This season the Pac-12 hopes to make that jump and become a top tier conference that can compete with teams from the SEC and the BIG 10. In years past they have showed promise, but overall no Pac-12 team has won the national title since USC last did so in 2004. Since then 8 out of 11 titles have gone to teams that don the SEC logo on their jerseys. There are a few teams within the Pac this year that can compete for one of the four playoff spots.
Coming off a dominant win at the Rose Bowl against Iowa who many believed should have been in the playoff, Stanford looks poised to enter national title talks. Head Coach David Shaw has made the Cardinal defense one to be feared. One of the premiere running backs in the nation belongs to the Cardinal and he is named Christian McCaffrey. Last season he wowed west coast football fans and the rest of the Pac. This year, the sky is the limit for the Junior triple-threat back who should find himself back in New York come time to announce the Heisman Trophy.
Pros: The Cardinal have a stout defense and one of the best and if not the best star in the nation in McCaffery. He can do it all whether it’s special teams, running the ball, or catching it out of the backfield. Stanford has a highly touted four star recruit to start the season named Keller Chryst. The quarterback to follow in Hogan’s footsteps may be the best recruit to ever touch the grass at The Farm in Palo Alto. Stanford boasted one of their weakest teams ever under David Shaw and still managed to win the conference and the Rose Bowl. With a more experienced squad along with more talent, this team may only get better.
Cons: Stanford has to start a new quarterback in replace of Kevin Hogan for the first time since mid 2012. Hogan was never a star but he got the job done in the win column and starting a new quarterback does not usually translate to immediate success. The Cardinal have a pretty tough schedule as well facing UCLA on the road as well as Notre Dame and Oregon on the road in tough environments.
The Bruins of the University of California Los Angeles are coming off of a sort of down year after a resurgence under Jim Mora that has made a great LA rivalry between them and Southern Cal. In 2015 they won 8 games snapping a streak of three straight 9+ win seasons. Their season finale was not one to remember either as it ended in disappointing fashion when the Bruins blew their 21-7 lead at the Foster Farms bowl to the Nebraska Cornhuskers who were a mere 5-7. But 2016 holds promise. Returning for the Bruins at Quarterback is Sophmore standout Josh Rosen or as many bruins fanatics call him, The Chosen Rosen. In his 2015 campaign the true freshman showed he has the tools to be a top tier quarterback that could become a household name.
Pros: Many say that Rosen could have been the #1 pick in this last NFL draft had he been eligible. UCLA has let go of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone in favor of a new pro style system that could cater well to their quarterbacks needs. Only a sophomore, Rosen could prove that he is a heisman contender and the best quarterback in the nation in his 2016 campaign. On defense the Bruins snagged Mique Jaurez who has been called a Myles Jack 2.0 was the top linebacker coming out of high school. Jaurez will help the Bruins defense that will bring back a lot of veterans at each position.
Cons: New faces on both sides of the ball will be a bit of a question mark for the Bruins. The loss of Myles Jack and Kenny Clark will be felt a little bit on the defensive side which was a big problem for the Bruins last season. The Bruin defense was one of the worst in the Pac last season and improvements will need to be made to compete for the conference title. On offense Paul Perkins, one of the best rushers in the Pac-12, also left early for the draft leaving the running game in the hands of Soso Jamabo and Nate Starks. The Bruins will face Stanford at home but they haven’t beaten the Cardinal in their last 5 tries and look to take their first victory against them under Jim Mora. UCLA also faces Texas A&M to start the year who could give them trouble in maintaining national title status early on in the year.
Southern Cal returns with a new Head Coach, Clay Helton, after former Head Coach Steve Sarkisian was let go mid season in 2015. Under Helton, the Trojans went 6-4 but they beat their cross town rival UCLA for the first time since 2012 and also clinched the Pac-12 South title. One of the best two way players in the nation dons the cardinal and gold in Adoree Jackson. The three way star plays wideout, defensive back, and returns kickoffs and is poised for a stellar season. Juju Smith Schuster is another play who is electrifying for the USC offense and is regarded as one of the top receivers in the nation. The Junior receiver will make an impact no matter who is throwing to him.
Pros: USC has playmakers at every single position on the field. They are consistently highly regarded throughout the nation. Boasting the 10th best recruiting class in the country the Trojans are hungry to get back to the National Title game. Clay Helton will bring a new style to the Trojan offense and the entire team has made it clear that they have a camaraderie with their newest Head Coach.
Cons: The loss of star Quarterback Cody Kessler will definitely have an impact on the offensive side of the ball. Last season Kessler was as efficient as could be when the ball was in his hands throwing 29 touchdowns to seven interceptions. The Trojans have not announced their starting quarterback just yet as they will wait until August 20th. The toss up between Junior Max Browne and the redshirt freshman will be an interesting one as their first task will be the defending national champions Alabama in Arlington, Texas. They follow that up with a game against a solid Utah team then travel to Palo Alto to play Stanford.
All three of these schools have tough schedules which could play in both a positive or negative fashion. On one hand if the teams go out there and defeat their tough opponents it will bolster their resume. On the other hand these teams could easily hand them multiple losses throughout the season and dampen their title hopes. Only thing that is a definite this football season is that there will be more than a few interesting match-ups. College football fans across the nation are wondering, is it Saturday yet?