
For more from Steve Summers and the Ducks, check out eDuck.com.
|2011 Oregon Ducks|
|2||Nevada Wolf Pack||95||47-22|
|3||Missouri State Bears||95||72-6|
|6||California Golden Bears||95||39-14|
|7||Arizona State Sun Devils||88||38-20|
|9||Washington State Cougars||95||48-14|
|13||Oregon State Beavers||95||42-15|
Andy Drukarev of theBootleg.com is our Stanford Cardinal insider:
Veteran quarterback and 2010 Heisman runner-up Andrew Luck as well as several key pieces from last year's Orange Bowl champion squad are back, but there are holes to be filled along both lines and question marks that come with a re-worked coaching staff. Even assuming good health, it remains to be seen whether the Card will be able to recover from the loss of the inaugural Paul Horning Award winner Owen Marecic, senior defensive tackle Sione Fua and a quartet of starting offensive linemen (including valuable "jack-of-all-trades" James McGillicuddy). That challenge may have the biggest impact on Stanford's success in 2011, although replacing the contributions of the myriad departed coaches is also a concern, as is navigating a difficult second-half schedule. Nevertheless, the outlook for Stanford's upcoming season is the brightest it has been in many years. Having the best college football player in the nation along with a smattering of future first-round NFL picks on the roster should lead to another successful, "recruiting scandal-free" campaign for the squeaky-clean Cardinal.
For more from Andy Drukarev and the Cardinal, check out theBootleg.com.
|2011 Stanford Cardinal|
|1||San Jose State Spartans||95||48-10|
|2||@Duke Blue Devils||95||45-18|
|7||@Washington State Cougars||95||45-16|
|10||@Oregon State Beavers||95||37-17|
|12||California Golden Bears||90||36-15|
|13||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||86||36-22|
A turnaround is going to be the responsibility of an offense that sputtered badly last fall and must retool the backfield. Quarterback, in particular, has been a nagging issue in these parts since Aaron Rodgers graduated in 2004. This year's answer might be Zach Maynard, who last took a snap two years ago at Buffalo.
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 California Golden Bears|
|1||Fresno State Bulldogs||75||29-22|
|3||Presbyterian Blue Hose||95||47-6|
|10||Washington State Cougars||87||30-17|
|11||Oregon State Beavers||69||23-18|
|13||@Arizona State Sun Devils||31||18-24|
When spring camp closed, sophomore Keith Price had emerged as the likely successor to Jake Locker at quarterback. A good athlete, with a strong arm, his lack of experience will be his tallest hurdle to immediate success. The encouraging news for the heir apparent is that he inherits all of Locker's best weapons, including all-star RB Chris Polk and WR Jermaine Kearse. There's plenty of depth and a blend of youth and experience to help ease the transition.
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 Washington Huskies|
|1||Eastern Washington Eagles||95||49-8|
|4||California Golden Bears||39||19-23|
|12||@Oregon State Beavers||47||22-23|
|13||Washington State Cougars||81||29-21|
The slate includes landmine trips to Wisconsin, Arizona State, Utah, and Oregon, and the trainer's table remains flush with rehabbing Beavers. The good news is that unlike a year ago, the program welcomes back a returning starter under center. Now that Jacquizz Rodgers is an Atlanta Falcon and older brother James is on the mend from a major knee injury, it'll be up to junior QB Ryan Katz to be the offensive sparkplug.
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 Oregon State Beavers|
|1||Sacramento State Hornets||95||49-8|
|5||@Arizona State Sun Devils||28||20-28|
|7||Brigham Young Cougars||50||24-24|
|8||@Washington State Cougars||70||30-23|
|11||@California Golden Bears||31||18-23|
Washington State State
The Cougars are going to go as far as the passing game will take it. Junior Jeff Tuel, who enters his third year as a starter, is on the brink of joining the upper echelon of Pac-12 quarterbacks. He'll get ample support from the dynamic receiving tandem of Jared Karstetter and Marquess Wilson, which combined for 117 receptions last fall. Washington State is going to put up points, but can it stop anyone?
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 Washington State Cougars|
|1||Idaho State Bengals||95||43-7|
|3||@San Diego State Aztecs||14||22-36|
|8||Oregon State Beavers||30||23-30|
|10||@California Golden Bears||12||17-30|
|11||Arizona State Sun Devils||20||20-32|
Brian Swinney of InsideTheUtes.com is our Utah Utes insider:
Utah ventures off into new territory as a member of the elite in the Pac 12. How they respond week to week over a 12 game season, with the physical toll a BCS schedule will impose on them, is still unknown. The front-line talent is as good as any in the South division, but the depth and lack of experience in the secondary and at running back could be their downfall. The Pac 12 opener at USC is going to be a measuring stick game that could propel the Utes to a division title and a spot in the inaugural conference championship game or send them spiraling toward a .500 season.
For more from Brian Swinney and the Utes, check out InsideTheUtes.com.
|2011 Utah Utes|
|1||Montana State Bobcats||95||55-8|
|3||@Brigham Young Cougars||84||32-23|
|6||Arizona State Sun Devils||60||30-26|
|8||@California Golden Bears||72||27-20|
|9||Oregon State Beavers||84||33-20|
|12||@Washington State Cougars||91||36-20|
Whitney Blaine of SCPlaybook.com is our USC Trojans insider:
A decent schedule and a team with as much confidence as under the Pete Carroll era, the Trojans have had a productive spring. They seemed to have overcome their obstacles associated with last season's transition year and have a powerful list of offensive weapons and a veteran defensive line. If they can improve their pass defense and their offensive line can protect Matt Barkley, they should continue the tradition of being a college football powerhouse.
For more from Whitney Blaine and the Trojans, check out SCPlaybook.com.
|2011 USC Trojans|
|1||Minnesota Golden Gophers||95||38-15|
|4||@Arizona State Sun Devils||66||31-25|
|7||@California Golden Bears||72||28-21|
|8||@Notre Dame Fighting Irish||57||31-29|
Hope of exceeding mollified expectations will rest on an incomplete offense. The skill positions are outstanding, led by next-level QB Nick Foles, RB Keola Antolin, and Juron Criner and the rest of a dangerous receiving corps. The line, however, has been stripped of all five of last year's starters, a major concern with no easy solution. Line play, in general, will be an issue now that defensive ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore are both in the NFL.
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 Arizona Wildcats|
|1||Northern Arizona Lumberjacks||95||56-7|
|2||@Oklahoma State Cowboys||42||29-33|
|6||@Oregon State Beavers||83||28-17|
|12||@Arizona State Sun Devils||68||27-22|
|13||Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns||95||37-9|
Hod Rabino of DevilsDigest.com is our Arizona State Sun Devils insider:
There is certainly enough talent and experience on this Arizona State team to make a strong statement this season. The first half of the schedule is far more challenging than the last six games, but having seven home games can help negate that challenge. Everyone in Tempe is feeling the pressure to succeed this year and this sense of urgency should ultimately serve this team well.
For more from Hod Rabino and the Sun Devils, check out DevilsDigest.com.
|2011 Arizona State Sun Devils|
|1||UC Davis Aggies||95||54-7|
|3||@Illinois Fighting Illini||74||29-20|
|5||Oregon State Beavers||71||28-20|
|11||@Washington State Cougars||80||32-20|
|13||California Golden Bears||69||24-18|
Tracy Pierson of BruinReportOnline.com is our UCLA Bruins insider:
It's Rick Neuheisel's make-or-break season. It comes down to: If he wins, he'll clean up in recruiting and things will be rolling, with veterans returning in 2012; if he loses, he's probably lost his dream job. Neuheisel has recruited well since being at UCLA and that talent is coming of age, and the defense is deep, but the question will be at offensive line, where the Bruins have suffered attrition, and that pesky quarterback position.
For more from Tracy Pierson and the Bruins, check out BruinReportOnline.com.
|2011 UCLA Bruins|
|2||San Jose State Spartans||88||32-15|
|4||@Oregon State Beavers||52||23-22|
|6||Washington State Cougars||65||29-24|
|9||California Golden Bears||32||19-24|
|10||Arizona State Sun Devils||22||20-29|
For the second time in five years, the Buffs are rebuilding from square one, with a new coaching staff calling the shots. This time around, the program eschewed the hot, nationally-coveted commodity, staying within the family instead. Coach Jon Embree knows Colorado inside and out. He gets his first chance to prove he knows how to guide it back to respectability.
- CFN, Scout.com
|2011 Colorado Buffaloes|
|2||California Golden Bears||35||20-25|
|3||Colorado State Rams||77||31-21|
|4||@Ohio State Buckeyes||10||16-32|
|5||Washington State Cougars||65||31-25|
|9||@Arizona State Sun Devils||30||21-31|