2018 Pac-12 Football Predictions: Washington runs away with the North but the South should be fun

Since Fall camp is right around the corner and with it the best time of the year approaching, it’s time to break down how I believe the Pac-12 conference will shape up in 2018.

Below I’ll project each team’s record (overall and in-conference) and give a bold prediction (at least I hope so) for each team.

pac12-logos

Before that, here’s how I fared with my predictions in 2017:

2017 Projected Overall Record 2017 ACTUAL Overall Record  2017 Projected Pac-12 Record 2017 ACTUAL Pac-12 Record 
Arizona 5-7 7-5 3-6 5-4
Arizona State 5-7  7-5 3-6  6-3 
California 4-8 5-7 2-7 2-7
Colorado 5-7 5-7 3-6 2-7
Oregon 8-4 7-5   5-4   4-5 
Oregon State 5-7 1-11 3-6 0-9
Stanford 9-3 9-3 6-3 7-2
UCLA 7-5 6-6 5-4 4-5
USC 11-1 10-2 8-1  8-1 
Utah 6-6 6-6 4-5 3-6 
Washington 11-1 10-2 8-1 7-2 
Washington State  7-5 9-3   4-5  6-3 

Correct Picks in 2017:

Regular Season Record: 3
Conference Record: 2
Bold Predictions:
4 fully correct, 4 partially correct

On to this year’s projections and predictions:

South Division

T-1. Arizona Wildcats (9-3, 6-3)
I wrote a more in-depth preview two months ago (read it here) but I believe the combination of Khalil Tate (when healthy) and new coach Kevin Sumlin will bring an excitement around Arizona football that Tucson hasn’t seen since at least 2009. IF Tate stays healthy…and it’s a big IF considering the reckless style with which he plays, the long Arizona Rose Bowl drought could end on 1/1/19.
Bold Prediction: If Tate starts all 12 regular season games in 2018, he’ll be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

sumlin

T-1. USC Trojans (9-3, 6-3)
USC is USC – they’re always going to be good…ish. This year’s team is no exception. But I’m not sold on Matt Fink or true freshman JT Daniels at QB. The talent is there but they’re at least a year away from being a Final Four-caliber team. The three key games to watch for the Trojans this year are all on the road…at Texas, Arizona, and Utah.
Bold Prediction: Like last season, USC needs overtime to beat Texas – this time on the road. It’s a huge game for the Trojans, who after losing in Palo Alto the week before, will try to avoid a 1-2 start.

3. Utah Utes (8-4, 5-4)
It’s rare that Utes teams are underachievers under rock solid long time coach Kyle Whittingham. The offense should be more explosive and the schedule isn’t too bad. If they upset Washington in Week 3, division title hopes are very much in play.
Bold Prediction: Utah improves to 12-1 in bowl games under Whittingham with a win in the Las Vegas Bowl.

T-4. Arizona State Sun Devils (6-6, 4-5)
I’m certainly not bullish on Herm Edwards’ tenure in Tempe – while coaches with collegiate success, Chip Kelly and Kevin Sumlin, were hired in the division, ASU took a different route and brought in someone who no organization wanted for nearly a decade. And on top of that – he hasn’t ever even been a coordinator on the college level! All that being said, I don’t think Edwards’ first year will be a disaster thanks in part to resilient QB Manny Wilkins and arguably the best player in the conference, WR N’Keal Harry.
Bold Prediction: ASU upsets San Diego State and Colorado on the road in order to achieve the minimum standards for bowl eligibility in 2018.

T-4. Colorado Buffaloes (6-6, 4-5)
It’s fairly safe to say that after last year’s regular season step back, coach Mike McIntyre is on the hot seat going into 2018. I like Steven Montez at QB and while the offense should score its share of points, I don’t have much confidence that the defense is better from a year ago…when frankly it stunk. 
Bold Prediction: The Buffs make a bowl game yet end up hiring a new coach in December.

herm-recruiting

6. UCLA Bruins (5-7, 3-6)
New coach Chip Kelly should make the Bruins a Pac-12 powerhouse by 2021 but it certainly won’t happen this year. The QB position is a mess and I just don’t feel that Jim Mora left the program in great shape. It doesn’t help that UCLA has arguably the hardest schedule in the nation with games at Oklahoma and at Oregon plus potential top-25 teams Fresno State, Washington, Arizona, Utah, USC, and Stanford at home.
Bold Prediction: Fresno State upsets UCLA in the Rose Bowl on September 15th and that loss is the difference between a bowl game and a longer offseason.

North Division

1. Washington Huskies (11-1, 8-1)
The key game for Washington is against Auburn, right off the bat in Atlanta. Win that one and an undefeated regular season certainly comes into play. Lose to the Tigers and the margin for making the playoffs becomes razor thin. For now I believe that an experienced team who made a Final Four run two years ago does the same thing again this year.
Bold Prediction: QB Jake Browning becomes one of the five winningest QBs in college football history with another fine season in Seattle. Yet he won’t be drafted before the 6th round, if at all, in the upcoming NFL Draft.

AP WASHINGTON OREGON FOOTBALL S FBC USA OR

2. Stanford Cardinal (8-4, 6-3)
Tricky schedule with games at home vs. USC and at both Oregon and Notre Dame before September ends! But if the Cardinal go 8-4 with this brutal slate which ends with 3 of 4 on the road and somehow RB Bryce Love can rush for near 2,000 yards yet again in 2018, he has a very good chance to win the Heisman Trophy.
Bold Prediction: For the second straight season, Love finishes 2nd in the Heisman voting…ironically the SIXTH time a Stanford player has finished runner up since 2009!

3. Oregon Ducks (8-4, 5-4)
I hated the fact that Oregon promoted former University of Miami offensive lineman / FIU head coach Mario Cristobal to replace Willie Taggart (who left for Florida State) because the players were lobbying for him. This Ducks team will be entertaining but the future won’t be terribly bright under Cristobal, who I do not believe will recruit to the level of typical Oregon standards long term. In fact, I’d be surprised if he lasted beyond the 2020 season.
Bold Prediction: QB Justin Herbert gets injured yet again in 2018 and slips out of the first round in next year’s NFL Draft.

4. California Golden Bears (6-6, 4-5)
Earlier this week I spoke with someone close to the Cal football program and when asked if they could win 8 games in 2018, he chuckled. Apparently the goal is 6 and a bowl game. In that case, that’s what I’ll give them. This is most certainly a team on the rise though.
Bold Prediction: Cal will win at least 3 of these 5 games where they’re bound to be underdogs: at BYU, Oregon, at Arizona, at Washington State, Stanford.

5. Washington State Cougars (5-7, 2-7)
Things would have been far different in 2018 if not for the tragic suicide by presumptive starting QB Tyler Hilinski this offseason. Though coach Mike Leach is known as a ‘quarterback whisperer’, I’m just not sure he can overcome the inexperience his team possesses at the most important position on the field. It also doesn’t help that promising young defensive coordinator Alex Grinch left for Ohio State. I’m not expecting good things in Pullman this year. 
Bold Prediction: Tired of the constant drama around his bizarre commentary, WSU and Leach part ways; Leach then accepts the Kansas rebuilding project.

mike-leach_syxqoxwjedhg1cxs9knjbykio

6. Oregon State Beavers (3-9, 1-8)
Good luck (new coach and former OSU QB) Jonathan Smith…because you’re going to need it! This team isn’t great by any means…and truthfully they’ll be fortunate if my 3 win prediction is correct. The cupboard was left bare by Gary Andersen and his staff. This is a rebuilding project the likes of which we haven’t seen in the conference in quite a few years.
Bold Prediction: Oregon State doesn’t play a competitive game after their bye week in mid-October; similar to last year they’ll regress as the season progresses.

Pac-12 Championship Game
Washington 45, Arizona 20

Bowl Projections
Cotton Bowl (CFB Playoff) – Washington
Rose Bowl – USC
Alamo Bowl – Arizona
Holiday Bowl – Stanford
Sun Bowl – Oregon
Las Vegas Bowl – Utah
Cactus Bowl – Arizona State
At Large* – California
At Large* – Colorado

To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @eacohen83.

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